Twelfth Night! Could there have been a more appropriate or auspicious evening to begin rehearsals for A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation? The moment had finally arrived when all the preparatory work was over and the shaping of the production could begin. The level of excitement and anticipation could not have been higher and it proved to be a pretty intensive week.
The Tower Dreamteam had actually reconvened the previous evening to draw one last collective breath before embarking on this huge adventure. We were able to open our Secret Santa present (thanks Belvoir Players in Belfast), read through the relevant scenes one more time and mentally prepare ourselves for what lay ahead.
On Twelfth Night itself it was off to Clapham, where the RSC’s London rehearsal room is situated. There we were able to meet and greet the professional cast (what a very lovely bunch), mingle with the creative and administrative members of the team we had not met so far (ditto previous remark) and begin to appreciate the extent of the undertaking of this gigantic enterprise. Meanwhile around the country the thirteen other Dreamteams gathered around monitors to be part of this innovative approach to rehearsing. (I must just break off here to give a huge thank you and hats off to the RSC’s technical staff who are masterminding the communications systems used for this work – affectionately known as “the mothership” – they have been able to provide links to wherever our colleagues are, helping us all to feel a part of a real team effort. Well done, folks; we literally could not be doing this without you).
After some preliminary remarks from Erica it was down to business. The professional cast had already been in rehearsal for a couple of days and they had been tracking the stories of the fairy kingdom and the court/lovers throughout the play; this evening was all about the Mechanicals and their journey (they appear in a total of four of the play’s scenes). As the group in situ, Tower was given the considerable honour of reading through the opening scene – one that had featured in our very first audition just about a year ago. Then it was off to the Nonentities in Kidderminster and the Everyman in Cardiff to regale us with the second and third scenes. Finally it was back to London for the climax in Act Five – including the Pyramus and Thisbe play within a play. This is the scene in which the amateurs and professionals both appear so there was a little bit of an historic moment as we all came together for the first time. In between the reading came plenty of discussion and food for thought. It also provided an insight into how different each region’s team is going to sound – there is something inescapably delicious about Brummie Mechanicals, I’ve decided.
The next evening we were back in Clapham again with live feeds from London and Belfast. Assistant Director Kim had hotfooted it across the water to lead proceedings from Northern Ireland and we in Tower were, once again, live from London. Before rehearsals proper began there was another groundbreaking moment when movement director Sian Williams led the whole company in a mass warm up session taking place in the various venues across the country. We then watched Belfast’s take on the first Mechanicals’ scene before giving our own in London. This was a truly thrilling moment as we got the play “up on its feet” and were able to explore possibilities. Probably one of the biggest moments of realisation for us came when we considered the sheer size of the Barbican stage and how we poor wee players were going to fill it. As a group we’re used to playing small venues and when we were told that the Barbican stage is actually even wider than the rehearsal room (which by our usual standards already seems huge) that really gave us pause for thought. Fortunately for us Erica and her team are used to working in much grander surroundings so they were able to suggest strategies to help us through this particular minefield. While Belfast and London strutted their respective stuff the rest of the groups were, once again, tuned in to follow progress. The broadcast terminated after an hour and then each group continued work in its own local venue with their own group directors leading proceedings. We continued to work with Erica until more or less the complete scene had been plotted. By now it has a far different feel and tone from that we had conceived of for our audition – definite proof, if proof were needed, that our work will adapt and change as the weeks progress.
The final highlight of the first week was what was known as the Bottom hub on Saturday morning. These times are going to be reserved for rehearsing the scenes where Bottom and Titania interact. While the other Mechanicals scenes are pretty much self-contained those between the weaver and the fairy queen will, perforce, contain many variations depending on the age, physicality and even the gender of the actor/actress involved as Bottom. On this occasion the hub was again a live link up between London and Belfast with most other Bottoms tuning in countrywide. Chris from the Nonentities (Kiddderminster), Becky from Lovelace (Nottingham) and Peter from The Castle Players (Newcastle) had also made the journey down to London to participate directly.
As with all the other rehearsals this week I left feeling quite tired but elated with a sense that things were starting to come together but also the realization that there was still a huge amount to do – not least making sure that the words are secure. As for the rehearsals we have now established the pattern – Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings for all of us and Saturday mornings for the Bottom/Titania work. The rehearsal “machine” moves on and even as we left Clapham last Saturday a number of people descended to pack everything into a huge van to whisk “the mothership” up to Newcastle, shortly to be followed by the professional cast and the creative team. I can only say to my more northerly based colleagues, you have a huge treat headed your way and in Bottom’s words you “ought to look to it”; I’m sure that you will.