Baby Steps: First Rehearsals

Theatre

(crossposted)

Rehearsals have begun for the Israel/Palestine project. (There’ll be a page for it soon. I’m just waiting to nail down the last couple of performance dates.) I’ve met with the cast, we’ve started reading, researching, playing and performing — we’ve started the rollercoaste car going, and it’s taking those first juddering leaps forward up the climb before we plummet, blindfolded and exhilirated, towards whatever this show will become.

I love this feeling. Something has begun, and it’s full of potential. The key thing here is not to pin it down too quickly; for an open-ended devised project like this, where the only ficed thing are the performance dates, to make any decisions now would be lethal. We did read through a few texts on the first day, and we have done some basic historical research at the beginning, just like a cast would for any play, but in this case we’re just trying to understand the world we’re working in — we’re not trying to decide what we’re going to create in it.

The tricky thing, of course, is to know when we do have to start deciding what we’re going to perform. Right now we’re just exploring and playing games. Some of them get boring, and some of them backfire, but some of them are beautiful. Yesterday we did half an hour of freeform physical improvisation: I asked the cast, starting from neutral, to find physical movements and interactions that expressed their reactions to the material we’d been working with. A lot of different things happened: there was some game-playing, a lot of individual isolation and contemplation, and towards the end a series of events to do with ideas of home, possessions, control and aggression. Two actors built a house. One stole stole some wood another was playing with. One asked for water from another, who taunted her with it, offered it then took it away; she then threw a tantrum and began chucking everything she could find. I brought the group back to neutral, and then we had a final short circle talking about the exercise. Everyone seemed to enjoy it and find it valuable; it helped us to process what we talked about, and find ways of expressing it in performance. I particularly liked the quality of reality in what everyone was doing — how it all seemed to be really happening, rather than pointing to or representing something else.

Will anything like that appear in performance? Maybe. Maybe not. We can’t really know. We’re developing what I like to call a performance sketchbook — a series of rough ideas and crumpled pages. I am, however, a little bit terrified. The scale of this project — I mean its experimentation in form as well as the difficult material we’re tackling — is beyond anything I’ve done before. We’re not breaking hugely new artistic ground historically, though maybe we might discover an original idea or two; it is, however, terra incognita for me as a director. Exciting, but frightening. What if it goes wrong? What if I misjudge the schedule? What if we can’t decide what to perform? What if the audiences hate it? Or worse, if they don’t respond at all? What if? What if? And, as a director, one of my primary roles is to project calmness and confidence the whole way through so the actors have the very best atmosphere in which to create. At this stage, the pressue is quite light; as anyone in theatre can tell you, later on the cracks may start to appear. Hopefully by then you’ll be hearing from other voices in these pages to keep things balanced.

Only onwards . . .

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