First Dress Rehearsal: Day 36

7th October, 2019

Thoughts about this stage

By the dress rehearsal the work of the Director is essentially done; the play is handed over to the actors, the backstage crew, the costumiers, the lighting and sound technicians.

In this arena, where the amateur involvement is half of the contribution (and most of the acting involvement), the Director holds on a little longer to the reins. There are still constant discussions with actors about their roles and the scenes.

I would like all of the rehearsal of the play to be entirely completed at this point, and scenes being repeated only for fluency or intimate knowledge of the play. But, it doesn’t work like that always and not here either. Nerves also play a big part, and managing anxiety a part of the role of director.

The priority this evening, five days before opening night, is the run-through; any of the working through mentioned in the previous paragraph happens before the performance or when there is a break or afterwards.

The show must get its chance to be a whole piece. The logistics of the building and how actors get around it for their cues, their familiarity with props and costumes needs to be practiced for familiarity.

These cakes looking amazingly luscious … whatever the angle!

An Aside

I had originally noted when doing the schedule months ago that we would have two practice run-throughs and then two dress rehearsals. We ended up having one practice run-though only on the Sunday.

If I were doing this size of a show again, I would do two previews of the play, where the actors would become used to an audience response to the work and they would be very comfortable with all of the elements before a big opening night.

Arriving early …

It’s lovely to be in to this part of the theatre routine, where you arrive to an empty hall, anticipating the crowd and the buzz later. I like to arrive before everybody. Even the smell of the room is great as you arrive in. (Should I now admit my penchant for the smell of any theatre –– really the stage and backstage area??)

So, I begin to set the place up for the evening: clearing the stage, setting out some extra chairs for a few extra audience members. Alyn usually arrives next, or Jack, or Julia. And we set to work.

Jack prepares.jpg
Jack prepares the stage for the actors

The cast also arrived early to put their costumes on and check that they all still fit well. This run-though will be the biggest test so far of this aspect: seeing if there are any issues with the clothing, footwear and accessories. It will also be a challenge for the lighting, seeing how the body of actors in their costumes looks on stage. No make-up yet.

Each new step brings excitement and wonder at the spectacle. The actors on the lit stage and setting look amazing, particularly when they are together in one large group.

Dress rehearsal 1

It is the very first time that all of the cast attend at the same rehearsal. Looking back, it is astonishing we achieved what we did.

Though we mostly began each night with a warm-up it was less than organised tonight. We continued with a complete run-though. There were lots of good things happened but there was stopping / starting moments: actors unsure where they should be or not sure of lines. The flow of the play stuttering as a result.

What was amazing to me, was that the two actors who had missed the weekend rehearsals had been present at every scheduled rehearsal for them since August prior to this weekend. Despite their attendance and practice, in missing that final weekend they were behind the other actors in knowledge of the play, and in their confidence as a result.

An Aside

It has made me realise, more clearly than any other learning, what an amount of work is done in any rehearsal.

And also, how difficult it is to bring a body of people along in a  combined task if there are people missing.

There were subtleties too in the music that needed to be worked out over the next few days: music cues that were too loud as an audience member, other moments where the actors needed more sound to play off. The elder Salieris, in particular, had moments where the music was crucial to their text and where they needed the sound to enable their acting to develop. 

An Aside

As the play developed this final rehearsal week and in performance, my understanding of this connection changed.

With the development of the roles between the older and younger Salieri, the music became important for both of them; the acting connection between them became stronger, with the elder Salieri becoming involved in the scenes throughout (not just where he acted through his text) –– thereby highlighting the work of the younger man and bolstering his demanding, emotional role.

The biggest issue tonight was slow / unlearned lines –– not uncommon in an amateur play, that lines are learned at the last minute. But the energy of the play is completely afftected by the slowness of delivery. A big concern.

The prompter

Because of the issue with lines not being ready, I pondered for the next few days on how to bring confidence to the actors. I had tried in the previous few weeks to find someone to prompt. But this isn’t easy.

A prompter requires to sit on the side stage for the entire play reading and concentrating only (not looking at the action), sensitivity to the actors and a good knowledge of how the actors play this script. (Actors get very bothered when their exquisite pause is disturbed by a loud whisper from side stage!)

It looked like I was the only one equipped. Both Jack and Winnie backstage had prompted during the weeks leading up to now but they were busy enough with their stage management tasks, as well as ensuring the good, efficient working atmosphere backstage was maintained as the play ran.

My ‘middle of the night’ thoughts dwelt on this issue especially!

Chair and door …
Props Oct.jpg
Props ready for collection

Finishing up tonight …

As before, this being a Monday night and all of the cast being tired with three full days rehearsal (as well as work in the morning for many of them), the notes from me afterwards didn’t address the play (I did this separately by text, email or when I met an individual person before the next practice) but were short and practical: such as arranging a rehearsal for a few of the scenes that needed to be completed on the following night with Constanza and the Salieris. 

We love doing this

Despite all the issues outlined above, I felt that the play was was holding up as a piece of work. There comes a moment when the actors were ready to be seen by an audience, in fact, they need to be seen by an audience. There has been enough preparation time put in.

It’s always really good to remind yourself that why we do it. Despite the workload, being stretched with nervous tension and lack of sleep, presenting a play, live, after all this work and effort, before an audience that will react and respond (however that will be) gives us an enormous buzz, pleasure and sense of achievement. It is good to be reminded to enjoy this part of the process as best we can.

One more thing … the projections

As the time moved on and our workload remained heavy and demanding, I was getting more and more uncertain about the need for projections. Our aims in all areas became simplified. Was this a creative step too far to have on the agenda? There was a feeling amongst the design group that our desired effects needed more time and effort than we had allotted to it and that we might not have the energy left to bring this to fruition.

Tonight, with a sense of determination and stubbornness more than anything else, I set up and put on the projector to have a look at the impact it made on the actors during the run of the play, especially in the opening scene.

There was no film or image projected, just the blue light that the machine throws on the wall when it is lit up without being attached to anything.

It was fantastic. The quality of light, so different from the stage lights, created a unique atmosphere and bounced up the eeriness of that part of the performance. The actors moved in and out of the rectangle of light along the catwalk, partially lit up, some of their faces obvious in the light occasionally.

My decision was made … to go ahead and make whatever short video we could in the time remaining to us.