In rehearsal today, for Beauty and the Beast, I was suddenly struck with how influential Dominic Barber had been on my own practice. Back in 1991 Dominic cast me in the Christmas production that year: The Gingerbread Man. (I think he had been the Community Theatre Officer at South Hill Park, Bracknell, for a number of years already.) It wasn't what I had planned as an actor - playing a biscuit - but it was a job (my third professional one) and it proved to be so very valuable. After just the first rehearsal Dominic asked us for our 'notes'. Even having supposedly trained as an actor, no director had asked that before. Weren't 'notes' the prerogative, the domain, of directors?
Dom was an incredible force in the rehearsal room: lunatic, witty, silly, smoking, drinking, laughing, running around, improvising direction, but all the time knowing what it was he wanted from you. After all, he had cast you. He would tell you not to worry about not getting the voice - it'll come, he'd say. Sometimes he would just watch a lot, smoke a little, drink a little, and say even less. Most of the time he was noisy. He made good noise and you always wanted to make good noise, too. Christmas shows seem to need a fair amount of noise.
Dominic's generosity in rehearsal has rarely been matched by another director: he allowed actors to contribute to the creative process in quite a unique, collaborative way, and for this experience and knowledge I am indebted.
Today's rehearsal was a little lunatic, too: we played for the whole of the first hour experimenting with our French accents, making up names for ourselves - Xavier, Lulu, Baptista - and talking about the French Revolution (1789-1799).
With 7-16 year olds. It was a wonder!
Everyone understood the basics of the Revolution from their previous week's research: 'the French government structure, previously an absolute monarchy with feudal privileges for the aristocracy and Catholic clergy, underwent radical change to forms based on nationalism, citizenship, and inalienable rights' said one googled sheet thrust in my face from the outset. This was discussed. There will be few rehearsal rooms this Christmas where young people will be discussing and having an understanding of a little 18th century European history.
At the end of the day, having consolidated five songs, learnt to waltz, developed our French accents (indeed our vocabulary) and named ourselves, I asked everyone for their thoughts on what they were taking away with them that they may not have had at the beginning of the day. Here are just a handful of those thoughts:
- to think about the meaning of words
- that it is hard but that you can't always show this
- that watching and listening can help
- learning to waltz
- that no idea is exclusive
I hope our rehearsal was totally inclusive today, waltzy, hard work and challenging but that we had a good, fun time being 'Revolutionary' on a Christmas show. There are two more rehearsals before our adult actors arrive on 10 November ... and I hope Dominic would have enjoyed it all as much I did.
Merci beaucoup. Je m'appelle...