It was another big week last week (aren’t they all?) for A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation with technical rehearsals, the dress rehearsal and the first public previews all taking place. These were in the RSC’s home in Stratford upon Avon so for us here in London it was necessary to view events from afar. Fortunately the advent of social media still means we got to share in all the excitement almost literally as it happened and meant we could follow progress to what proved to be a most rewarding conclusion. For one of the amateurs directly involved there was even a huge personal bonus … but more of that later.
I have commented on this blog before on the similarities and the differences between working as an amateur and working as a professional. One of the biggest is, of course, the amount of time that can be devoted to the various stages of such a project. Nowhere has that been more apparent than in the technical rehearsals or techs (as they are known). These are rehearsals where the concentration is on the technical and design aspects of the show; lighting sound and music cues can be established and practised, manipulation of the set can be carried out by the stage crew, the look of the show can be scrutinized by the design department and so on. What they are most specifically not about is the actors and the acting so for them it can mean long periods of waiting for something to happen. Having said that, in the amateur world techs can be rather hurried affairs sandwiched somewhere between the “get in” (let’s say Monday morning/afternoon) and the dress rehearsal (let’s say Monday evening). They can be rather perfunctory affairs often working on a cue to cue basis – where great swathes of dialogue may be omitted in order to move rapidly to the next point where the lights need to change or a level for a sound cue needs to be established. I’ve even been in productions where the tech has had to be dropped altogether due to lack of time and the unfortunate technical operators have had to “wing it” through the dress rehearsal.
Not so in the professional world. Essentially the Dream tech began early on Saturday morning and lasted until noon five days later – N.B. there was a whole day free on the Sunday and rumour has it that they were also allowed the occasional meal break! During that time the two Stratford teams of amateur Mechanicals and various groups of schoolchildren/fairies attended sessions and for the rest of the time could watch as the production was painstakingly brought together. All of this was firmly under director Erica’s control and sounds like an exhausting if fascinating process for all concerned. The dress rehearsal on Wednesday afternoon followed hot on the heels of the last tech session and the vibes coming back from that suggested that the production was going to be a winner.
The Tower Dreamteam had tried its own attempt at a “dress rehearsal” of the Mechanical scenes the night before. We had decided fairly early on that even though we were not performing until May we should try and be performance ready at the same time as the first teams off the blocks hence my designation of it as a dress rehearsal (not necessarily what David, our director, would have called it though). If it can be called a dress rehearsal it was like no other that I had ever taken part in. We were minus costumes, props, a stage, the other actors and even the rest of the play but unfazed we did our best to meet a performance standard – which I think we did. Although it seems strange to be putting everything in mothballs for a while (another 3 months to be precise) we will still meet to run things through and try to keep things fresh until it’s our turn. Our last act, for the time being, was to raise a toast to the professionals, amateurs and schoolchildren due to kick off proceedings on the Wednesday evening.
This was the first public preview and as indicated earlier there was a huge sense of expectation and anticipation on social media platforms as the production neared this momentous occasion. Inside the theatre itself it seems that proceedings were rather more orderly and thought through; this extract from the evening’s call sheet shows how matters unfurled in the final hour and a half
As can be seen from this it is The Bear Pit from Stratford itself who had the honour of opening the batting on behalf of all 98 of us. We had worked with them a couple of weeks previously when they came down to a rehearsal in London so we had absolute confidence that the amateurs’ reputations were in good hands – and so it proved. Tweets from audience members after the show was over demonstrated that in spades. Here are a few choice quotes:
- @TheRSC@RSCdream2016 Perfect evening. People will have happy dreams tonight
- #Dream2016is a stunning production and tonight came with a little added twist Thinking I must see every version of The Mechanicals now
- Brilliant and funny production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”@TheRSC. Definitely the highlight of my trip to #stratforduponavon
- Wonderful production and thank you for making it the most amazing experience for my daughter. She will never forget this week. Xx #Dream2016
- First Preview utterly Sweet (as in Innocent) production just lovely in this Special year. Cannot wait for press night next week…….the local children as Titania’s train were adorable and the amateur mechanicals were first class. Erica’s got a mighty hit heading to a theatre near YOU #Dream2016
The whole Dream experience has been full of magnificent highs but there was still one more perfect moment to come as the birth of the production took place. Producer Ian Wainwright takes up the story:
“With perfect timing Dominic Skinner (from The Bear Pit)’s partner Lilly went into labour just as he set foot on the stage to play Flute. After successfully completing the first half he then jumped in a taxi and was there just in time for the birth of Edith his second child – at some point during Act 4 Scene 1. In an heroic act befitting of the whole Dream16 ethos, Alex Powell, playing Flute for the Nonentities company and there to watch the show, leapt into the breach performing the role brilliantly in the second half alongside his new Bear Pit team mates. The audience, in on the drama after an impromptu half time announcement from Erica, gave Alex particularly huge applause, and a great new story was added to the RSC’s already rich history.”
A real show bizzy story there and one that young Edith will relish hearing when she’s old enough to appreciate it. Two births on the same evening – a fitting end to another wonderful day on Dream2016.
The current week’s performances are at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford upon Avon. Click the picture below for amateur group details