Sunday, 28 December 2008

'Going Thunder Crazy!'

Performances yesterday were spent at the Sound Desk during the matinée and in the Lighting Box - operating - for the evening.

It seemed like a good idea to learn just a little more of what everyone does in order to perhaps understand a little more about directing / acting / technical / stage management for future projects.

Certainly no time to follow any script! And so the Sound Man watched, listened, and subtlely - instinctively - tweaked faders up and down at an incredible rate, brought in sub-masters, cued sound effects, Cancans, and balanced the music with tremendous ease, dexterity, concentration and passion. His knowledge of the show was superb and he even had time to sing along with the music - this being most impressive as it indicated an incredible, hypnotic care for what was happening on stage.

Had only intended to watch but ended up operating for the whole show! As the Deputy Stage Manager (DSM) cues the whole show, the operator's job is really just about listening for the 'standbys' and the 'go'. There is great, great drama in all of this over the headsets and so rewarding to be responding with 'standing by' - an acknowledgment that you know what you are doing and doing just that: standing by to make it work!

As your finger hovers over the 'go button', and spasms race up your arm after only a dozen cues (the tension you hold in your body is unbelievable), the excitement and adrenalin rush are just like actors' butterflies.

Challenges arise with multi-tasking, however, as house lights 'go' simultaneously alongside regular cues and 'spell flashes' come thick and fast when the Prince is transformed into the Beast, and Madame Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuvre is set upon by Mademoiselle Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. Of the 160 lighting cues, I missed one and improvised one - the latter of which, I think, the Lighting Designer was impressed.

My next job is to sit with the DSM for a couple of performances and understand, even better, the Prompt Copy and the unique - enviable - skills of the DSM.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Frasier Christmas

Frasier (1993-2004): A comedy series to study re: script, wit, character persona, timing and qualitative television longevity. 


Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Two is the beginning of the end ...

I have been re-reading J.M.Barrie's 1911 prose version of Peter Pan - Peter Pan and Wendy - which was published seven years after his play was first performed on 27 December 1904 at The Duke of York's Theatre.

The opening is quite stunning in its philosophical narrative, dramatic tension and creation of suspense, and relates to our Beauty and the Beast experience in that Barrie's story has become, curiously, synonymous with theatre experiences at Christmas.

I last directed a version of Peter Pan, by Piers Chater-Robinson, at Easter time, 2004, with the Jersey Arts Centre's youtheatre; and, before that, as an open-air, promenade, community production at South Hill Park in July 1997.

The actors who played both Captain Hook and Peter Pan in the latter are now on their own awfully big adventure, and thus these two original versions remain poignant.

Here's that opening:
"All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in the garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful for Mrs Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, ‘Oh, why can’t you remain like this for ever!’ This was all that passed between them on this subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end."

Monday, 22 December 2008


39 performances in - and how does a company maintain: the energy, a commitment, the sanity; the intellectual, emotional and physical rigour; a discipline and a concentration; to sustain a fresh, tight, engaging experience for a new audience 60 times over?

I don't know! I wish I knew!

Perhaps it has something to do with a discipline of approach, a care, a respect (all loaded and complicated), an awareness and an understanding of something...

Thank goodness there is an abundance of this within the Beauty and the Beast company at South Hill Park this Yuletide.

But perhaps there should never be this number of consecutive performances: 60!

Perhaps the delicacy of the theatre experience is destroyed after a certain number of performances?

Perhaps we can't sustain this level of concentration, commitment, interest, awareness.

What if we can't?

Norman Wisdom once said: it is not about luck and being in the right place at the right time; it is endeavoring to be in the right place at the right time.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

25 Performances in ...

This was only my eighth performance, having been away from the show for 10 days, but the company's 25th!

The performance was sold out and even the house seats had been issued: superb!

Having been unable to attend the Press Night a week ago (after a week of schools' performances) this was only our seventh public performance. These have a very different atmosphere to the schools' performances as adults alike take a very active part in the participation which can often be very 'adult' and funny.

There were many celebratory elements to the 25th! The Ooh La La! team was tight, focused, concentrated and really enjoyed and savored every moment. There was tremendous energy to their performance and they were very excited afterwards, wanting feedback and notes and 'bits' - the latter I will now use to indicate notes!

Our adult actors had truly inhabited the world of the piece and had beautifully developed ideas and physicalities which enriched the already vibrant, fun and serious atmospheres.

It is still incredible to watch some very young children want to see the actor playing The Beast in the foyer afterwards and kiss him. Perhaps this demonstrates the balance that has been struck between that which is scary (and beastly) and that which is endearing, comfortable, sensitive, accessible (beautiful).

There are still 35 more performances to present, deliver, develop, inhabit. And many of these I will see as I zig-zag across the UK (seeing one or two friends in their Christmas shows over the vacation) and back to the Channel Islands.

A couple of reviews from local papers have been published at:

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Merci beaucoup ...

Having watched the seventh performance of Beauty and the Beast this morning (with the Ooh La Las!) and having given final notes to the adult company last night and our young cast this morning, I head back to Jersey with a tremendous sense of having achieved the impossible.

I have learnt a great deal about theatre these past three weeks: about performance, audiences, actors, processes, text, music, movement, improvisation, day-jobs, 'juggling', diplomacy, commitment and concentration.

But perhaps more than anything, the Beauty and the Beast experience has confirmed the ability to remain positive, supportive and honest at all times when creating a piece of theatre.

I leave behind eight adult, professional actors who have thoroughly enjoyed working with one another, and who will continue to do so, and who will take great care of our young actors, the crew and the piece itself in my absence.

I return in eleven days to give notes next weekend - and can't wait.

Merci beaucoup... et

Bon Voyage!

Sunday, 30 November 2008

'Beauty and the Beast' Gallery

Andrew Oliveira as The Beast

Rachel Hyde-Harvey as Beauty

Jonny Liron as Norbere (the French Fop)

Yildiz Hussein as Madame Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve

Neil Andrew and Paul Taylor as Avril and Fleur

Janette Froud as Mademoiselle Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont

Dan Woods as Monsieur Marmontel

Saturday, 29 November 2008

The Production Week

It is a hugely challenging task to produce a Christmas show in just 14 days!

But after 10 days in the rehearsal room and then, in just 4 days, much plotting of lights, radio mic machinations, sound effect decisions, a multitude of stage manoeuvres, set dressings, costume tweaks, three technical rehearsals, three dress rehearsals, 32 actors, a handful of challenges and much laughter, the first performances on Friday and Saturday went down superbly.

The ease with which this is all possible is down to two things: an incredibly dedicated, professional, creative crew and stage management team at the theatre and the humour, imagination and creativity of our actors. 

Initial audience feedback has been excellent; it is always crucial with these types of shows and performance processes to approach members of the audience after the first couple of performances to properly gauge response.

Three members of our adult audience (randomly approached) said that they loved the fact that it was not a Disney version and that the mix of the traditional and the new was brilliant. They all loved the play-within-a-play idea and the design; said that there was a good amount of audience participation; and that the balance was just about right between the scary and sympathetic aspects of the Beast's character. Phew! However, a fourth lady, having admitted she hated pantomimes and Christmas shows, said she hated it all! Three out of four isn't bad...

As for our young audience, some did find the Beast scary but this did not seem to stop them kissing the actor in the foyer afterwards - without mask, of course - and many wanted photographs with Beauty and her sisters, too.

There is an important tradition at South Hill Park (started by Dominic Barber back in the 1980's) whereby, after all Christmas performances, the company says goodbye to the audience in the foyer. This is a wonderful opportunity for audiences to meet everyone in person, shake hands, kiss, have photographs and even sign autographs. The kids love it. The festive and communal atmosphere created is a wonder to watch.

Just seconds before the start of our first performance on Friday there was an eight year old in tears in the foyer because he thought he was going to be too scared to see the play. However, having seen him in tears, and having chatted to his teacher first, I explained to him that theatres can be very dark and noisy places but that there was nothing to worry about. 

I then asked him if he liked Batman and Spiderman, which he said he did, and told him that the Beast (in our play) wore a mask just like Batman and Spiderman and that he was a good person just like those superheroes. This certainly allowed him to stand at the back of the auditorium for the start of the show and then take his seat during the opening number. Afterwards, he shouted thank you to me as he left the auditorium.

It was a wonderful feeling... theatre is a wonderful thing...

Having now given notes from two performances to two of our teams, it just remains to do the same on Monday for the last team of young actors and then head back to Jersey and the Jersey Arts Centre.

I have learnt a great deal during this working holiday and will perhaps articulate those experiences and thoughts when they have properly developed and defined themselves.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Beauty and the Beast

Andrew Oliveira as The Beast

Dress Rehearsal: Wednesday 26 November 2008

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Melodrama ...

The past three days have flown by with teching Beauty and the Beast thrice over. This is because there are three teams of kids. The:
  • Zut Alors!
  • Sacre Bleus!
  • Ooh La Las!
It has always seemed such a bore to call the teams A, B, C or Red, Yellow, Blue. And so it has been our silly - inventive - practice for the past 13 years to use something from the play. 

In The Wizard of Oz at The Castle in 1999 we had 'The Lemon Drops' and 'The Blue Birds' from the Over the Rainbow song. In Aladdin at South Hill Park last year we had 'The Jewels', 'The Gems' and 'The Camels'. 

It is all much more exciting and gives each team a greater sense of identity in the context of the piece and is actually much easier on the communication front in the rehearsal room. It also looks, and is, more creative for the programme.

Technical rehearsals were split over two days which meant that Act-the-First was Monday and Act-the-Second was yesterday. 

Psychologically, this is healthier, especially when doing a musical and when there are only 8 working hours in a normal day. Though theatre never seems to have 'normal' days. However, there are a few components still to sort in the second act this afternoon before the first Dress Rehearsal this evening.

Given that yesterday was only our twelfth day all together, and that ten days in the rehearsal room isn't enough to craft all the detail, it was important to keep driving-through the technical no matter how broad the Rolf Harris brush strokes. 

It was a hugely enjoyable experience because the technical team and crew are superb: efficient, industrious, good humored and with the ability to solve a multitude of challenges.

Lighting, sound and music cues are all more or less in the Prompt Copy - itself a work of art - which stands us in great stead for the Dress this evening with the Zut Alors!

I was fascinated throughout at how actors can sweat buckets, be uncomfortable in high heels, corsets and wigs and still appear at ease and remain in character whilst singing, dancing and machinating scene changes. The scene changes we do not attempt to disguise and are very funny (for the right reasons).

There are going to be some terrific performances in Beauty and the Beast and I am now awaiting the final test this Friday morning to be able to gauge what we have been trying to create these past couple of weeks when it goes before a schools audience.

One of the most rewarding aspects of the production is how the design concept has created a certain performance style based on 19th century melodrama. This has all developed quite naturally so it may be that there is something innate within the actor that allows for these conventions to surface.

Time scale, the Christmas context, design and rehearsal mode have all contributed to this end and the result is very rewarding.

Our photographer arrives today for the Dress Rehearsals and this will allow for another shift in gear.

Sunday, 23 November 2008


The designer, technical manager and I spent the day dressing our set. It was hugely creative and there was great freedom in doing so. Two of our actors also popped by and played; they were very excited.

I mapped out the route through the piece of forest trees, trunks, chairs and cottages.

One of our actors from last year also dropped in and assisted; it was good to be able to sit out front to see if one or two moments were going to work.

It is curious what happens to stages once they have been defined by structures and objects and once they have been lit in a certain way.

As progress was made yesterday the design concept was put to the test: would the 'play-within-a-play' / 'theatre-within-a-theatre' idea work?

It did!

And it all looks beautiful: adventurous, picture book, enticing, pop-up, child-like, toy town, reminiscent of a time way-back and almost a little like Watch with Mother from the 1950's in quality and tone but with a very theatrically Parisian atmosphere - if that is imaginable!

Perfect, perhaps, for a family Christmas show. 

The whole space - stage and auditorium - already has an atmosphere and it has yet to be inhabited by actors.

Today will be the start of technical logistics and where the gear now has to shift.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Day 10

Our final day in the rehearsal room!

It is no mean-feat to have achieved the development of 50 pages of script, including the singing, the dancing and the acting in such a concentrated space of time.

No more could have been achieved...

We ran Act I twice during the day and Act II thrice.

Concentration also picked as the day progressed as it became apparent that 'this was it': we were out of rehearsal time.

There are still 6 hours with our young actors on Sunday to get ahead with the technical logistics, but our adults now have only two days over the weekend to consolidate what has been explored, developed, learnt et al.

There is a frustration, of course, that there is still so much more to explore - even greater potential - especially as we have laughed so much, been hysterically inventive and have served the words on the page so very well.

It is now Saturday before 9am and today we dress the set which is exciting. We have had many of the set elements in the rehearsal room and it will be good now to see everything in its context.

I will then sit down with a fresh script, transfer all my scribbled rehearsal notes and ideas in preparation for our production week.

A great deal needs to happen these next 7 days in order to bring together all the production elements, all the performers, stage technicians and creatives and mould them into South Hill Park's Christmas production of Beauty and the Beast.

The responsibility is huge and a privilege: this is where I started out as an actor 17 years ago.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Invention ...

Yesterday - 'Day 9' - was perhaps the most inventive day in the rehearsal room since we started.

But just 1 more to go!

There were four scenes remaining in Act II to develop and there was a superb amount of time to do this.

The instincts, ideas, inspirations and fluidity of the work meshed together and allowed for some truly comic - hysterically funny! - moments.

Characters were further defined, relationships developed, and the sense of an ensemble, and of a troupe of actors (in the context of the play-within-a-play) really started to crystallise.

There was even the opportunity to run Act II, up to the finale, a couple of times before lunch.

I laughed a lot in rehearsal today because an actor developed a character so uniquely, thoughtfully and honestly, but without any sense of ego or any obvious awareness of the craft of it (though there was tremendous craft), that you actually believe that this larger-than-life character is real and that you are watching human behaviour at its most observed / heightened / ridiculous.

If this is what making theatre is about then I don't mind doing - in fact, I want to be doing - theatre-in-eduction pieces, youtheatre productions, christmas shows or something a little more cutting-edge / fringe / experimental as apollo/dionysus.

The variety is what develops the versatility: the versatility is what makes for invention.

And there are now, in just the 9 days we have been rehearsing, two projects that just didn't exist 9 days ago.

It is incredible what inspires what...

Thursday, 20 November 2008

La Comédie Française

All 4 of our proscenium arches are now up!

The chandeliers have been rigged!

The pop-up village can be popped-up!

The clouds are hanging!

The sun and the moon can be turned!

The forest trees are trucking!

And our auditorium has been transformed into an 18th. century theatre...


In the rehearsal room: there are still 3 scenes in Act-the-Second to develop and the finale to realise...

Our task today!

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

disciplined 'muck-a-bout'

We have now spent 7 days in the rehearsal room and there are only 3 to go before technical requirements and dress rehearsals start kicking in...

Amidst this there are also press interviews for everyone, photoshoots and appearing at the 'turning on' of the Christmas lights in Bracknell town.

The one thing that a two week rehearsal period does: it focuses your attention and discipline of approach.

Out of necessity, you generate ideas and possibilities in such abundance, and at such a furious pace, that you quickly start to select those created elements that need to stay in and those that need to be ditched; it is amazing how there is a natural self selection process in this process.

And all this happens because playing, laughing - 'mucking about' - improvising dialogue and physicalities (and energy) are at the core of what is happening in our rehearsal room.

At times this does seem forced but more often than not these improvisations are beautifully placed and inspired.

The secret: the actors' abilities to be both so relaxed in the rehearsal room that they feel, and are, truly uninhibited (despite the time pressures) and an ability to focus on being instinctively imaginative by tuning into all the given and conceptual elements.

To be able to walk into The Wilde Theatre at lunchtime, and after rehearsal, and see almost a dozen technicians and crew doing the fit-up has now started to inspire even more ideas and excitement amongst everyone.

I spent 3 hours with two of our actors, after rehearsal yesterday evening, on stage playing with Beauty and the Beast's movement as our designer painted.

As we walked away from the theatre post 11pm, it was a superb feeling to have had this time on stage - and there are 3 in the production! - dancing, 'Beasting', singing, playing.

Everyone is having a really good time...

Monday, 17 November 2008


Expectation is an incredible force and dynamic.

The director will have expectations of the actors, the play, the rehearsal process, the theatre, the production team. 

The actors will have expectations of the other actors, themselves, the director, the costumes, the set, the production, the audience.

The theatre will have expectations for the production and its artistic and financial 'success'.

The audience will have an expectation based on a combination of previous theatre experiences and awareness / knowledge of the material.

The children will perhaps have a different expectation than their adults.

How can you be aware of 15,000+ different expectations?

Expectation is a very complicated and convoluted force and dynamic.

It will sometimes be fulfilled and sometimes arrested.

Our production of Beauty and the Beast does not have a furry Beast - it is not Disney - but it is, and will be: original, dynamic and beautiful...

Sunday, 16 November 2008


Our production meeting last night with the Producer, Designer, Stage Manager and DSM enabled us all to get a real handle on what was needed, technically, for the first act of Beauty and the Beast. There is much to machinate during the performance from:
  • 4 proscenium arches
  • 8 forest trees
  • a cottage (to materialise)
  • a village (to pop-up)
  • a multitude of trunks and cases
  • chandeliers (there are 7) flying in and out
  • thunder and storm
  • the accordion
  • the violin
  • the Beast's Castle
  • other special sound effects
  • radio mic machinations
We spent a couple of hours working through the detail of the first act and then mapped out the second act a little. The latter will become clearer once we have worked on it and developed the ideas in the rehearsal room this week.

It was an important meeting because it became clear when scene changes should actually happen. As we are making a feature of these transitions, in that they are being signalled by Madame Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve (Gabby) with created dialogue, the moment at which the physical changes happen is crucial.

It was an inspiration to have seen Wall•E at South Hill Park's very intimate cinema - see below - just after the meeting yesterday because imagery, motifs, the art direction, character, dialogue, style all seem to be incredibly integrated in the film and, in my analysis, took me back to those undergraduate days in the late 1980's when 'concepts' seemed to be the rage in terms of the critique of work.

The image system for Wall•E dictates so very much the way we experience the film and thus how we view it. There is a charming simplicity to the piece in terms of how we associate its animation qualities, and themes, and how we might understand its relevance to today.

It is a disaster movie, a romance, a quest, an animation, and it says so very much about us as consumers and how technology might one day stop us talking to one another - stop us communicating, perhaps, as we once did. There are also one or two small health issues explored that are frighteningly comic.

As the Axiom space ship prepares to configure its journey back to planet earth, there are technical malfunctions and its passengers roll from their float-mobiles and collide down one side of the tilting ship on the vast, requisitioned pool deck; it was hugely reminiscent of the end of Titanic and had me in hysterics and I am not sure why...

Concepts, themes and image systems are developed ideas that guide the imagination and creativity of film-makers, theatre-makers, poets, writers and artists - people - and should not, necessarily, be feared.

But whether they are a conscious thing that have been articulated earlier on or not, the concept - an image / a theme - will always materialise.

The play-within-a-play / theatre-within-a-pop-up-theatre design concept for Beauty and the Beast, with the post-French Revolution back-drop (a detail), is crucial to making the piece work.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

I didn't know ...

'I didn't know there was a pool ...'

This is a beautifully crafted film: the script, the animation, the characters, the cinematography, the art direction, special effects, its romance, its relevance - the list goes on ...

Directed by Andrew Stanton who also has the joint original story and screenplay credit. 


I didn't know ...

Week 1: Playing ...

That's what we have done this week: played with the words on the page and played with them off the page.

We improvised new words, harmonised song-words and physicalised other words into movements for dances.

The creativity of everyone, and the ease with which everyone has worked together this week, has allowed for a physically fearless approach and great imaginative input.

The concentration from our young actors has also been impressive.

This has all been possible because of everyone's ability to laugh at themselves when the most ridiculous things have happened in the rehearsal room and been improvised. And most of these things we have kept in!

These ideas and developments were tested when our young actors arrived later in the afternoon and laughed a great deal at Norbere, our French Fop, in the scene where he woos Beauty and sings 'Come Dance With Me'. Time was spent yesterday crafting a beautiful section of new dialogue for the character which has resulted in some genuinely comical character insights and audience participation.

It was an incredible week in that we got to the end of Act I (with gaps of course), and having run the whole of the act yesterday afternoon, it has allowed everyone to walk away from the week with a clear overview of what we have achieved so far and a clear idea of the performance style of the piece.

The two days' rest for everyone this weekend will be good because it has been a fast and furious 5 days. Time is needed this weekend to assimilate what we have discovered and for lines and lyrics and hamonies and movements to settle in the mind and the body.

The weekend for me, however, is still going to be fast and furious: there is a meeting today at 11am with the Beast's mask-maker in Reading; a production meeting on design (set and costume) back in Bracknell at 1pm; and then there's at least a couple of hours script preparation on Act I tweaking things. 

There's also all the Act II preparations to be done before Monday and another production meeting with the composer, arranger, musical director and myself tomorrow evening at 7pm.

Time will also be spent clearing e-mails back at the incredibly innovative (though I am prejudiced) Jersey Arts Centre, proofing the final copy of our spring 2009 brochure (which I am very excited about) and speaking with colleagues on the machinations of the week back in Jersey. And all this whilst I am, technically, on holiday.

I am suddenly - once again - acutely aware that these unique opportunities and experiences need to be cared for, respected and shared more...

Friday, 14 November 2008


At the beginning of the rehearsal yesterday we touched upon the nature of participation and that curious thing called 'audience participation'. It got us thinking about how an audience participates in a performance experience and how that is expressed physically, vocally, emotionally, intellectually:
  • by buying a ticket (a financial transaction)
  • by attending and being present
  • by watching, listening and thus engaging
  • by identifying with what might be going on
  • by shouting out (boos and cheers)
  • by singing
  • by clapping (during songs)
  • by being invited up onto the stage
  • by laughing
  • by applauding
  • by influencing the outcome maybe (Alan Ayckbourn)
  • by talking about if afterwards
  • by writing a review or blogging (!)
The interesting thing about Christmas shows is that there is an expectation that the participation will involve the audience being vocally and physically engaged during the performance which will drive the action: and this expectation needs to be fulfilled.

But the most fundamental element of participation is that it has already begun once the ticket has been purchased: simply by wanting to attend and then actually being present means that there is participation.

So how do you naturally integrate other elements of participation without it feeling artistically crude and obviously conventional? This, no doubt, has to happen, initially, at the writing stage and then be developed, with an incredible amount of imaginative input, in the rehearsal room.

An audience certainly needs clear signals so that they can fulfill their own expectation of what is wanted of them. This is something that we worked on today when rehearsing the teaching of the "Don't Be Scared' Beast's song.

Also: each member of the audience - and thus each audience - will participate in a slightly different way which will require performers to participate and respond slightly differently.

And we haven't even mentioned how integral the performers / the actors / the musicians / and dancers are in this participation and the nature of their own participation...

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Page 15 ...

I was struck by how exhausted I was the moment the rehearsal finished at 7pm last night which I hope is a good sign. 

The unique quality of the physical, psychological, intellectual and emotional fatigue at the end of a day is a memorable, like-able one and, in my body, seems very specific to the rehearsal and performance experience.

I keep thinking that I should conserve some energy and not dance with everyone. I keep thinking that I must calm down a little and not be so physically animated. I keep thinking that I must talk slower when directing. But it is impossible to do anything less.

The dances are good fun; the style of the piece requires a physical animation in the direction to make it work; and the ideas come at such a fast pace that, I suppose, there is a fear that if I don't get the ideas out quick enough I may lose them.

Inspirations in the day:
  • watching us all sweat buckets whilst dancing the cancan
  • directing (but only really making small observations and adjustments) the actor playing the Beast during the sung through scene of 'The Curse in the Snowy Forest at Midnight' - he is going to be superb...
  • the two Witches directing themselves effortlessly whilst I directed another scene
  • the honesty of the children (but we all know children are honest!)
  • how a pair of shoes can create, for an actor, a totally different way of being
  • how everyone just loves dressing up and playing (there were costume fittings today also)
We did get to page 15 yesterday (really only page 12) which was the aim, but there are 7 to do today and 7 tomorrow if we are to get to the end of Act I by the end of the week. 

Whilst perhaps giving myself a hard time over the ridiculous nature of thinking about theatre as just pages earlier in the week - it felt like artistic betrayal - it is just a very practical form of Stanislavski's Units and Objectives: but for a director working on a Christmas show with only two weeks' rehearsal.

Crude, possibly. But practical, nonetheless.

My job is to 'complete' it, mould it together, give it clarity (so that 15,000+ people will enjoy it) whilst mustering as much artistic merit, mayhem and festive spirit as is possible.

In short: to make it and to make it work.

Our piece is set some time after The French Revolution (a loose back drop) and Madame Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, having finished writing her world famous story of La Belle et la Bête, is about to stage it at the theatre she owns which has been disused for many years.

So, it a play-within a-play - influenced a little by Hamlet and The Seagull which is pleasing - the design concept reflecting this: four proscenium arches, a pop-up theatre approach and the illusions being created with obvious theatrical conventions.

We have decided to hide nothing: to disguise nothing.

But there is much work to be done on this front before there is coherence...

I had a great day yesterday because the actors made it work.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Time / Tom

There was great focus in rehearsal yesterday with five songs having been 'gone through', harmonised and 'learnt' in just two days and the whole of the first song, 'Beauty and the Beast', having been choreographed. I also shaped the very first scene of the piece.

There are tremendously creative people in the rehearsal room which means that so much of the detail that you might usually focus on, but which is impossible to develop given the time factor, happens quite naturally and instinctively. Thank goodness.

Discipline in the evening, when our young actors arrived, was equally impressive and concentrated. This may have been prompted by a very sober intro. about 'time'.

But there is an incredible challenge here of getting the balance between still being able to play and generating the material. The latter, in isolation, does not sit comfortably.

Tom Cocklin (1979 - 2004) used to always say that everything was just about 'time' and 'energy' and that that is what we get paid for.

The energy bit is the easy bit: it's time that is the challenge.

I talked today, with one of our actors, about missing Tom - especially in the rehearsal room...

Monday, 10 November 2008

Baum, Berkoff, Whitman and Wright

The challenges:
  • Act I in week 1
  • Act II in week 2
  • Open in week 3
It is lunatic to think that this is possible with a musical: to conceive, develop and craft the music, the dance and the drama - three plays in all, really - by the end of week 3 with 8 adult actors and three teams of 8 children (that's 32 actors in total) in the rehearsal room. 

How is this achievable without compromising anything on the artistic front whilst remaining receptive to new ideas and being able to retain spontaneity?
  • Planning
  • Casting
  • Energy
  • Creativity
  • Belief
I had never tried this before but (having cast actors with whom I had worked before - with one excpetion) I had asked everyone to offer up something at the first rehearsal that would somehow define for them why they were there.

Not party pieces. Not audition pieces.

Just something that they wanted to communicate, do, share, inhabit, exchange, whatever! There was clear 'pressure' but the fun that was had was beautiful.

I did The Gingerbread Man song after 17 years to break the ice (my heart thumped in my head - big pressure!); there was an exquisite, new piece of writing in the form of a short story; there was the best Over the Rainbow I have ever heard; the learning of a fruity salsa dance; Walt Whitman's 'Song of Myself' from Leaves of Grass expressed at a haunting pace; an absorbing extract from Berkoff's Decadence; a very funny song with accordion inciting much laughter; and a beautifully lyrical, original song with piano accompaniment.

It was inspiring.

It gave everyone in the company an insight into why everyone was there.

It could have been disastrous - the risks were great - but there was no back-firing. 

The contrast in what was offered up, the interests and the performance qualities of each actor were self evident. There was no need for introductions, explanations, ramblings, curriculum vitaes.

A natural, honest, performative quality was achieved at the very start of day one and it all just got even better.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

'Ere we go...

Watching the different pace at which everyone learns and picks up movement, thought processes, dance, character, spacial awareness was incredible today. If was wonderful to be able to communicate 'something' no matter how many different ways was needed to do that - and then to finally achieve getting-it.

My own French persona has improved considerably these past four Sundays - I have deliberately communicated everything in this voice - and this tone has, I think, helped everyone get-into the swing of this piece: its style, its language, its concept, its being.

Adult actors started to arrive today, despite not having to start officially until tomorrow, and this is always rewarding: to know that actors want to be around a.s.a.p. to absorb, learn, rehearse, play, experiment, laugh and watch.  I enjoyed watching the watching today.

I watched the accordionist, the violinist, the Beast sing with sincerity and passion; I laughed at telling the story of the director who gave the note 'to do it better' and 'to get the words in the right order'; and I watched an actor bring to bear all the skills at their disposal, plus-some, to achieve something quite uniquely imaginative and original.

We thought it all started three weeks ago.
We thought it all started today.
It actually all starts tomorrow - when everyone arrives.

To have had four weeks of pre-amble was luxurious.

So: 'ere we go... [French accent needed 'ere...]

Sunday, 2 November 2008

On Rehearsing with Coconut Shells

This weekend has been very exciting because we have discovered what it is that we really want to do with the representation of the Beast in Beauty and the Beast. Animals - beasts! - are hard to do (realistically) and, having seen the mechanics of the war horses in the production at the National, there is just no point in theatre trying to 'disguise' anything. It is so much more dynamic, enthralling, effective to be 'seeing' everything...

So we have conceived something a little futuristic, comic-book in style, alien-like perhaps, which will allow the actor to inhabit something simple but which will allow him to really convince an audience that this beast exists: through movement, mask and the imagination. The mask will be made of leather and this will follow through into trousers and a gauntlet. We think that he will also be a little fleshy.

Rehearsals today were hugely productive in that we 'played' a great deal: learnt some new dances, imagined what might be the elements of the pre-amble when the audience arrives - ideas were aplenty and inspired - and developed the script a little in way of French phrases and some chorus work. We were exhausted by the end and, as always, were left with a few realisations and thoughts by our young actors:

  • perseverance pays off
  • not to waste time
  • that working with different people is very good
  • to use your energy wisely
  • how to play the coconut shells

Très magnifique!

On 'War Horse' ...

1 November 2008
National Theatre: Olivier

from: 'Only Remembered'
War Horse Songbook by John Tams

Fading away like the stars in the morning
Losing their light in the glorious sun
Thus shall we pass from this earth and its toiling
Only remembered for what we have done

Saturday, 1 November 2008

On 'Hey Mathew' ...

23 October 2008 | 24 October 2008

Theatre in the Mill | The University of Bradford

This work-in-progress collaboration between four experimental theatre makers, Chris Goode, Jonny Liron, Cis O’Boyle and Jamie Wood, and a number of international writers, creates an expectation of trying to understand, without necessarily defining, the nature of that experiment and what theatre has been made.

Is it ‘rich, complex, powerfully erotic and suffused with poetry’? Does it ‘set up a stimulating encounter with a seductive and visionary mind’? Is it an ‘immersive theatre work’? Does it explore ‘the boundaries of our artistic freedoms’?

For the most part, Hey Mathew does do all these things. But there are boundaries and experimentations and freedoms that have only begun to be explored and which, no doubt, as the piece expands and continues ‘to be made’ will develop.

The seductive and visionary mind is that of Paul Goodman (1911-1972). ‘To a whole generation of American youth, Paul Goodman was an intellectual hero. Poet, playwright, essayist; anarchist, pacifist, provocateur; pipe-smoking academic, radical queer renegade: in the early1960s, Goodman was one of the most visible and important thinkers of his time’.

But at the age of 20, Paul Goodman’s son, Mathew, died in a climbing accident.

The diverse aspect of Paul Goodman’s being is reflected in the diverse aspect of this theatre piece.

To simply define what this piece is about would somehow diminish its qualities, its tones, its nuances and its value because Hey Mathew seems a deliberate ‘jigsaw’ that should not be put together as it refuses a conventional linear structure. It is multi-layered and too beautifully convoluted in its ontological ideas, and occasional metaphysical impulses – which remain at its core – for the complexities to be fused together and thus made conventionally complete.

If, as Gaston Bachelard expresses, in The Poetics of Space (1958), in his chapter on ‘The Dialectics of Outside and Inside’: ‘We seek to determine being and, in so doing, transcend all situations, to give a situation to all situations’ then Hey Mathew takes as its form that concept.

The images on the pieces of the Hey Mathew jigsaw – and it was another member of the audience who used the jigsaw imagery in discussion afterwards – are clearly defined and in experiencing the piece the audience, the watcher, the other Mathews (and we all become Mathew at some point during the performance when we identify with images, themes and concepts) don’t really want it to be complete. Mathew’s death completes Goodman’s life and our experience of that life.

The dramatic strengths of this theatre experience lie in its promenade qualities, which allow the audience to have equal ‘presence’; its exploration of the body, and of death, where the body ‘acts’ and is acted upon; and the central performance of Jonny Liron as Mathew (and as Jonny Liron) giving the piece its energy and ‘force’.

Goodman says, in his introduction to Three Plays (1964), on Art of the Theatre: ‘whatever is on the stage must primarily be a presence, a force, an act’ and these dynamics are all inherent and inextricably interwoven throughout our experience.

The body that promenades most is that of the central performer: Jonny Liron. The audience watch, listen, think, shift slightly, melt, turn, sit, stand, occasionally laugh and applaud at the end. This applause was incongruous (at the first performance) because we had shared something quite intimate, personal, non-performative at times, and at others times hugely energised in its performance qualities, but it was as though the applause-piece-of-the-jigsaw belonged to another puzzle. However, the applause was prompted by a ‘thank you’ and as the credits rolled on our screen – our window / a window – the applause seemed a more natural response at the second performance. This may, however, have been because the audience at the second performance tended to remain seated on the floor from the outset.

There are a number of dialectics taking place throughout Hey Mathew. These dialogues and debates are: the being and non being of life and death; the private and the public and how these relate to notions of outside and inside; the performative body and the non-performative body; and the persona of Mathew and that of Jonny Liron and all that comes with that.

These dialectics exist in a given room. Not set up as a conventional theatre space but a conventional studio space nonetheless. But this is a room in which we are welcomed and invited – by one of the collaborators, Chris Goode, who sits, for the most part, at the edge of the room on the floor reading from his laptop – to imagine that we have been carried in whilst asleep; to imagine that we are here freely but that we do not know that the door may have been locked without us perhaps knowing. He acknowledges that this is all about us: the creative team and we the audience, and suggests that it would not be possible without all of us. Our imagination is thus unlocked, opened, and we are able to freely imagine all that will now happen and the associations that will come with those experiences. It is almost a didactic device but there is a gentleness here that has been inspired by Goodman: ‘what is needed is a gentler curiosity’.

Within this room are other rooms, clearly defined for all Mathews present. There is a central space with a chair and where, at the start of the piece, Jonny arranges, re-arranges and distributes, at times with some precision and sometimes less so, clothes (costumes perhaps) to other spaces: the other rooms. There is careful and studied preparation and order here, of a life: Mathew’s life and Jonny’s life. But Mathew’s body is a dead body and Jonny’s body is not. When Jonny finally takes off his clothes, having played with putting on shoes, and a coat, he draws us a picture of Mathew’s body with these clothes over the chair and the floor. The image is one that remains in the imagination throughout to remind us of Mathew’s – and our – dead body.

Our experience throughout is a private, intimate one and we are constantly reminded of the delicacy of this because a blind at one of windows, within the room – the bedroom – has not been fully closed and you are thus aware that beyond this inside, intimate space, there is an outside that may be something other. There was a poignant moment of osmosis towards the end of the piece when a reflection of Jonny, fighting / boxing, was cast through the window so that he appeared on the outside of the room and thus suspended in the outside air which curiously reflected a ‘dancing’, ghost-like image of Mathew as he fell to his death in 1967. Perhaps no one else in the audience was witness to this which felt, in the moment, somewhat of an epiphany, a resurrection, a glimpse at what might be beyond the room and beyond being.

The darkness on entering the space (and through the window) at the start of the piece, and the created rooms within, were reminiscent of the exploratory atmosphere and fragmented aura of Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s The Dark Pool installation (see image above) at the Fruitmarket earlier this year at the Edinburgh Art Festival. Chris Goode comments on his Thompson’s blog that: ‘In common with all the installations in the show, particularly the (apparently) breezier interactive adventure of The Dark Pool, the devil is in the incredible level of detail, and in the absolute finesse of the scaling.’ Hey Mathew creates a similar interactive adventure as the audience explore the rooms-within-the-room at the start and become involved in an incredible thought process about the various pieces of its jigsaw.

The intriguing, mysterious and flickering flames of a candelabra, the cosiness of two lamp-shades (each covered in a scarf) sat on the floor by both the bed (with its warm, orange blanket) and in the dressing room of cardigan-kid, and the unlit but swirling mirror ball all ‘whispered’ a gentle, safe and intimate experience for us. Cis O’Boyle’s lighting, as she defines it, is a hidden art of light reflecting – whispering – and illuminating the rooms: ‘we see things in a way that light is reflected off them. If we change the quality of the light then we change what we see.’

Jonny Liron, the performer, the actor, is the body we watch and study in a comfortably intimate way: as he dresses, undresses, explores his rooms; as he dances a ‘hoody-street-dance’, fights, role plays with comic-book heroes, climbs; considers one of the co-directors, Chris Goode, with whom he has collaborated on this piece; as he, on projected video film, voyeuristically films himself in other rooms – a kitchen and a bedroom – sleeping ... et al.

An accident occurred some fifty minutes into the piece at its first performance – when Jonny was standing on the box of the hoody-street-dancer, the top of which collapsed under his weight – which was, in the same moment, both a spontaneous, unrehearsed ‘theatrical accident’ (which are always inspiring and offer up new ideas and avenues) and a real, conventional ‘accident’ resulting in injury.

Blood flowed from Jonny’s body on both legs below the knee, and on feet, and whilst both performer and audience were comfortable with the improvised, humorous, physical response from Jonny, there was discussion about accidents and injury and heath and safety and risk assessments amongst the audience afterwards: a genuine concern for his well-being.

No director would have directed an injury but the blood was a welcome body fluid as it reminded us of Mathew’s spilt blood as he fell from his mountain in 1967. We were thus reminded of the fragility of body, that it contains elements on its inside which spill re-actively outside itself. This development is perhaps not what Chris Goode had in mind when he posted on the Hey Matthew blog in his third week of the making-process, his ‘desire for roughness and responsiveness and slipperiness and not-knowing'. The slipperiness of the accident lent itself beautifully to the many dialectics of the piece and was acknowledged and consciously interwoven in a new piece of dialogue from Chris Goode at the second performance. Acknowledging the hurt, the injury, the hospitalisation, the initial bandages, was inspired, though an obvious natural development because what happened, happened in the room the previous evening and so could not be ignored. The sight of the already scabbed scars on the body at the second performance – there were five with one significant bruising – again reflected Mathew's wounds as he fell.

Movement in the piece has been explored and developed with the co-director, Jamie Wood, and his work adds a dimension that informs the performative and non-performative qualities. Jonny Liron is an actor, performer and theatre-maker and in Hey Mathew he dances, performs, acts, fights – and moves – with ease, a conviction and an energy that is natural within him and his body. His role-play-flight-sequence with comic book super-heroes is structured by Jamie allowing flight and physical power to be embodied by us all. Here, Jonny is at his most comfortable, his most imaginative, creative and, surprisingly, his most non-performative.

He is again comfortable, physically, within the projected, video diary sequences as he drinks, films himself, reads, sleeps, writes and dances. These are honest, real, and natural images that allow the audience a way of accessing the interests and desires of Paul Goodman and to see Mathew in a way that is nostalgic and reminiscent of being young.

What cannot be ignored with this work is that the Hey Mathew blog invites us to comment on posts, texts and ideas by the collaborative team and other bloggers. The blog is a pre-cursor to the performance experience, and becomes an extension of the rehearsal and performance room itself in that the medium will generate words which will generate ideas. We can be a part of this process, in our homes (in other rooms) and contribute to its outcomes but only if there is rigor and a thorough exploration and analysis of the process throughout the life of the blog. We certainly gain an insight into that which the collaborators choose to post and comment upon. What is useful is the blog’s library whereby biographical, historical, philosophical and source material can be accessed to inform the ideas and the work. It allows you to know something about the project before you know the work.

We were invited, three weeks into the process, to consider whether twenty phrases that became twenty moving images could be spotted. Aspects of these jigsaw-phrases are identifiable but require more detailed review and analysis and are worthy of a separate response. They do provide a framework for the jigsaw that allows an audience an invaluable way of understanding both the non-linear and the movement structure of the piece.

What has not been covered in these thoughts are: the interwoven and poetic contributions made by the writers; the haunting, and sometimes upsetting, atmosphere created by the music; and the consciousness within the piece of the narrative role played by Chris Goode. This will have to remain for another time and a further draft.

Nonetheless, this piece is rich and complex and poetic but it is not so powerfully erotic. The eroticism remains too distant and detached from us because we remain simply watchers of erotic acts and being and which seem not to be designed to arouse. Again, a separate study of the erotic aspects of the piece is needed for a full and proper analysis.

Hey Mathew is, also, an immersive, open and inclusive experience for an audience because the ideas are explored in a fluid series of movements and tones and media that allow our being – our bodies – to consciously and subconsciously absorb, and assimilate, images, personas and spaces at a pace that is, at times hypnotic, peaceful and always enchanting.

The persona of Mathew is worn ‘lightly’ throughout and it is this lightness of being that gives the piece its true strength, allowing Chris Goode to express a love for the central performer, for Jonny, that is refreshing, honest, both performative and non-performative, but which doesn’t allow, at present, a true embodiment of that which is an expression of freedom: of true artistic freedom.

The experiment in the making of Hey Mathew will remain in how it might further develop over time. A dedicated and thorough pursuit of all that has been so far explored – and made – would develop a piece that allows the above dialectics to sit contradictorily but comfortably together but by pushing the boundaries:

Hey Mathew … is Hey Jonny … is …