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Birgit Kovacsevich: From Vienna to the Tiny

When Jethro first told me of his idea to turn the story of Benjamin Button into a musical, set in Cornwall, I was filled with jealousy. A group of people would bring the brilliant idea to life and that group that would certainly not include me.

Back then I was still living in Vienna, where I had met Jethro whilst working as production assistant on his adaptation of A Little Princess at Theater der Jugend. I was new to working in theatre (having spent most of my professional life on TV and film sets) but had quickly fallen in love with its urgency and the high level of collaboration necessary for success. Also, while working on A Little Princess, Jethro and I discovered that our working styles complimented each other well. I was enthralled by Jethro’s idea of bringing this quintessentially American story to a different, more mythical setting, but I knew that this adaptation would happen in far-away London. I didn’t see a way for me to be involved.

And then somehow, the stars aligned. As plans began to open Benjamin Button in London in May 2019, I was offered a place on King’s College London’s Arts and Cultural Management MA program to start in September. Suddenly, I was living in London and faster than I had expected I was on my way to the first rehearsal as assistant director on the show that I had been so eager to work on for over a year.

Even when you tell the story of a man living backwards, you have to start at the beginning. For me, the beginning was the table read (and table sing) of the whole show on the first day of rehearsal in Southwark Playhouse’s rehearsal space, the Tiny. Our musical director, Darren Clark, sang the tunes while our wonderful cast kept up with the enormous amount of major and minor characters. It was a joy to listen to them try different accents and show off their voices singing along, already promising a talent-packed, moving, and truly rewarding show.

The promise of the table read has just grown throughout the first week of music rehearsals. Too many times the production crew, working feverishly in the back of the room had to stop, stare, and just listen, as Darren and the cast worked through each song, breathing life into characters with ease and confidence. We were spell-bound as they built up songs with vocals and harmonies, adding instruments one-by-one and finally putting all the pieces together. Their hard work looked like magic to us, and I was once again reminded of how lucky I am to have ended up in this rehearsal room; a feeling that is only bound to grow as more of the show takes form.

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