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Wild Life - Rehearsals

Rehearsal blog: Nicholas Bone

Week 1

We started rehearsals this week. The first day is always strange as it is usually the first time that everyone working on a project comes together in the same place and so there's a bit of a first day of term feeling in the air.

In traditional manner, we all introduced ourselves and then heard the script - this was a new draft so it was the first time this particular version had been read. Some scripts sound exactly how you expect them to when you hear them read aloud, but Wild Life works differently outloud compared to how it is on the page. This is a good thing, by the way, in case you were wondering. It means that it has been written to be spoken. The new draft has refined things and made its thrust clearer, but one of the best things was hearing the audience of 12 or so people laughing. You sometimes forget about the humour in a play when you've read it endlessly, analaysed its structure, pored over it for ideas to draw out, moments to highlight etc, so it was wonderful to be reminded of this. At one creative team meeting last year we had started by reading the script out - I had played Dave, while Harry (the sound designer) had read Daisy and I remember that, as I was reading it, I was thinking "oh, it's funny". This may seem curious but preparing a play for production is a curious process.

Anyway, the play is funny, though serious in intent, and one of the tricks will be to manage the shift from the lighter early part to the darker tone that starts to develops half way through. This is not easy to get right - make the humour too broad at first and the audience won't buy the shift (or think it's still supposed to be funny), make it too serious too soon and you miss the complexity of the writing.

So here we are, two days in and feeling good so far - we have some re-writes to look at tomorrow (tweaks to the first part in light of work we've done so far) and an afternoon voice session with Ros Steen. The phrase "voice coach" does no service to what Ros does as her work is about connecting the actor to the text in a truly vital way. I shall write more about her work as rehearsals progress - right now I need to do some more prep for tomorrow.

Week 2

It's Wednesday in week 2 and today we finished the first phase of rehearsals. We have been examining the script in detail, working through it scene by scene mining it for information and, in particular, looking for the events and intentions. Events are moments when something happens that affects all of the characters present in a scene in some tangible way; intentions are what one character wants to do to (or change in) another character. Characters' intentions change at an event, so by working through the play and mapping these out we create a path for the characters through the play. We've also spent time examining everything we know about the characters - facts that are stated within the text, or things that can reasonably be surmised - and also what we don't know, providing us with a list of questions to research during the rehearsals.

This stage of the process is quite slow and deliberate, but it means that we all share a common view of the play and understand how it works. As this is a new play, the process also helps the playwright make adjustments: tweaking lines, moving things around and generally tightening things up. I find the presence of the playwright essential at the start of rehearsals; it means the actors can ask questions, query lines, and get a sense of how the writer 'feels' the play. In the case of Wild Life, Pamela has been doing some re-writing in rehearsals (usually smaller things like editing lines, or changing words), while doing other more substantial re-writes in the evenings. Re-writes are then printed and copied in the morning ready for the day's work. Working on a script in the rehearsal room turns things up that were maybe not apparent before (on Monday, for example, we swapped two scenes around and found it helped the progress of the story work more effectively).

The work that we finished today means that we now have a well-honed script so tomorrow we start on the next phase, which is to find out how it works physically. From now on we will spend most of our time on the marked-up floor (with taped lines representing the edges of the set) and much less time sitting with scripts at the table.

For this stage of the work, I tend to use a method I first came across when I was working as an assistant director in the 1990s. A development of Stanislavski's later work, it involves the actors improvising the scenes around the previously plotted intentions. The idea is to free them from trying to work with a script in their hand and so enable them to find the physical life of a scene more easily.

Week 3/4

We're now coming towards the end of our fourth week of rehearsals. This week we moved to Cumbernauld Theatre (where we'll open the production and with whom we're co-producing). We're rehearsing in the studio, which is in the part of the theatre that has been converted from a row of workers' cottages. The studio has been created from three cottages so is quite long and narrow but has beautiful stone walls. We're only few steps away from the main theatre and so are able to pop in during tea breaks to see the progress of the set. Yesterday afternoon we had some time on stage looking at positions for the furniture and discussing the costumes - Tristan and Charles (the designers) had some concerns about the colour of one of the pieces of furniture, but otherwise things seemed to be in hand. In the rehearsal space we have been working our way through the text, finding the physical life of the scenes and sometimes modifiying the intentions we had defined in the first two weeks in the light of what we discover. Rehearsals often have a sense of one step forward, two steps back as, at each stage, there is a new obstacle to overcome. At first it is the play itself - it needs to be mined for information and understood; then it becomes the scenes as you work at them in closer detail, uncovering details to incorporate and clarify; then there is the stage when the actors work entirely without scripts and, for a few days, rehearsals become about trying to hold on to what you have found previously while the actors try to embody their line-learning with the shape you have previously defined. Finally comes the stage where you refine everything you have already done and try to incorporate all the technical aspects at the same time. Each stage moves the play forward, but you sometimes have to work hard at holding on to what you are ultimately trying to do. Rehearsal is being in a constant state of negotiation - hopefully conducted with pleasure and a sense of purpose - as you try to connect all the different threads together in a way that reflects the entire team's work.
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Rehearsal update - week 4

We have one more day in the rehearsal room and then we move on to the stage and start to work with the full set for the first time.  Sound is an integral part of the show and sound designer Kim Moore has been in rehearsals a lot to try out things - the soundtrack is a fifth voice, supporting and counterpointing the 4 human voices.  We're at the stage of running the play every day now, with one more rehearsal room run to go before we go on stage.  Simon Wilkinson, the lighting designer, watched the run on Thursday before finalising his lighting plan and we're all excited to see how all the design elements will come together at the technical rehearsals next week.

Because of the form of the play - 4 characters telling 4 separate, fragmented stories simultaneously - working out how to rehearse the production was a challenge.   Linda McLean's script is not divided into scenes, but is punctuated in two places by the instruction  BOOOOOM (if you come to see the production you'll be able to see how we have interpreted this).  In preparation for rehearsals I split the text into 8 sections, which was amended to 9 during rehearsals.  This division was made by following the 4 characters stories to find where there were events (points where something significant happens that completes a strand).  As I did this I discovered that there were points where all four stories had simultaneous events, suggesting a break in the overall narrative.  In order to visualise this, I made a 'score' consisting of 4 tracks (one for each character) running left to right, divided top to bottom by dotted lines for page breaks and more substantial lines (like bar lines on a stave) for section breaks.  This long piece of paper (made from 7 A3 sheets) is stuck on the rehearsal room wall and was a regular reference point during the first week of rehearsals when we were getting to know the text.  When you look at the score, the play progresses from left to right like a playhead running over a multitrack recording, with vertical lines marking the section breaks.

The 'score' for the play, showing the 4 horizontal tracks - 1 for each character

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The rehearsal process has been a mix of table work (reading and discussing the script sitting at the rehearsal room table), practical preparation (voice work with Ros Steen and Viewpoints with me) and staging work (exploring the physical life of the script).  Both the Viewpoints and the voice work are practical means of unpicking the play; this practical work complements the more cerebral process of discussing the play and its characters at the table.  We developed a technique of working the sections with each character in a separate lane (like runners in a race) before improvising the action on the set.  Through this process we have gradually built up the life of the play, adding details (or sometimes simplifying) and refining the work each time.  Linda has been in the room with us for almost the whole month, listening and watching carefully, occasionally making a cut or change, sometimes clarifying a detail.

Moments in the play are quite intense and there have been moments in the rehearsal room when we have all felt the emotions of the play very strongly (we've also laughed a lot, I should add).  Our work over the final few days is to try and transfer the spirit of the rehearsal room onto the stage.

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J. Sharp Taking A Walk
07 September 2014
Very much enjoyed your show at the Brunton Theatre last night and the silent walk to start was an excellent addition, creating the perfect atmosphere....