Absent Friends

I mentioned in my first post that I played Abigail when I was doing my A-levels, and that I fell in love with The Crucible at that time. What I didn’t really go into, was that it was that 1994 production of The Crucible in my home village which made me certain that my future lay with drama and theatre, in one form or another. Drama teaching followed, then a Masters degree in Theatre Directing, studying in London and Moscow, and now I am making my living freelance – putting on productions, drama coaching, running workshops, writing and some teaching. That show has a lot to answer for!

I vividly recall the rehearsals and how much I loved being part it – how alive it made me feel – how keen I was to perform to the best of my ability. At that stage, directing wasn’t fully in my mind; I was about to start a Theatre Studies degree, and  loved acting, despite being aware my ability in that field was more limited than I wanted. Watching Tony, the director of The Crucible, work with his cast, however, I began to really take an interest in the craft of directing, and I have never looked back! I learned so much from him – in other productions as well as The Crucible – and from my fellow actors, especially, perhaps, Chris, who played Proctor, Marion (Elizabeth), John (Danforth), Jean (Rebecca) and Tony (Hale). I still have on my bookcase a black and white photo of the cast, and some of the crew, taken immediately after our final performance. Looking at that photo is a bitter-sweet experience as several of those pictured are no longer with us, some taken well before their time, and several others I have completely lost touch with; though many of the others posing there thankfully remain my  friends.  I treasure the memories I have of them all – and will never forget that production and the impact it made on me.

The reason I post about this today is that I have been secretly worried that I would never fully get past my memories of that production eighteen years ago, but at today’s rehearsal I realised that it had happened. I was no longer hearing intonations and inflections from the past (as I had been doing in some earlier rehearsals); I was no longer trying to re-create pictures I’d seen before (as I think maybe I had been doing on one or two occasions). The reason? My current cast of actors are now really taking charge. They are visibly becoming their characters and are showing me how they should move and speak – when and why. It’s very exciting!

The fact that I feel I have finally moved on takes nothing away from my 1994 experience – nothing ever could – but it does mean I can now focus fully on the 2012 version of this tremendous play.

I am so lucky to be part of a second great team!

elaru xx

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Goosebumps!

One of the most exciting times in any production process is the first goosebump moment. This is the moment when I really, truly start to believe that the show will work. (Whatever confidence I’ve portrayed earlier has been bluff!) It also signifies the show starting to move to the next level – getting closer to performance pitch.

The Crucible’s first goosebump moment occurred yesterday. There have been lots of good rehearsal moments so far, promising much in performance: between Proctor and Elizabeth in Act 2; between Abigail and Proctor, Tituba and Hale, Parris and the Putnams in Act 1; between Giles, Francis and Proctor in Act 3, to name but a few. None had given me goosebumps, however. But that was to change…

Those of you who know the play, won’t be surprised to hear that it was the girls in the trial scene that provided the first goosebump moment. We had been working systematically through the act with lots of stops and starts, until the section involving the imitating of Mary Warren – where the girls chillingly repeat her increasingly desperate cries. Momentum started to build – I felt no desire to interrupt; I just wanted to watch – the pace was suddenly perfect and theatre magic happened! I know – from the look I shared afterwards with Parris, among others – that I wasn’t the only one to feel it. And that was part of the goosebump moment – sure Mary Warren and the other girls were providing tremendous vocal and physical energy, but just at that rehearsal time everyone on stage was involved, absorbed and totally in character – from the silent marshall in the aisle to Danforth in his pulpit, elevated above the rest. The team was really gelling and doing great work.

I was suddenly aware that I had been holding my breath and I let it out in a rush.

Goosebump moments are thrilling. Not every rehearsal from now on will provide them, but  they are glimpses of what we could achieve.

I want more!

elaru xx

My Week With Theatre

It’s been a busy week.

Last Saturday I saw two very different live shows. In the afternoon I watched Miss Julie at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester and in the evening I saw Jerry Seinfeld at the MEN arena. Miss Julie had received rave reviews and was indeed very good, though a little too “one note” overall for my taste; Seinfeld was on blistering form and the whole audience was in stitches for the full 70 minutes. It was a great day!

On Tuesday night I went to a local theatre space to see a production of The Pillowman in which three of the actors from The Crucible were performing. It was great to see them in action – each performing impressively well in a very challenging piece of theatre. I always enjoy watching actors I’m working with perform in other roles; it gives me a new perspective on them and, sometimes, unlocks interesting and different ideas about the characters they are playing in the show on which I’m working.

Wednesday night was filled with a rehearsal for Act 2 of The Crucible. We’re in the middle stage now, where decisions are starting to be made, movements set etc, though exploration is certainly still taking place. At this rehearsal, we stop-started our way through the whole act for the first ninety minutes, asking questions and experimenting with different ways of playing various moments and the impact of different lengths of pause. Some very useful work was done and a nice rhythm began to be established. We finished the rehearsal with a lurch through the final two thirds of the act without stopping. The actors are really beginning to find their characters now, and are clearly working very hard on learning lines, and this run went pleasingly well.

Thursday saw me at a dress rehearsal for a short concert I’m singing in at a tiny theatre space tonight (Saturday). I always enjoy singing with this group – a 6 part a capella group – and it was interesting to be in a new space as we haven’t performed at this theatre before. Our style, especially between pieces, is quite informal, so we had to experiment a bit with the stage and house lighting to find a balance where we could see the audience to interact, while still looking sufficiently lit on stage. I think we found the right settings; we’ll see tonight!

And so, that was my week with theatre. Throughout it, I’ve been reading Colin Clark’s diary “My Week With Marilyn” about the making of the film The Prince and the Show Girl starring Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier. It’s an easy and entertaining read, but also informative and interesting. One aspect I’m finding difficult, though, is its portrayal of Arthur Miller. In the diary, he and Marilyn have just got married, and Miller is presented most unsympathetically as being a major cause of the insecurities which gave Marilyn so much trouble on the set of the film; I find it hard to reconcile the apparently generous, clever and insightful author of The Crucible with the small-minded, selfish man Clark seems to have come across. This may send me to more Miller biographies soon to see if I can get a fuller picture…

More soon.

elaru xx

Dangerous Liaisons

At the risk of overusing the “production is like a relationship” analogy, today I feel like I’m being unfaithful. After a really useful rehearsal last night – all the girls bar one, Tituba, lots of great screaming – my focus today is my previous production “All the World’s a Stage”. This show is a devised piece, comprising a sequence of extracts from Shakespeare plays, performed by an all-male cast and linked by an original narrative, spoken by a boy actor. It was great fun to devise, fantastic put on last November, and almost equally fun when re-visited in an adapted form in February. Overall, I’ve been as proud of it as I have been of any production – which, for me, is saying something – and today’s version is being filmed for an online fringe festival held in Perth, Australia, and as such represents a potentially useful opportunity.

BUT I still feel as though I’m being unfaithful. I feel as though my relationship with “All the World’s a Stage”  should have finished – for now at least. Not completely, perhaps; despite my relative pride, I am well aware of all its flaws and, maybe, sometime in the future I might like to revisit and rework still further. Not now, though. Now is The Crucible’s time.

I know I’ll enjoy the hours later today spent in the company of a fantastic group of actors and friends – rehearsing and then performing/filming. I’ll thoroughly enjoy them, and for those few hours my focus will be fully on Shakespeare and “All the World’s a Stage”. It won’t hold my focus, though, much beyond the post-show pint.

The Crucible currently has me in thrall.

elaru xx

All Together Now

So, that’s that. The cast is finally complete – and not a moment too soon, as tickets go on sale this week! A lucky chance meeting on Friday gave me Sarah Good; Mercy Lewis and Danforth came via recommendations from the actor who is playing Parris (so as well as being a talented performer, Parris has already proved to be a very useful addition to the company!); and finally, Abigail’s part has been filled by a girl I contacted after remembering her recent impressive performance as the Nurse in a school production of Romeo and Juliet.

It was great to see most of the Salem community together at today’s rehearsal, even if at the start it felt a bit like a weird speed dating session as I tried – ineptly – to introduce actors to each other, particularly actors playing characters who have a history and relationship that is important in the play. We made a start, but I know these relationships will build – on stage and off – as rehearsals progress and, mostly, I just need to step back and let this happen. This is one of the strangest parts of directing: in the early stages of a production many actors need the closest rehearsal relationship to be with the director in order for them to have the confidence to find their character, experiment, ask questions etc; as the performance gets closer, though,  they need to almost leave the director behind and focus on the team of characters/actors who will be with them on stage in front of an audience. The show becomes theirs – and needs to become theirs for it to be successful. By this stage in proceedings, although I am very likely to still be “in love” with the play  – to use my analogy from an earlier post – I am also usually beginning to be involved in my next project as I find that this makes the transition period easier…

We’re some way from that now, though. It’s currently early days with The Crucible and I’m very excited about the journey ahead…

elaru xx