It has finally begun. A month long marathon into the unknown.
Our EdFringe show, 'Down&Out in Paris&London', has been through two rigorous R&D weeks and several major rewrites by our Director, David; now we are ready to crash test this beast and whip it into shape.
Monday – Start Time: 10:10 (Meant to be 10:00 but CityMapper Betrayed me) – Munch: Falafel Salad w. Yoghurt-coated Cranberries – Finish Time: 17:45
Eight hours around a desk; first for a jolly old readthrough, then meticulously actioning the entire script. For those of you who are unfamiliar with ‘actioning’, it basically means ascribing a playable action to each line in the text; for example, if the line reads – “I love you, Mother” – You’re action might be “to comfort” or “to praise”. Actions help you shape the emotion journey of the play and how each of the characters interact with each other. It’s essentially personality development … but with highlighters. It’s a lengthy and mentally exhausting task and it took nine of us all day to make it through a mere fifteen pages of text.
Clearly we were out of practice…
Tuesday – Start Time: 10:00 – Munch: Falafel Salad w. Banana – Finish Time 17:30
By the end of Tuesday, we had got into the swing of things and managed to knock out the rest of the forty four page play… With time to spare!
We had enough time on Tuesday to smash two other important tasks; ‘Uniting’ and ‘Locating’.
Uniting is a very useful tool for rehearsal management and line learning. You go through the text and mark out a unit based on the subject and/or context of each individual section in the play. This way, we can plan rehearsals based on these bite-sized units, and learn lines according to a particular subject of the play, or location.
Locating is exactly what it says on the tin; where is the scene located. This is very important information when devising because it allows you to work out what settings are returned to the most; which are the most vivid; and which locations need to be quickly converted into others. Once you know exactly what your locations are and what you need to achieve from them, you can invest your time most wisely into the sections that are most returned to, or require the sharpest conversions.
Already, I am loving this week. They whole team is a joy to work with and I learn so much from all of them. It’s a real privilege.
Wednesday – Start Time: 10:00 – Munch: Palma ham & Avocado Salad w. Banana – Finish: 18:00
No more tables. No more chairs.
Today, we spent all our time working mercilessly on the beginning nine units of our play; like angry bees besetting the hive. The beginning is my favourite part of the play; it includes most of the really fun set pieces.
First up is The Guesthouse. Each of the tenants crawling out from each other’s shadows. Our poor wheelie bed has seen more action today than most of us will in our entire lives; actors spread eagle on top with another snuggly pressed underneath; tossed to and fro liken the village bicycle. Not to mention the fact that the bed is whizzing across the stage the whole blooming time! Just so you know, it is not easy to hang on the underside of a speeding wheelie bed … but it does feel like you’re in mission impossible!
We worked on the Bistro, the Bedroom and the Council Flat; all with promising results. For a first day actually on our feet; we covered a really decent amount of the script.
Two more awesome sections we covered today were The Murder and The Robbery. OOOO YEAAAA.
The Murder is a great and darkly comic moment from our play. It reveals our Parisian’s desensitisation to death and violence, and we have a nice corpse gag for you… EVERYONE LOVES A CORPSE GAG!
The Robbery takes a lot of the tricks we introduced in The Guesthouse; people appearing from nowhere in a frenzied search for their most important possessions … which is money. It’s all gone and soon we get to holler at each other like jackals before blustering off again.
Still, after all this excitement, I haven’t told you the best bit… We were visited by an exceptionally important person today. An esteemed journalist, author and notoriously Lefty, and one of my personal heroes. Polly Toynbee. Half of our play is based on her work, and she came in to make sure we hadn’t made a complete hash of it! It was a real privilege to meet her and we got to chat about the Tories and the Poor til the cows came home (underfed and claiming benefits).
Great day. Great bunch. Great Pint after to wait for the commuters to evaporate.
Thursday – Start Time: 10:20 (tube strike…) Munch: Chef’s Italian Chicken Salad w. Banana – End Time: 19:30 (Biiiig Day)
So the tube strike was fun…. Luckily for me, David also lives in Walthamstow and decided to get a cab; he tweeted me at 8:30 this morning and asked if I wanted a lift.
BEST NEWS EVER!
It still took us an hour and forty minutes to get in.
We all finally assembled at 11:00 and continued on pencilling in the choreography for our next big ensemble piece; The Job Centre.
A lot of our focus today was on how we make the scene appear and disappear. We have this great trick involving a big set of double doors we’ve mounted on wheels; the idea is that, as the doors travel across the stage, the scene appears in its wake as if by magic.
It’s all about sight lines and carefully placed props (I was in charge of the waiting room chairs) and we quickly created an effective shape.
We reached a really important mile stone in our script today; the first time our two protagonists (in their own parallel worlds) coexist on stage at the same time. The Pawn Shop and Brighthouse.
Mike, a cracking chap and superb actor, was the pinch point between the two. He was both The Pawn Shop Owner and The Brighthouse Salesman; swinging from scene to scene and time to time like a Time Lord with Tourette’s.
Also, we broke the bed. The second bed. That’s two beds we’ve broken now. I must confess, I broke the first (I was simply too strong and manly for it…) and the second buckled today under our collective awesomeness.
The day concluded with a wild visit from our wonderfully odd costume queen, Ronnie. She brought bags of the stuff! Bags and boxes lay everywhere in the rehearsal room and we pawed through them all like kids at Christmas.
It was a long day today, and the trip home was a pain in the rear; but I am now in my armchair with a glass of Bushmills. So everything’s cool.
Friday – Start Time: 11:00 (given an hour off for Thursday’s late finish) Munch: Salmon teriyaki sushi box w. Banana – End Time: 16:30 (because FRIIIDAY!)
All about the business on Friday
We tackled a seriously tricky section of our play; The Job Hunt. The reason this is such an irksome unit is because we are trying to convey the tedium and drudgery of searching for a job … without being tedious or a drudge. We have a very small amount of stage time to convey the hours and hours spent in both books searching for jobs. The two worlds must also inhabit the stage at the same time; Polly and Orwell marching from business to business in different centuries.
We used ‘swipes’ today …. Lots and lots of swipes..
A swipe, for those of you unfamiliar, is a way of changing a scene in the blink of an eye. It all works through obstruction and pace … and in our case, a great big door on wheels.
Who remembers the riddle about a famer who has to get his grain, a chicken and a fox across a river without any of them eating the other? That’s how it felt plotting our scene swipes!
Who needs to go there?
Who’s carrying that chair?
Where has Stella gone? NARNIA!
How are we going to fit five of us behind a hurtling piece of scenery with four chairs, a desk and our dignity? No one knows!
Needless to say, this section took ALL DAY! But, by the end, we had a really great shape and lots to return to when we start shaping and polishing.
This week has been exceptionally fun; it’s been inspiring; it’s been enlightening. I feel extremely humbled to be working with such a great company. To be honest with you, I am exhausted, but never once have I felt tired. I think that says something about the encouraging nature of the group; we help each other along, keep the pace high, and the laughing loud.
This week ended with seven of the finest words in the English language ringing in my ears; “Here’s my card. Set up a tab.” SSCCOOOOOOOORREEE!
David took us all out for a drink or four on Friday evening; the small gaps of unfamiliarity that exist between us all shrank yet again as we raised glasses. Soon, I think we will be as thick as thieves and proud of what we have done together.
Monday – Start Time: 10:00 – Munch: Feta, Beet & Butternut Salad w. Banana – End Time: 17:00
Funny how it’s only ever Monday morning when actors can be arsed to stretch out … I wonder what people were up to on the weekend that inspired such an exertion? BOOOOZE PROBABLY
Today was a tiring day.. We were forewarned that this day would come..
The Kitchen at the Hotel X!
The most frantic, energy-gobbling scene of the play and we tackled it on a Monday!
Whereas our other frantic scenes are based around the pacey movement of set, The Hotel X is all about bodies. Chefs and porters and waiters weaving in and around a steaming hot kitchen as poor old Orwell finds his feet.
We started playing with the idea that the kitchen moves around Orwell, leaving him centre stage, but soon realised this gave him too much power. THIS IS OUR KITCHEN!
Our next gambit was far more exhausting for poor Dickie (Orwell). We then devised a motion for the kitchen that forced Orwell to be constantly left behind his work. As the other kitchen staff carefully maintained the cookers and prepared for service, the kitchen whizzed away from Orwell as he chased after it. This constant movement perfectly portrays Orwell’s description of the Kitchen in his book; a hellish bedlam.
We are devising Orwell’s Hotel X and Toynbee’s Hospital to exits together onstage. To create this over-lap we played a lot with pace; having Toynbee’s world plunge Orwell’s into slow motion. Polly appears tugging a wheel chair through (what were) the Kitchen doors, then suddenly the frenzy of the Kitchen is hauled in; like a silent movie reel on too slow of a rotation. The moment Polly leaves again, The Kitchen erupts back into life.
This complicated and exhausting work took all day. We had to devise two distinct kitchen scenes and how Polly could fit into them, along with a number of cheeky wee interludes that bring the sections together.
The final scene we touched on today was the Bistro. This is a scene that proceeds the Kitchen madness and, believe you me, that final collapse in front of (imaginary) bottles of wine was a very real bliss.
It’s great to be back in the rehearsal room.
Big day, big dreams, Big Ben, Other Big Things. I DON’T KNOW, DO I!
Tuesday – Start Time: 10:00 – Munch: Chef’s Italian Chicken Salad w. Banana – End Time: 17:30
Today was cracking! A very different kind of progress.
We reflected a lot on what we had already achieved and started moving through the beginning of the play in a more conventional style.
Time was of the essence. We had to find out if we had enough actions for the words and, more often than not, enough words for the action. Time was also key with regards to turnaround; does everyone have enough time to change? Or collect props? Or breathe?
We managed to “perform” the first third of the play; transitions and all! HAVE AT YOU!!
That’s twenty minutes of bustling Paris, interspersed with Modern London, and on average that’s three characters each, four props, one bed move and a backflip (kidding). Overall, it’s a section packed to the brim with exciting theatrical goodness.
The mood was great today. We started with an almost hysterical set of warm-up games; nothing out of the ordinary, we just found it really funny… YUP
It is so affirming to see everything come together as it did. It’s hard to convey the transition from spending half a day on twenty seconds of stage business, to watching all that hard work actually fly by in twenty actual seconds.. and work! It’s really awesome.
Wednesday – Start Time: 10:00 – Munch: Salmon Teriyaki Salad w. Banana – Finish: 16:30 (We had to move our set back to The New Diorama)
Today we may have faced our first bump in the road.
It was well overdue, everything so far has run eerily smooth; we haven’t come up against one difficult obstacle since we began.
I think the primary cause of today’s slump was tiredness; the long days on our feet might well have caught up with us.
We tried our hardest to keep the energy up but it was leaking away like dear Henry’s bucket.
We did manage to shape some of the business at The Hotel X, The Agency and The Communist’s office but it felt a bit like pulling teeth.
What was reassuring was that, even under these conditions, the company managed not to turn on itself and we kept getting up after the knockdowns.
I guess these kind of days are simply part of the creative process and, seeing as we are currently tackling the hardest part, we’re still ahead of the game. Most companies make it a bad habit to leave this kind of work until the end, preferring to polish individual scenes out of order. We, on the other hand, have bent backwards to make sure that the whole play is there, that we know what happens next and how we can make it happen. It’s this jigsaw that can really take it out of you.
Soon we will have the whole shape, probably by the end of the week, then we will have two whole weeks to go back over and focus on that pinpoint detail that brings a play to life.
Thursday – Start Time: 11:00 (Drama Studio Derig) Munch: Edamame, Green Bean & Broccoli Salad – End Time: 18: (Had to Ship all our stuff back to Theatre Deli)
Out of the Ashes!
Yesterday being such an ache in the crotch, you will be surprised to hear that we RAN THE WHOLE PLAY TODAY!
After a morning of tracking all our scene changes out on a real stage, we then faced up to a whole run-through. In all fairness, it wasn’t half bad.
When I say “wasn’t half bad”, what I mean is that no one fell over, or refused to go on, or was decapitated by a swinging door. The play hobbled along from beginning to ‘sort of’ end (we don’t technically have an ending yet..) without any huge fudge ups! WELL DONE TEAM
Our director has a really clever idea on where to go next with the show. From now, our mornings will be spent working on the worst / most difficult sections of the play and our afternoons spent polishing the best bits about our play. This way, we shouldn't ever get too disheartened spending a day struggling with the worst, nor will we ever get too cocky spending all our time refining our most impressive spectacles. CLEVER DAVID
Normally, a devised play such as ours wouldn’t be ready to run until the arse-end of the final week of rehearsal; even the first preview has been known to be the first time a play has come together. So, to have two full weeks left after a run is a blinking miracle!
One of the prize moments of the day was from Carol, playing Polly Toynbee. We were half way through the run, already all of us were panicked and sweating and cursing, and Carol just broke into a hysterical laugh/cry. I can’t really be sure whether it was a crying laugh or a laughing cry but it set the whole room off. We didn’t even bother to stop to let it pass; we continued with the next two scenes with everyone creasing up like Krusty the freaking Clown. GOOD TIMES.
After the run was done, Me and McLeod offered to help our Stage Manager (Helen) transport the set back to Theatre Deli. On taking the set out to the courtyard, you’ll never guess what McLeod broke … Yup … The Bed. That’s BED NUMBER THREE! That has to be some kind of record.
The welder is in tomorrow to see if it can be resurrected
Friday – Start Time: 10:00 – Munch: Chef’s Italian Chicken Salad w. Banana – End Time: 16:30 (because FRIIIDAY!)
Well, we once again managed to get the bed fixed. We have this one welder who has performed numerous surgeries on our numerous bedframes; let’s hope this was his last call-out.
Today started around the table. SPECTICLES OUT
David wanted to talk through each of the units with us, deciding as a group whether a unit is in good shape and needs polishing or whether it needs totally re-doing. By the end of the hour we had two piles; Carol had the polish pile and Dickie had the replay pile. We decided that we should smash out as many of the units that needed re-playing with today so we could be as close to a clean slate for Monday as possible. YOU COULD EAT YOUR DINNER OF THAT SLATE
Needless to say, we caned through all but one unit in the replay pile. After each unit was ticked off the list, the card would be ceremoniously passed to Carol who called out its name to the heavens as we all applauded and added it to the polish pile. It was beautiful. TEARS WE SHED
This was a really encouraging way to visualise the work that needed to be done, and the hour spent in the morning going through everything together was made up tenfold by how efficiently we could then tackle our problem pieces.
Our next big challenge will be logistical, I reckon. We sort of know how the play will run onstage but damned if we know how it works in the wings. Time and Space are yet to be conquered. Particularly, quick costume changes I can foresee being a mighty pain in the rump. I’ll keep you posted
We went to the pub again in the evening for a swift beer or seven; McLeod, Mike and myself staying a little later. It was amazing to hear a bit more about what everyone has done in their careers. It’s one of those weird things with actors; some people cannot stop themselves from going on about what they’ve done WHEN I WAS ON AT THE OLIVIER and then there are those who, over the course of working with them, slowly reveal some truly inspirational stuff they’ve been involved in. We had a really great chinwag before McLeod and I went marching on to meet with some old friends who had finished a seven month tour with The YSC. GOOD DAY
Monday – Start Time: 10:00 – Munch: Falafel, humus and Butternut salad w. Banana – End Time: 17:00
It all came to fruition today; all of our remaining replay units were smashed out of the park! OOO YEAAA
In other words, we have finished revisiting all of the sections of the play that needed a total revamp.
In other other words, we have a whole play! WELL… ALMOST
One thing still remains unfinished .. untouched, actually. The End…
David provided us all with a brand new draft today which includes a band new ending. The whole text is more concise and flows far more freely than it did before. The ending has a really chilling, conclusiveness about it. I really like it, it gave me goosebumps. SPOOKY
This new ending will be tackled tomorrow and then all of our focus will be on the mammoth task of placing the atomic detail into each scene.
We started this today.
After lunch, we settled into the opening of the play; combing through every gesture, every movement and every image. This is the where producing a play of quality either makes or breaks. It’s these almost microscopic details that create true depth and scope to a story and its characters. Without them, a play will seem one dimensional, even trivial, so we will be working ourselves ragged to make sure we nail it. In three hours, we worked through roughly five minutes of the play.
David mentioned some quasi-quote about how marble sculptors perceive their work as an act of uncovering. Rather than carving a figure out of marble, he simply removes any marble that isn’t the figure; leaving the image exposed from within. I guess that is what we’ve been doing. The whole process has been an act of reduction. We started with a script that was far too long, a stack of research far too big, stagecraft that was far too extravagant; but as the process has gone on, we have simmered everything down, honed it, until it is economic, slick and pacey.
Now, all that remains is to polish this sucker up… SHINE ON YOU CRAZY DIAMOND
Tuesday – Start Time: 10:00 – Munch: Chef’s Italian Chicken Salad w. Banana – End Time: 16:40
Aaaaand the whole play is now blocked, end and all!
We started today by looking at our new ending and how we can transit from the penultimate scene.
It’s an interesting ending, one that holds the gravitas we need to make a parting statement, without coming across too didactic or preachy. I think it’s a winner. GOOD SHOW
The morning was spent stepping out this scene and, after an early lunch – MMMMM LUNCH – we then spent a long afternoon fine tuning.
We picked up where we left off, somewhere towards the end of the Guesthouse sequence, and worked all the way through to the end of the ‘Six Francs’ Unit. ‘Six Francs’ is a revolving scene between Polly and Orwell as they describe their decent into poverty. They focus on the real value of money and the cost of necessities; it’s the little things that go – enough lightbulbs for your flat or going clean shaven – and it’s how these little changes have a huge effect on a person’s life.
The polishing of our play is really exhausting stuff. It’s the repetition that really gets you in the end. Particularly if the scene involves you crawling in and out from under a bed. CARPET BURNS
Nevertheless, we have been productive and cheery for enough of the day to get some real work done.
BREAKING NEWS. It turns out that we will be doing our first full run on Friday! And what’s slightly more
concerning … there will be an audience! AAAAWWWW HELL NOOOO
We came to the polishing of some of our most tricky transitional scenes today. AAAAW SNAP
To be perfectly frank, we pretty much smashed it, but it took a lot out of us.
The job hunt swipes were first up; this is a busy and complicated scene that darts back and forwards between our two worlds. Although we had shaped this pretty well before, we spent a good deal of time on it today. The first niggling issue was how we can fit behind the wheelie door for the swipes, the second thing was how fast can the door move and still conceal people, and the third thing was what the "door pullers" we're actually doing!
This became a bit of a theme for me today. As I do a fair bit of 'stage management' in these scenes, I
spend a lot of the day working out how and why I am lugging a door, or a table, or Stella, across the stage and back again. WHAT'S MY MOTIVATION
It's that finishing touch to 'stage management' that keeps the theatrical world inclusive while not distracting from the main focus.
Next up was the Stairway in The Hotel X; a dizzying sequence and apparently quite exhausting. I was on the door again and all I have to do is walk in a circle but it nackered me out! I need to get back to the gym!
I also dedicated a lot of my time and energy today on insuring the Stella never got to finish the end of her lines. Now, I don't what to say she takes too long to say stuff, that would be unprofessional, but I surly can't be held responsible for not knowing the end of my cues, can I? CAN I?!? NO!!
It all came to a head in a fiery showdown, Stella let me have it and I cowered like a kicked puppy. It was embarrassing.
My favourite part of the day was plotting The Communist scene. It's a funny little interlude in Orwell's job hunt and it all takes place inside the maximum security of an umbrella. Stella took a photo... We look like we're about to do a musical number; not the super-secret and dangerous encounter I was hoping for... AAAAH POOPS
Seeing as tomorrow we have a few meagre hours in the morning before we present what we have to an esteemed audience of backers and VIPs, today we charged on through as much of the polishing as we could muster. HIGH HO SILVER!
We worked long and hard on our kitchen scenes, trying to paint in a bit of nuance over the general shape. The scenes scrubbed up really nicely and we managed to portray the manic machine with a fair bit of clarity.
Following the kitchen scenes, we only had the young waiter and the farewells to get through and we breezed through them like too many prunes. FART JOKE
After lunch, we set about another run. First off, we worked through the transitions, solidifying everything we
had done over the week. Hours and hours of work condensed into three quarters of an hour.
Then, the looming giant finally awoke. We reset to the preset and began our run.
All in all, the run went really well! It really buoyed us up. It's a daunting and exhausting show in many respects, the most brain power spent working out what's happening off stage. What's coming up next tends to be more pressing that what's happening now, at least for me!
Tomorrow is going to be a really big day... Stay tuned!
Friday was a tough day. There was a strange cloud looming over us.
The start of the day was all about the music. Dom, our music maestro, brought his initial suggestions in for scoring the show. So, after spending the first couple of hours recapping lines and working any changes to the script. We then set for the top of the show and started to go through scenes with sound.
Dom is an immensely interesting and deep guy, and his sound design reflects this. He has created two distinct styles, two sound worlds that will ultimately finish the veneer of the show. LIKE ICING ON CAKE … MMMM CAKE!
This was a detailed process and it took time. Stella and I spent a good forty five minutes lying in bed waiting for our que, as the play sung on around us. Not going to lie – definitely fell asleep more than once.. Think Stella did too.. COZY
I particularly like the music for Paris, it’s rich and vibrant, Django-ish music; it’s quite sparring and somehow dissolute; it totally suits.
At around 16:00, the mood changed. We had guests. GOOD EVENING ESTEEMED SIRS AND MADAMS!
We had an invited audience of about ten people in to see a run. They were a varied bunch, all of them formidable in their fields. We had cherished and trusted peers, members of boards, we even had the Chairwoman of the Peter Brook Awards! (She’s in her 90s and she fell asleep…) NEVER MIND
It was quite a daunting thing to start, but after the run had come to a relatively firm end, the responses were encouraging. They have all passed on their thoughts and advice and we will be reflecting on them on Monday.
After the run, we legged it to the pub for many many drinks. FAREWELL SORROWS!
Monday – Start Time: 10:00 – Munch: Chicken Tikka Flatbread w. Banana & Snackajacks – End Time: 17:00