Thursday, 6 October 2016

Kate Wood, a theatre graduate from the University of Derby, is assistant director on our major new production Lear/Cordelia. This is her rehearsal diary.

DAY 19 : Thursday 13 October

I can't believe it was nearly a full two days ago since we even arrived at N_Space in Nottingham and now we're leaving already! The staff here have been absolutely wonderful, so happy and welcoming and helpful at every turn (special thanks for letting us use your staple gun, those things are like currency in the theatre world).

Cordelia (Gemma Paige North) and Lear (David Henry) in the dress runToday we made a few final touches to our set, getting 4 foot up a ladder and trying to paint in the dark and make sure that Darius (Digital Artist) could still see what he was doing whilst trying to map the projections was definitely challenging on my behalf! And then it was time to do a full dress run of both halves of our show. Sam (Production Assistant) had never really seen the second half properly, as he'd always been preoccupied with other tasks and he commented on how wonderful it was to see it now that everything has come together.

I also had to undertake a bit more technical work (and if you've read my previous blog entries, you'll know that technology is rarely my friend). Both myself and Sam (Production Assistant) were shown by Louie (Director) how to cue the music for act two using a special programme. Even though there aren't that many cues (SPOILERS) I was actually still very nervous, as though I was going to break the laptop completely by simply pressing the space bar at the wrong time. Luckily, bothBen Spiller (Director) and Kate Wood (Assistant Director) painting the set the technical rehearsal of the music cues and the dress rehearsal of act two went without a hitch though!

Then, once some moments in act two had been discussed and re-explored, it was time for the get-out. All this means is that we have to pack up our set and props etc. and load it in to the very large van. This is not as easy as it sounds. Trust me. Trying to pack everything so that nothing gets damaged or could get damaged in transport is both terrifying and challenging. I figured out though, that I'm actually stronger than I think... And neither Sam (Production Assistant), Ben (Director) nor myself know how to properly use an electric drill... Or at least change the strength settings of one.

If I've learned anything from today, it's that emulsion paint definitely does not taste good. We had to do some rushed second layers of paint on our set today and it got everywhere, I'm very sure I ate some of it. It was all worth it though, Darius' (Digital Artist) projections looked even better on a freshly repainted set!

So tomorrow is opening night in Leicester. I personally can't wait (and it's not just because I get to wear my 1623 crew polo shirt for the first time, although that's definitely part of it). We've had a spectacular three and a half weeks and we've all worked so very hard and I think it's going to pay off for tomorrow! If you're around, you should definitely come and see what I've been nattering on about for yourself, but if you're the more sensitive type (like myself at times), you might want to bring a pack of Kleenex!

DAY 18 : Wednesday 12 October

We officially arrived in Nottingham for 2 days today. The set has been collected and after much drilling and lifting, has been erected. I drove in to the centre of Nottingham after picking up Gemma (Cordelia) and David (Lear) and realized why I hate driving in cities I don't know... I'm basically useless at knowing which lane I Eleanor Field (Costume and Set Designer) and Ben Spiller (Director) arranging elements of the setshould be in. Thankfully though, we made it in one piece without going the wrong way once. We're rehearsing at N_Space in Nottingham for the next couple of days and the building we're in is so incredibly beautiful, especially our rehearsal space, with its unbelievably high ceilings and gorgeous architecture.

We three arrived later than everyone else, as the actors had been given the morning off and we walked in to a practically finished set, with just the last bits being slotted in to place, and I genuinely got goose bumps. It's one thing to imagine what everything will look like whilst rehearsing in a much smaller space, but to see everything realized in front of you for the first time is just an unforgettable moment.

Very shortly after this, I had to pop out to the local shops to pick up some last minute essentials, such as lx tape, sandpaper, masking tape, sharpies etc. I think ILear (David Henry) during the technical rehearsal failed on all but 3 items. In my defense, the shops didn't actually have a lot of the things in stock, but after some quick thinking on mine and Eleanor's (Set and Costume Designer) parts, we found some alternatives and the day was saved! (It wasn't actually that dramatic really, but in my mind it was) Then it was back to the rehearsal space to add the final touches (for the moment) to the set before the technical run through of act 1, where all of the digital elements are.

I must say Darius' (Digital Artist) projections looked fantastic, even though not all of them were mapped to his level of perfection he wanted, they made us laugh, angry and deeply sad in quick succession. I was on book, as usual, for the technical rehearsal and was prompting the actors when needed, and we did a cue-to-cue rehearsal, where the actors don't always perform the entire play and instead jump from section to section as required by the demands of the technical elements. From my experience of tech runs, we managed to get a really good quality of work done really quickly, which was amazing and everyone worked their socks off to get finished as early as possible so that we could all get a good night’s sleep for what promises to be an exhausting day tomorrow!

Today was also the day I remembered how good it feels to be up a ladder, rigging the set. I didn't realize how much I truly missed that. It's good to be back!

DAY 17 : Tuesday 11 October

Today is our last day in what has been our home for the last three weeks, and it's actually really sad! It's quite profound, the attachment you can get to a place where David Henry (Lear) and Ben Spiller (Director) in discussioneveryone has given so much emotionally, physically and mentally to a sensitive topic. It's almost like the walls hold the memories and moments of every turning point, epiphany or complication from day 1 of rehearsals. We've all become so at ease in our rehearsal room and now it's time to say goodbye and head for Nottingham, where we will be for the next two days before we open in Leicester on Friday.

We ran both halves of our show today, with act one including our digital elements and with act two in costume and had detailed note debriefings from each of the directors afterwards. I personally don't think that Ben and Louie (Directors) could have picked a better Lear and Cordelia. It was so evident in those two runs that Gemma (Cordelia) and David (Lear) just have this wonderful relationship both on stage and off, they feed off each other's energy and if one wants to try something different with a line in that moment, the other doesn't fight it and actively helps to find the moment being searched for using their responding lines. We had some Cordelia (Gemma Paige North) and Lear (David Henry) audience members for our run of Act 2 (including Margaret Dewhurst, a 1623 board member, who has visited our rehearsals previously), who gave us some wonderful feedback themselves during a group discussion afterwards and, fantastically, they all said they really connected with and felt for both of our characters throughout the act.

In the evening, Louie (Director) picked up our van that we'll be using to transport all of our set, props, costumes and technical equipment etc. to our new rehearsal space and show locations... My god it's huge. I think you could genuinely live quite comfortable in it... If you installed some plumbing of course. Once the van had gotten to Quad, Chris (Producer), Sam (Production Assistant) and myself began to load our items in to it whilst Ben and Louie (Directors) were being interviewed. Problem is that some of the pieces of set are quite cumbersome and I am very clumsy... I'll let your imaginations do the rest but luckily nothing was damaged. Apart from a lightbulb that I smashed in reception of The Quad. In fairness I did try to catch it, it doesn't matter that I failed... Miserably.

It didn't really take us all that long to pack everything in (with Chris' impeccable packing skills and a whole bunch of bubble wrap) and all too soon it was time to go home for the night. Thank you very much Derby and The Quad, you have been utterly delightful to us and we'll see you again very soon in November!

DAY 15 : Friday 7 October

And so we come to the end of the final week of rehearsals before show week... Exciting!

George with Gemma (Cordelia) and David (Lear)We did two separate full runs of the show, one with the digital aspects created by Darius (Digital Artist). It was brilliant to see how far we've come in, in theory, such a small amount of time. The characters played by Gemma (Cordelia) and David (Lear) drive the show through emotional highs and lows and tell a story so intricate in its relationships between the characters and with dementia and so realistically that it really resonated with me and my own personal experiences with dementia.

All of the props that myself and Ben (Director) had bought the day before were in their rightful places on set and, honestly, I felt that I was genuinely in someone's living room. You really can imagine what would've taken place in that room with regards to Lear's career, such as meetings or late night brain storms on policies and procedures etc.

We had some spectators to watch our first run through (sans digital elements), Emily and her dog George (the cutest and fluffiest dog in the world) from PAD Debbie, Sarah, Emily, George and Louie (Director) in discussionproductions (Positive About Deafness productions), Sarah who will be interpreting our show in BSL and Debbie visiting us from the NHS. They were all absolutely lovely and provided us with great and constructive feedback. This included a suggestion about our use of bubble wrap and how it basically would play havoc visually with the lights and helped us come to the conclusion that tissue paper would be much better. Because we didn't have our digital elements, myself and Sam (Production Assistant) had to read in for Goneril and Regan and I must say that Sam made a very dashing temporary Regan.

After lunch we endeavoured on our second run through and had Robert with us, who is out rehearsal photographer. It was quite weird, considering I'm the one that is normally taking pictures during rehearsals, to have someone else taking pictures and I became so aware of my movements and positions and was basically so worried that he might snap me mid-sneeze! I'm sure the photos will be wonderful and capture our show much better than my iPhone pictures.

I know I say this at the end of every week, but it's truer every time; I've never been so shattered! It's been a truly wonderful week, new discoveries made, tears shed and so much tea I think I'm actually going to become a teapot. Bring on show week!

DAY 14 : Thursday 6 October

Cordelia (Gemma Paige North) and Lear (David Henry) during the acting exerciseI can’t believe it’s nearly the end of week three! Time has passed so quickly, it seems like only yesterday we were meeting for our first rehearsal.

We started today with an exercise where Gemma (Cordelia) and David (Lear) transported themselves back in time within Lear’s study to when Cordelia was a child and explored their interaction with each other in the space. Obviously the floor became a sea and Cordelia began to use Lear’s books as stepping stones to cross the water whilst Lear looked on affectionately. It was so heart warming to see such an innocent and loving relationship bloom between the two, which was then drawn upon later in rehearsals when working the script.

Louie Ingham (Director), David Henry (Lear) and Gemma Paige North (Cordelia) in discussionMyself and Ben (Director of Lear) went on a prop hunt for the last few touches to our set and hit practically every charity shop in Derby City Centre in the hopes of
finding clothes, crockery and glasses. I must say, you really can find some wonderful items in charity shops, including a miniature pint glass with a detailed picture of a hunt taking place (which we bought of course!). Once we had placed all of our wonderful finds in their rightful places on set I got goose bumps – our world that Lear and Cordelia reside in came to life. The actors began to interact with the additional props and watching every line and reaction felt almost as though we were flies on the wall in any residential dwelling.

Darius Powell (Digital Artist) and Lear (David Henry) during filmingMost of the rehearsal day was dedicated to really finding details and adding even more layers to already intricate scenes. Gemma (Cordelia) and David (Lear) were practically off script and my main role was to be “on-book”, this basically means I follow the script as they say their lines and if they forget their line and require a prompt, I provide them with one. As I was watching the scenes unfold, the fact that the actors didn’t have to partially focus on where they were on a page, the scenes felt like they had even more heart than they previously did. Movements are much more realistic and moments between actors can be held with much more intensity when they don’t have to worry about holding a script in their hands.

Finally, Darius (Digital Artist) came at the end of the day to film some segments that will be shown during the preshow (SPOILERS). Unfortunately, our current rehearsal space is painted bright yellow, a colour that I actually love but doesn’t bode well for a background during filming! Because of this, we had to hold a black curtain behind the segment being filmed, oh the glamorous life of theatre! It doesn’t sound very hard but when the curtain is incredibly heavy, you kind of end up wishing like you’d done more push ups or were in better physical shape!

So tomorrow we’ve challenged ourselves to do two full runs of the entire play with digital elements for the first time. It’s going to be an exciting but exhausting day!

DAY 10 : Friday 30 September

Well it's the end of another successful week. We've worked with a new piece of writing that has, really, created two new characters. We've done it in 5 days and if I'm being honest (and just a tad bit biased of course) we've done it brilliantly, cramming as Louie (Director) has said 3 weeks of rehearsals in to 5 days.

Blog 30.9But I'll start at the beginning as I normally do, we had Margaret Dewhurst attend the first few hours of rehearsals today. Margaret is one of the board members of 1623 as well as a business advisor to the company. She took part in our physical warm up and our focus exercise prior to working on the text once more, and she did it all in heels, a truly remarkable woman. It was a similar experience to when Matthew from Steps for the Future joined us on Tuesday, to watch her face during the running of sections was fascinating, as she connected with our characters and their plights.

We did some intense detailing of the actions and motives of the characters and their lines, why are they saying that? How are they saying that? What are they trying to achieve from that line? People say a picture is worth a thousand words and I believe that a line is worth a thousand thoughts. There are a thousand thoughts that could be behind each individual line and trying to find not necessarily the right one, but the most appropriate one was such a large and important task. One line "is there anything you want me to have?" Could be played as combative, remorseful, an apology, provoking or manipulative and just watching how Gemma (Cordelia) experimented with so many ways by just repeating the lines was exhausting as a spectator. We actually spent roughly 20 minutes discussing and exploring this line alone.

David Henry (Lear) and Gemma Paige North (Cordelia) in discussionAfter lunch we made an attempt at a full run through of the act, and I had goosebumps the entire time. It's crazy how much progress we have made in such a short amount of time. I found that I personally (don't want to tell you what to think of course) had such a hard time watching the act, because I didn't know who to root for! Both of the characters now, as I've said before, are so human and so real that you love them despite and in spite of their flaws. Both Gemma (Cordelia) and David (Lear) are such generous as actors, as I've probably said before, and constantly give their all to whatever section we're covering and handle the content with maturity, care and dignity that it deserves. 

As a last note for this week, it's been an absolute delight. We've made some cracking progress and had a fabulous time doing it that's been peppered with spontaneous Australian accents, innuendos and enough tea to fill a blue whale. What more could you ask for?!

DAY 9 : Thursday 29 September

David Henry (Lear), Gemma Paige North (Cordelia) and Louie Ingham (Director) in discussionI think it's very safe to say that today was... intense. We tackled the ending of the act and how the relationship between Cordelia and Lear is left. Firstly, we read through it and discussed what we thought the objectives of both characters were and their motives behind each line and action. It was interesting how these motives had changed from the first read through, even though we hadn't really worked on these scenes since. The rehearsals had largely focused on the first 3/4 of the act and through these endeavours the characters had almost transformed completely. After conversing about the 'whys' and 'hows' of the sections, we put the script on its feet and explored the moments by running them several times.

It was during one of those moments that I was left astounded, heart broken, in emotional turmoil and basically flabbergasted for lack of a better word. Gemma (Cordelia) took her gut instinct and ran with it, and wow did it have a profound effect. I've never shed a tear in a rehearsal room before but I was essentially crying like a baby whilst watching the final run before lunch. The chemistry between Gemma (Cordelia) and David (Lear) had never been more prevalent than at this moment. Through this moment you felt compassion and heart ache for Lear whilst knowing that he's perfectly flawed and at the same time accepting and forgiving all of his wrong-doings. The realisation was that both of our characters are fundamentally human, and in being human there is both lightness and darkness inside every one of us. Rather
than being saints or sinners, we are a combination of the two, it's a case of AND as opposed to OR. And this is exactly what Gemma and David portray, aided by Farrah Chaudhry's writing.

Cordelia (Gemma Paige North)After a particularly needed lunch break we began right back at the beginning, which seemed like a lifetime ago, adding in detail after detail
and really discovering the room and the movement within it. We'd really worked on how their relationship is depicted vocally, and now we ventured to do the same physically. During this time we also found the difficulties of working with so much set/props (SPOILERS) both for the actors and as an audience member. Trying to find the logic to each movement and action of the character and remembering where certain props are supposed to be for further along in the act proved to be quite difficult and confusing at times, but luckily we managed to get all of our ducks in a row! (Not a spoiler, or a pun I'm afraid, sadly)

Overall, I don't think I've ever been this shattered emotionally, or physically, as of yet in this process at the end of the day and I know I'll definitely sleep well tonight!

DAY 8 : Wednesday 28 September

Today, instead of a warm up or funny anecdote, we started the rehearsal by gathering around a laptop and watching a Ted Talks video. It was of a journalist called Janine do Giovanni discussing her stories she had experienced or been told when she was based in foreign countries, covering the wars that were ravaging them. If you have the chance to watch it, I'd highly recommend it, it might just change your outlook on many things. I'll leave a link to it at the end of this entry. Afterwards, no one knew what to say for a little bit, all quite taken aback by the images she had so easily placed in front of us. We discussed how the world that she was describing was Cordelia's world when she is not in England and it grounded Cordelia's viewpoint on so many things for us as a company.

Lear (David Henry) tries to give Cordelia (Gemma Paige North) a party hat as a mementoAfter this, and our routine warm up, we played a game where we had to throw a small ball between us in time to a piece of music. It's actually a lot harder than it sounds,
you have to judge the distance the ball will travel and adjust the speed you throw it, to make sure you keep the rhythm going. A much lighter feeling was created from the heavy mood we had started with and we all seemed to become one unit, even bobbing to the music at the same time as each other.

The we once more placed our noses to the grindstone and continued putting the script on its feet and worked on some new sections. It's unbelievable how Gemma (Cordelia) and David (Lear) just continually give all of themselves to each scene, nothing is ever done at half effort. Before acting out each section, we sat in a circle and undertook a read through first, then discussing what happens, how it happens and any potential changes we thought needed to take place. Farrah's writing is extraordinary but it's quite common place at times to rework scenes with new writing to find the true voice behind the words.

David Henry (Lear) and Eleanor Field (Set and Costume Designer) during costume fittingsThe afternoon gave priority to wardrobe fittings, where Eleanor (Set and Costume Designer) gave the actors elements of their costumes to try on. This exercise is obviously to make sure that the clothes fit the actors properly, but it's also to make sure that the pictures that Eleanor had in her mind are realised properly when the garments are on the actors. For example, a simple beige skirt can be thought of to be quite casual, but when paired with a white blouse on a certain actor, that look can change to rather formal and office-like. It was scary in a way to see the characters truly coming to life before us in their clothes and seeing how they visually progressed (or in some cases regressed) throughout the entire show.

Link to Janine's talk:

DAY 7 : Tuesday 27 September

I think one of the best things about our rehearsals is that something completely random, hilarious and bonkers always seems to kick off the day, whether it be a song about a trapezium or pretending to play a tuba a cappella. When your topic is so intense and emotionally draining, it's nice to remember that you need to laugh once in a while, and have the opportunity to do so.

Louie Ingham (Director), David Henry (Lear) and Gemma Paige North (Cordelia) discussing the scriptWe began the day that we affectionately dubbed Brutal Tuesday by warming up ourselves individually, and then we got straight back in to work, sectioning the text. Progress on this activity didn't seem to take as long as yesterday and I think that's because now that the company has a rough understanding of the world of Cordelia, it's much easier to place ourselves there and see the events through their eyes collectively.

Before long, a familiar face walked through the door. A charming man from Steps for the Future (a Derby based theatre group for adults with differences) called Matthew appeared, and became a part of our circle. He gained a script and observed the actors as they undertook a final read through of the act, once the sectioning had finished. It was wonderful watching him as he looked on at the performers and his script, to see his face change as the scenes progressed, to go on that emotional journey with Cordelia and Lear.

It was after he had left and I was offered another cup of tea that I knew I'd made a mistake. In the space of two hours I'd had about 3 cups of tea and any caffeine lovers will know what comes next... The caffeine shakes. I looked like an image on a screen that was constantly buffering and jolting. Rule number one in the rehearsal room is look after yourself, for me. It's all very well trying to do as much as you possibly can physically and mentally, and pushing yourself to your limit, but if it renders you unable to 100% be in the moment in the rehearsal room, then it's useless to do so. Looking after your general health comes under this umbrella as well, for example, if you can't handle your caffeine then it's probably not wise to drink 3 cups in as many hours.

Louie Ingham (Director), Lear (David Henry) and Cordelia (Gemma Paige North) putting the script on its feet for the first timeSoon it was time to put the piece on its feet (all that basically means is to get up and act the script rather than sit and read it). It was fascinating to watch Louie work during these first few hours, you could literally see the cogs whirring in her head as she added layer and layer of detail for the actors. She works incredibly collaboratively, not unlike Ben, and really only uses open ended questions when asking the actors about their characters and constantly asked them to play with certain scenarios (for example, Cordelia trying to stay as far away from Lear as possible). This way of working, for me, always produces the best outcome from rehearsals, as the actors get to experiment and play with their characters' process, which I think is fundamental because, it is a play.

We managed to run the act until the half way point, an incredible achievement considering the depth and topic of the script. We all left, I think, with an unspoken agreement that it had been, indeed, a Brutal Tuesday.

DAY 6 : Monday 26 September

So we’re back after a hopefully resting weekend! And we’re back with our second act, Cordelia, directed by Louie Ingham. We all came in and greeted each other like we hadn’t seen each other in ages, not 2 days. It’s quite strange how quickly you all become like a family, when you spend 8 hours a day baring your soul to each other (in the actors’ cases) or receiving those souls.

The Cordelia ScriptWe started the day with a read through of our script, a piece of new writing, which thoroughly excited me. I absolutely adore new writing, those words have never been acted before, in that context, by that character, and you get be a part of that entirely fresh creative process - what isn’t thrilling about that?! It was astounding that even when reading the latest draft for the first time, Gemma (Cordelia) and David (Lear) were able to have us laughing and tearing up within minutes of each other. It was obvious to me that this is the point where we really get to see the true Lear of our play and when you see a man that is flawed and perfect at the same time.

During the day, we engaged in an exercise where we all had to pair off and describe one item that we would save from our house if we had the chance. Once you had done so, you would “swap” objects with your partner, rearrange the pairings and then repeat the exercise. Then at the end, we all illustrated the object we currently had and “returned” it to its rightful owner. I don’t think I need to explain how hilarious some of the re-workings of the original stories were.

Louie Ingham, David Henry and Gemma Paige North discussing the textNot only was it a fun exercise, but it also was quite difficult to pick just one item out of the many hundreds that we undoubtedly own, thus leading us to empathise with Lear... in ways I won’t say because SPOILERS! It was also quite strange to hear another rendition of what your original object looked like, and how it had been contorted, much like many of Lear’s memories, and hit home in ways I don’t think we expected it to when it was advertised to us as fun rather than profound.

What time we had left was dedicated to “sectioning” the script. Roughly, this means breaking down the script in to smaller, more digestible chunks that are much easier to find the meaning in and work with. Once you have done this, you give each section a title, such as “He plays with her”, to remind yourself what the characters are trying to do in that segment. It’s definitely an extensive task, but ultimately, completely necessary, especially in a script where so much is happening between just two characters. Needless to say, we didn’t manage to finish it today!

It was definitely an exhausting day (not unlike the rest), but I can safely say that I am glad to be back and we are definitely hitting the ground running!

DAY 5 : Friday 23 September

David Henry (Lear) and Gemma Paige North (Cordelia) discuss revelations from a hot seating exerciseToday we started off the final rehearsal day of this week with several exercises and games to get our creative juices going. We had to stand in a circle and, saying only one word at a time each, tell a story. Well, as you can imagine, whatever plot there could have been to the story vanished within about 12 seconds. It's actually a lot harder than you think, as you have to remember the context of the words said before you as well as the general storyline! I think, though, we got somewhere along the lines of a woman called Martha, who had a friend that was a clown, really enjoyed pineapples, onions and radishes on toast, but her boyfriend did not... and I'm sure there was something about a storm and it flooding the field they were all standing in... Luckily we didn't have to write the script!

After this, we engaged in an extended amount of hot seating the characters. If you're not sure, that basically means the actor has to improvise whilst in character, and answer questions thrown at them to create a flowing conversation and hopefully discover traits and back story to their character that were previously unknown. It was quite astonishing at how quickly and easily both Gemma and David accomplished this, as it's only really been four days since rehearsals began. You could tell that they were living their characters through their eyes, and delivered truly pure and authentic portrayals in those short ten minutes, where you really empathised with each one of them. 

We managed to complete two stagger throughs throughout the course of the day, including the digital elements again (thankfully, I'm finding that pushing a space bar at the right time is getting easier and easier). Everything just seems to be flowing so smoothly now,
the actors are getting in to the groove and pacing of each scene spectacularly and we're left with an astounding result of roughly 45 minutes of an emotional rollercoaster. You just seem to feel happiness, sadness, anger, frustration, empathy and sympathy (amongst a whole plethora of other emotions) sometimes all at once, and we have Gemma and David to blame for that. I think I'm going to need to keep a packet of Kleenex in my pocket from now on!

Part of the digital aspect mid-run throughAnd so it is that we finish our first week of rehearsals this week. After much laughter, intense emotion and so much tea that I'm surprised I've not become a teapot, we have managed to begin to create a show! We're all going home very tired, both emotionally and physically as the script and topics discussed are particularly taxing. But then again, isn't the best kind of the theatre the one that pushes you and brings you out of any comfort zone you may have had? Roll on Monday!

DAY 4 : Thursday 22 September

Everything started to take a solid form today, firstly we marked up the space in the shape of the stage (where it was discovered quite quickly that I can’t draw a straight line) and we began to add in the digital aspects to the scenes that were filmed on Tuesday. WARNING if you don’t want spoilers then I probably wouldn’t look at any of the pictures if I were you!

Gemma Paige North (Cordelia) and David Henry (Lear) undertaking a warm up exerciseIt began though, with a warm up for the actors and at the same time, gave them the chance to explore the space that resembled the shape and size of future stages.

It probably sounds incredibly weird and silly, but if you don’t know every aspect of the space, it really does hinder your performance and therefore the performance as a whole. The actors sang the song previously rehearsed in the days before, mimicking each other whilst doing so and copying each other’s movements as they moved around the space. It was wonderful to see how easily they moved and almost glided at times, as one around the stage.

A sneak peek at the digital elements of the show with Cordelia (Gemma Paige North), Lear (David Henry) and Goneril (Samantha Hopkins)I was shown, during this, how to trigger the filmed scenes of the play throughout the live acting on stage (SPOILERS – both happen at the same time, like magic!) I tend to repel technology at the best of times, so this was not only a learning curve for myself, but I think a challenge that had many obstacles throughout the day. I never knew that pressing a spacebar could be so difficult, basically. Thankfully though, with each run through, the queues became smoother than the time before. This was particularly lucky because I’m the person to be queuing and triggering the digital elements for the next few rehearsal days.

Yet, when the pieces of the proverbial puzzle slotted together perfectly, it created fantastic moments of tremendous magnificence and a sort of raw moment that if I’m honest, I’m struggling to put in to words. If I could, they were moments where everything seemed to just jell together entirely and the reasoning for undertaking the show in the first place was the most obvious. It was hard to remember at times, that we were looking upon an actor, rather than Lear himself, as David wholly gave himself to a scene without a reservation in sight.

Overall though, I think it’s safe to say that our repeated song, which I’m going to call “The Wind and the Rain”, shall be going round on a loop in my head for the foreseeable future.

DAY 3 : Wednesday 21 September

I'm not sure why our days always start with something funny, but it seems to be a developing trend. This morning we decided to start the day with singing a song my old maths teacher taught me in school to help us find the area of a trapezium. This feels like important information.

Lear (David Henry) and Cordelia (Gemma Paige North) conversing and reminiscingWe then started work on Lear's first speech in the script, and it was intense. David manages to combine so many factors and thought processes in to such a small amount of text, or small rather, when compared to everything that is unspoken in the speech. The vulnerability he showed, even in these early stages of rehearsals, was so genuine and at the same time he was powerful in his violent out bursts and you feared him slightly. These aspects, when combined with the confusion Lear displays in the scene really tugged at my heart strings and felt very close to home for me, with regards to my own personal experiences of being a carer for someone living with the disease.

We also learnt the song today that is prevalent throughout the performance. Imagine Victorian nursery rhyme mixed with a hint of practically any hymn you sung at school and you'll have hit the nail on the head. It's so catchy that I've found myself just humming it throughout the day and I know I'll wake up at 3 am with it whirring around in my head. It ended up with us all singing it as loudly and proudly as we could... Trying to keep the tune of course. Thankfully, it must have sounded good, as we've had several members of staff comment on our lovely singing. Hopefully they were just being polite!

Ben Spiller (Director) giving notes to David Henry (Lear) and Gemma Paige North (Cordelia)We devoted the majority of the day to looking at the scenes that Lear's dementia is most prevalent and the ways in which his dementia affects not only his mental state but the relationship between Cordelia and himself. Many discussions were had about every little detail of blocking and how characters would be feeling and behaving to create scenes that held three dimensional characters with realistic progressions throughout the play. The repetition and rehearsal of these scenes made them almost second nature so quickly.

It was a highly intense and emotional day, and even though we're not (at this stage at least) pulling 14 hour days, I personally felt like I had run a marathon and a half! The vigorous and constant concentration given by the actors and crew for the entire day was both exhausting and extraordinary and meant that we were able to cover everything we had set ourselves to do. I think it's safe to say we will all sleep well tonight!

DAY 2 : Tuesday 20 September

I knew it was going to be a good day when the director, Ben Spiller, opened the door to me whilst adorning a party hat on either side of his head. It was filming day today, where we basically captured all of the digital footage that would be utilised (SPOILERS) throughout the performance was captured.

Forest of tripods!I'd never seen so many cameras or tripods in one place, each serving their own purpose. Each daughter of Lear had their own camera angled solely at her and it was purely wonderful to see their faces close up and reacting as individuals and as one at the same time. Whilst watching the juxtaposition come to life of very emotional scenes being carried out by fully grown women wearing a party hat that at times resembled that of a unicorn, you could feel the electricity reverberate around the room. The incredible emotion portrayed by all three actresses was so intense and it was evident that every heart in the room broke at once in unison, specifically during the crescendos of the script.

As an afternoon warm up, we undertook (myself and director, Ben as well) a small segment of a 60 minute Shakespeare warm up, connecting lines from Shakespeare's works to physical movements. It was a way of warming up that I had never done before and not only was it effective, but was also unavoidably funny at times, especially when we had to be Trojan soldiers, squatting and declaring how strong our muscles were.

My main role during this rehearsal was to note down all of the takes done, to make the editing process as smooth as possible for Darius (our digital artist). Not just what scene and what take, but any differences from the previous take and how long each one was, among other things. That level of detail and constant notation is not something I have done before, and although I took it in my stride, it was definitely something I had to get used to!

Samantha Hopkins (Goneril), Victoria Brazier (Regan), David Henry (Lear) and Gemma Paige North (Cordelia)Needless to say it was a day full of laughter, especially when trying to portray drunken politicians also wearing the aforementioned party hats, laughing about Atticus Hoy's new race horse. Viewing a Tory politician pretending to play his champagne bottle as a guitar to Bon Jovi's greatest hits was definitely one of the highlights!

Unfortunately today is also the day that we said goodbye to two of our actors, at least until opening night. Samantha's (Goneril) and Victoria's (Regan) time with us had been short but in those two days of rehearsals, we had already established some sort of family, coming to know things about each other very quickly, that I would make a terrible spy for one thing, and that Victoria's strengths are not necessarily in rollerblading. It's going to be very strange not having them physically in the rehearsal room, but I'm sure the next few weeks will go so quickly, that it will almost feel like no time has passed until we see them again! One thing can be said though, that they are both a joy to work with and will be sorely missed.

DAY 1 : Monday 19 September

Kate Wood © Laurence FentonI really didn't know what to expect when I walked in to rehearsals today. I haven't been in the rehearsal room for about 9 months and I was worried I’d forgotten everything right down to rehearsal room decorum. Obviously I hadn’t and my nervous mind was put at ease as soon as I met the cast and crew of the show.

After the meet and greets and telling everyone our favourite kind of apple (mine was Empire if you wanted to know, but the majority vote was cast for Pink Ladies), we began a reading of the script. I think that this was the most poignant part of rehearsals today and definitely the most emotive for me.

Lear (David Henry) tests his daughters Goneril (Samantha Hopkins), Regan (Victoria Brazier) and Cordelia (Gemma North)After reading each act, we discussed, praised and challenged the script and upon hearing and being involved in these discussions, it was stirring to know that so many people in the cast and crew had personal experiences with dementia. It made a reality of the widespread reach of the disease and created an unspoken solidarity of private experiences that didn’t need to be voiced to be universally understood as a collective.

The rest of the day was dedicated to diving in to specific scenes (I won’t go in to details because SPOILERS!) and making them come to life. Today was the day that I realised I had the capacity to make a meme. Technology is not my friend at the best of times, and today we had a few spats at one another but ultimately, we kissed and made up and I was able to produce at least four memes. It was genuinely so exciting for me, that I’ve now started making memes out of every silly picture that I can find. I think I’m developing a problem. It was both an exhilarating and exhausting day, but we all left proud of ourselves as we had managed to complete everything on our to-do list and awaiting what the second day will bring.

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