Japan Diary Week Two: Brown Paper Rehearsals

At the centre of The Opportunity of Efficiency is the character Ken Lomax – a business consultant who measures the effectiveness and efficiency of companies’ processes and makes recommendations for re-structuring (usually involving a lot of people getting sacked).  The method Ken uses to assess a business’s ways of working is called ‘the brown paper exercise’.  This is a real technique used by management consultants, where the staff of a company are encouraged to map its structures on huge pieces of brown paper displayed on the company’s walls.  Brown paper is used, it seems, to help people think freely – it feels more provisional and ‘rough and ready’ than white paper would.

In our play, the brown paper exercise takes on a life of its own – turning almost into a living, breathing monster, until one lovelorn employee tears it down in a fit of rage. The main body of the play takes place from the start of the brown paper exercise to this act of passionate destruction. 

Last week we rehearsed this main section of the play.  And to help us we had a real ‘brown paper’ consultant come to talk to us about how he works and what his experience has been like going into companies.  The cast were fascinated, particularly Kosuke, who plays Ken Lomax, and plied him with many questions about his work and life.  He did seem a lot nicer than the character in our play – but of course he wasn’t coming in to sack us!

To work on this main section, I’ve continued often asking actors to direct each other initially.  We decide together who seems to be the main protagonist for a section and they direct a first sketch of that scene or part-scene.  This allows me to look at how the relationships are starting to shape themselves, and allows the actors to plot out the basic movements of a scene without having to go through translators for everything.  We then put a few sections together and I get stuck in with the actors to rework and explore in more depth.  For some of the scenes, particularly those where there are interesting twists and turns between characters, we’ve been breaking the script into units for each character – looking for moments of transition where their intention or relationship towards another character changes. This kind of work particularly helps clarify the often-subtle shifts in relationships between key characters.

And then there’s the brown paper exercise. We’ve been plotting its growth through the play. Having chosen to stage the production in the round, we have no walls to put the brown paper on, so it takes over the floors, desks and every spare space on the set as the play develops.  And as it grows, the actors also have to fill it with notes and diagrams outlining their imaginary company. The choreography of brown paper has been a big part of week two! 

We ended the week with a run-through up to the moment where the brown paper exercise is destroyed (about three quarters of the way through the play).  I was very pleased with where we had got to (though I think it pretty much looked like chaos to anyone else watching!)  In week three we will finish sketching out the final section, then go back into the details. Yo, our movement director, has been doing some great work with the actors setting up a movement language we can use during the brown paper sections; and we have a lot of work to do on the detail of the relationships.  And transitions!   It always comes down to transitions in the end!

There’s also one area in which I’d love some ideas from Wales!  Early on in the play, the youngest male character, Jasper Hardy, plays a track in the morning on a CD player or radio.  Later on, this track becomes the accompaniment to everyone’s morning as we see them set off for another day in the office.

I’d love this track to be from a Welsh band, and have been trying a few options.  But perhaps you have suggestions?  If you put any ideas as a comment on this blog – or in the Opportunity of Efficiency group – I can try them out in rehearsal.  It would be good to hear upbeat tracks with a strong rhythm that a young man might play, but that others might hear on the radio. However, I’d also like to try some more ‘hard rock’ type tracks as well.  Something from recent years might be best.  Arigato gozaimasu.

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Comment by Jacqui Onions on March 25, 2013 at 13:44

This track by Welsh singer songwriter Mike Thomas would be great - Best of Everything:


Comment by jane donoghue on March 23, 2013 at 23:14

Palomino Party...check out facebook group or you tube;

Comment by Linda Brown on March 22, 2013 at 13:28

How about 9Bach!!!  Go to their website or go on Utube!!!

Comment by Bethan Marlow on March 22, 2013 at 10:56

You MUST listen to 'Derwyddon Dr Gonzo'- very Welsh, very upbeat and very young male (has about 12 male band members!) and it's played on the radio here all teh time.


Their album, Stonk, is on itunes.


Comment by Tim Price on March 21, 2013 at 17:35

Hi John, Check out H.Hawkline's Black Domino Box EP - two tracks Black Domino Box and Black Muck might be great. 

And then there's the absolute classic Welsh morning song Gorky's Zygotic Mynci's Patio Song - goes into Welsh half way through - might just be perfect.

Comment by National Theatre Wales on March 20, 2013 at 1:44

Cheers Tomos, Tokyo is exciting - though pretty full on work-wise.  Praxis starts rehearsals the day I return so looking forward to that too.  Do keep in touch with Sam Jones casting@nationaltheatrewales.org about auditions. 

Comment by Tomos James on March 19, 2013 at 17:59

It's a great track, I love all the telephone conversation samples mixed in at the end. My favourite Furries album is  MWNG, their welsh language one. Every song on that is a mystic marvel. I'm very excited about 'Praxis Makes Perfect'- if looked anything like Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, Che Guevara, or Fidel Castro then I'd be banging on the door to audition for the male roles! Hope you're enjoying Tokyo.

Comment by National Theatre Wales on March 19, 2013 at 15:35

Nice one Tomos, I've been listening to the Super Furries for this but hadn't checked out this one. I'm going to try it in rehearsals.  Very appropriate for an international collaboration too!

Comment by Tomos James on March 19, 2013 at 12:08

Sounds like a really interesting rehearsal process John, love the idea of the brown paper taking over! I have a track suggestion for you to try out: Rings Around the World by the Super Furry Animals. It has a nice slow build and a chirpy rock feel, see what you think? Here's a link to the song on youtube:


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