Posts Tagged ‘ rehearsals ’

PROPHESY workshops in action

Workshops are now back in full swing, and already we’ve been amazed and awed at the bravery of our actors and what they’ve created. It has only gone to excite us even further about what is to come. Paul Biver came along to a recent physical workshop and helped document the experiments. We liked them so much, we thought you’d like a little sneak look inside our workshop room….

Coming up over the next few weeks? More physical work led by company member, Ian, and a session messing around and creating the music that might inhabit our worlds by our resident sound designer, Carl Prekopp…..

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All images by Paul Biver.

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Follow the Leader…..

London Arts Orchestra did something rather wonderful recently. They opened up the dress rehearsal of a Mahler concert to the public. For free. Added to which they let us, the audience, sit in the orchestra among the musicians. I sat in the strings section. It was wonderful.

To sit immersed in the music rather than receiving at a distance it was extraordinary. Of course there were loses – sometimes things sounded quite odd because other parts of the music were overpowered by the instruments you were closest too. But what you gained through this unique experience far outweighed those loses: the music surrounded you, it engulfed you, it became a part of you. Or you became a part of it. I’m not sure which.

The biggest revelation for me, though, was sitting facing the conductor. I’d never been able to watch the conductor like this, close enough to see every expression on his face and hear every syllable or count that he uttered.

He was an exceptional leader. He conjured the musicians, beckoned them, guided them. He had humour, passion and humility. Every now and then he’d stop the music and work a section until it was right. A brave decision to make with an audience in the room, but one that earned him respect. He’d made it clear, they meant business and they weren’t going home until they were done. However his manner was gentle, approachable, even waving mid-bar to a little girl who was proudly sat among the horns.

Watching him at work was inspiring. Watching the room at work, guided by him, was incredible.

Neatly, recently I’d been pondering the question of leadership. What are the qualities one should cultivate? As someone moving into directing, it’s a big question for me. But actually, I realised, almost all of us will be asked to be leaders at some point or other in our lives. Whether as director, teacher, manager, team-leader, stag-do-organiser or parent. And without question all of us will be led. Bad leaders are all too common (we all loved David Brent because unfortunately we knew him), but thankfully good leaders are out there too. And then there are those leaders who raise the bar, those who allow individuals to grow and collectives to flourish.

Books are my first port of call when I want to learn something new. So I’ve been reading up on book about directing (In Contact with the Gods), books about management (look up Susan Vinnecombe) and books about teaching (pretty much anything by Ken Robinson). As we all know, though, the best way to learn is through doing. And when you can’t do, watch.

All I want to do now is watch more conductors at work. I guess I’m going to have to blag my way into more orchestras. Perhaps I’ll need to take up an instrument as cover …

STOP PRESS . . . . CASTING ANNOUNCEMENT

Baz Productions is incredibly lucky to have such a talented company of actors from which to source our cast, and now we are utterly delighted to announce that those ‘playing’ Macbeth with us this autumn will be:

Scott Brooksbank

Lucy Brueggar

Geoff Lumb

Ffion Jolly

Katherine Newman

We disappear into the depths of the rehearsal room and crypt from September 26th, and can’t wait to show you all what we have created when we emerge on October 18th.

On being playful

I think I had always thought I was a pretty playful person. Not quite grown up. Prone to fits of giggles. Childish.

A few weeks ago, though, I’d been privy, as an adult minding the group, to a big make-believe game played out between about 5 boys. It was as detailed as it was dramatic. A whole world was created, involving various wars and leagues of rebels and spies and rescue missions and prisoners and journeys. Think Star Wars meets Spooks meets the Odyssey.

Vicious spells were cast with outstretched arms accompanied by cries of ‘Hakuna Matata’, relationships shoaled their way fluidly between brothers in arms and deadly enemies, and flocks (sometimes they 5 became flocks) of them would vault over the sofa to crouch behind and launch missiles at the oncoming army.

When I say it was 5 boys, I do mean that – although technically, I suppose, you’d have to argue that it was 4 boys and a man. But the way he played, this grown up, with utter dedication to the game, never once glancing up at the adults with a sheepish ain’t they cute look or patronising them or engaging in doublethink. He became, for that short time, a genuine and utter equal – and the thing that mattered, the only thing, was the game.

And I realised I’d never seen a game quite like it. I’ve seen adults play games with adults, adhering carefully to the rules and articulating intelligent observations afterwards (or using the game to showcase an open / flirtatious / courageous quality). I’ve seen adults play games with kids, where they take the role of parent or fun older sibling – but in these cases, no matter how involved they get in the game, if another adult enters a shared look will flash across the room, a complicit look which understands yes it a kid’s game, but hey I’m going with it for a bit.

In our rehearsals we play games a lot: running games, team games, story games and big field games (most of which have origins in either drama or kids games, but which I adapt as we go, screaming new instructions at the often confused actors as they throw themselves valiantly into each task). And now more than ever I see the importance of them. The well known and usual points include: bonding a group, warming up the body and mind, shaking up the tempo, knocking people off balance and getting people simply to commit to a moment. Now I see they can also find in you a meeting place of complete conviction and utter abandonment. High stakes and deep joy. Adult horror and childish delight.

And fun. They can be achingly fun.

I’m wickedly scheming what games we will play next time. That in itself, I have to be honest, is a bloody good game!

Getting in the way …

Last week we said ‘hello’ and ‘welcome back’ to puppets. Or rather we said ‘hello’ and ‘welcome back’ to the indomitable Poppy Burton Morgan, and she helped us to conjure life out of an assortment of objects.

Red tops greedily gulped diet coke.

Necklaces had a good look around.

Egg slicers (for slicing boiled eggs, not raw, it was explained) flew.

Woolly hats mumbled and sighed their way through the text (‘He’d never do it’, it was observed, ‘he’d botch it – drop the knife or something.’ And on cue the hat seemingly tripped.)

Purple-rubber-yoga-stretching-thing became a numerous set of lips on the wall which purred observations.

Umbrellas flew (‘everyone uses umbrellas’, Poppy pointed out, ‘it’s a bit passé.’ I immediately distanced myself from the umbrella – my umbrella.)

Hair clip, plastic bag and book combined to make a raven (which nibbled at food in the heater, until it got its beak stuck and died a horrible death).

Filing divider languidly pronounced the text (having read it from the play lying next to it).

Lady Macbeth conjured spirits which made the walls vibrate and stroked her face – or sat on her shoulder, a compact whispering creature.

There were inter-object romantic and not so romantic affairs (‘yes yes yes’ nodded the hairclip, ‘no no no’ shook the hat).

A flying plastic bag and six attached assorted objects (when in doubt, grab more stuff … not a bullet-proof theory, as it turns out) swallowed a necklace from round the neck of an unsuspecting watcher.

And the rabbit from ‘Donnie Darko’ dressed by Cath Kidson bounced its way onto the tube.

And thus Poppy introduced us to the seven principles of puppetry. And reminded us not to get in the way of the puppet.

We packed away the objects now teeming with potential, and scurried home.

Breath, personal space and tocks. It’s all running through my head.

I won’t get in the way again, that’s for sure. I absolutely won’t.

The problem with large numbers …

Already I don’t like the title of this. It’s not a problem. Why should it be a problem? Let’s try again.

Many characters. Few actors. How could we play?

It’s something we are tackling with Macbeth. And I got to wondering – how have other people approached this … challenge? Come on, let’s stand on the shoulders of giants – or at least get a good look at the view before shimmying down and doing something else.

So I racked my brains. And then asked other people to rack theirs.

The immediate answer that came to my mind was doubling. Lots of doubling. I’ve been in many a production that required me to ‘double’. In my experience it’s meant hours in the rehearsal room trying out various accents or postures, and then hours with design departments trying out different costumes and wigs. To ensure that the characters I am playing seem as different from each other as possible. This inevitably leads to quick-changes in the wing. Endless quick-changes. Endless.

Of course it need not involve all that donning and doffing of wigs. Just a change in … something. Intention. Physicality. You know. A change.

That’s fine. That’s one option, which can be stunning when done well. Many plays involve a little bit of doubling, a servant here with the best friend there. But some really do go hell for leather. ‘Stones in his Pockets’ is probably a famous example of this. Examples othes came up with were:

‘Diary of a Nobody – 4 actors performing 46 parts at The Royal & Derngate, Northampton. So convincing that a large man with a beard playing Mrs. Pooter made everyone feel for her when her son left home and the audience referred to the actor as “her”.’

‘The Tempest at the Globe, circa the early 2000s. A three man job – not three man because the Globe couldn’t afford a full company (my assumption, that is!), just because. I think it started with Mark Rylance performing the entire storm with the ship and everyone on it on his own, using a chess board. It was hilarious, fascinating and moving all at the same time.’

I saw it too, and think I remember (I’m sure I remember) at one point Mark Rylance standing with his head in a noose as one character, then taking it out and talking to the space in the noose as another. And I remember thinking that talking to thin air made total sense – because he wasn’t talking to thin air. He was talking to a man with his head in a noose.

But what else? What else is there?

Cutting characters. That’s another common one. Why do we need both Ross and Angus to tell Macbeth he’s going to be made Thane of Cawdor, just one will do. Why do we need all three messengers, hey, let’s just give first messenger a Blackberry… But where does that stop? Do we need all three witches in Macbeth, won’t just one do? Actually come to that, do we need both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth? Umm, hang on.

Last year I tripped down to the Scoop to see the Pantaloons’ Macbeth with a friend. Their Macbeth was performed with five actors – and much cutting characters, doubling actors and hilarity ensued. They created their witches out of stunningly effective puppets – who could appear, disappear, change their movement from something old and fragile to something inhuman, be fast, be slow, move in and around the audience, fly and were genuinely other-worldy – and these puppets, I think, could be picked up whichever actors were available in any given scene.

So creating characters the whole company can play. That’s another option. Something I’m very interested in at the moment, as it happens.

What else, though.

Something symbolic? I was in a production of Richard III last year and when it came to the final battle sequence we only had a few actors and little-to-no budget with which to play. So we pumped in sound that mixed house music with helicopters and sirens, and played it at the loudest level that was legal (believe me, official-looking people came in with their little boxes and measured the volume precisely). To it we created a movement sequence which repeated and speeded up, over and over again, building for several minutes to the point where the actors were barely able to continue. Then we cut the sound. And there was just us, standing and catching our breath. Battle over.

I guess that was symbolism, right? It was something. A representation of something. A representation of something happening to lots of people. Or something.

Hats, limps, twitches, accents, chess sets, puppets, dancing and more. Lots lots more. There will be hundreds ways people have solved the problem – sorry, tackled the question. In the words of one director I worked with, ‘It’s all makey-uppy’. So what does it matter if one person plays one hundred people, or one hundred people play one person? Baz is going to be tackling this question in October. And I have to say I’m excited.

What are we going to do? Umm … watch this space!

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