Archive for July, 2007

It All Begins to Settle

July 30, 2007

Monday, July 30, 2007

Good rehearsal today. We tightened and cleaned a lots of bits up in the Ashcroft Room. Then after lunch we had some time on stage and spent most of that working on re-staging the Dream. Other small bits effected by timing were also addressed, and each of these little changes now become part of tonight’s show.

At the end of rehearsal Josette warned of some larger changes to come tomorrow. One of them is particularly hard. She wants to cut the last scene between Eurycleia and Penelope. I said “yes” because an actor must say yes, but this was a tough one for me and I went home and really thought about the scene on the dinner break. What is the role of the scene in the play? What part does it play in the story, and is it vital? And if it is not, I have to let it go for the good of the show. Tough. I love the scene.

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Director Josette Bushell-Mingo

Another good preview. A quieter house this time, but they were right with us, and the storytelling becomes clearer and clearer. And the insanity backstage is understood now, so even though it is still mayhem, it seems more controlled and less frantic. Which means that our onstage life is also more controlled and less frantic, and we can achieve a greater level of contact with our fellow actors and our audience. It all begins to settle and become ours.

What a change from this time last week where it seemed to be taken away from us completely. It’s quite ironic that although every production goes through relatively the same process, tech time is always such a shock to the actor and to the play, such a difficult time of growth. And this time, when we rediscover the story, but at a level so much deeper, so refined, so layered with other elements, and together with an audience, it becomes a new play, and the struggle to discover it begins to melt into the background. It is a birth that miraculously disassociates you from the labour.

I saw Josette in the dressing room hallway after the preview. I guess my homework on the scene paid off: she said I had convinced her of its place in the story. There may be some nips and tucks but I think it will stay. Yea.

An Important Week Ahead

July 29, 2007

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Slept. Had a sequestered morning. The sun shining in through my bay window. The life of the river has returned to normal, but for the ferry which seems to have been injured in the flood. The birds are happy and busy. The dogs are merrily walking their people. The green is green.

By my calculating eye, the river was up more than two meters last weekend. And a week later there is little sign of it. Except that the actors who were evacuated from the cottages across from the theatre have moved to their third hotel in a week. This includes the lovely Veronica, who we bumped into moving her third load of items from the upstairs of her cottage. Definitely NOT the thing one wants to be doing on the only day away from our gruelling schedule. I would have had a breakdown.

Went over to the Courtyard Cafe and tried to rectify some email issues. Pam was there busily sending and receiving news and support. I have been completely cut off by my server, and don’t know how to deal with it from here. So I’ve opened a web account to tide me over, it’s just very frustrating to be out of contact with home when one is so emotionally vulnerable. I simply do not have the wherewithal to deal with petty communication problems. Blah.

To shed a bit of light, my godson Harry Thomas arrived from Canada for a couple of days at the Ferryhouse. And because it was a glorious day we wandered around town for 2 1/2 hours. We wandered past all the pertinent sights, and popped in a couple of shops, and meandered through the Sunday market, where he bought a fabulous ring. We walked over to Old Town, past Hall’s Croft, and through the graveyard at Holy Trinity, and then sat by the river for a while. We went for a grand meal with Jenny and Jade, and by the end of that my head was bobbing.

I had a long chat on the phone with my dear friend David who I miss so much. And by 9:30 I had to go to bed. Harry stayed up to do some writing in the garden, and I crashed.

We are all working at our edge. And we have an important week ahead. A bit of sleep will certainly been an aid.

Backstage Mayhem

July 28, 2007

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Really dragging my butt. Still… in for the call in the morning.

Notes and bits from the night before, and a couple of cuts to implement. But we will do no major work until Monday. The second preview was a pig for me. I just didn’t have the energy to buoy above the backstage mayhem, and several of my costume changes went for bust again. In one scene I walked on with my head through the arm-hole of my costume. And this particular time I am supposed to get out of the costume onstage. Well, there was no way that was going to happen because I couldn’t budge, and felt a bit like Richard the Third with my head and my arm through the same hole! So I had to leave the stage and not show up into the next scene, in which, thankfully, they didn’t miss me. It was all a bit lumpy technically, but according to Josette and Rae, the story is getting clearer and clearer. And that is most important.

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The Suitors 

Much to my horror, as we were getting out of costume, Michael Boyd appeared in the hallway to say that he had seen the show, and congratulating us on a job well done. (I wanted to ask him if he was taking any pointers from my Richard…) Blah. Always hateful when someone you admire so greatly sees a performance that you think sucks.

But I know from twenty-six years of experience – the subtle shifts in performance that we as actors feel are crevasses, are really only imperceptible hairline cracks. So you take the complement with the grace that it is offered. I just hope he comes back again when I can feel the ground beneath my feet.

Notes and bits after the first show. And then a break. I got a longer break than others as I was not involved in some of the bits that were rehearsing, and so got a dinner in our garden, and a little lie down.

I couldn’t sleep. Domestic matters were jamming my frequencies. My email is down and so I feel deeply disconnected from home, and my money transfer has got lost in the snail mail and I will have to deal with that. But nothing I can do until Monday.

Second show was a really good one. Yes! It actually felt like I could see people on the stage for the first time. That the craziness backstage was calming down enough that my feet could actually land in a scene and I could be there. Almost acting. Not quite there yet, but glimpses. Moments of expansion. And that teaches me right away: “This is it. This is the direction to go. Simple. Clear. Just be here.”

Moments of clarity. Possibilities to play. A really hopeful way to leave the play for a much deserved day off.

And maybe, just maybe, a glass of wine or two in The Dirty Duck before crashing! Twist my arm.

The First Preview

July 27, 2007

Friday, July 27, 2007

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The Ashcroft Room Rehearsal Hall

 

Praise be to the gods of the Theatre! We made it through our first preview. The whole experience is both palpably real, and elusively unreal. It was a long and gruelling day. It began at 10:30 finishing the technical rehearsal. We got through it with a short break to re-caulk the pool (no details, or it won’t be a surprise!). And were released for an hour lunch before our dress rehearsal. I had to get some groceries. Oh yes. These are the practicalities that fall by the wayside in tech week. So I dashed over to Marks and Spencers, and then went up to the roof of the Swan to eat my lunch. There is a little deck off the Ashcroft Room that overlooks the Avon River and the countryside. It’s quite majestic, and oh so peaceful. view-from-ashcroft-small-for-web.jpg
The View from the Ashcroft Room 

And from that place of tranquility, we were thrown into our insane dress rehearsal. It’s always tough to get back into the beginning of the play when you haven’t seen it for five days, but all in all, I’d say we did reasonably well. I had four costume changes that I were pretty rocky, including one that I had to abandon. Too bad, because photos were being shot through the run. Ah well. Lost to posterity. There were lots of glitches, and the absolute mayhem that ensues backstage in this piece would have been at least as entertaining as what was happening on stage. We were all learning: actors, dressers, stage-managers, props folks. And it was one steep learning curve that went by in a flash. It’s a bit like a steeplechase: run like stink, and watch out for the hedges and the lakes!An oh-so-short break for dinner and we were in front of people for the first time. Adrenaline is an amazing drug. Josette gave a little speech before the show, just to say that this was the first time this piece was being seen in the WHOLE WORLD!!! and that she may have to stop it if something went wrong. Nothing did. A little miracle. Not that it was all brilliant and perfect, but that we got through relatively unscathed. And that was good enough for all of us. And at the end of it all, we got an encore. I mean we left them clapping for some time, and the house lights were even up, but they called us back and we went. Very generous. Very unexpected.

So now we were pooped. In fact I think we’ve written the book on “pooped”. But. Sir Christopher Bland (the Chairman of the Board for the RSC, and the CEO of British Telecom) and his wife Jenny had asked us out for dinner after the show. They are unable to come for press night next week, as they are going up to their “fishing shack” in Northern Scotland. So they had to come to the first preview, and they wanted to meet us. Do you say no? Well, not me. Many of us went, and some joined after notes. They took us to a fabulous French restaurant in town. The food was amazing. Sir Christopher was particularly impressed that we got an encore bow. He said he has never seen this happen at the Swan. (!) They are really great people. Genuinely interested in the arts and literature. Jenny’s son, Jamie Byng, is the publisher who began the project to retell the ancient myths; the project of which The Penelopiad is only one of many. So this had the potential to be a fantastic evening, but I was not exactly my effervescent self, and had to leave at 11:30 when I hit an insurmountable wall of fatigue. And knowing that the call tomorrow is 10:30 am for notes and bits, and that we are doing two shows.

Long day and a birthday

July 26, 2007

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Well, we didn’t get through the play. I know that it was Josette’s goal to get through all of it so we could rehearse a few bits tomorrow and do a dress rehearsal before the preview. But it will be tight now. And it means that after leaving the theatre at 11:30pm we have to be back, and getting into costume, at 10:30am! Eeeee. Oh well, we suck it up and get on with it. 

We started the day with rehearsal in the Ashcroft Room. This is a spectacular rehearsal hall which sits on top of the Swan Theatre. It is completely lined with wood, with windows all around, and a vaulted ceiling. A pretty spectacular space. Unfortunately the roof leaks, so with the… you guessed it… Rain!, there were a few drippy bits. 

The rehearsal was mostly with Allison, the fight director. Cleaning the fight at the end, and cleaning the moves in the rape scene. Then a few music bits, and a break before tech.

I had a costume fitting (they’re replacing my basic Maid’s costume), and then the Canadian girls had photos taken for the Walrus article. Then into costume to start on stage.

It was a good day again. Lot’s of beautiful images. But it went slowly. I think it is just the layering of elements. But it felt like we didn’t get very far very fast. This means a lot of waiting. And one must learn to conserve ones energy. But regardless of conservation, there was a lot of yawning going on by the end of the evening. 

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Mojisola Adebayo 

We had a birthday cake at the tea break: Mojisola Adebayo. Moj is in the rehearsal picture with me in the July 18th entry. She’s fantastic. She’s playing Telemachus, and makes such a gorgeous five year old boy! She’s a great actor, a fine wordsmith, and a wonderful woman. She is in the dressing room with me, along with Corrine Koslo and Jade Anouka. Happy B-day Moj! Too bad every second of it was spent in the theatre!

Slow and Steady wins the race.

July 25, 2007

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The rain is pelting down. Ayeeee!

(Okay. Here’s my secret. I actually write the following morning. It has been my practice for the past ten years to write a morning journal. It feels quite natural to me; a comforting routine. So when the NAC asked me to keep a record of the process of The Penelopiad it was quite easy for me to accept and simply substitute my personal writing for writing of a more public nature.

I’ll admit… I’m diplomatic. This is a place for softening ones personal reactions to events, to look at things with somewhat more objectivity. But I have not lied. Not once. I have just not told the whole truth when I think that truth is inappropriate for public consumption.

I say all this as a sort of apology for my entry of Monday this week. It was a hard day for me personally, and I simply couldn’t be objective about that day. We all have dark days.

The day was good. It moved more slowly than I expected. But it was good. The show is going to look stunning. This will be due in no small part to our very talented Bonnie Beecher. Wow. She can paint with light. I don’t want to give a lot away at this point, because I’m hoping that many of you reading will get a chance to see the show in Ottawa, but it’s pretty yummy!

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Swan dressing room hall. 

These are long days. We are called for costume fitting and rehearsals from 11:30am, and then we take two one-hour breaks in a day that goes to 11:30pm. Pooped. This is the time when the echinacea comes out, and all the voodoo we use to keep ourselves healthy. But little injuries happen when we have to go into a big movement section, and it is seven hours since you did a warm-up. The strain is palpable. But on we go.

I spoke with Josette at one point, and she is not certain whether we will get through tech tomorrow. That means no dress rehearsal. That means… the first preview will be our first run-through with all elements. That’s tough to face. But at the same time we have to be where we are. There is no pushing the process faster than it will go. And so we plod on. Slow and steady wins the race.

From Hades to Elysium: Mummy came home.

July 24, 2007

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Yesterday, Josette had been in Sweden doing a first day on a show (The Odyssey!!!) that she begins there in two weeks. Today she’s back, and everything in tech went smoothly, and in the fashion to which I have become accustomed. So I eat my words from yesterday. It was only that we didn’t have our fearless and visionary leader to put everything right. So instantly we were a group of happy campers, and more importantly, safe campers.

And now I begin to see, as I knew I would, the way Josette works like an painter with the technical and pictorial elements of the piece. And Rosa has provided such a brilliant palette of costumes and props, and scenic details, and Bonnie is lighting them with her ineffable flair. And Martin’s sound cues, and Warren’s music, are all being woven into Margaret’s story. By the end of the week it will be a real tapestry, and then it will be given back to the actors to play. But for now we must be content with tiny steps forward into a world which is half paradise and half hell. And have our wits about us. And expect the unexpected.

I think we’re a little behind where we would like to be in terms of schedule. We’re about a third of the way through the play. But the middle third should move relatively quickly, and then we’ll slow down again for the final section. There does not seem to be an expectation of more than one run through before the first preview on Friday. That freaks me out a bit, but I’m willing to go with it. It certainly gives me insight into the first previews of both Richard II and Henry IV Part 1 that I saw. Very raw work. But still it holds together, and the special audience that attends first previews are still rapt.

It didn’t hurt that is was sunny yesterday! We were in the theatre for much of the day, but we had the morning to soak up some much needed vitamin D. And the green across the river is a green again, rather than a lake. And the geese and swans can cross the current again without ending up in Bambury. And the old chain-ferry has surfaced. And Jenny and I actually ate our dinner in the garden! It is the dove with the olive branch for us here, though much of the country is still devastated. And the forecast is still extremely variable.

First day of tech. Yikes.

July 23, 2007

Monday, July 23, 2007

Well. How can I be diplomatic about our first day of tech. Let’s say that there are natural differences in theatre making that exist around the world. Different practices in rehearsal. Different ways to bring the elements together for an audience. Let’s say that I should embrace those differences as expansive, and adventurous. Let’s say that, since I have been working in theatre for twenty-six years I have become a bit set in my ways. A bit rigid in my expectations. I’m happy to frame my experience as personal. Let’s say that.

And that the good thing about working in full tech from the outset is… well, I’m not quite sure. Maybe that you get used to your costume. And that the usefulness of running into a scene where there are flying pieces, without ever having seen them, or where they fly, or how that might effect the heads of the actors who are just trying to continue the acting underneath them, is somehow… edifying? 

Alright. Enough of my bitter tongue. I’ll be honest. This was a very difficult day for me. 

Let me relay the factual information for the sake of the diary. We started the day with a fire-safety talk, and a tour of the backstage. Then we had a short sound and music rehearsal in the theatre, just to get some idea of levels and hearing the band. From there we had a half hour to get into costume and wigs. In England they do the entire series of technical rehearsals in full get-up. So from 4pm we were in our positions and working through from the top of the piece. By the dinner break, we had done the introduction. It is a very complicated series of events for everyone, so this did not really surprise me. And by 11:30 pm we ended, just as Rae, our assistant director had predicted, at the top of the Wedding scene. 

We will continue on from here. And I will be sure to take my patience pill before I head in tomorrow.

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 Okay. I have to finish on a positive note. The Swan Theatre is a gem. The experience of playing this space will be second to none. I know that. And I can see that the difficulties of the day will disappear beside the sheer joy of performing in this theatre. And also, that the show will look and sound amazing. That these elements are already lifting the play to a new height, and that we will have a great piece of theatre by the end of the week. That gives me some perspective. 

A day away from Ithaca

July 22, 2007

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Bradgate Park 

Sunday, July 22, 2007

My friend Kev from Leicester came and got me and was aghast at the great Lake Stratford. The roads had opened. The sun was shining. And the country was beginning to breath again. One of Kev and Hilary’s neighbours had been stranded outside Evesham and abandoned her car, spent a good part of the night in a Pub which kept open, and then was offered lodging by a woman whose road home had opened up. People gathering around a disaster. It’s a human phenomenon, I think.

Had a great day in Leicester. It’s just a relief to get away from the tiny, intense world that we are currently inhabiting. Kev and Hils took me to Bradgate Park in the countryside of Leicestershire. It’s an old estate that was bequeathed to the people of Leicestershire for their enjoyment. And really, it’s just a great place to go for a walk. To get into the country air and commune with the deer that are resident in the park, and the odd peacock or two, and the absolutely ancient trees and babbling brooks that dot the landscape. Brilliant.

A chance to get away from Sparta and Ithaca and storytelling for a day. To just be a human being, hanging out with friends, sharing a good meal, great conversation, laughter, fresh air and sunshine. That is a perfect day off.

They’re calling for rain tomorrow.

The flood of 2007

July 21, 2007

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Avon rowboats before the flood…

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Avon rowboats after the flood! 

Saturday, July 21, 2007

It was a night filled with activity. I left the pub at about midnight, and stood by the river for a while. Already the swelling waters had burst their banks, and the flood plain across the river was now a lake. The swans were huddling, slightly dazed, under the young oak tree by the Ferry dock. And the rain continued to fall.

In the middle of the night I could hear someone knocking on the downstairs window. Some of our neighbours were warning people on the ground floor to move to higher ground. Although I was drifting in and out of sleep, there seemed to be a steady stream of activity regarding encroaching water. So I had lots of two by two dreams, and was awakened in the morning by the gathering of locals and tourists alike agape at the devastation of the landscape.

By good fortune, the water seemed to have stopped just at the foot of our doorway. But the entire street was flooded. And across the river, I could see the swans enjoying the opportunity to swim in the lawn bowling enclosure. The entire green, as far as the eye can see, is still covered with water. And it was only a few hours later, when the water had receded about a foot, that Waterside became passable. Word came that several of the cottages where actors live were flooded, and that the Mac/Mac shows at the Swan had been cancelled because the basement of the theatre was under water. And as I sit here writing, the river is running a torrent, with plenty of debris, felled trees, and bits and pieces floating along in its wake. The ferry has disappeared. The row boats are completely surrounded by water. And there are constant cries of incredulity from the people who are coming out to witness the flood of 2007.