It has been a couple of weeks since I embarked upon my four-day run of work experience at the Brockley Jack theatre to observe Outfox Productions in its final week of rehearsal of Frank Wedekind’s Spring Awakening, but I still remember setting off on Monday for my local train station with a buoyant sense of optimism that was unfortunately short-lived.
Before I knew it, I had become truly mixed up in the train system, sped through London and been spat out the other side. It took an unfortunate argument with a ticket inspector, two payphone calls with money cadged from strangers and a large cup of Tetley’s finest to bring me back into central London, which did not prevent me arriving at the theatre half an hour late, sweating, lugging a chafing hessian bag and in a state of minor panic at the already poor first impression I must have been painting.
Within hours this state of apprehension had melted away. Perhaps oddly, it was because nobody made a fuss when I entered; I was able to sit down next to the stage manager and unobtrusively slot into a focused rehearsal, feeling very quickly assimilated into the process. The company’s treatment of me not as an outsider who needed to be kept occupied, but as a part of what was going on, made the experience far more enriching. Fast-forward to day four, and I had seen countless chats with the actors on subjects from American ‘grit’ to RADA’s audition panel over tea, chocolate fingers and stonking great pub lunches.
The effect of this informal learning process was in retrospect more revealing than it first seemed – this was not a manufactured Q & A session, where all-too-often one finds truthful but disappointingly open-ended answers. I had almost a week’s real look at what day-to-day living is like for an actor, in terms of the hours working can involve, the ongoing stories about chasing a good agent, the demonstrations of how some had branched out to follow particular related interests (including stand-up and scripting) and, most interestingly, how they all regarded life experience of paramount importance to an actor in so many different ways: travelling, university, working, educating.
At the same time I was also observing rehearsals: I saw beating and rape being choreographed, I read in for actors, I joined warm ups (one of which included a set of tongue twisters that I made a mental note of and then promptly muddled up), I made John the Director’s coffee (white, sugar dependant on guesswork) and I lay down as part of a relaxation exercise where the world was memorably described to us as a colossal lemon meringue pie. The scope of what was exercised in order to pull the best from each other was simply incredible.
I have seen many exercises and warm-ups as a drama student, but it was really the range of different exercises the company used to stimulate in between rehearsal time and their capacity to plunge back in with such focus that amazed me. One particular episode, where the actors stood in thin summer dress in a windy and wet cemetery for several hours in order to film a theatrical trailer, truly epitomised this focus. All faces showed real cheerfulness, stamina and dedication to each shot despite the situation. The amount that has to be given to a production has never been clearer to me.
It was through observing this dedication – as well as picking up multiple new ideas on staging, warm-ups, rehearsal blocking and filming over the week – that I learnt something more important: in giving yourself to a production the buck does not stop with you and your feelings. It is those around who should be drawn in, bound closer together by your attitude – even small, slightly nervous work experience students.
Spring Awakening runs at the Brockley Jack theatre in South East London from 20 June to 14 July. For more information, see their website.
Image 1: Ellie Morris (Thea), Evelyn Campbell (Martha) and Ana Luderowski (Wendla).
Image 2: Ellie Morris, Ana Luderowski and Evelyn Campbell. Credit: Amy Gunn.