Archive for the ‘Rehearsing’ Category

Opening night in Ottawa

September 21, 2007

Friday, September 21, 2007

(My brain is fried. It’s actually early Sunday evening and I am completely exhausted. But I’m trying to get my brownie badge in journal writing, so… onward.) 

Our opening day in Ottawa began with a four hour rehearsal call, after a morning in the garden at my brother’s. It was a tough call. People are so tired of rehearsing. Not that we’ve had the time to do cleaning rehearsals, but doing the technical “put-in” rehearsals in Newcastle and Ottawa have both been long calls contributing to long weeks of work. But… even though there was resistance, it was invaluable to make these little niggly adjustments to a few technical elements, and to clean up music and dance numbers. God is in the details.  I may sound annoyingly gung-ho, but I was really happy to have the work done, and felt very confident going into the opening night performance here at the NAC.

We were a bit tight. It’s so funny, but as soon as the performance begins you can feel the relationship with the audience, and how easy or difficult the story-telling is going to be. And we all know that it is very rare that an opening night audience will be the easy kind. But the great thing is that we have already had a full range of audiences come to see this play, and the story-telling is so solid now that our little tightnesses and nerves are not really evident to those watching. Ultimately… they got to their feet at the end. And that tells the tale.

Our opening reception was in Le Cafe at the NAC. And the joint was jumpin’, and packed to the rafters. It was a struggle for me to find my family let alone see who else was in the place. And before what Penny calls “the bun fight” could really begin, there were speeches: Peter Herndorf, the CEO of the National Arts Centre, Anthony Cary, the British High Commissioner, Deborah Shaw, the Associate Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Peter Hinton, the Artistic Director of English Theatre at the NAC, and Margaret Atwood… well, we all know who she is: the Queen of Canadian Literature. There was a lot of clapping, and gratitude to funding bodies like the British and Canada Councils, and individual donors, and loads of praise for the collaborative creative process between these two companies and these two countries. It was a bit like that part of the wedding where you’re longing to get to the bar and refresh your drink before the dancing begins, but we all survived. 

And then there were lots of faces in the crowd: Jian Ghomeshi, R.H. Thompson, Martha Burns, Brian Quirt, Naomi Campbell, Leah Cherniak, Susan Coyne, John Van Burek, Meno Plucker, along with Kelly’s parents, Mama Cox, my family, Pippa’s mom, Jenny’s friends, Pam’s sister. Only Corrine had no family there. But we love her enough to be family for a night, I hope! There were tons more, but honestly, it was so crowded and very warm that it was tough to know who was there (so sorry if I missed your name!). 

Dancing ensued, and there were goodbyes to our wonderful RSC crew, who have to head home now that the show is safely in the hands of the NAC crew. So love, gratitude and goodbye to Marion, Fiona, Lisa, Anna, and Becky (you’ll note even the crew is all women!). And an enormous thank you to Charmion who leaves on Sunday. 


A huge leap ahead

September 20, 2007

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

Peggy was in the building! Yup. More flowers were delivered to each of us from the diminutive woman with the soft curly head. (Many thanks!)  Ms. Atwood came backstage after the show. And she was pleased. She felt her words had deepened and strengthened in the time since she saw us in Stratford-upon-Avon. Gratifying news. The show has matured so much. Even last night we took a huge leap ahead into the beautiful space of the NAC Theatre. What a gorgeous venue to play. It allows the play to expand. And what a generous audience we had tonight. There was a real meeting between us and them, and ya gotta love that feeling.

It’s hard to describe how plays mature, but I have come to believe the maturing process has to be a part of new play development. So many new plays are given one kick at the can, and if they fail, or even if they succeed with reservation, they are relegated to the heap, never to be seen again. Even plays that are considerable hits can find it hugely difficult to achieve a second run. But I know now from experience here, and from working on The Danish Play by Sonja Mills over a five year period, that plays need to breathe. And if they are allowed to breathe with the original cast they can attain a profound resonance in those actors, in their relationships to the words and to each other, which is ultimately conveyed to the listener. Daniel Brooks said it some years ago in a keynote speech: good theatre needs TIME. 

Sermon over. 

It was one of those days that was hard to remember from start to finish: so much happened. We had a half-hour call to get into costumes for a media call. Pauline is still very ill, and had to go back to the hotel and rest.  After the shoot, we were out of costumes and into the theatre for Rae’s excellent notes. (The fabulous NAC crew picked up all the notes from yesterday, and the show went very smoothly in the technical department.) Then some quick rehearsal of bits on stage, a supper break, and our second preview. 

Along with Ms. Atwood, and an extremely attentive and effusive audience, were Antoni Cimolino and Marti Maraden from The Stratford Shakespearean Festival. It was great of them to make the journey up to Ottawa, and they seemed genuinely pleased to be there.  So the first trickle of exposure to the Canadian theatre community begins. A little nerve making. But also a great opportunity to bring home our fantastic adventure.

The magic of theatre

September 19, 2007

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A brutally long day today. We start at 9:30am. Pauline has been ill all night and is the colour of concrete. Pippa is also not well. Moj has bounced back and is in good form after a solid night’s sleep.

On we go. It is a relentless and tedious process, re-cueing a show.  The frustrating part is, we need music rehearsals, and if it was just lighting that needed adjustment, we could be working with Mike on music. But Mike is busy at every second because it is his work that is most effected. (Oh poor Mike! On top of everything, his keyboard re-configured itself on the flight, and his entire programming of the show was lost. This has meant painstakingly reprogramming for hours outside of rehearsals. So a big hats off to Mike!)  We get to the end of the play a few minutes before our scheduled meal break. Whew! Pippa has had to leave the rehearsal about halfway through the afternoon, and we worked around her. Hopefully she will rest up, and be alright for tonight.

Peter Hinton, the resident god of the theatre, has been with us through these two days of rehearsal. Rae has certainly been running the ship, but Peter has been there for guidance and support in the absence of Josette. (I forgot to tell you. Josette is rehearsing another play in Sweden, and although she had hoped the play would be in good enough shape to leave for a few days, it simply isn’t, and she has had to leave us in Rae’s capable hands.) Peter gives a little speech to the audience before we begin our preview. The production tables are still in the house, which gives the audience a good idea that things are not completely set and ready. But Peter tells them about the massive adjustments and that we haven’t had a run through yet in this space.

The house lights snap black. We set forth. And we stay afloat. Oh, there are a few glitches as one can only expect. The brains fart when faced with walls and doors in new places! It’s as simple as that. But we tell our story. And the crew is fantastic. Some difficulties with costumes as we knew there would be. It’s not easy in our regular circumstances, let alone with one less dresser. But we make it. And everyone gets on stage wearing some form of the right outfit.

We tell our story! Isn’t that great. And the audience gets it! There are some different responses that with our English audiences, which is a wonderful little cultural reminder. But they follow both Penelope and the Maids, and at the end… god bless them… they get to their feet. If you’ll recall our first preview at the Swan (July 27th!) they did the same thing, even through the melee that was our tech. God bless those first night troopers. The magic of the theatre.

Impressed with the Nation’s Capital

September 18, 2007


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I told you so. Our European counterparts are all very impressed with the Nation’s Capital! How can you not be impressed when we’re having weather like this: this is the summer we missed! Yippee! Twenty-seven degrees, no humidity, and gloriously clear and sunny skies. And the leaves are definitely turning. Although it is still early in the autumn, one spies the occasional crimson maple, a golden bough exploding out of a sea of green, and a dry sense of change.

Peace Tower in Fall

And in the theatre things are not much different. The Theatre at the NAC is a substantially different container than both the Swan and the Northern Stage. Where the Swan is like an atrium, and the Northern Stage is like an auditorium, the Theatre is a big bowl. Our actual playing space has been rounded by adding panels on the sides and the front. It is quite grand, and allows for much more sweeping movement and delivery. It is a different external dimension for the actor. And it’s as if our chorus of Dreamboats was choreographed to go into this space all along! Funny how things like that work out.

There are plenty of adjustments to make: steep steps to vomitories that exit under the audience on either downstage side, a vast, black, cavern backstage, one less dresser, and one less wigger on duty, an entirely new crew (who are fantastic, and really helpful). But the biggest adjustment is the music. Our band has been placed deep in the backstage behind the crossover. This means having the instruments on mics, and pumping the sound into the house. This is always a huge adjustment after having acoustic music onstage. Very difficult. And for our rehearsal day it means re-cueing the entire show. So apart from a detailed clean of the Dreamboats choreography with Veronica, and some great notes and adjustments from Rae, the day and night were entirely devoted to sound and lighting.

This was all very time consuming, and by the end of two five hour sessions we were not even half-way through the show. So tomorrow we will not have a dress rehearsal before we see our first audience! It’s hardest on the new crew. As a cast, we all have this play firmly in hand (though it has been wonderful to be reminded of some details as we work through), but the crew has NO IDEA how this madness fits together into a 100 minute marathon. We will keep slogging it out tomorrow and see where we land.

We end the day abruptly, and on a bad note: three of our actors have come down with severe nausea and… accompanying symptoms. We finish a little early to get them home and to bed. Jet lag, I assume. Or maybe they picked something up on the plane. Nasty, any way you look at it.

Off to work in Newcastle

September 5, 2007

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Off to work in Newcastle. What friendly people they are here! Everyone is helpful and cheerful.  And, okay, I have to say it, the accent is FANTASTIC!  It’s just a great town.

The dress rehearsal in the afternoon went relatively smoothly. There were a few little glitches, and we did have to stop once near the beginning, but after that we sailed on without a hitch. The crew is fantastic: young, (did I say friendly?) and extremely capable and that is key when you’re stepping in for only four shows.

There are small things that are different here: the down-stage entrances are farther away, and they have two sets of steps, off the stage and out of the house, so timing entrances and exits from the “voms” takes a bit of getting used to. Some of the flying elements are different simply because they have different access to space on the grid, so that has meant a little bit of re-spacing.

But the great thing about Northern Stage is the wings. I know I’m going on about the WINGS! It’s amazing what a difference it makes to the show. Since everyone is in the backstage area all the time, crew and all, and we must all be extremely quiet, the show gets focussed very tightly. What a treat. The Swan just didn’t hold that possibility.

The opening went really well. The audience seemed to really enjoy it.

A young woman that Corrine and I met on Hadrian’s Wall came for the opening, and found it so funny to see us on stage after seeing us out walking in the countryside. We had a little reception in the theatre bar afterwards. A chance to talk to two of the Friends of the RSC, Yvonne and David Richardson. They are really great people and wonderful supporters of the theatre. It is so great to meet people like this in other countries. It just shows you how people who are excited to be involved in the theatre exist all over the world.

It seems as if things are wrapping up so quickly here. There just doesn’t seem time to do any sight-seeing here in Newcastle, which is a little disappointing. But the practicalities are looming: getting our money home, not to mention trying to pack too many things into too little space. Both Jenny and Corrine have already bought new suitcases. And Marks and Spencers… what are we going to do without Marks and Spencers? Can we convince them to re-open shops in Canada? Perhaps a letter writing campaign is in order.

Anyway. The countdown is on. And the struggle of these feelings which seem in such contrast to each other: the sadness of leaving behind this country which has been such a thrill over the past few months, and the longing to return to my own bed, my cat, my friends and family. Hard to hold both these feelings in hand. And in heart.

The First Day at the Northern Stage

September 4, 2007

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

We had our first day at the Northern Stage today. It is a modern, recently renovated theatre on the campus of Newcastle University just across from the Civic Centre. It exists in such sharp contrast to the Swan in so many ways. The backstage is all brand new: bright clean hallways, a spacious well-equipped green room, and WINGS! Yippee!

There is actually room for props tables, quick changes, and a bit of milling about. This makes the process of teaching a new crew so much easier.

And the onstage space is completely different also. Well, the deck is the same, and they have constructed the set to duplicate exactly the upstage balconies and staircases at the Swan. But the house is completely different for playing. Whereas at the Swan the house is sharply vertical like the old European opera houses, the Northern Stage is long and deep, with only a small percentage of the seats at the sides of the thrust. So some alteration in the playing style is necessary to better serve the majority of the audience. This became pretty clear for us once we started staggering through. That was the job yesterday. The crew had been working overtime.

Macbeth had it’s technical rehearsal on Sunday, dress on Monday afternoon, and first show last night. All went well. But then there was a changeover from the Macbeth set to the Penelopiad set, and enormous alterations of lighting and backstage life that accompanies that changeover. So the crew were pooped.

It didn’t show. They all had their game faces on, and our technical rehearsal went very smoothly. We even finished an hour ahead of schedule! That meant a little extra time in the pub before heading back to our hotel in Jesmond.

A View of Bjornefjord (continued)

Curled up in the chaise lounge

Apparently it rains 275 days of the year in Bergen. Considering these statistics we were oh so lucky. We had sun for two of the three days we were there. Most of these days were spent curled up in the chaise lounge chairs reading. I barely moved the first afternoon. Oh maybe I sat in the gazebo for a while when the Maritime men were on a coffee break and their laughter and conversation became a bit intrusive. The option was spending time in the spa, which we both did, with massage, a Finnish Sauna at 90 degrees Celsius, 0% humidity, a Sanarium at 55 degrees Celsius, 50% humidity, and a Steam Room at 70 degrees Celsius, 100% humidity, not to mention a swimming pool with the same extraordinary view of the fjord. Paradise.

Solstrand View

Oh. And the food. If you like seafood… and I do… you’re lost. You can have fish three meals a day. There is a whole table of fish for breakfast! True! I passed on that. But I did eat fish at every other  meal. The chef was fantastic. The first night we had the chef’s selection, which was a fixed menu, and the second night we ordered a la carte. Both were fantastic, but I must say my monkfish on the a la carte night was a euphoric experience. Corrine’s plate of creme brulee looked pretty good too.

This is the kind of holiday I have never taken. Simply can’t afford to spend that kind of money on myself. But every second of this was worth it. It is a memory that I will cherish for a lifetime.

All the girls had their tales. Pippa spend two weeks on a yoga retreat in Crete. Pam spent time in London, Edinburgh, and Paris with family and friends. Jenny was on a canal boat with her family in Oxford, and then hiking in Scotland with her partner, Gord. Lisa spent time with her husband in Ireland, and then on her own in London seeing shows. Kelly went down to London and to Canterbury and relished the history, and then, unfortunately, spent some time sick in London in the care of friends. It was a great holiday, and a deserved break. And we are all so grateful, and ready to return to playing our play for the people of Newcastle.

The Understudy goes on

August 13, 2007

Monday, August 13, 2007

Okay. This is nutty now. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Jenny Young went on tonight as Penelope. Swear to God.

It went something like this: After a nice recuperative day off, we began preparations for the understudy run. Jenny had an 11am call to run solo work with Rae, and then the company was called for a 2 o’clock warm-up and a 3 o’clock run. We knew there wouldn’t be that many people there, but Sam Jones, the head of casting was coming, along with Deborah Shaw, so it was important to do a good job. And to give Jenny a solid facsimile of what it might be like if she were to go on. All good.

The run went very smoothly. Jenny sailed through at the helm, and the rest of us manned the ship in our different roles, and picked up the slack where pieces were missing, and it ended up being a very pleasurable run of the play. We had tea and cakes in the Ashcroft Roof Room afterwards, and I spoke with Deborah Shaw, and she was very impressed.

We didn’t have much time between shows. It was already 5:15, and warm-up was scheduled to begin at 5:50. But most of us figured since we’d done the understudy warm-up and a run-through, we could forgo this extra call. So we had a quick meal at home: Jenny and Jade and I.

And I praised Jenny for doing such a comprehensive understudy, and how well that reflected on her in the eyes of the powers that be. She lauded Rae for getting an early start to the understudy rehearsals, even though it seemed a burden at the time. And we expressed our relief that all that was behind us now, and we could get back to just running the show.

And the Gods of the Theatre laughed, pointed their wands, and went: brrring-brrring! The old pay-phone in the hall rang.  Jenny got it because she thought it might be her boyfriend, Gord.

“…This is Jenny. … Yes. … Really. … Okay. … I’ll be right there.” I ran out into the hall, “You’re going on!?” Jenny’s inimitable introspective giggle. “Yuh”.  Lots of expletives out of me, and then, “Okay. Let’s go. Here we go!”

So many thoughts. She is so ready. Thank God we did the run this aft. Thank God it’s now and not three weeks from now. The timing couldn’t be more perfect – she already had her hair and make-up done!

Penny had come in to warm-up, but after an in-depth session with Charmion, she simply didn’t have enough voice to do the show. This damned cold! So we gathered to assess the consequences. And of course there is a huge trickle-down effect: Sarah will cover Jenny’s lines in the first chorus, I will cover the second chorus and her Spartan suitor. Lisa will cover Jenny’s maid, Jade will cover Lisa’s maid and so on and so on. The long and the short of it is that when one person is out in this show, the ensemble has to kick into gear. Everyone rallied behind our Queen for a Day, and the show went on. Seamlessly. What a pro. She did us all proud.

Jondon brought some champagne to the dressing room, and we sat around there for a while laughing and re-living in disbelief the events of the day. Telling the tales again and again as a way of pinching ourselves to make sure we were awake. Then the pub, and more regaling.

Bonding. Like an anomalous family celebrating a strange birth. Congratulations to all.

And for our dear Penny, who was sidelined by this dreaded lurgie… our prayers for swift recovery. We await the return of the Queen.

Understudy Rehearsals Begin

August 7, 2007


Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The torrential rains have given way to glorious sunshine. It has been absolutely gorgeous here for since before opening. What a relief. And we can say it’s a good thing, since the entire monsoon month we were locked in the rehearsal hall, and now that the sun is shining there is a little time off. Well… for some of us.

We started understudy rehearsals in earnest today. That means 10 – 5 days for Jenny on top of shows. And for Kelly and Lisa and Jade, who are called for a good chunk of those days. I was in for only an hour today, which meant a sleep in. I needed it as I now have “the cold”.


Jenny Young in Rehearsal for The Penelopiad, Photo Ellie Kurttz 

But the report from Jenny was that they got through all that was scheduled, which is excellent. Blocking rehearsals will finish tomorrow. Then there will be a run through on Thursday, and a tech/dress run on Friday. And then Jenny’s parents and boyfriend come! No rest for her.

It was a really good show. (Poor Derbhle looked like Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, but she was a trooper and made it through. The rest of our European colleagues are now catching up on the rest that they so deserve.)

Penny is making fantastic strides in her relationship with the audience. Every day she seems to win them over more. They love her! Nothing could be better in terms of our storytelling. It allows them to respond to the comedy through the piece, and then to feel the tragedy as well. Fantastic. It’s great to see so tangibly how imperative audience is to our craft. The entire world of the play changes when it is seen in relationship with the eyes, and ears, and minds of the public. It is the final piece in the puzzle.

Cleaning, Cleaning, Cleaning.

August 1, 2007

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


A long and busy day. We were called for rehearsal in the morning: notes and bits. Cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. And the show is so complex that as much cleaning as there is to do, there seems like there is never enough time to get to everything. But bit by bit.

I spent my lunch with my parents. We grabbed a baguette sandwich and sat in the Knot Garden behind New Place. There is no house on the site at New Place, but there are foundations of the house that Shakespeare bought for his family when he came back to Stratford from London. And the garden behind it is exquisite, and open to the public, and a peaceful place to have lunch.


Garden at New Place


Back to rehearsal for to work and clean Dreamboats onstage. And then a half-hour call to get into full costume for media and photo call.


Jenny Young and I were interviewed by Nala Ayad for CBC’s The National. That’s always fun. “Just a couple of working actors on the National News…” . Not bad. They also shot a sequence from the show, and an interview with Josette. And there was a media shot taken for newspapers.


Then only a one hour break and we were back for a singing and voice warm-up before the our final preview. It went really well. Oh there were mistakes and wobbly bits, but that will be the nature of the beast as we continue the run. The great thing is Penny, our fearless and wonderful Penny, is establishing a conversational relationship with the audience right from the top, so they are with her and her story. She is the thread through the play, and we, The Maids, are the fringy bits, the details of her imagination and memory. That seems to be clear in the storytelling now. And that is what we have been aiming for from the beginning.


Penny Downie in rehearsal for The Penelopiad, photo Ellie Kurttz


Go directly home. Do not pass GO, do not collect two hundred dollars. Do not be lured by The Dirty Duck. Due to my email woes I did have to go and sit in the Courtyard for half an hour to send the blog and contact a few folks at home. I am so grateful for the support from friends, colleagues, and readers!


Oh. And a bit of a special thing for all of us: Margaret Atwood sent each one of us a bouquet of flowers! There were tears. It’s all a bit overwhelming when little kindnesses like that appear. Thank-you Margaret. For giving Penelope and The Maids your unique voice.

Pushing, Pushing, Pushing

August 1, 2007


Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Fifth preview last night. Changes during the day were small, but useful. We did some much needed cleaning on music. The hard thing about all the technical elements of the play is that things like music rehearsals get moved to the bottom of the heap. So it was a real pleasure to get back to drilling cut-offs and harmony lines, and trying to hold on to them when we’re on our feet doing the movement and the scenes.

I had a crap preview personally. Pushing, pushing, pushing. I simply was not relaxing into anything. Pooh. Ironically, it’s good to have a bad performance at this stage. I think I said this a few days ago, but, it makes you pick up your bootstraps again, and get yourself to yet a new rung on the ladder to opening. The show did not suffer, and was likely the best yet. The audience was right with us from the top.

And their audible reactions to some of the comedy and the horror were excellent markers for us in terms of story-telling. So for me, the goal for tomorrow is to chill out, to be present in the scenes, to talk to the people I’m talking to, and not to bellow! It’s time to find my stride.

My godson Harry left, and my mom and dad arrived today. It was nice to get a hug from my mummy and daddy. And others are trickling in for the press night on Thursday. Victoria Steele, the managing director for English Theatre at the NAC is now here. And after the show, when I was having a pint with my mom and dad, and my old babysitter, Sue and her husband Richard, John Wood sidled up to the bar. So he joined my family and we had a chat about the documentary film that he is producing in France. According to one of my dressers, Keith (people in wardrobe are always the first to get the scoop), there are 80 people coming from Canada. “Who can they be?” he asked me. I had no idea. But apparently John Wood among others. I’ll look forward to seeing who else…

[Just by the way… this entry takes me to over 20,000 words so far! Fun, eh?!]