Rehearsal 1: Wednesday, 19th July 2017
The first rehearsal for this Caryl Churchill play with Scaffold State Theatre Training Company, at the Theatre Delicatessen on Finsbury Avenue. I met Richard Neale, the director. We were so lucky to work with him. The rest of the cast were Amira Shah, Sean Grace, Ra Sha Heen, Leo Acker, Sam Barnes, Andrew Bowman, Pia Wojtinnek, Alice Melton, Joanna Prusiewicz, Johannes Schulze, Juris Magone, and Raena Sangsit.
We played some games to get to know each other, and had a read-through of the play. It’s an unusual script, with no roles assigned. We were going to have to decide for ourselves who says which lines. Usually I’d start learning my lines immediately, but this wasn’t going to be possible for a while yet.
Our homework was to read “The Actor and the Target”, by Declan Donnellan. The book talks about the ability to act being within us all, but we just self-consciously block it. It reminded me of another book I was reading called “Zen and the Art of Tennis”, which made similar claims about tennis.
Rehearsal 2: Wednesday, 26th July 2017
In this session, we did a lot of movement exercises, à la Frantic Assembly. Even though we didn’t really do anything like that for the performance, it did end up being quite choreographed. They were hot, sweaty exercises. I was also doing some physical theatre workshops with Calin Drimbeau that were similar, so that was a nice alignment.
We decided that we wouldn’t do every vignette in the play, so we started the process of deciding what the themes were of each section, and which pieces we could omit.
Our homework was to learn some sign language, and a bird song each! I did spend time on the bird song, but none of this made it into the final performance.
Rehearsal 3: Wednesday, 16th August 2017
We were all assigned scenes in small groups, and had to ask these questions about our characters. It was important not to over-think the answers – just get it done:
- Who am I?
- What am I doing?
- Where am I?
- When is it? (Now, usually)
- What do I need? (something physical)
- Why do I need it?
- How am I going to get it?
- What if…? (some secret that only I know)
Rehearsal 4: Wednesday, 23rd August 2017
Quite worrying to be 4 weeks in (5 if you count the week we had off), and still not have any lines to learn! But I trusted Richard, of course. He introduced us to Uta Hagen’s “Endowment” exercises, which is the process of assigning characteristics to objects on the stage. It’s such a powerful technique.
Rehearsal 5: Wednesday, 30th August 2017
We broke up the “Ex” scene into units of action, and discussed the “bind” that happens at the end of a unit. Units come from Stanislavski (we commonly call them beats) but I’m not sure where “bind” comes from, except that it’s the phrase that ends the unit. We actually start by finding the “bind”, the phrase that marks a change in the actor’s objective (what they want from another actor). All the text before the bind is classed as a unit of action. Richard carefully broke up the scene into units and directed different groups of actors to say the dialogue. By the time we performed the play, I’d internalised the idea that much of the dialogue being spoken around me came from my own memories, mixed with a now-reality. Though it was always difficult in the moment to know which was which. I’d relax, feeling like I was there, and then suddenly I’d think “no, that was a memory. This is reality. This is the truth.” I created a private back story that made sense of the dialogue, so that when I heard it, they triggered other non-spoken memories and thoughts.
Rehearsal 6: Wednesday, 6th September 2017
This was a fascinating session, as we all watched each other’s scenes, and Richard really started to critique and guide them. I learned so much from watching him work other actors. And when it came to me, it felt magical how he stripped the scenes back and forced me to reimagine them. This was the first time in the rehearsals that I found myself in a chair, on my own, having to react – and non-react – to the random phrases from the other actors, and it ended up being a theme of the whole play. We seemed to spend such a long time on this, and in retrospect, Richard was thinking of a way to unify the vignettes.
Richard asked me to consider depression, which is the title of one of the “RANDOM” scenes in the play – and associate it with objects in the room.
Rehearsal 7: Wednesday, 20th September 2017
We moved to the Poor School for this session. One of the thrills of acting in London is that you often get to rehearse or perform in famous locations. The Poor School does live up to its name, in that there’s nothing at all glamorous about it, but still, it’s always good to rehearse there. In this rehearsal, we started to map out the location of each scene: the walls, windows, doors and furniture. We looked at movement within the confines of these restrictions. We also examined questions about our objectives for each scene. What could we win? What could we lose?
Richard was very keen that the actors who were not “on stage” stayed to watch. Usually at Scaffold, we don’t do that – we go off in groups to rehearse our parts. But I liked this. I got to learn from the advice Richard was giving. It’s actually well-documented that “active watching” can be an effective substitute for “doing”, especially if one-to-one tuition isn’t always possible. It does rely on constant observation and attention though, which is hard to do in a hard seat for 4 hours! I recommend constantly taking notes, even if the scene doesn’t affect you, because it’s way too easy to just drift off. This is actually something that Toastmasters International teaches you: to give your full attention to the speaker and be prepared to talk immediately about what they’ve just done.
Rehearsal 8: Saturday, 23rd September 2017
With the show being just a month away, we were rehearsing with full earnesty now. Richard spoke about the Meisner rehearsal technique of repeating a phrase in different ways until the other person has the reaction you want.
Rehearsal 9: Wednesday, 4th October 2017
There was a focused tension in rehearsal as we ran through large sections of the play. Because of the original – inevitable- delay in knowing which lines we each had, everyone was grouping together to run lines. There’s always a feeling at this stage that there’s too much to do, but as we’d all been in the situation several times before, we knew it would come together in the end. We discovered that the answers in the final “QUIZ” scene were completely false, and this added another layer to our understanding of the play. Truth and reality. Two of the central concepts of philosophy since Plato, and especially relevant in this “false news” era.
Rehearsal 10: Wednesday, 11th October 2017
With just 2 weeks ago, most actors have their lines learned, and we concentrated on the staging of the piece.
Rehearsal 11: Saturday, 14th October 2017
A full day running through the play twice. Great to be looking at some of the details, and finessing he performance.
Rehearsal 12: Wednesday, 18th October 2017
Everyone is very confident now, but there’s a push to sell tickets.
Rehearsal 13: Saturday, 21st October 2017
This is dress rehearsal. We all know what we’re meant to wear, but as the play is very low budget, we have to provide our own costume. The movement between scenes is difficult to remember. I had my own methods to remember the sequence. Remembering lines is just one part of any performance. Being fluent on the scene order gives you so much confidence.
Rehearsal 14: Sunday, 22nd October 2017
It was an opportunity to be in the theatre for the first time, and do some voice projection exercises. The more comfortable you are with the venue, the better. Richard advised that “it needs resonance and vocal energy but not shouting. Supported breath and diction are essential due to the echo. You all need to clean up the ‘t’ and ‘d’ sounds in the text.”
Rehearsal 15: Wednesday, 25th October 2017
The last rehearsal before show day. Scripts were absolutely banned. In truth, they should have been banned weeks ago. I was definitely having difficulty remembering the scene sequence.
We performed the play on 27th and 28th October 2017 at the Bridewell Theatre in London.