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Toxic Rehearsal Reflections: Practice Makes Memories, and a love letter to Ross Carey - Susan Kerr

Toxic has completed its world premiere at HOME receiving amazing reviews. In her final blog, First Dibs alumni and Rehearsal Room Support Susan Kerr, reflects on the journey and the wide-ranging talent and skill required to stage a new production.


I’ve been observing the creative process of Toxic for the most part of this year.

As the curtain comes down and the set gets put into storage, I’m taken aback at just how much talent and effort a relatively small-scale production requires.

Performers Josh-Susan and Nathaniel J Hall (who also wrote the play) sparkled onstage and that is no easy task;a dedicated mixture of desire, gift and hard work that all actors exude.

However, Toxic is the product of a large creative and production team.

They are all committed, talented and amazing individuals and like an iceberg that we see only a part of, glistening in the sunlight, they are what lies beneath the waves.

The rehearsal process is relentless, going over and over the material and getting under the skin of the piece.

A group of six people are sat around a long table in a rehearsal room. There are laptops, headphones and wires on the table.
The Toxic team in rehearsals. (L-R) AV designer dede, Lighting Designer Tracey Gibbs, PR consultant Rachel Furst, rehearsal room support Susan Kerr, producer Ross Carey and Stage Manager Ronly Lam.

Director Scott Le Crass explored and scrutinised the text along with Nathaniel and Josh-Susan.

The piece was played out again and again, each actor immersing themselves in the dialogue until it became like a muscle memory.

The movements were directed by Ayden Brouwers, a physical theatre performer, actor and writer and Lizard Morris who together founded Plaster Cast in 2018.

The details of the movements in Toxic were being honed and worked on until the late afternoon of the first performance.

Some of the other creatives involved in Toxic’s creation are Lu Herbert who designed the amazing set that was built by Ben Cook and Simon Pemberton.

The original music was composed by Charlotte Barber who goes by the moniker SHAR. She writes, produces & composes for Theatre, Film and Dance.

The sound designer was Joel Clements.

The lighting designer Tracey Gibbs. The projection designer was ././dede, a live visual artist who works at one of the city’s most iconic underground nightclubs: The White Hotel.

And then there are the three Dramaturgs (who support the playwright with feedback on each draft), Stage Manager, Technical Stage Manager, Production Assistant, Marketing Associate, PR Consultant, Cultural Engagement Associate, Photographers, Videographers, Graphic Designers, Video Editors, Access Associates, BSL Interpreters, Captioning Operators, Environmental Sustainability Consultant... all the venue staff… I could go on (check out the full list here).

Each one would need their own blog to even skim the surface of their expertise and crucial contributions. However, there is one role in particular that I would like to focus on. One that often gets overlooked.

The Producer.

The Producer on Toxic was Ross Carey who also runs the company alongside Nathaniel.

Before embarking on this journey, I had a vague idea of what a producer does but no idea of the breadth and scope of their work and skill set.

Observing the making of Toxic taught me what a producer really does.

And it’s quite astonishing.

Ross was like the conductor of a very large orchestra, and like a conductor he was mindful of every nuance demonstrating great skill managing many moving parts.

I have to say I watched him do it elegantly, holding each intertwining strand of the project, spinning multiple plates at once – never have I seen colour-coded post-it notes used so successfully.

According to Stage One (an organisation supporting the development of the UK’s theatre producers), the producer’s role requires them to ‘obtain the rights for the project, select and engage the creative team, negotiate and issue contracts, ensure legal compliance, create and manage a budget, book the venue, create a production timeline and raise the money’

It’s a mammoth task which Ross did with dedication, skill, proficiency, kindness and a stylish flourish sometimes whilst wearing a princess bobble hat.

I love the theatre.

Dibby gave me the opportunity to write and watch my own short play become a living breathing reality on playwriting course First Dibs in 2021, but not once did I ever covet the actors’ front-facing roles.

I know who I am and I’m very happy being backstage and I’m in wonderful, talented, brilliant and creative company.

I guess this blog is a love letter to Ross, to all the incredible unsung producers slaving away out there.

But it's also love letter to all of the creatives that weave their magic just out of view of the glittering stage.

These are the people that make the creative whims of writers like me possible.

Dibby Theatre will always have a special place in my heart.

When blazing a new trail, daring to take risks and be radically inclusive, scraped knees are inevitable.

What I love about Dibby is their commitment to courageously trying, learning, adapting, changing and actually putting their money where their mouth is.

However more than that, they do so gracefully with kindness and tenderness.

For me I witnessed them generate an atmosphere of safety where exploration was actively encouraged and supported, allowing innovation to flow and feelings to run deep.

I feel really lucky to have been witness to and a part of it, the whole process was really special.

Toxic was an ambitious project made real and fabulous by some really exceptional people.

I can’t wait to see what Dibby choose to do next.

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