There’s been something very useful for us in changing rehearsal rooms (and cities) as we enter week three. The first half of the process involved lots of necessary and useful improvisations, exercises and exploration; laying down the foundations of the play and ensuring they are strong and solid.
In our new space, at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, we can actually see the theatre where we will be performing the show in two weeks time. There is a renewal of energy and, as Ben notes, a ‘seriousness’ from the whole company as we move towards building the bits of the production that will form our construction; the ‘staging.'
Important to this is the setting out of space. Early in the week our stage management team did the mark-up on the floor, which guides us in the dimensions of the stage and Colin’s design. Several other pieces of set are brought in for us to rehearse with; the swing being a highlight! Many of the scenes have been ‘storyboarded’ in how they will look during pre-rehearsal prep, but you never really know how it’s all going to work with the actors until you get to play with and test these things in real time.
Ben has cultivated a sense of play within the cast, so responding to what they naturally bring to a scene is inspiring and wildly engaging. We have worked through the entire play this week, giving shape to each and every scene. The actors read each scene in the space, encouraging their instincts to govern where they move and when. The moments that have landed are acknowledged, whilst other opportunities that could be taken are explored.
There is no ‘one way’ to do a scene, so even when something works really well, we still try other possibilities that might uncover a gem we may have overlooked in the writing. The more we run the scenes, the more the lines go into the actors’ ‘muscle memory,' where an action is attached to a thought. Rachel (DSM) gets busy scribbling down blocking (and rubbing it out), as well as prompting the actors as they start needing to be totally free of holding the script in a scene.
As well as set and costumes, we are also gaining more people in the rehearsal room. George Dennis (Sound Designer) was with us for three days this week, introducing to the company some of the sounds and music he is planning to use. It’s very much a mutual exchange as the music affects what the actors do in the space as well as the other way round; George takes cues and levels etc from their actions. It gives both him and Ben the opportunity to play around with the many music tracks they have been listening to and see how their choices affect the whole experience. Usually sound designers don’t get to see the work until the later run-throughs, but having George with us means that his final design can more closely relate to the staging.
Scene Changes can often be a sore point for productions, with transitions in place and time. Do you go dark and bring Stage Managers on to change scene? Do you play music to distract from the moving of furniture? Do you get the actors to do it and make it a part of the story? You can’t really avoid them… Or pretend they don’t exist. In this production they seem to be taken as an opportunity; an opportunity to gain insight into a character we haven’t seen for a while, an opportunity to highlight the ensemble nature of the show or an opportunity to be honest about the theatricality of putting on a play. In this production everything that happens on stage is required to serve the story. The drama never stops and so the transitions are rehearsed with as much detail and creativity as the scenes. This connects the cast to the entire shape of the piece and physicalises the rhythm of the play.
Anya joined us in rehearsals towards the end of the week. The writer coming in can often be quite daunting for a company, but Anya is so tightly woven into the process that it’s actually felt a bit strange without her. We ran the majority of the play in its current shape and what is most reassuring to all, is that we have a shape; we have a play! We have somewhere in which to live, where the play can grow and the work can be deepened, challenged and nourished.
A good place to be as we enter into our final week of rehearsals…