I’m not sure how many of you will have ever seen a call sheet. These are notices which professional actors receive telling them they are required to attend a rehearsal at a given time the following day; as we amateurs are part of a professional production we have been receiving these too. By their very nature they appear relatively late in the day, sent out by the stage manager (the completely organised and wonderful Jenny Grand) at the instruction of the director. From these lists participants may find they are working throughout a whole day, while others may only be required for an hour or two or even, less rarely, not at all. Call sheets also highlight other aspects of the rehearsal process (required voice or movement work, costume fittings, production meetings, etc.) Any attending visitors from outside the main team (e.g. a film crew, journalists, photographers) are also listed. In case you’re wondering where all this preamble is leading it is merely to say that the RSC call sheets for week 4 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation suddenly became increasingly complex; Wednesday’s won the prize running to some three sides of A4. On this day, quite apart from the actual core rehearsals there were costume fittings, a movement session, a call for the musicians, a visit to one of the involved schools, filming of a production trailer and travel to Canterbury for several people from where there was a broadcast session that evening. It all goes to demonstrate the logistics which have gone into making this production function. I don’t quite know how it is all pulled together quite so quickly but somehow it is; the daily call sheets, therefore, are providing a fascinating glimpse into what is involved in running a production of this size.
The Tower Team (along with colleagues across the nation) were, of course, on call most evenings of the week and there was the usual mixture of working via broadcasts (from Canterbury and Cardiff) and on our own. All of the Mechanicals scenes now have a shape to them, words are more or less ingrained and we are now able to play most of the action with a degree of confidence and, indeed, relish. That is not to say the work is complete – far from it. The open style of directing continues to encourage experimentation which throws up new discoveries and this has started to help develop some of the subtle nuances which performance requires. Watching other teams at work helps us to make decisions about our own performances (i.e. we’re able to pinch any good ideas!) and the various video recordings and digital lessons support us through the process. We are also gradually becoming used to playing in a much larger space than that to which we would normally be accustomed.
The Saturday Bottom hub was a slightly smaller affair than last week with five of us in London and a live link to Cardiff for a sixth. We’re now in a position where we can run scenes more than once so the two key meetings between Bottom and Titania were explored from a number of angles. Bottom has a short monologue at the end of Act 4 – a big moment for all of us holding the stage on our own – and we were able to try out different interpretations of this scene too. Unfortunately I cannot reveal too much more about the detail as much of it has still to be finalised and there are certain elements which might detract from the action if I were to discuss them here. Afraid you’ll just have to dig deep and book a ticket.
I seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time in Clapham at the moment and as in the previous week I was able to sit in on professional rehearsals for the day. Here I saw the call sheets really come into their own with actors coming and going in the main Middle Room and the musicians gathering to practice in the Bottom Room (see obvious remarks in last week’s post!) The Top Room is currently being occupied by rehearsals for Hamlet which seems to contain a lot of military drill. Every so often the ceiling of the Middle Room would shake as marching feet echoed round the building. In the Green Room I bumped into a formidable looking sergeant in the Irish Guards who had come in to put the actors through their paces; don’t know about the Hamlet team but I think I’d have been doing my best to keep him happy! Those “interruptions” aside the rehearsals I was watching were conducted in a quiet and considered atmosphere but still managed to be great fun for all concerned, including me. As a temporary record of proceedings I carried out my first “Live Tweeting” session. Just think, less than a year ago I didn’t know one end of a tweet from another and now, because of this project, I’ve picked up sufficient understanding to be able to run my own mini online event and send out my 1,000th message in the process.
During the course of the day I also got to put on the prototype donkey ears for the first time. The real ones are being constructed at a studio – fourteen sets in all, individually tailored for each of us. I then got to try out my first piece of interaction with Ayesha (Titania)* although I have to say it was far from being strenuous; Bottom does have a nice long kip in the middle of Act 4! The afternoon concentrated particularly on some of the key musical moments in the play and the accompanying movement. Composer Sam Kenyon has woven a particular melody throughout the musical structure which will help to link the various elements (the Mechanicals, the fairies, the court) together and I’m currently working on my own small contribution to that. I’m afraid, once again, I must draw a teasing veil of mystery over this aspect of proceedings.
Throughout what was a lengthy but rewarding day the professional actors and musicians were all…well, terribly professional. That may sound like a silly remark but thespians sometimes have a reputation of being a bit precious or prone to hissy fits. All I can say is I saw absolutely no evidence of such behaviour. There were no egos on display, no flouncing out, no backbiting or bitchiness. Far from it. There was only a driven professionalism coupled with a desire to create the best dramatic experience for the audience. All very inspirational and highly encouraging.
Media interest continues to grow apace and it almost seems second nature to be answering questions from complete stangers about what we are doing. During the week the Tower team met and were interviewed by journalist Rosie Millard who is writing a piece for The Sunday Times magazine; she also remained to watch some of our rehearsal and sent some very encouraging tweets afterwards. On Saturday as I reached the rehearsal venue I was somewhat disconcerted to hear a voice close by ask “Are you a Bottom?” I said something like “Is it that obvious?” at the same time thinking that if you’re accosting random people walking along Clapham High Street with that question you just might find yourself on the wrong end of a punch on the nose! It turned out the voice belonged to one half of a two man BBC crew filming the arrival at the hub rehearsal; we had been prewarned about this but it had slipped my mind. Halfway through the morning the BBC departed only to be replaced by another two person crew – this time from ITV. They were both filming packages for airing once the performances begin. What’s next – being chased by the paparazzi? Oh, the trappings of fame!
*As an extra treat here’s Ayesha as a highly moving Titania
(Recorded for The Guardian’s series of Shakespeare Solos)