Those things do best please me

Throughout the writing of this blog I have been so fortunate that my colleagues in the team have added their own contributions.  This has made it a real group effort in the spirit of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation. Thus they have written whole articles, contributed reports of trips to other groups, supplied photographs and oral reminiscences and generally offered their support to what has turned out to be quite a mammoth undertaking – as well, of course, as lending their huge talents to appearing in the production. My thanks then go to Maria, Adam, Al, David, Tom and Peta for their invaluable contributions and their companionship on this theatrical adventure.

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Composite of photos by Topher McGrillis (RSC)

As one last piece of collaboration I asked the others to nominate for me their best time, experience or moment in working on the Dream2016. There was an element of the “reality show” format to the beginning of this project so it only seems fitting that before the credits role we focus on the participant’s “best bits”. I am sure they found making a single selection as much of a challenge as I did simply because there were so many bits of magic to choose from. However, here, in their own words, are their choices and, indeed, mine. 

Adam (Flute/Thisbe)

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Tower Team and professionals at the first read through

For me one of the most defining and best moments was very early on when the six of us London amateurs read through the Mechanicals’ scenes in the script, with the professionals, for the first time. We were all sat around the rehearsal room in Clapham and we’d only just met the professionals a few minutes earlier. We felt a pressure, applied by ourselves, to make sure we did ourselves justice. We gave it some energy and performance and the professionals, cast and crew alike, laughed and congratulated us heartily for our efforts. For me it was the first time we knew this whole project would work and we would be able to work well with these excellent actors. It really gave us a great springboard into the rehearsal process.

 

 

 Al (Snout/Wall)

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Al records his speech as Claudio

Writing from Italy where I happen to be at the moment, I have been thinking about Shakespeare’s imaginative world in this country and how the Dream does not form part of it! The Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado, Romeo and Juliet and so many other plays have such a strong sense of being set here, but the Dream feels like England, and Warwickshire in particular. The references to Athens have always felt nominal to me, and the Mechanicals are a unique group of ordinary people who get drawn into those other worlds of illusion and Realpolitik in the play. With regard to Dream 2016, one of the many things I shall not forget is recording the speeches we did for preliminary Task 1. I had been allocated Claudio from Measure For Measure but because I was recovering from pneumonia when I recorded it I was late sending it in! I was relieved when David said he liked it and that it would do. We talked about why we had been given the particular speeches we each had, which led to some interesting speculation. I seem to recall that Erica talked about this at some point, and she may have referred to what I feel myself, namely that it is good for someone playing a grounded character like Snout to explore the terrors of the imagination and this mortal coil, and that brings us neatly back to the world of the Dream!

 

David (Amateur Group Director)

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The first run through (Sue Downing from the Nonentities stood in for Maria)

The first read through was special. We had a head start of course having prepared two of the scenes and run through the others several times, but I felt proud of the Tower team at that point. Then we got the first run through in Clapham. We were lucky being the London team and therefore able to step into the Mechanicals shoes, but again it showed that the work we had done for ourselves and with the RSC production team had “the play fitted”. But most of all I think it is an overall impression and remembrance that at every stage, from whoever it was, there was a friendly atmosphere and we were welcome and included. Without exception, during rehearsal in Clapham, at the Barbican and in Stratford we were never made to feel less than full partners in an amazing adventure.

 

Maria (Quince)

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Maria delivers the first prologue   Photo by Topher McGrillis (RSC)

My Dream 16 experience was wonderful. The reason I wanted to be involved was chiefly for the opportunity to work with a production team at the very highest level, from directors to vocal and movement coaches to  an award winning stage management team, to a wonderful professional cast and I just loved it.  If there is one thing I am personally most proud of, it is being able to say that I nailed that first Quince monologue “If we offend…”. That monologue haunted and terrified me for a whole year! I tried it every way I could think of and it just didn’t work to my satisfaction. Trying to demonstrate a piece of Shakespeare which is punctuated in such a way that it becomes a nonsense is really hard! We got to the last few days before the performance at the Barbican and I still hadn’t got there. However, with the brilliant direction of AD Kimberley Sykes, it all suddenly clicked and for the first time I properly got it! On our opening night at the Barbican, where an enormous surge of adrenaline was palpably pulsing throughout the entire cast, I flew onto that stage and delivered the speech to the audience with a clarity I had never felt before and in return, the audience applauded. I’m told for that speech, that is a pretty good result!!

 

Peta (Snug/Lion)

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Peta  in the RST space

For me a magical moment while at Stratford was the final workshop with Michael Corbidge (Senior Voice and Text Coach) and Polly Bennett (Deputy Movement Director), which suddenly seemed to “unlock” the RST space for me. Such as having the courage to do things in a thrust space that would seem completely counter-intuitive on a proscenium stage; for example, turning outwards instead of inwards and learning to communicate with EVERY seat in the audience. It energised me and made the Stratford performances even more memorable than the London ones.

 

Tom (Starveling/Moonshine)

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Tom as Moonshine with “lanthorn, dog and bush of thorn”

To paraphrase Shakespeare – “we were such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”  And the dreams will remain. It is the small things I remember most fondly. The friendliness of rehearsals and the drink and talk afterwards – especially at David’s; our first meeting with the professional cast and their continuing warmth, encouragement and cheerfulness; the delight the schoolchildren seemed to have absorbed and then radiated in their performances; the woman in Stratford who approached me to ask if I was the Man in the Moon; meeting the casts from the other companies and being introduced by Erica to Greg Doran at the splendid farewell party. We have been involved with the Dream for over a year and no other play remains with me as this one will. I can retire from the stage happy.

 

Me (Bottom/Pyramus)

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The Bergomask (don’t look too closely, it isn’t actually us)

I had a real breakthrough moment when I finally mastered the Bergomask dance at the end of the play. Dancing on stage (or at least as I have tended to think of it “co-ordinated” movement) has always been my bête noire and over the years I’ve talked myself into a position where I think it’s going to be a disaster before I’ve even started. Even David’s patience and Adam’s cheerful optimism wasn’t keeping my efforts afloat (I always found it distinctly ironic that my character was all for the dance and Adam’s wasn’t when in reality it was completely the reverse).  It was when I visited one of the school rehearsals with Miles, a brilliant RSC Education consultant, and saw how joyous and free the children were with it that made me determined to conquer it; if they could do it, then so could I. I repeatedly ran the training video supplied by the RSC and found that I knew it backwards at home. But as soon as I got it into the rehearsal room the cracks reappeared. Then once in a session with assistant movement director Polly Bennett we were encouraged to go for it and enjoy it even if we went wrong. That’s when I realised that to an audience it’s not so much about hands and feet as what’s going on above the neckline. After that my demons quickly dropped away and by the end of the run I was positively looking forward to that climactic joyous moment. Whoo!

There are so many other outstanding moments and wonderful memories that we will treasure from being involved in Dream2016. We have met the most incredibly kind, talented and generous people, from the cast, creatives and crew and the other amateur groups. We have made friendships which we plan to continue far beyond this project and we have learned what it is to be directed by a wonderful group of women at the very top of their game and who have helped us to recognise our potential as performers. We can’t thank Erica Wyman and everyone at the RSC enough for giving the Tower Theatre Dreamteam the opportunity to be involved in the most thrilling theatrical experience of our lives. We will never forget a single one of you and we love you all to bits!!!!

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Our three brilliant directors – Sophie, Kim and Erica

So, just one more blog post (probably) left to round out this extraordinary undertaking. Join me soon.


The Dream is now over. To find out more about the 14 amateur companies which took part, click on the side bar to access the page on each location.

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Those things do best please me

Encore Encore

D16 Call Tuesday 12th July

How can you sum up an experience like this? Although it was intention to try and do so in this post I really don’t think I can at the moment, especially as I’ve been struggling with it for over 36 hours and have had to publish a stopgap post in between. I think there needs to be a little distance in place first in order to fully appreciate the sheer scale of what we have been involved with and what we have achieved. Best, perhaps, to stick to an account of our last day and come back to an overview later. I say this simply so that you don’t regard what follows as a somewhat workmanlike (Mechanical!) narrative but I think if I take any other tack it will be a long while before this piece gets written. In reality, if this were being composed with pen/quill and ink the latter would be rather blotchy and probably running down the page by now. So … to the narrative

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The Tower Dreamteam with AD Kim

In theory we had a quiet time in store for us on our last day on A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation. There were no more rehearsals and it was only necessary to turn up at the theatre mid afternoon, get some notes and give our final performance. That was the theory. In reality the nervous energy and adrenaline were still in the ascendant and relaxing with the paper or a good book just wasn’t going to happen. I felt absolutely

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Pyramus & Thisbe twitter away

ravenous so after a very hearty breakfast I tried to focus by settling down to write the previous day’s blog post and started to organise some of the many (many many) photos we have acquired. Adam and I were also attempting another Twitter takeover as we had at the Barbican – this time as a Pyramus and Thisbe double act (see here). And if that wasn’t enough to be going on with the Tower Dreamteam also took the opportunity to get some important videoing done (more of this in a later post).

And then a very nice interlude. Adam and I had been invited by the RSC’s Education Department to join a small group taking part in a Q and A session about the production at King Edward VI School; this is sometimes referred to as “Shakespeare’s School” as it is almost certain that he attended there. Lucy (Puck), Mercy (Hermia) and Sophie (AD) also came along. The boys from Year 7 had seen the play the previous week and had obviously given a lot of thought to their questions.

They wanted to know how the project  worked, what our favourite moments were, were there any other Shakespearean parts that we would like to play (I said Falstaff if there are any casting directors reading this), how we learned lines and how we had all got into acting. There was a good deal of laughter as we regaled the boys with anecdotes of our time with the RSC though I’m not sure Adam should have “treated” them to a picture of me in my Pyramus “onesie”. That must have broken some law or other…or at the very least a school rule. The boys are, apparently, working on their own production of the play so hopefully what we had to tell them will be of practical use. I wonder if the youngsters are really aware of just how lucky they are to have the RSC literally just down the road from their school and what a wonderful resource they have at their disposal.

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Notes with Kim

Next it was time for our final set of notes with AD Kim – as ever so kind, so thoughtful, so encouraging. It’s fascinating that even at this (very) late stage there was a striving for absolute perfection, a desire to enhance the audience experience (and our own) just that little bit more. I was pleased to have already spotted a number of the points Kim raised about my own performance and resolved to put them into practice that very evening – a distinct case of now or never.

 

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David’s picture      Composite of photos by Topher McGrillis RSC

This session finished with a special little presentation. I think we were all conscious as a group that there we were every night up on stage, getting all the plaudits and listening to the thunderous applause and that really there should have been a seventh member of the Tower team up there with us. David, our director, did such a massively important job in getting us organised and into the project in the first place. It can’t have been easy spending eighteen months of your life “herding cats” (it has to be said that we were, sometimes, a somewhat unruly bunch) and we didn’t want the moment to pass without some recognition. So we’d organised a framed photo collage of ourselves to remind David of what a special thing he had done for all of us, for the Tower company and for the am dram world in general. He’s a project manager by profession and I hope he will look back on this experience as one of his greatest achievements – he certainly should do so.

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After a short supper break in the theatre’s Green Room café (sorry folks, only available to members of the RSC workforce) it was on to our final warm up sessions. The pro cast had held a farewell party the previous evening and there were plenty of ribald references to a “paper plate awards ceremony” which had formed part of proceedings. Then it was time for another piece of RSC tradition to be fulfilled. The pass at the back of the stage (the walkway from one side of the stage to the other) looks like a massive wall of graffiti but when you look more closely it contains the signatures of all the actors who have appeared at the theatre. In common with colleagues in all the other amateur groups we were invited to leave our monikers, so there we are enshrined for eternity or until they revamp the theatre again, whichever comes first.

And so to the final performance. Horrible word “final” isn’t it? It’s so…well….final, really. But let’s not dwell on the down side. The performance had such drive and energy that it would be quite wrong to emphasise any negatives. There were, thankfully, no wardrobe malfunctions or side trips to The Swan to distract me as on the previous evening and I tried to bear in mind Erica and Michael Corbidge’s injunctions to savour the moment and “juice” the words.

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Thisbe, Wall & Pyramus bring the house down

As I’ve said several times now everything builds to Pyramus and Thisbe and this time round it was really something special. The words came out crisply, the moves were full of dynamic energy and the timing just seemed to hit the sweet spot that’s important for a great comedy moment. The “kiss” through the wall was an absolute riot – if only someone could capture that feeling of unrestrained joy and bottle it they would make a fortune. Minutes later as I lay “dead” on stage hearing Thisbe’s moving rendition of the eulogy over Pyramus’s body I could feel myself welling up which, of course, wouldn’t do at all.  To distract myself I ran through my last line and then stood to deliver it with as much force as I could muster. Then into the dance (fantastic), the group hug (this one was for real – I distinctly heard Maria say “We did it!”) and a race backstage to prepare for the curtain call. This capped everything that had gone before and …..well, as Bottom says when emotions get the better of his thought processes – “No more words!”

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Post warm up/pre show

As on the previous night I can’t really recall much about after the show. There seemed to be a never ending procession of positive comments, backslapping and smiling faces. A huge cheer erupted as I came through the stage door from all the parents waiting to pick up the children. I recall meeting and chatting with some of the incoming Cardiff team though think I just kept repeating how wonderful it all was. I didn’t know whether I was hot or cold, aching or physically alert, wide awake or fast asleep and dreaming. However amongst the melee one last moment of pride and pleasure occurred which is worthy of record. In the Dirty Duck, in the Snug (naturally), was a team photo of us hanging by the fireplace. The other amateur teams have been featuring there throughout the month’s run but for a brief moment it was our turn on this wall of fame just below a picture of a young Hugh Bonneville and just along from the photo of Laurence Olivier. Magic!

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Starry eyed and bleary eyed

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Encore Encore

Midsummer @ Midsummer (Part The Second)

It was Midsummer last week so there was a lot going on. As the previous post threatened to grow to unmanageable proportions bisection was the obvious answer. For continuity purposes you might like to read Part The First, first!

Right, all caught up? Then off we go!

Not content with offering 84 adults the opportunity to work on the professional stage through its flagship 2016 production A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation, the RSC has also been extremely busy ensuring that the next generation engage with this most popular of Shakespeare plays. Regular readers will be aware that bands of fairies up and down the country have been drafted into the production and received excellent coaching from the RSC mentors (click here). The Education Department has also produced first rate supportive materials to encourage teachers to explore the play with their pupils in their own schools (click here).

ClyhVoGWYAANjq8Last week another family oriented experience took place on the banks of the Avon namely the Fairy Portal Camp – click here. This was devised and led by Slung Low theatre company assisted by The School Of Night and RashDash. The camp’s aim was “to reopen the connection between us and the spirit world” and was loosely based on Shakespeare generally and some of the themes in The Dream. During the week visiting participants could simply drop in and take part in free activities including willow-work, poetry classes, improvisation, cooking, costume making, singing, dance classes and writing workshops. Each evening a silent disco ‘fairy rave’ took place around a bonfire, dinner featuring vegan food was served and performances of song, dance, drama and poetry took place under the trees. Celebrations culminated on Saturday 25th  June with the attempt to ‘open the portal’ between the two worlds through a theatrical immersive ceremony of feast, fire and song – complete with mechanical dolphins travelling down the River Avon.

Sounds irresistible and so it proved to one of the Tower team. Having already seen a performance at the RST earlier in the week our trusty man of action Al, (“one Snout by name”) took the long road back to Stratford.

 Dream 2016 producer Ian Wainwright had put out a call for participants for a flash mob which would suddenly appear and do the main production’s Bergomask dance in the Fairy Portal Camp, a collection of tipis up near Holy Trinity Church (presumably so that Will could keep an eye on things). I thought twice about going (and Ian clearly thought I was mad to turn up), but the journey free of weekday traffic early on Saturday was smooth, and I was spurred on by the hope of getting a day ticket for the evening ceremony in order to make a day of it.

 I was first in the queue at the theatre, only to find, when they opened at 10.00am, that the Fairy Portal tickets were down at The Other Place, to which place I duly ran, arriving to find myself about sixth in the queue. Worse was to follow: there were no day tickets at all!  But Matthew from The Other Place took my phone number, and during the morning he called me to let me know that a ticket had become available.

 

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Flashflood

This was as I was coming away from the aforementioned flash mob performance of the Bergomask. This actually got close to being a flash flood as the heavens opened just as Ian was deciding where (and  even if) we should perform. After a few minutes under umbrellas, it got so bad that we had to take refuge in a tipi where we were made welcome until the rain stopped. After that, the Bergomask went ahead led by Glasgow’s Bottom, Martin Turner. The mob was a motley crew, including the Glasgow Citizens Dream team who were

 

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Flashmob

currently playing the Mechanicals, members of the main company including stage management and production, other assorted Mechanicals like me, and director Erica who, fittingly, knew all the dance moves. The opening of the Fairy Portal, later, was a magical evening of storytelling, songs, dancing, eating, and transformation leading up to the final summoning ceremony.

 In between these two events I went to the newly refurbished and reopened Other Place for a coffee and found myself taking the tour of the building (recommended). It was a particular pleasure to see a picture displayed of the first read-through of our Dream production at Clapham; this was outside the top floor rehearsal room on a revolving slide show screen (if you see what I mean). Long may it stay there! And there I was in the picture, and there were all of the Tower cast with the main company. Ian Wainwright had said after that read-through, that there was a big sigh of relief when it became clear that this Dream bird was going to fly. And we are soon flying up to Stratford for our two nights onstage on the 11th and 12th July, not by private helicopter, but hey, are we looking forward to it…………!

 With you on that one, Al and thanks for your report.

Playmaking Festival

As you’ll have gathered by now the RSC is VERY big on A Midsummer Night’s Dream this year and the next addition to the growing roster of events is the Dream Team Playmaking Festival. Last year schools were invited to put together a production of a specially commissioned half hour adaptation of the play and now over 50 schools (and 1,600 children) have been invited to Stratford to give a performance of their version at either The Other Place or The Dell, the open air performance space which had hosted the Fairy Portal Camp. Another great feat of logistics by the backroom boys and girls of the RSC but one that really shows their commitment to inclusivity.  I’ll have more to say on all this in my next post as I’m going to sample one of these performances alongside a visit to the main house production and, now that I’ve seen Al’s report, I’ll hopefully fit in a tour round The Other Place exhibition. It’s all go, isn’t it?

Meanwhile (and talking of impressive logistics) let’s wrap up this post with some of the statistics which have characterised the touring production:

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The production runs for two more weeks in Stratford upon Avon. Click on the image below for details

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                     The Tower Theatre will be performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company                                at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon

               Monday 11th and Tuesday 12th July at 7.15

Midsummer @ Midsummer (Part The Second)

Living The Dream: Act 5

I always knew this would be the hard one to write – the last day of performance week – and so it has turned out. A combination of extremely long days, euphoria, massive physical exertion, poor eating habits, lack of sleep and high levels of concentration have taken their toll, hence this last piece is a bit later than originally promised. Anyway, let’s to it and see if it doesn’t provide some sort of catharsis.

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Lucy and Maria helping out at the touch tour

The day began with yet another new experience as the RSC was offering a “touch tour” for those attending the matinee performance and who would be using the audio description facility. The tour gave audience members the opportunity to meet some of the cast, explore the set and handle some of the key costumes and props. This was a really interesting half hour and it was evident that to the patrons in attendance it would make all the difference to their appreciation of the play. I was asked to “model” the donkey ears and run through a few lines so that the sound of my voice would be familiar to our guests. They also posed some questions about how hot I got and how quickly I had to change. I explained that I had three people to get me into the ears (one for the headset, one for dabbing some red make up on and one to hold the torch by the light of which the others worked), that they were then removed by Puck onstage and that the makeup was removed in the wings by ASM Lindsey scrubbing my face with a wet cloth  – most invigorating!

After the regular warm ups it was more or less straight into the afternoon matinee which as well as being audio described was to be captioned – not that any of this would affect what we were doing in the slightest. The performance is probably best described as a game of two halves. Things seemed a bit nervy in the first half (though personally I felt less so than on the previous evening) and there was a definite blip in our second scene which, fortunately, was able to be very quickly rescued. David came round to the dressing rooms at half time to give us a pep talk and this seemed to liven us up and provide a better second half. By the time we got to Pyramus and Thisbe things were swimming along very nicely again and this last scene, as ever, went down a storm.

In between shows it was time to start clearing up, gathering together greetings cards and presents and getting things ready for a later departure (not something I wanted to think about, believe me, but it had to be done). Various messages about the clear up procedures came from stage manager Jenny and company manager Suzi; as in everything else they are absolute models of efficiency but all done in a kindly and friendly manner. A quick meal in the Barbican’s Green Room with pros Alex, Ben and Jack revealed that they too were thinking about the immediate future and the journey up to the next venue in Cardiff. A definite feeling of finality was starting to set in. Back up in dressing room F3, dresser Jen appeared with our freshly laundered costumes (don’t know how they turn things round so quickly) and it was time to get ready for the final show.

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Final notes and encouragement from AD Kim     Photo by Ruth Anthony

I’m pleased to report that we went out on a high. From the moment we first came on I could feel that the audience were with us and as it was a now or never situation I decided to use all my reserves to give them a good night. There’s a fine balance, of course, and we had been warned about overpushing or becoming self indulgent; I think we managed to stay on the right side of this particular concern. A little extra bounce, a little extra swagger, a slightly more playful grin with Ayesha and just a hint more of audience engagement and I think it was possibly the best performance of the week – running a close neck and neck with Thursday evening. There were several emotional moments in the last half hour (mostly offstage but see the last paragraph below) but generally the trend was upbeat and celebratory. I hadn’t particularly enjoyed the Bergomask section in the early days but over the final week had found myself carrying it out with more abandon – if perhaps slightly less polish each night. For this final time I was doing it for myself and I couldn’t have cared less who (or if anyone) was watching. As Adam and I swung into our final pose a little voice whispered “You did it! You really did it!”. There was one more final extraordinary and very touching moment. At the curtain call the professionals went down on one knee and applauded us; that really finished me off!

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Our visitors from all over Dreamland

Things moved apace after that. A swift get out in which I managed to leave my gifts of Dream Tour and Barbican T shirts behind – since located and set to one side for later collection – was effected. It was most unusual of course to not be going through the wearying process of striking the set and clearing the stage; every am drammer’s bugbear on the last night. For once there was a professional crew (I counted about 20 people) swiftly deconstructing the scenery and loading it onto a huge waiting van outside. I, for one, was mightily relieved. There were a few more well-wishers at the stage door and I reflected on how so many of our fellows had put in an appearance to cheer us on. Respect to the Canterbury Players team, Peter Cockerill from up north, the ever lovely Bradford Barry, Amelia from just down the road and part of Norwich’s Common Lot, Dorothy all the way from Cornwall and especially Graham for stop 12 on his tour of all venues; we thank you from the heart of our Bottoms. Just time for a brief celebration (glass of water for me as I got to the bar past last orders), lots (and I mean lots) of fond farewells and then the last train home.

As I fell into bed I reflected on a key moment that evening and one aspect of the play that was definitely different in performance. This was the “I have had a most rare vision” monologue towards the “latter end of the play”. Alone on stage for this section it is Bottom’s (and if I’m honest my) big moment. That night as I spoke the words they seemed to have a new resonance encapsulating not only what had taken place for Bottom but also what had happened on a personal level over the last year and a half:

I have had a most rare vision. I had a dream past the wit of man to say what dream it was. Man is but an ass if he go about to expound this dream.

Gentle reader, the words were Shakespeare’s, the feelings were Bottom’s but the very real tears were mine.

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Our last team photo backstage at The Barbican     Photo by Ruth Anthony

This week the  production is  at the New Theatre in Cardiff– click on the image below to reveal full details.

Cardiff

 

Living The Dream: Act 5

The true beginning of our end

“Hello. I don’t know if you remember but we met at the BBC Shakespeare launch”. The first person I set eyes on when entering the Barbican last week was none other than Simon Russell Beale. Although the Tower Dreamteam had met intermittently in the preceding weeks this was to be the evening when everything started gearing back up for our performance week of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation. It was, I felt, rather a good omen, to bump into someone who had taken such an interest in the project previously and sure enough he enquired after the health of the production and wished us all good fortune as we moved forward. I have to say this did put me in a very good frame of mind for what was to come.

This first rehearsal of the final push was very much getting back up to speed. We ran through all the scenes in an upstairs room of the Barbican (the one where we had part of our very first audition) and were universally relieved to discover that the words, moves and bits of business seemed to have been retained.

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ASM Lindsey explains the mysteries of the cue light system

The next evening we returned to another old haunt; this time it was the RSC rehearsal rooms in Clapham. Here awaiting our arrival was Kim (Assistant Director) and Lindsey (Assistant Stage Manager). They gave us an overview of what we could expect in the next ten days and dealt with any admin aspects which were relevant to us. Lindsey also explained to us the mysteries of the call light system – no barging on stage whenever you feel the moment is right but a carefully regulated system of entrances and exits controlled by the stage management team. Then it was into a warm up and a concentrated look at our first scene. Despite the fact that we have looked at this section on quite a few occasions it was amazing how much there was still to be found in it. Kim, of course, was able to bring much extra understanding acquired as the tour had progressed. We must have worked on this section for a good couple of hours and as it is almost a duologue between Bottom and Quince the rehearsal was tiring but exhilarating.

For Thursday’s rehearsal (Clapham) we were joined by the lovely Polly Bennett (movement) and the redoubtable Michael Corbidge (voice) there to help us with the physical and vocal aspects of our work. We did plenty of stretching and limbering up (muscles and vocal cords) culminating in us trying out the Bergomask. I don’t think that I’ve made any secret of the fact that this routine is the bit which I have least confidence in. But a quite wonderful thing happened when Polly told us we had absolute permission to get the whole thing wrong as long as we stayed in the moment and enjoyed what we were doing. Suddenly there was a sense of liberation and – for the first (hopefully not the only) time – it went through without a hitch. We then concentrated on Pyramus and Thisbe for the rest of the evening. A lot of extraneous (and comforting) “business” was stripped out and some new ideas put in. Maria received particular praise for the prologues and, coached by Michael, I was encouraged to open up and let rip in the big speeches. Another full and exhausting/exhilarating evening.

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Heads full of Shakespeare

Friday (Clapham, again) saw the return of Erica into the fold. What a joyful moment that was to see her positivity and boundless energy being displayed. She had many tales from the tour and helped us to reach new levels in the work we are doing. The concentration this time was on the forest rehearsal scene. While this was already in pretty good shape some trimming, tightening and rearranging helped the scene to flow much better and gain in quality. By now I think we could safely say we felt in a good place but, of course, when you’re working with a professional company the imperative is always to stretch for just that little bit extra.

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But still loving it

So 12 hours of rehearsals and then the big one – an all day Saturday rehearsal back in the Barbican rehearsal room. Adam was called first to run through his final Thisbe speech. Then Karen came to work with me on the Titania scenes. I was generally pleased with the ways these went but can’t wait to get to do these again with the full cast on the proper set. The rest of the team arrived and we tried some variations on the scene where the Mechanicals await Bottom’s return. A key aspect at this stage is to make absolutely certain about entrances and exits especially – as stated above- because of the cue light system. It was nearly lunch break so just time to run through my monologue a few times and familiarise myself with the ebb and flow of this particular piece.

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Some hempen homespuns

After lunch we ran through all the other scenes (usually several times) picking them apart and reconstituting them again until everything flowed well and we felt comfortable with what we were doing. Just time for some sage advice from directors Kim and Erica before departing for home and the anticipation of the big week itself. I still can’t quite believe that what is happening is actually happening (in that sense I feel very like Bottom himself). Whatever happens now it has been an honour, a privilege and an absolute thrill and in the words of a character with Bottom like tendencies we now move:

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My intention over the next week is to try and write up a daily bulletin of the previous day’s events. This will all depend on what time is available. I know, for instance, that both Monday and Tuesday will be two 12 hour days so any writing will need to be fitted in around this. Anyway, do look out for the daily missives from Planet Dream and hope you’ll be able to come and see us in the next few days. Bottoms up!


This week the  production is  at the Barbican in London– click on the image below to reveal full details.

 

London

Evenings at 7.30 Tuesday 17th – Saturday 21st May

Matinées at 1.00 Thursday May 19th & Saturday May 21st

The Tower Theatre performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company at The Barbican

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A crew of patches met together to rehearse a play

Week 3 of rehearsals for A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation and the pace is now picking up. For Tower Theatre it meant much time spent south of the river Thames and an increasing familiarity with the environs of Clapham as we journeyed there to practice our scenes.

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The amateurs watching the pros rehearse

On Tuesday we were treated to watching the professionals at work as Erica explored the possibilities thrown up by the start of Act V. This last act is when the play within a play gets performed by the Mechanicals so it was extremely helpful to have the pros putting it into context for us. What struck me most forcibly were the number of possibilities which they found within the text and the relish with which they explored them. This section formed the broadcast which went out to the groups throughout the country. Then it was our turn and we worked with Assistant Director Kim on Quince’s two prologues in which the plot and characters of Pyramus and Thisbe are introduced to the Duke’s court. This meant the bulk of the work fell squarely upon Maria’s shoulders while the rest of us had some fun experimenting with our roles in dumb show. Several versions later we felt we had definitely got somewhere with it. One significant practical difference between pro and amateur rehearsals quickly manifested itself when the stage management team produced a number of props for use in the scene and we were invited to make selections – I, for instance, was offered a choice of four (FOUR!) different swords. I can remember doing productions in the past where key props just about managed to appear by dress rehearsal, never mind in the early stages of practising. RSC – you’re just spoiling us now!

On Wednesday evening another first was attempted as there was “a three way” hook up between London, Blackpool and Stratford so that scenes could be tried out in various configurations. Although most of the venues have proscenium arches, Stratford itself has a thrust stage and they are all, of course, different widths and depths. The Barbican (our venue) has one of – if not the – widest performance areas so it was good to find that one of the rooms in Clapham has been marked out with that particular configuration for us to practice in. This is the aptly named Bottom rehearsal room (as in top, middle and…but a nice piece of serendipity all the same).

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Nice of the RSC to personalise the rehearsal space

Thursday was an extended day for me as I took the opportunity to go in early and observe the professionals rehearsing the lover’s scenes. While they only interact with the Mechanicals at the very end of the play it was very interesting to see how another key aspect of the piece has been developing. Laura, Mercy, Jack and Chris (who play the four roles) worked intensely with Erica trying a myriad of variations until hitting on combinations of interpretation with which they all felt comfortable. What occurred to me was i) the fun they had in trying out various combinations and ii) the amount of discussion and thought that went into proceedings. In “amateurland” time pressures often take their toll and far from having all day to get a scene right it is often a case of cramming in a couple of hours after a full working day. In the afternoon the rehearsal continued with Sian the movement director and AD Kim. Having more or less blocked the scenes in the morning, the afternoon was all about finessing and nuancing. The day finished with the arrival of several other professionals to rehearse the Bergomask (the dance which happens just before the play concludes). Great fun to watch – especially Kim busting moves as a stand-in Bottom.

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The young lovers

Then, in the evening the Tower team gathered in the aforementioned Bottom rehearsal room to try two of the Mechanicals’ scenes – one of which we had never tackled before. Inspired by what I had seen earlier, I found it much easier to let go of any set notions about how a scene should look and be played and tried out a number of variations of what we were doing. Meanwhile upstairs another tri-cornered broadcast between Truro, Kidderminster and London was going ahead with the Mechanicals’ professional understudies in attendance. If you’re wondering why we weren’t watching, this was a conscious decision – sometimes it’s better to just get on and do. In any case the recordings of the broadcasts are being made available for us online to watch at our convenience. Alongside these recordings we are also due to have access to a number of digital lessons. So far we have had examples of a vocal warm up, how to sing Bottom’s song and the choreography for the Bergomask dance. I’m just waiting for the one that teaches the ancient art of braying like a donkey!

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A posterior of Bottoms (and a rogue Quince!)

The last rehearsal of the week was the Saturday Bottom hub and what a gathering it proved to be. Nine Bottoms in the same room (plus one at the other end of a camera in Cornwall) at once may seem like overkill but as someone pointed out “You can never really have too many Bottoms”. Ayesha seemed to take this all in her stride, one minute acting opposite Stratford Bottom (David), the next with Canterbury Bottom (Lisa) before turning her attention to Norwich Bottom (Owen) and Cardiff Bottom (Steven). She even managed a brief scene with Truro Bottom (Peter) through the magic of the Internet. At one point everyone in the room attempted the Bergomask dance (see above) for the first time; I need to take my time with something like this so will definitely be studying the digital lesson carefully.

And that was it for Week 3 – halfway through rehearsals already! A slightly scary thought especially, I suspect, for the groups who are early on in the tour run.

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As a footnote there was one other highly enjoyable aspect to the week which was connected to the Dream2016 project. This was being invited to Broadcasting House for the BBC Press Launch of their Shakespeare 2016 season due to start on April 23rd. Seeing clips of the forthcoming programmes along with live turns from the Horrible Histories troupe, Hip Hop Shakespeare and an interview with David Tennant was a very enjoyable way to spend a morning. Greg Doran (commander in chief) introduced the RSC’s 2016 programme highlighting the Dream tour as its flagship production. This was followed by ten pupils from Eastbury school (one of the schools we will be working with) and some of the adult cast performing Titania’s lullaby from the show. Apparently they had had only one brief rehearsal – and they were utterly brilliant. My personal highlight was when Erica introduced me to Simon Russell Beale who will be returning to the RSC to play Prospero in a unique and highly technological take on The Tempest at the end of the year. He was lovely to talk to and he was particularly interested and intrigued by the Dream project. However, if I was hoping for any tips it was to prove disappointing. Despite extensive experience in Shakespeare’s work and the fact that it would seem ideal casting, SRB has never played Bottom or, indeed, been in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. So then, Dream2016 Bottoms – 1: SRB – Nil!

A crew of patches met together to rehearse a play