Last week I wrote about the fantastic arts movement which will be sweeping the nation over the next week, ending with an almighty climax of performances on Friday 18 March: Theatre Uncut. This week I’m here to tell you a bit about the rehearsals for one of these pieces. I will be performing a work-in-progress showing of Open Heart Surgery by Laura Lomas at The Brewhouse Theatre & Arts Centre, Taunton. With just two weeks to prepare I’m already halfway through my allotted time, and thought I’d take a few minutes to recount the tale so far.
The first step was to read the script and feel out those initial reactions. It’s a very well crafted piece and very poignant, so I immediately wanted to steer away from overindulging in the emotional side of it. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never really been a fan of milking every moment dry and bursting into tears at the drop of a hat for dramatic effect. The language of the piece makes it clear how sad and desperate a situation it is, so I don’t think it’s necessary to lay it on with a trowel. With this in mind, and taking into account the manner of her speech, I decided to see how tough I could make the character and how much of the emotion I could conceal and then draw out at a later point in rehearsal.
Having taken on board my initial thoughts and reminded myself that a lot of that would probably change somewhat over the coming two weeks, I took to learning my lines. All four A4 pages of them. On the train. I spend a lot of time on trains so this is where I do the majority of my line-learning. I find it quite productive as I have no gadgets and gizmos to distract me and the odd screaming child becomes much easier to block out when trying to recall the next line of a 15minute monologue! One of the downsides however is that it does come with the occupational hazard of making strange faces which have no relevance to your immediate environment. Muttering to yourself with the occasional look of mortal anguish when you’re sat on your own does tend to draw a few funny looks.
So, lines learned and sounding ever-so perfect and engaging in my head, it was time to start exploring and rehearsing. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, it’s all very well practicing in your bedroom mirror but it just isn’t enough to make a good performance. Friends to the rescue! A quick relocation to the lounge and a short recital later, you realise how quickly you’ve rushed through – and that that oh-so-perfect speech you’d been running through in your head hasn’t quite come out as you’d imagined it. But, all solvable problems, which is why this is such good practice.
Pace is a very important part of any speech and, while at this point it was probably more indicative of how well I knew my lines, I need to be very conscious of this for the performance and make fairly concrete decisions about the pauses and rhythms which affect the overall flow of the piece. They always say that the hardest thing to do on stage is nothing. It can take quite a lot of work to become comfortable with silences and stillness in performance and there is ample opportunity in this piece. But then again I don’t want to drag it all out. There is a fine line to be trodden here, and I will be experimenting with the pauses throughout the week to hopefully find a good balance for by the performance.
One of the reasons I like this piece is that, while it can be done quite as a very emotive piece, it also has a double meaning and a wonderfully political subtext if you want to look for it. If you play it with the latter in mind it becomes a very satirical mimicking of the Coalition’s assertions regarding the cuts. It has a lot of layers and a whole host of playing options, so it will be great to hear about what other actors taking on this piece will do with it. Let us know what you think if you see any of them!