Running in the Family

My mum and I look nothing like each other. I’m 5 feet 10 and fair-ish, while she’s 5 feet 2 (and a bit) and dark. People are often surprised to find we are mother and daughter as, as far as appearances go,  we appear to be unrelated. Family likenesses and traits can run much deeper than appearance, though, and, I think most people who know us, would actually say my mum and I are very alike. We certainly share a sense of humour and outlook on life, as well as a range of mannerisms and expressions. We also – obviously – have a shared history and a very quick shorthand when talking to each other about things that have happened in our lives. My gran, who we lived with throughout my childhood, is also a part of this – and I sometimes pity my husband when he has a meal with us and has to endure all three of us talking quickly and extensively about a range of family – and other- issues, jumping around from topic to topic in a way that must be bewildering to anyone who doesn’t know the links that we no longer have to voice to each other.

I’m always interested in looking for these family ties/links/mannerisms when watching plays too. I vividly remember, as a 6th form student, watching a production of “Death of a Salesman” in which Biff Loman mirrored some of his father Willy’s gestures and ways of speaking, really communicating to the audience how influenced he was by his father, and adding to the sense of tragic inevitability surrounding aspects of his story.

Family is vitally important in my current project with The Rose Company – Lady Jane Lumley’s Iphigenia. Mother/daughter and father/daughter relationships are at the very heart of the play and the first half of the text, which was the focus of today’s rehearsal, has an explosive interchange between brothers: Menelaus and Agamemnon. We really started to explore this today, thinking about them as brothers and about the history they have shared. By the end of the rehearsal we had found a shared movement/gesture – clapping someone hard on the shoulder in order to dominate – which both use to effect: Menelaus to threaten Senex and, later, Agamemnon to prevent Menelaus leaving. We also worked with the content of their argument, so that it felt as if they were really “pushing each other’s buttons”, raking up issues from the past and deliberately taunting each other – in a way that often only family members can! We will continue to work further on this in rehearsals later this week, but a promising start was certainly made and the final run of the argument late this afternoon was excitingly charged.

Here’s a photo of them, with Senex, in rehearsal today, just before the argument begins.

 

 

 

A Review – Part 2

Today is a significant day. It is the first day in over twelve months that I haven’t had a production to think about – and don’t know exactly what my next project will be. It feels nice to relax -fun and rewarding as theatre is, it is also highly challenging and stressful – and a short break will give me chance to decide exactly what I want to do next. The emphasis is on short, though – I have lots of ideas and several applications in and imminent, so will be itching to get going on new projects and productions very soon.

So, it’s a good time to review. The easiest way is through pictures of the main productions which have happened in 2012. It means missing out the various workshops – one of which was mentioned in A Review- Part 1; the reading of a verbatim text devised by a local writer, which happened at The Dukes with a range of theatre professionals – a gathering which focussed on a new actor-centred approach to new writing which is being piloted in various places; the fun I had leading the audience around a castle for a local theatre company’s production of Much Ado About Nothing; the Litfest Mystery Launch – it was such a hectic time (detailed in earlier blog posts) that I didn’t have time to arrange – or take – photographs; and the recording of All The World’s A Stage for an Australian online festival  (though a link to part of that recording can be found at www.vimeo.com/channels/elartproductions ). Despite the omissions, though, I hope it gives a real flavour of what 2012 has been about.

Things started properly early in March, when The Dukes flatteringly asked me to revive All The World’s A Stage as part of a city-wide Shakespeare Festival. A couple of the original actors were unavailable, so we took the opportunity to adapt and revise, culminating in The Play’s The Thing! which was performed at The Ashton Memorial.

The acoustics in the building were very strange, but some wonderful effects were achieved by using the stairs. With playing and hard rehearsal, we finally cracked the overall acoustic too.

As an all-male cast, one of the real challenges of The Play’s The Thing was producing serious scenes involving female characters. This scene – Lord Capulet berating Juliet – worked beautifully.

The whole cast made me laugh in Pyramus and Thisbe. This is a tiny moment when Pyramus and Thisbe whisper through Wall’s chink.

The amazing venue of The Play’s The Thing from the outside.

The Play’s The Thing! was swiftly followed by The Vigil, a community production in a lovely village church. The Vigil by Ladislas Fodor re-tells the Christian Easter story as a courtroom drama, with the gardener on trial for snatching the body of Jesus. The production was moving and hugely enjoyable and it played to extremely receptive audiences. For various reasons, I found myself acting and directing, something I greatly prefer to avoid, but in this case it seemed to work out satisfactorily.

Rehearsing The Vigil by Ladislas Fodor in a lovely village church was a joy. It was amazing how well the church suited the courtroom set and the pulpit was a fantastic dock.

Using some of the church features suited the message of The Vigil very well.

Next came The Crucible (detailed heavily earlier in this blog). I loved this production so much, that I’m going to indulge myself with a number of photos – tirelessly taken at rehearsals by a friend and member of the cast.

An early rehearsal – April 2012- for June’s The Crucible.

Working with such a talented and committed cast between April and June 2012 was a real highlight of the year. Explosive moments, such as the one pictured in rehearsal here between Proctor and Abigail made the production very special.

Rehearsing Act 1 in a different rehearsal room. May 2012.

Working hard in the priory cafeteria!

Some of the fabulous girls – and the equally fabulous Proctor!

Placing Danforth in the pulpit worked well, allowing him to dominate proceedings in Act 3.

Pre-dress rehearsal (minus long socks for the men!)

The whole priory in use as the court springs to life in Act 3.

There were challenges in using the priory space, but also some wonderful bonuses, such as this fantastic shaft of light illuminating Abigail as she is confronted by Hale.

The whole cast and crew – a fantastic group of people!

A quieter summer followed, and then in autumn things got going again. The next production with photographs had the largest cast of the year – two casts, in fact! It was a youth production of the opera Noye’s Fludde by Benjamin Britten and alongside a core of teenagers, who played the lead roles, were two teams of over 30 primary age children, who played the animals at alternate performances. A good, if hectic, time was had by all!

The whole show was medieval in design and these wooden waves (handled by stage crew) worked beautifully in the storm sequence.

At the end, as well as a wooden rainbow, sun and moon, the children moved into colour groups according to the colour T-shirt they were wearing, and became the rainbow themselves.

And finally, we come to last night’s Theatre Uncut show, which seemed to be a great success. The audience was certainly appreciative, and the seven shows fitted together very well, with only minimal scene shifting needed. This allowed the evening to flow and really gather momentum in a satisfactory way.

Ama and Lou in prison.

A disagreement.

An intimate moment of persuasion – one of my favourite parts.

And there it is. 2012. A huge thank you to anyone who has been involved in any way at all – and to all who have supported the shows. All ideas for future projects gratefully recieved; all considered.

2013 – Bring it on!

elaru xx

Closure

So, that’s that. The Crucible 2012 is done.

We had good-sized audiences at each show, and comments I have heard have been extremely positive, which is very pleasing. It’s always hard for me to judge how a show has gone – by the time it’s being performed, I am way too close to it – over-aware, perhaps, of its flaws and over-pleased, perhaps, with its strengths and high points.

I do know, however, that on this occasion, I was as confident as I have ever been in what I saw happening on stage at the Saturday matinee (the only one of the four shows I watched all through). Cast and crew were working together beautifully, and every single person seemed to me to be performing at the top of their game. I was really proud of them – and not a little emotional!

And now here we are three days later: props have been returned, costumes will be collected Saturday, photos have been uploaded and shared and “normal” life has resumed. Images of The Crucible still flash often into my mind, however – like some of these from the dress rehearsal.

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And this one of the whole cast and crew after the final show:

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So, has my love-affair with The Crucible ended? On balance, I think not. I have a feeling I’ll want to revisit it sometime. To play with it again. But not for a long time. Now other projects beckon – some involving some of the fantastic people I have worked with on this show.

Watch this space… there’s more to come…!

elaru xx

Snapshots

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Here are just a few of the great rehearsal photos taken by a friend of mine, who is also playing one of the marshals in the play. If he’s reading this, I extend my sincere thanks.

The photos are in no particular order, but hopefully give a flavour of our work so far.

ImageProctor and Mary Warren in the court.

ImageProctor and Abigail in Parris’ house.

ImageHale and Tituba at the end of Act 1.

ImageThe Proctors at home with Giles and Francis.

ImageThe girls.

And here are a couple of me directing (just in case you think I only blog about it  and don’t actually do anything.) I’ve been told I wave my arms around rather a lot…and on the evidence of these pictures, I guess I can no longer deny it!

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Ah well.

elaru xx

All Dressed Up

I’m going to begin this post with a confession: Wardrobe Mistresses – and Masters – scare me. Especially when they’re in their natural domain.

Earlier in the week (before becoming ill and then having an allergic reaction to the antibiotic I was given – it’s been a long week…!), I visited the costume department of  a local theatre to hire costumes for The Crucible. It was an extremely productive visit, with almost all female costumes sorted in one go, and a fair start made on the male ones. The show should look great.

But back to my confession… Now, you must understand that I have huge respect for those who work  in the area of costuming – and, indeed, I am immensely personally fond of some of them; so far, for example, for this production, I have had help and advice from a costume lady/friend who worked on many productions with me when I was Head of Drama in a school, as well as from the lady who costumed me when I played Abigail myself, who I have known since I was about four years old, and who is the mother of a wonderful friend of mine.

So, why the fear?

I suppose it’s because costume ladies and gentlemen, especially when we are together in the actual wardrobe department, make me feel like a very small child again.

Most of the time, I can pull off the role of “convincing grown-up”. OK, maybe I’m never totally “convincing”, but  I move around and interact in society as a 30-something woman and am fairly comfortable with this. Put me in a wardrobe department, though, and decades fall from me. As we pick out costumes, the costume ladies and gentlemen say things to me like, “All this needs is to be taken up three inches or so…” or “You’d need to add a lacy frill to the neck…” or “The sleeves need to be lengthened…” or “You could adjust the waist a couple of inches and then add a train to the back…” And I smile and nod and think, “No I couldn’t! I couldn’t do any of the things you suggest, you clever, capable, confident costume person, because little old me can only just about sew a button on and, of course I’m not proud of it, but that’s the way it is!” And I leave feeling about 6 years old.

So, there you go. That’s my confession and its explanation. I feel better for sharing. Thank you.

And costumiers of the world, I salute you!

elaru xx

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

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

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

Jumping In

It’s been an exciting few days: casting is now almost complete (and I have very solid leads for the remaining roles); a mis-reading of a piece of writing about the play has given me some very interesting ideas on the costuming and overall look of the show; and today the first rehearsal took place.

To take these in order, all my possible actors from the previous post have now confirmed, and I have been meeting with some really interesting people from around the local area, slowly but surely completing the rest of the cast; I now just have three roles left to fill (and I feel very optimistic that one of them will be taken by a great guy I met early today for a chat/read). One of the most pleasing things is that I have been pretty well able to cast to age: the girls are 16 to early 20s, Giles is in his upper 70s, and the remainder of the performers are a mixture of ages in between. As The Crucible  is  really about a communuity and all its members, I am delighted to have such an appropriate range of performers.

Next, the reading – or mis-reading  –  I mentioned,  was of some notes  about Arthur Miller’s own direction of an early production of The Crucible in (I think) New York. I came across something that said he had directed the play in black and white and I assumed this meant black and white costumes, which excited me as being great for representing the apparently “black and white” attitude of many of the characters regarding witchcraft etc. When I re-read the notes, however, I discovered Miller had used black costumes and a bright white light, so not quite as I had originally thought. However, I am still excited about the black and white costume idea – possibly with some appropriate characters in shades of grey, and maybe a little judicious use of red from time to time. We’ll see…

Finally, a word about today’s rehearsal. The beginning of a  first reheasal always feels like diving,  jumping – or belly-flopping in my case – into water; it’s scary, though exhilarating. As I chose to start by looking at Act 2, I “jumped in” today with Proctor, Elizabeth, Mary Warren and Hale. We worked gently through two thirds of the act, blocking, and  making some nice discoveries about the characters, their relationships, and the venue and how it works.

The initial splash is over – and it was fun!

elaru xx