Tag Archives: rehearsal

Fringe-24 – Creativity Takes Courage: Day 1

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.

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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).

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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.

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Boeing Boeing – from page to stage

“Farce is a tragedy played at a thousand revolutions per minute.” – John Mortimer

How very true.  After months of preparation, line learning, swearing, optimistic visual cues, line running and more swearing, we have finally opened ‘Boeing Boeing’ to our paying audiences at The Miller Centre Theatre, Caterham.  Whilst farce is often looked upon as one of the basest forms of humour, it is also one of the most demanding of its actors.  Pace, comic timing, cue-bite, fiendishly similar lines, lightning-fast costume changes and being rock solid on your thread of the story whilst maintaining the illusion that this is a situation hurtling dangerously out of control – all of these are essential.

Many friends outside of my theatre bubble ask ‘how do you learn all those lines?’ often referring to long speeches or pages and pages of dialogue.  In those cases, with relative ease; when you only have yourself and perhaps one other person to rely on, and a clear direction to the conversation, you record the lines, listen to them over and over in much the same way as you’d learn the words to a song.  But farce typically has lots of short, clipped lines, interjections, interruptions, repetition and similarity peppered throughout, especially so when the confusion mounts.  The best way to learn this is sheer brute force with the ‘shopping list’ method:

I went to the shops and I bought an orange.  I went to the shops and I bought an orange and two apples.  I went to the shops and I bought an orange and two apples and 3 pork chops.  etc etc etc.

It’s boring and time consuming, but it works!

We’ve also experienced that horribly, disconcerting point in the last few rehearsals – NO ONE IS LAUGHING ANY MORE.  In the first few weeks, you spend half of your time recovering from fits of the giggles, be it from lines, a carefully timed entrance, a pause, a facial expression – eventually you gain control of yourselves, you get books down and a few more people appear in the rehearsal studio, doubling as a mini-audience: stage manager, props, prompt, wardrobe, production committee, artistic director etc. their laughter buoys you and spurs you on.  But then everyone has to knuckle down and focus on their own tasks.  You are pouring every last inch of yourself into performing, only to have no audible feedback.

The greatest risk is going too far over the top or feeling so demoralised that you don’t give it everything.  I’ve experienced both with this rehearsal process – a few careful tweaks help to sharpen up the little bits that need ‘light and shade’.  It does of course help to have a small rent-a-crowd in for your final dress-rehearsal, partly to reassure you that it is still funny, but also to give you an indication of where an audience might laugh.  It’s a very tricky thing to balance; on one hand you don’t want to deliver a punchline followed by the sort of pause that aches with: “You can laugh now.”, but nor do you want to cut the laughter short!  (I challenge you to find me an actor who doesn’t revel in laughter and applause of their own making – we’re all suckers for it!)

Boeing Boeing had a very successful run in the West end about 6 years ago (which is where I first saw it and first knew that I wanted to play Gretchen one day).  I didn’t see the stint featuring Mark Rylance playing Robert, but our director’s son, being a great fan of Mr Rylance, sent him an email asking if he had any tips.  To our surprise, we actually got a reply:

“Don’t play for laughs; play to terrify the audience about what might happen next.”

This is possibly one of the best pieces of advice for farce that I’ve ever received.  With that in mind, we have stripped back some of the overdoing and instead worked more towards keeping the audiences stress levels up with every almost-catastrophic near-miss that we can manage!  This has been an immensely tough production to learn, rehearse and stage, but also one of great fun and reward.  We’d love to see you in the audience one night.  🙂

Boeing Boeing is at The Miller Centre Theatre, 30 Godstone Road, Caterham, Surrey CR3 6RA until Saturday 21st September.  Tickets can be booked from http://www.millercentretheatre.org