Blood (stage blood of course), sweat and tears characterized the final week’s work on People, Places and Things. Tech-ing a show of this ambition in a short space of time was always going to be a challenge. However, we were not prepared for just how much caffeine and patience it was going to take to get us through it.
We soon discovered that video, lights and sound needed to be so closely synced together to achieve the slickness required for the show that if you tweaked one you had to change them all (think Jenga in technological dimensions).
Our set design, a white clinical space where the bedrooms, bathrooms and desks emerge from the floor, required huge mechanized traps (with a clunk and mind of their own) to be controlled with mouse-like subtlety. The hours were long, and the work intense: actors entered from the wrong doors, desks wouldn’t come up and then wouldn’t go down, snow was added and cut, music changed, and then we opened… The general public was going to see the product, not the process, and as a result their laughter, tears or yawns taught us a lot about what we had made very quickly. The thrill of sharing a new play with an audience for the first time is unparalleled. But it’s a work in progress.
Here is an extract from our first show report (an internal document produced after each performance by stage management so the show can be monitored):
'Show Report - Preview One: At the scene change into Scene 2 - the bathroom was sent up in error and crashed into the floor. We tried to fix it during the movement sequence but realized it was not safe to walk on, so during the scene we stopped the show, to make it safe. The show was stopped for approx. 6 minutes with audience left in their seats, whilst the trap was made safe on stage.'
As drastic as it is to stop the show mid scene in a performance, this is exactly what previews are for. The preview period is a time to iron out the problems for all departments, including the acting. We then work during the daytime to fix the problem and perform the new version of the show to an audience that evening, right up until press night a week later. Each preview is a work in progress. Chances are if someone in the audience for the first preview came to see the show after press night they might discover an entirely different show in places.
Because our show is so technical we used a lot of the daytime rehearsals during preview week to tech new bits of the show, in practical terms this means changing the lighting, sound, video design and adapting bits of the set design. Changes were made to the acting via a notes session with Jeremy in a separate rehearsal room before we worked on stage with the tech and design team in the afternoons. At this stage in the process acting notes from the director ranged from the incredibly detailed ‘you need to emphasize a certain word in this line’, to the more exploratory ‘try and explore her ability to manipulate and charm in the first half of the play’. Like everything in preview week it is trial and error in front of an audience and notes that didn’t work on the stage would be retracted the next day.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 'A triumph – Denise Gough delivers an emotionally shattering performance', The Evening Standard reports as the first reviews of the production flood in. There is no denying it, theatre makers do care about press reception. However, because of the subject matter of this production there was a unanimous sense of ambivalence, which the playwright summarised as ‘we got Catford -nothing else matters’. Duncan was referring to our final preview performance, of which the residents of the rehab Freedom in Catford attended (those that read the early rehearsal diaries may remember how much they helped us out). During the performance one resident not only audibly whispered encouragement to the protagonist but they all gave us a standing ovation at the end. It felt representative of their experiences and that is the best review we could have got.