OtherLife's first production, Mydidae, is at it's mid way point, we wanted to ‘open the doors’ to our rehearsal process and share with you some of the challenges, fears, excitement. Simon greets you and invites you into our room with total honesty…...
"In the grand scheme of things putting on plays is not that big a deal. But when you're in it you see the pressure mount up on the whole team. It's hard work with the time scales and resources of a small company. The collaborative art of theatre means no-one wants to drop the ball and expose all our efforts to the disappointment of the audience and our own mortification. Holding your nerve, letting it come together naturally, trusting yourself and your colleagues are necessary challenges.
This play is also a tough one, it's complex, detailed, layered, dense. These make it a sharp and beautiful play but also a dangerous one. Jack's writing is not impenetrable but it's the still surface of a lake (a bath!), with monsters lurking beneath. But with so few ripples, it's hard to know what the monsters are. There's a freedom in the lack of exposition from these characters that is a gift from the writer but also a frightening challenge - hidden currents to plumb with only the lightest of clues, a glance or gesture, a hesitation or choice of word. I wonder, if we had the writer in the room to discuss things with, as you so often do with new writing, whether that would release or restrict us?
Then there's just trying to get people to look like they've been together for years having just met, constructing their history and environment - that's research and textual analysis - I never use the internet more than when I'm working on a play: thank god for Wikipedia, and charities to explain and combat every conceivable human wickedness, and articles on obscure flies, and rightmove. But theatre isn't just or even mostly in the head it's visual, contained in the action, so those relationships need to be physical, so we spend time in the mornings moving and working on exercise outside of the text, more complex version of the trust games that are the death of corporate training days but the lifeblood of theatre when you're going to have to snog that person tomorrow, and look meaningfully into their eyes, and other things...
That's just some of the challenges of the play. Well, just the challenges of understanding the play, that’s not talking about the feel of it, the design and technical challenges. Getting the right choices for the look of the set: what story does that tell about the world of the play - natural or... something else- is this a relatively real world or viewed through a filter, of grimness, humour, apocalypse or utopia. Light and sound have a huge role to play here: is the music in the scene or providing mood? What music do they listen to - do we use that? what do our choices say about this moment? What do you mean we only have twelve lanterns? The set in our case is a bathroom: why? and what type of bathroom, what could this say about their location, time of year, of day, their lives - who picked the tiles? which toothpaste would they use? Would moving that 10cm this way give the actor more space? You want the bathroom to work? Like, everything? To work?
Then there is everything else. EVERYTHING else. Trying to build a company and get things right, fully cooked, right from the off. Get people to engage with company. Get people to engage with the show. Sell it. (Is this blog too long? Definitely.) Incorporate. Be an employer. Pensions. The confusing tax status of actors - do they do class 1 NI this year or has it changed again? Marketing: Press, Facebook, Twitter - what's too much? sell but remember it's a conversation. HMRC. HSBC. NI. RTI. ITC. PRS. H&S. Insurance. Policies. Procedures. If you want to do it properly and the man will make you pay. The volume is overwhelming. We really didn’t anticipate it and although we are committed and up for the fight, the struggle is REAL.
Stoic. resilient. hopeful... sometimes angry: in that passionate artistic way of course. Then there's the moment when you move from behind the table, to beside the table, and then there is the realisation that you should be on your fucking feet with the table behind you. When you stop making notes and live through moments with your actors. When they stop being actors and become people. When that sound Q drops in and in your mind you see the light hit the amber is Matt-David's whiskey glass. When you just watch it, enthralled. Belly laughing. Yes, me, laughing, - that's good. And maybe some water in the eye - don't let the actor's see they'll think they can stop digging. This drives it, makes it worth it, it's not ready yet but you see the potential, believe that it's worth pursuing and, yes, sharing (thank god). When you realise why you keep going back to those dark rooms, when you find a little faith that as dramatists: No, we're not saving lives, but in bringing this world and these characters to life we might help others understand their own.
Profound stuff... ? But to paraphrase something a colleague said to me in the not so distant past, if artists can't be arty where do we go from there? I hope you can join us in the theatre, or in the bar after, to continue the conversation -or to talk about the rugby - apologies in advance though, I don't do football.
- Simon Reeves, Director