Not magic but work

An ethnographic account of a rehearsal process

By Gay McAuley

Not magic but work


  • Hardcover

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-0-7190-9931-1
  • Pages: 256
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £17.99
  • Published Date: July 2015
  • BIC Category: Theatre studies, Literary studies: plays & playwrights, LITERARY CRITICISM / Drama, Theatre Direction & Production, The arts / Theatre studies, Theatre Studies
  • Series: Theatre: Theory - Practice - Performance


Newly available in paperback, this is a detailed description of the intensive work process involved in the making of Toy Symphony, a play by Michael Gow, directed by Neil Armfield and brought to the stage for the first time in December 2007 by Company B at the Belvoir Street Theatre in Sydney. Drawing on years of research McAuley rejects simplistic notions of playwright or director as 'auteur'. Her account makes possible a more nuanced understanding of the real artistry involved in what it is that the director does and what the playwright contributes to the process.

The book is in two parts. The first describes the work process and the complex relations between participants noted by McAuley during her intensive observation of the rehearsal period throughout the run of the production. The second part consists of a number of essays reflecting on aspects of the work observed, and providing a theoretical framework for deeper understanding of the rehearsal practices described. McAuley concludes that contemporary theatre constitutes a highly effective model of group creativity that could be applied in many different institutional contexts.


'A welcome contribution to the field'
P. Solomon Lennox, Studies in Theatre and Performance, 2013|Alex Mermikides Kingston University Gay McAuley's modest summary of her project as 'an attempt to describe a single rehearsal process' (p. 2) does not do justice to the significance of this volume in furthering our understanding of 'how a group of artists with very different skills, working in a range of different media, come together for an intensive period and produce a single work of art' (p. 4), and in exemplifying the value of rehearsal observation in revealing the 'profoundly collaborative nature of theatrical creation' (p. 4). As a forensic account of Belvoir Street Theatre's staging of Michael Gow's Toy Symphony (2007), this study affirms the international significance of this theatre company to a readership outside of Australia., Alex Mermikides, Kingston University, Contemporary Theatre Review, 30 April 2015



Rob Jordan Prize



Writing about rehearsal - some preliminary observations

Part one: The toy symphony rehearsals
Company list
The starting point - Michael's text
The first day
Establishing the chronology (day 2)
Stop/start reading (days 2-4)
Scene work (days 4-14)
The sign systems come together (days 15-19)
Runs and notes (days 20-27)
Creating the play
Technical production - a parallel universe
In the theatre at last (days 28-35)

Part two: Reflections after the event
Fact and fiction and the space between
Neil's play, Michael's play and Richard's play
The director's process
Rehearsal and interaction ritual

Works cited


Gay McAuley is Honorary Professor in the Department of Performance Studies at the University of Sydney

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