Alison- Risk Manager for Co-Op and keen Twitter user!
Gosh, well, where to start? That really was one of the most fascinating few hours spent in the company some of the creative team and cast behind the forthcoming Library Theatre production of Hard Times at Murray Mills, and my mind is whirring. Committing things to print in a way that will not bore you rigid though, that’s a toughie! I guess there are three main things that I want to focus on - what I saw, what my impressions were, and how I felt as an observer of the process.
Well first things first, a little about me, I am a theatre enthusiast, but have only limited experience ‘behind the scenes’, so excuse me if I get any terminology wrong. It’s also my first attempt at writing a blog, so bear with me.
I was so excited to be given this opportunity, but it filled me with trepidation as well. I’m aware that it’s a rare thing to be allowed to observe rehearsals, and I don’t want make a mess of this chance! So, I was a bundle of nerves as I headed off for the rehearsal venue (by the way Google maps, it takes nowhere near an hour to walk to Hulme from Victoria station, but Hulme Park is an interesting place to while away half an hour). I was met at the reception of the Zion Centre and introduced to a few people (whose names I instantly forgot!) and then taken to the actual rehearsal space where Chris (Director), Elisa (Assistant Director), Ed (Deputy Stage Manager) and a couple of the cast were assembling, with more cast arriving later.
In short, what I was observing was two sections from the second half of the play, and the basic pattern for approaching both was the same. Firstly everyone would sit in a circle, and the cast would read their lines, with Chris reading the stage directions. There would be regular pauses where Chris and the cast would reflect back on, not just what the words on the page said, but what the characters may have been thinking and feeling at that time, what they meant by those words and what in their experiences may have contributed to that. Then, using the benefit of those discussions to adjust the performance. Subsequently, the scenes would be fully worked through a few times using minimal props etc, to allow both creative, and practical aspects to be addressed. This makes it all sound very simple but it wasn’t, and it opened my eyes up as to how much is involved in turning words on paper, into a stage performance.For example, the first scene, involving two of the actors, Gareth and Richard, involved a game of dice. They had to work through the rudiments of the game to get to a position where they were able to be comfortable with the gaming. There were also a number of design aspects that needed to be surfaced and addressed e.g. the table that would be used needed sides for the dice to bounce off (books were used to create temporary sides), the size and weight of coins that would be needed, what additional cast might be needed in the scene and how to transition between action and dialogue in a way that would keep the focus of the audience. Additionally, the finer points of how characters would react to each other, even how a particular character would laugh, referencing back to the book for clues. Throughout all this, notes are taken to pass to the relevant areas responsible for realising the ‘practical’ aspects of the production (props, music etc).
As an outsider, I was quite surprised as to how ‘collaborative’ the process was between cast and Director. For example, in the ‘in the round’ readings, Chris was asking the cast members what their character meant by a certain line and allowing them to explore their motivations in depth. It was challenging, and really highlighted how much preparation the actors had done at this relatively early stage of bringing a performance to life. I was quite glad I wasn’t on the receiving end of any of those questions! It was similar when the scenes were ‘acted out’. The performers were given a lot of space to make choices about how their characters would act and why, what felt right for them and to try different ways of approaching a scene.
Another thing that was highlighted to me, was, once you move from the ’read through’ to the ‘walk through’, how much more is added to the performance, and, even though detailed discussions had already taken place, how many more choices, and questions, in terms of the performance are opened up.
I was impressed by the agility of the cast in taking on board suggestions for sometimes slight changes that make a fundamental difference to the overall performance, and immediately incorporating them. For example, at one point the Director asked Lynda, playing Mrs Sparsit, to react in a slightly different way to a particular line, and the way she then interpreted this in her performance, added a whole new, and very funny, aspect to that exchange.
The atmosphere in the rehearsal room was very calm (apart from the terrified blogger in the corner) and incredibly focussed. At one point a storm developed directly overhead, there was thunder, lightening, pounding rain, and yet the cast didn’t miss a beat.
So, what was it like to be an observer for this short time? Well, everyone was very friendly and welcoming, even though they had this outsider thrust upon them, but I still found it hard to get over the feeling that I was gate-crashing! Chris encouraged me to join the circle when the cast were reading through their lines, but initially that felt so wrong, almost like I was the only person there that didn’t have a valid reason to be in the room. It was also very strange glancing up and seeing some extremely familiar faces looking back at me in the shape of Lynda Rooke and Roberta Kerr, people I am more used to seeing on my television screen. And, when I was at the side of the room watching the action, I was trying so hard to be unobtrusive I did forget to breathe a couple of times! But overall it was an amazing experience, which I feel so privileged to have been given, and I can’t wait to see the finished result in a few weeks time at the Mill. When hopefully, if I haven’t made too much of a hash of this, I’ll be blogging again!