And it all comes together
The work gets more intense. As performance dates — the ultimate arbiter of process, the fixed points around which our work revolves — approach, everything feels more serious, more real somehow, and all the work is done under a very real sense of pressure.
We’ve been ahead of the game and pretty on schedule, which is unusual for devised and experimental work, which often has to be radically changed and revised right up until performance. But by the end of last week we had a solid concept of how we wanted our show to run, and by yesterday we had a full run planned. This period of rehearsal is a combination of magic and grind; half incredible moments were things just fit together through coincidence and serendipity and pure fairy dust, half slog and practise and wearying niggling and interminable decision-making discussions. There can be satisfaction in polishing and refining, but it can also be dreadfully tedious; the great dangers at this stage are boredom and exhaustion. For a Director, you’ve got to find ways of helping the actors stay motivated, keep excited about the finished product, and keep their energy levels up, rather than overworking, or getting impatient and distracted. The problem with that is, this is also the point where you’re under most stress; in a small company, where the director has to manage a lot of the production work, you’re pursuing advertising and getting information from venues and organising rooms and designing posters when all you really want to do is keep on creating with actors. So tensions run high. We’ve been doing remarkably well with this. Some judicious shorter days, a party or two, the occasional pep-talk: it can all go a long way. Long-distance runners talk about breaking through the wall, seeing the point of exhaustion, the moment where you might give up, and then breaking through that: that’s where we’re at — we’re facing down the home stretch.
We ran a scratch preview on Wednesday night. With the show near-completed, it’s useful to get some feedback on what we’ve done; when you’re experimenting, it’s good to know what works and what doesn’t, in order to have the best possible final show. (Although with this show, I expect we might be altering it every night.) We had around eight or nine friends and colleagues along to take a look, to interact with us and tell us what they thought. Partly, it was useful just to see how our interactions worked with an audience, but they also gave us a good sense of what we still needed to work on. This is always a little risky, though: you get a lot of notes, and sometimes one individual can say something that throws you, when really they’re the only one who’d ever think that. From a director’s perspective, you’ve got to allow your actors to take good advice on board, while also trying to manage their fears and protect them from getting fixated on one element. It’s a delicate balance; one that’s much easier when the company’s built up a cohesive, co-operative and open working practise. We’re doing OK.
Then there’s the decision-making. What gets changed, axed, recast? How can you fix things without offending anyone, and what do you do when people disagree about what’s right? And if you’re a director trying to run an open, co-operative company, should you be making final decisions? How do you arbitrate? Do you pursue consensus decision-making, or majority, or are you just asking for input before making the call? How do you decide how you decide? To be honest, for myself, in this production, I’m already trying early experiments with so many things that I’m not quite ready to relinquish all control just yet — but I do think it would’ve been a lot better if we’d had a conversation about decision-making much earlier on. As it is, we use a hotch-potch process, and I step in more often than I’d like.
So there we are! Dress rehearsal tomorrow, and then we unleash the show on a week of performances in four venues. It’s tremendously exciting. I hope there’s time to blog from the road.