Challenge: To write and rehearse a new play in 24 hours.
In two 12-hour rehearsals, Fringe-24 aim to create a performance lasting 50 minutes, and it’s going in front of a paying audience on Saturday 4th April at the Etcerera Theatre in Camden at 3pm and 7.30pm (so no pressure then). My role in all of this? To blog their rehearsal process – process being the operative word. To focus on the journey rather than the destination. There will be an end product – it’s just that we’re not quite sure what it will look or sound like. In some ways, it is a dangerous way to work – and that’s what makes it so interesting.
I am hopeless with names, so when I arrive, I’m relieved that I’m only faced with meeting a small group of people to begin with (others arrive throughout the day). Directors Jennifer and Ella, musician Ash, dramaturg Hannah, and actors Jennie, Faye and Bella. When I walk through the door of the rehearsal space, all of them are sprawled on the floor, deep into a writing exercise; paper, pens, newspapers, magazine and cushions are scattered everywhere. Sheets are covered in brainstorms, copious notes, lists and errant doodles.
They are working on something akin to a hybrid game of Consequences and I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue’s Cheddar Gorge, where in two teams of 3, they take it in turns to write 1 word, 2 words, 3 words etc. until they’ve come up with a stream-of-consciousness monologue. The aim of this is to get the actors into a writing frame of mind and just committing pen to paper.
Jennifer put the actors through various improvisation techniques in order to get the creative juices flowing. But by far the most interesting exercise was to put their written texts into unlikely situations – turning one into a shady transaction of selling a phone in an alleyway and the other into a political debate – by playing with words in this way, it forces the actors to use more physicality, intonation and change of pace in order to make the scenario believable. Initially the words seem so out of place, but the more you toy with them, the more you find ways to make them sound relevant.
The speeches are flipped between the two groups, new situations assigned and rehearsed, but on performance (and without prior warning), other actors are assigned tasks to chip in with the scene. It requires a certain fearlessness from the actors to respond to whatever is thrown at them, all the while staying in character and sticking to the script.
As a rehearsal technique, it’s fascinating to watch – the importance of playing around with text, making the time for stress-testing, experimenting, screwing up and striking gold, because in the midst of all the jibberish, there’s something worth developing. When so much theatre relies on financially breaking even (or making a profit), it’s tempting to plunge straight into rehearsals – so to witness a day of textual playtime is very refreshing.
But mindful of the deadline, the best part of the afternoon and evening was taken up with brainstorming ideas, themes and stories for the play itself – looking at current affairs, recent news stories, key anniversaries coming up in 2015, and exploring how these related to each other. Snippets of writing were done, but mostly personal reflection and memories rather than creating characters.
By breaking out into smaller groups and doing a bit of free writing, various members of the group were beginning to produce little bits of content. Music and games provided stimuli, but mostly the group seemed to generate mountains of ideas. One of the things I’ll be interested to see (if it goes ahead) is the concept of a play that is structured like a song (verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus).
As the evening wore on, it became clear that it was time to focus on just one or two ideas – there are many more, but if you throw too many themes at a show, it all risks becoming a little bit GCSE Drama. Right towards the end of the first 12 hours, the group began to agree on some of the basics and what needed to be achieved in the next rehearsal. We were tired…. but inspired and excited.
I can’t wait to see what tomorrow holds…..
A full gallery of the photos I took can be found by clicking here.