Tag Archive | "Rehearsals"

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Blog: Young directors – fear and magic in the rehearsal room

Posted on 10 March 2014 by Young Directors

I’ve run rehearsals in the past for very small projects; I’ve been an assistant director sitting in on rehearsals and taking notes, giving feedback and providing all manner of support. But nothing is as terrifying as when it hits that you’re a young director about to lead rehearsals for a group of experienced actors, in a professional setting, to be showcased as your directorial debut to your peers, colleagues, mentors, industry and the public. And that’s exactly what I felt as I headed towards my rehearsal venue (the fabulous Theatre Delicatessen!) one a Monday morning.

The reality is quite different. Actors and directors are both human beings, and together, through trust and support, fears and anxieties are allayed. Once in the rehearsal room, I found myself much more relaxed and all set to go. If you’ve done your research, know your text and have planned your rehearsals then the door is truly open for collaboration, teamwork and the generation of ideas. There is a common goal shared by everyone in rehearsal room: to create a piece of theatre.

As a director, the key is to be prepared, to have faith in your ideas and to trust in your approach. If you have nothing, or very little to go on, how are your actors meant to put their trust in you? If you have no idea how your day will go, what units of text to work on and what point you want to be at by the end of the day, how will you get there? My own rehearsals involved a few hours preparation during the weekend before, allocating a rough amount of time to chunks of the text – it allowed us to focus on everything from language and subtext to character development to movement around the space. But what that planning also gave us was the freedom to break from it, to ask questions and to explore uncharted territories. With preparation comes freedom and openness.

Openness also relates to your approach in the rehearsal room throughout the whole process. It’s unlikely that any production will benefit from a solely Stanislavsky-based approach, but nor will it flourish with a wholly physical, movement-based approach. Being open to bringing a variety of techniques and exercises to the process is beneficial to all involved, and it will only help with keeping things fresh and moving the production onwards. With a text like Thirst by Eugene O’Neill, it was absolutely necessary to have a balanced approach, very much text and movement, and I found myself discovering new ideas and techniques as I went along, not least Chekhov’s ‘Psychological Gesture’, peacocks, Agwe and Degas’s dancers. Otherwise, we might all have drowned in weighty, dense language…

With all this coming into play, the process constantly moves forward, with discoveries and excitement pulsating through. Our final rehearsal, a day of Points of Concentration to keep things alive and fresh whilst consolidating and building on all the work we had done, was a fantastic and inspiring day as we could see all our hard work coming to fruition.

From the initial, pre-rehearsal thoughts to the final day, through trust, sharing, collaboration, preparation and openness, what once seemed terrifying becomes pure, indescribable magic.

Jude Evans


Young Directors

Young Directors

StoneCrabs Theatre’s Young Directors’ Programme is a platform for young directors, centred around production, project management and theatre directing. The programme culminates in February 2014 when the young directors will put on the Play-ground Festival at the Albany. The 2013-14 Young Directors are: Eleanor Chadwick, Hattie Coupe, Emma Dennis-Edwards, Jude Evans, Camilla Gurtler, Lynette Linton, Antony Nyagah, Mariana Pereira and Katharina Reinthaller.

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Blog: An actor writes – learning lines

Posted on 31 January 2014 by Briony Rawle


Right. I’ve done my tax return, tidied my room, emptied the dishwasher, done an excessively long warm-up with added zizz-ing, refreshed my email inbox precisely eleventy times and invented a new way to do my hair. There is definitely nothing else left to do except learn my lines.

I’m going to be in a Greek tragedy in a few weeks, and the profound conclusion I have come to from studying this revered and ancient text is that these misery guts just don’t shut up. I beg Hecabe not to launch into another diatribe that I have to learn, about her constant pain and suffering, and I wince when the body of Astyanax is brought out because lord knows she’s going to have three pages of solid monologue to say about it.

Line-learning is so tedious that you’re desperate to get good at it so that you can spend as little time as possible doing it. And don’t think I’m going to tell you a magic way to imbibe them from one quick skim on the train to the first rehearsal; it’s always going to be a giant, boring, time-consuming headache, because acting would be too much fun otherwise. But there are a few things you can do beyond simply chanting them over and over that will help.

Firstly, for every second that you’re talking, you’ve got to know why you’re still talking. Even Hecabe doesn’t just talk for the sake of it (no, really), and if you know what you’re trying to achieve with what you’re saying, the next line will come more easily. Following the character’s thought process also helps – what was it about their previous line, or about the way the other person reacted to it that makes them say the next line?

Secondly, no line will ever stay in your head if it doesn’t mean anything to you. If it’s Shakespeare and you don’t actually understand what you’re saying, it won’t stick. Busted. Check the footnotes. If it’s just another “woe is me” from Hecabe that sounds the same as the last one, it won’t stick. Each line has got to have a specific meaning that’s personal to you – an image it conjures up, or something it reminds you of, for example. If you find a particular passage is hard to learn, it’s probably because you just haven’t thought about it hard enough.

If this doesn’t work, there are cheaty little tricks that will just get you over that broken little bridge in your mind and possibly save your skin in performance. Look out for repetitions of letters or sounds; one of my lines is “bargain away Argos to barbarians”. Easy as pie. “Men’s lawless lusts are all called…” What? ‘Love’, surely, after all those lovely ‘L’s. Another naughty tip I’ve heard is to learn your speech backwards, so you say the last line, then the last two, then the last three, etc. This is massively cheating because you’re not learning the sense of the speech, but it will mean that you get more and more confident the further in to the speech you go. When learning dialogue I always record the other person’s lines into my phone, leaving gaps for me to say my own lines in when I’m practising, so that I get used to responding to cue lines. It’s like having a strange phone call with yourself.

Right, enough procrastination. Time to get down to it. Although maybe now would be a good time to write next week’s blog? Or maybe I should go for a run before it rains. And the kettle needs de-scaling…

Photo by Flickr user Keith Williamson under a Creative Commons Licence. 

Briony Rawle

Briony Rawle

Briony studied English Literature at Warwick University, then an MA in acting at Drama Centre London. She is an actor currently living just outside London, and is a founding member of Threepenny Theatre.

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Feature: Cuckoo at the Unicorn Theatre

Posted on 13 January 2014 by Laura Turner

suhalya el-bushraOpening this week at the Unicorn Theatre is a new play by Hollyoaks writer Suhayla El-Bushra, whose play Pigeons recently ran at the Royal Court Theatre. Cuckoo is, in her own words, “a play about an unlikely friendship between two teenage girls, Jenny and Nadine, and how this friendship is tested when Jenny becomes jealous of the relationship that develops between Nadine and Jenny’s mum, Erica. Although it’s about teenagers it also raises questions about parenting – how responsible should we be for children whose own parents have failed or are unable look after them?”

What inspired you to write this piece?

I was working in a Pupil Referral Unit with teenage girls who had been excluded from mainstream education. I had worked there for some time, mainly with boys, but I had come back from maternity leave and there were suddenly a lot more girls attending. I was intrigued by the way their behaviour was different from the boys. They were much more charming and sweet – but then would go out and get arrested for beating people up after school. I wanted to explore what it was that made girls go out and commit acts of violence; young women aren’t ‘supposed’ or expected to be aggressive, so I was interested in female anger – where it comes from and what happens when it’s suppressed. I had also recently become a mother, so I think I was subconsciously looking at that through Erica’s character – at the devotion and sacrifice involved in having a child, but also the resentment that can stem from that.

There must have been challenges in writing that story. 

I hadn’t written a play before – I’d only written feature film scripts – so I was getting my head around writing for a different medium. The first draft had loads of scenes, several locations and a cast of about 20, but it was also structured like a screenplay. It took me a while to work out what would and wouldn’t work on stage, but luckily I had the chance to work with some actors and a director on the characters and the story quite early on in the process, so I learnt a huge amount doing that.

I started Cuckoo a long time ago and kept coming back to it at various stages, with long gaps in between. I spent time developing it in Brighton, but after I’d written the second draft I had the chance to work on it some more with Nathan Curry (who’s directing it now) for a couple of days at the National Theatre Studio with some professional actors. So that really moved it on as well. And it’s great that Nathan has been on board since then, partly because he’s a brilliant director, but it also meant that when we started rehearsals I knew he already had a very strong understanding of what the play was about.

Having written for TV shows such as Hollyoaks, just how different is writing for the stage?

In terms of form, that’s a tough one to answer, because for every rule you can find about the difference between writing for stage and screen, you can also find an example that breaks that rule. For me, the main difference is about the process. There are usually a lot fewer people involved in putting on a play than there is in creating a TV series or a feature film, so it tends to be you, a director and some actors in a rehearsal room trying things out. It’s a very immediate and direct way of working. In TV you might work on a script with script editors and producers without meeting the actors and director, so you do miss out on that part of the process and you can feel a bit detached from the end product when you finally see it.

How do you balance the young girls’ stories with the role of the mother in the play?

I think it’s definitely more the girls’ story, although Erica is so important in terms of driving the plot. It’s her behaviour that influences the girls’ actions, but the focus is more on the effect that has on the girls than on her. There’s a slight imbalance in that there’s less explanation for Erica’s behaviour: it’s very clear what’s motivating the girls, whereas the actress playing Erica has to do a lot more digging, but it is in there.

What do you draw on as a writer?

Anything and everything. Books, articles, things I overhear on the bus. I think you can’t help but put some of your own personal experience into whatever you write though, even if you try really hard to avoid it.

Why is the Unicorn the right home for this play?

I think the fact that, as well as staging work for young audiences, they’re also keen to put on plays that explore our relationship with young people, as Cuckoo does, makes it the right home. I’m very proud that it’s being staged at The Unicorn as I’ve seen some brilliant work there recently.

I’ve been involved with both [rehearsals and casting]. I think it’s vital for writers to sit in on rehearsals and understand that process. I don’t ever feel like I have a huge amount to offer by that stage of the proceedings, but it’s interesting to see how it takes shape. I think you learn a lot and that it definitely informs the next thing you write.

Cuckoo plays at the Unicorn Theatre from 14 to 25 January. For tickets and more information, visit the Unicorn Theatre website.

Laura Turner

Laura Turner

Laura trained as a writer with Hull Truck Theatre, BBC New Talent and the Royal Court Theatre. She has worked extensively with touring theatre company Chapterhouse, where she is currently Writer in Residence. Laura has previously written for BBC EastEnders: E20 and her adaptation of Jane Eyre toured theatres with Hull Truck Theatre Company at the start of 2013. She is now working on an original play for the theatre, as well as projects with Bolton Octagon, Middle Child Theatre and The Ashton Group, Cumbria. She has been long-listed for the Bruntwood Prize for Playwrighting and the Adrienne Benham Award.

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Blog: En route to Edinburgh – Preview week

Posted on 26 July 2013 by Katie Pesskin

photo-23This week is preview week. Edinburgh is less than a week away and the final preparations are in full swing, but everyone is mildly distracted by the inevitable previews. While our second round of previews are at a London theatre akin to our space in Edinburgh, the first lot are at a small Fringe festival, where tech is at an absolute minimum. The space we are performing in has no stage, no projector (and nowhere to rig the projector which is integral to the show) and just eight lights – although there are skylights so no need to worry about it being too dark. With a constant stream of obstacles to overcome, at points during the get-in day I did start to wonder why we were bothering.

But ultimately we all go to the effort of previewing to get our shows seen by an audience before we hit Edinburgh. Adding the extra dimension of an audience has an impact on any production and driving back to London after a rather fraught day, I started to wonder if we should have just stayed in the rehearsal room or, are previews worth the effort?

As a director, the effect that an audience has on the actors’ performances is palpable. The energy, while not necessarily higher, is always different, and they are forced to be ever-present in a way that is not the case in rehearsals. Of course, the audience are more of a feature in some productions than others. Their role can range from silent observer to an accomplice who is engaged and interacted with, and therefore their impact on the show differs for individual shows. Yet the fact that they have an impact is undeniable and they cannot be ignored.

The reason we preview a show is usually in order to fine-tune it before it is reviewed. There are previews incorporated into the Edinburgh festival itself, but with such a high volume of shows and early reviews so sought after, often press will appear during previews. Hence why we preview before we get up there. Yet without being in the venue you will be in in Edinburgh, the final destination, we cannot precisely rehearse the technical aspects of the production or the details of staging in the space. It is all about putting it in front of an audience, and what that might change about the show and about the performances. If it doesn’t work for an audience, it arguably doesn’t work at all because, at the end of the day, it is a performance and while we want to stay true to the piece, we cannot forget or deny its theatricality.

As we journey back to the venue (I would be reluctant to call it a theatre…) for our second preview, the benefits of going to the effort are clear. A production can only reach a certain point in rehearsal without being put in front of an audience. Previews, however time consuming, afford the cast and director an opportunity to respond to the effect of the audience before reaching the final product. While the prospect of staying within the safe four walls of the rehearsal room is rather appealing at the time when previews hit, at some point the show put in front of an audience. So rip off the plaster and let the audience play their part.

Katie Pesskin

Katie Pesskin

Katie is Director of As Told By... which is producing '35MM: A Musical Exhibition' at Bedlam Theatre throughout this year's Edinburgh Fringe in association with Greenwich Theatre. Katie also programmes the Lounge at Leicester Square Theatre and works on the team for NewsRevue at the Pleasance. @KatiePesskin @AsToldByTheatre

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