Our week of rehearsals is now over. It has been a rapid week and absolutely flown by. I think we would all have liked more time in rehearsals but I am happy that we have made the best of what time we had. Of course the proof of the pudding (or Steve’s Birthday cake – which was delicious) is in the eating. The performances next week will show us if we have made the right decisions and focussed on the right areas and this will inform our approach to rehearsals in Autumn.
Working with someone new to the show has brought in a valuable fresh perspective to Paper Tom. During the rehearsals there have been things in the show we’ve had to reconsider and it has been a bit scary to address and unravel aspects given our limitations on time. But I think this has really benefited the overall process and the show has a real freshness to it.
There have not been wholesale changes made to the text. I think we may have only changed 2 words since the script was finalised about a year ago prior to our performances at Buxton (that incidentally was version 23).
With a work that has a devised origin there is a tendency for things to be a bit more up for grabs in rehearsals, especially when the creators are present. You can sometimes be dazzled by the newness of something and think perhaps it might be better just because you haven’t seen it 100 times before. But on the flip side it’s also easy to get complacent with the work and just go along with something because that’s how its always been and you’ve kind of forgotten how it got like that. But it’s been a great rehearsal process being able to look at the characters in greater detail than before and fixing the performance without breaking the show.
So, when is a production is finished?
I think I find it’s usually when you run out of time and/or resources but perhaps it is more to do with there being an absence of challenge for all involved.
So…Day two is here and so it is my turn to take over the Handheld Arts blog for an eve and an update on our rehearsals. As well as possibly a ponder on how it’s all going so far…
Today feels like a very full day of good things: we began (after a brief yoga session led my me) with the Waltz, which is looking good although it just needs practice to work in the timing and smoothness. But it will come I have no doubt. It is only day 2 after all.
We then put the Dave and Richard Afghanistan scene on it’s feet and it certainly found some sturdy size 9’s quickly! Our new Dave/Tom has brought with him a nice energy and warmth to the scene as well as a playful quality which it needs. We’ve found new bits hiding in it today (which is saying something seeing as we’ve been working on Paper Tom for quite a while now!)
After a cake and muffin fuelled lunch (it was Steve’s birthday yesterday so it’s only right and proper) our new Tom taught us a new game to rival our firm favourite: one touch tennis ball football. I think I may find room in my heart for FourSquare – a slightly gentler game, still high energy and focused but less likely to cause full bodily bruising due to rugby tackles gone wrong!
We then moved on to look at Cher Amie and again, our new actor has brought new qualities to the scene that draw you in and add an intense stillness and depth to it. Tis lovely stuff! The only difficulty I am finding is that because he is getting things so quickly in terms of how we imagine the character to be I am running out of helpful things to say with a Directors hat on! I think that he may expect or be looking for more but I find it hard to add anything very useful when I’m following the old adage: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
We then took a go at Transformation, always a slightly tricksy scene to rehearse as we haven’t got a projector set up so I think we will have to wait for the full effect until we are in the tech rehearsal. It’s interesting doing this after so long and re-blocking certain moves due to space restrictions on the Exeter stage. We have, I am sad to say, had to rework the infamous Lucy hat swap scene. There’s still some magic to behold but the slightly unattractive Lucy hat has been condemned and will not make it to Exeter with us in the back of our bus.
The final scenes we looked at today were the two couples scenes: Tom and Lucy and Richard and Rachel. The Tom and Lucy scene has had fresh life breathed into it and is a lovely start for his storyline. I struggled more with the Richard and Rachel scene as we have had to re-block due to sight lines and I suddenly felt out of my comfort zone performing the scene sitting on boxes where I was used to the floor before. I felt that I knew where I was with the floor. I felt comfortable there, but it is, as ever, good to stretch things and change things when they get too comfortable and I actually think staging it on boxes will make for a stronger scene once I get used to the shift and performing with ‘Richard’ on the opposite side to me. Still, if this is my biggest concern thus far in the rehearsal process (day 2 but with only 2 days left) and with most of the scenes covered at least a few times then I think things are going pretty damn well…
1) First day of rehearsal
2) First time working with a new ‘Tom’/’Dave’ (and punter no: 3!)
3) First time using the rehearsal space we have hired for this period
And I’m pretty sure from how things went yesterday, that it was the first of many ‘day of firsts’ to come.
First days are always a little odd – and I can be a bit of a ‘piglet’ about change and new things. The task of making a show happen how you imagine it should can sometimes feel rather overwhelming, and whilst this has still pretty much been the case – I have for the first time felt that I could also be excited about making this show happen again (ooh… another first!). I’m not sure that’s something I’m allowed to admit to really, as surely the very least you can expect from a theatre-maker is for them to be excited by the prospect of putting their work on it’s feet – but in all honesty, as the time gets closer to a show, the piglet in me starts to think about all the things that could go wrong and to the varying degrees this could happen. This time though, things feel different. Something has opened me up to considering all the things that could go right – that things could maybe even be better than they have ever been with ‘Paper Tom’!
This new found optimism about the rehearsal process has already been rewarded. Yesterday we managed to cover one more scene than we thought we would get through and reworked the waltz scene, which has come on leaps and bounds (literally!). I’m not saying that it was without its challenges – working with a new person is brilliant for making you reconsider your work as they come to it with a fresh perspective. However, some of the points they raise can be hard to hear and even understand at times. All the previous ‘Toms’, and all of Handheld Arts have trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama – and I wonder how much of that shared experience of being a Central Alumni (‘Centralites’ I believe is a term that is used!) effects the way in which we operate in a rehearsal room together; if somehow there is a language or particular philosophy that becomes part of the psyche of someone trained at CSSD and provides some sort of ‘short cut’ or default way of doing things that we have come to expect/accept as how things happen.
The new ‘Tom’ is from Drama Centre – and he is great!… and he totally brings something to the process we’ve never had before and we like it! It’s what we wanted (we even said as much in our Arts Council Application!), an opportunity to exchange skills and gain new experience. Someone to come and shed a different light on how we do things and how we might do things – a cultural exchange if you will. It seems to me we’re all a bit like a group of very polite tourists at the moment, doing our best to show willing and speak the local language, experiencing the occasional awkward pause while we scrabble about in our phrase books to find the best way to communicate any confusions that are happening and to find a way of resolving them together.
The other new thing is our rehearsal space. This is the first time we have worked on something since Theatre Venture ceased after 30 years, leaving a huge hole in the artistic landscape of East London, and us without “The magic of Leywick Street”. Leywick Street was Theatre Venture’s rehearsal space, former office and storage space. It was three storeys of rough and ready rooms, complete with cobwebs, peeling paint and the most random collection of set, props, costumes and technical equipment that had all made themselves at home in this former cookery of a Victorian school in East London. It would probably not be many companies first choice of rehearsal space but I loved it. We loved it. I’m not adverse to beautiful empty spaces with white walls and sprung floors – but I do find them a little intimidating (piglet again!). I imagine that if they could speak they’d be saying “I’m watching you – This better be good!” and I end up adopting the same attitude I have when walking around the glass department of John Lewis, whereas Leywick street would have probably have said something along the lines of “you take your time – I’m just going for a little snooze , wake me up if you need me.” But wouldn’t you know it… my optimism was again rewarded again and our new space (the rehearsal room at The Brockley Jack Theatre) has a touch of the Leywicks about it – with remnants of previous shows, marks on the floor and someone else’s set getting ready to be moved out on the side of the room. It gives me confidence. It shows me that this space is tried and tested, a trophy cabinet of evidence that says “We all did it – and so will you!”. I like it!
And now to the end of my first ever blog entry (yet another first!). I’m not a natural writer – possibly due to being dyslexic, possibly due to my fairly short attention span, where having to write down my thoughts is a bit like going over old ground – Once I’ve had my thought I’ve moved on and the thought that goes into writing stuff down takes up time that could be spent having new thoughts. I’m not sure if any of what I’ve written or will write will be of any interest to anyone – or if anyone outside of Handheld is even going to look at this. It’s hard to imagine what people would want to know about what we do and how we do it.
Today I’m off to get the costumes with our 2 actors. It’s Steve’s Birthday today and as the costume place is in Southend-on-Sea I said I’d buy him an Ice Cream if he was good. I wonder how the car journey will be – Line runs maybe? Odd not to have another member of Handheld out with me!
Well everything starts somewhere and this is where this blog is going to start.
We are now just a week away from our 3 performances in Exeter as part of the Ignite Festival. On Friday Sarah-Jane and I went on a site visit to the Bike Shed Theatre. The venue is new to us and it was great to get a look at the space, pick up a programme (always exciting to see your show listing in the programme & that novelty hasn’t worn off) and just generally get our bearings prior to the company arrival next week. These upcoming shows in Exeter are a great opportunity for us to present the show to new audiences and build momentum for the Autumn tour.
The process of creating a theatre show from scratch all the way through to its eventual touring has for me been like an egg and spoon race but at a marathon length. Hopefully this blog can serve as a document to the realities of touring new work in 2012.