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Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Passion: Week One

At last, it has begun: the biggest production I've ever staged, the most ambitious, the longest prepared.  The Passion is, arguably, some six years in the making in terms of inspiration - though in practical terms I've only been planning this production for two years.  (What's two years?)  We had a read through a few weeks ago, in the bar (a most civilised way to read a script) of the Quay Theatre and last week we began in earnest.  Here's the first week in prose, pictures and video.

Sunday 13th May 2012.  11am.  The Jetty.  Act One - first five scenes.

The first rehearsal was part muck about, part company get together, part workshop, part... well an actual rehearsal (I told people where to stand and everything).  We started with a few exercises, just to warm people up and introduce a few techniques which, time permitting, will be used in the show.  The cast is currently standing at 26 people, which means getting everyone together, getting them to work together as a unit, is very important... and incredibly difficult.  In thirty minutes of exercises we made a start - then I threw them into the play.
The text of the play is my edit of lots and lots of material from the Corpus Christi Plays which were performed in late medieval England.  It's full of weird words, rhyme, energy, humanity, humour and great sadness.  I have, for the most part, not re-worded anything - just rearranged the material into a single play.  However, I couldn't resist adjusting one little bit to create a mobile phone warning at the beginning of the show.  Naturally, God asks the audience to switch off their mobile phones (see video, below).
We didn't go into detail with the text, as the video for that rehearsal shows, I mostly ordered people around - stand here, do this, pull down imaginary objects - so that there is a lot of running around and little detail.  Detail comes later.
The most important thing to me, as a director, was to make sure the first rehearsal was fun, active and gave everyone the sense of the show.  I think the video carries that across.

Tuesday 15th May 2012.  7.30pm.  The Auditorium.  Annas & Caiaphas in Act One.

Ignore the plastic sheet - it will not hang so...
The next rehearsal was a very different beast, as we were rehearsing with a smaller selection of the cast, working more on the words of the text than on spectacle.  But we were also rehearsing in the Auditorium of the Quay, the biggest space we have, because the scenes we were rehearsing moved to all corners of the space.  In emulation of the original open air plays this is a production that will burst from the seems of the stage, out into the auditorium, into the foyer, the bar... in fact, though the play starts on stage at 7.45pm, the production will begin around the Quay from about 7.25pm.  More on that in a future blog.
The scenes we were rehearsing were the conspiracy scenes - the plot to get Jesus by the local leaders Annas and Caiaphas, aided by a couple of busy bodies Doctor 1 and 2.  (Doctor 1 and 2 are terrible names for characters, especially as they are rather interesting figures in the play, but I can't really start calling them Gerald and Frank now).  These scenes, short, cut into the action featuring Jesus (specifically the Last Supper) in the second half of the first act - so that as we watch Jesus we are constantly aware of the threat against him.  The two plot strands then come together for the betrayal in the garden - with Judas' betrayal. 
Judas gets his spotlight - just before his end.
The rehearsal was also my first chance to test out materials for the set.  We're planning a fair amount of projection / shadow play throughout the play - so it's important to find material which is thick enough to be opaque in normal lighting, see through (ish) with bright directed light.  So, in the photos you will see a rather ugly bit of sheeting hanging limply from a washing line.  It will not look like that. 

Thursday 17th May 2012.  7.30pm.  The Jetty.  Jesus in Act One.

Looks let sinister when they're moving.
Back in the Jetty for another full cast call - though this was a more fragmented, workman-like affair.  We worked through the odd scenes (as opposed to the even numbered scenes) of the second half of Act One - featuring the Entrance to Jerusalem (which involved a fair amount of waving fists in the air - which looks fine live, but as a photo looks much less innocent), the Last Supper and the Agony in the Garden.  I was delighted to find that I actual had enough disciples for the Last Supper - I wasn't sure, with the doubling, I could get everyone together for the scene.  Unlike the Da Vinci/western art tradition of the Last Supper as being round a big table, ours is a more informal affair.  These are modest people who've been working together through difficult conditions, they are aware of great danger, they are having their Passover supper at a friends house - so a big banquet this is not.
Just say no to Python
Judas, naturally enough, turned up to rehearsal wearing a Monty Python t-shirt.  It will not feature in the show.
At various times in the rehearsal I sent away to work on smaller scenes / speeches separately.  With 20 to 30 people in the cast there are always moments when people aren't needed, so it's really helpful to get the most out of the time.  Today the Angel Gabriel worked with my glamorous assistant on speeches and the Doctors ran a little scene we'd started on Sunday - adding some nice detail, a few little moves.
As a director I do think it's important to try and get people to try things out away from me, to feel free enough to surprise me.  I love surprises.  I like to see people try out other ideas and at this stage there is nothing to be gained by being precious.  Try it out - if I don't like the idea, I can always say after ward.  Of course, saying this doesn't mean it always happens, but I do try to be open.  By week five I will be mostly focusing on getting it as rehearsed... but that's when we've gone over everything several times and the show will have formed itself into a clear shape.
Oh, and here's the snippets of video from Tuesday and Thursday.

And so, after a week, we have gone over the whole of the first half.  Now, baring the odd little look back, we go into the more somber Act Two.

Sunday 20th May 2012.  10am.  The Quay.  Act One, reprise of opening.

An early morning call to rehearse the back projection and shadow play for the opening of the show - as God delivers his opening oration, his thoughts appear on the curtain.  We covered this briefly the previous Sunday, but now was a chance to have a bit of a play.  It was a chance to see how effectively we could show Mary become pregnant and give birth as a shadow play, and to see whether Adam and Eve would work as shadow puppets.  Unfortunately I hadn't created proper rehearsal puppets for this rehearsal, so we just worked out the basic shape of the scene - fortunately, after the rehearsal I had a brainwave that would have negated the kind of puppet I'd planned anyway. 

11.30am.  The Jetty.  The Crucifixion.

Up till now the rehearsals, and the play, have been fairly light; this rehearsal was for the crucifixion and so was serious.  We went through the text carefully, we blocked the scene, we discussed the risk assessment.  From the first moment this production came to me I have been wrestling with the pragmatics of this most difficult act - how to raise, safely, a cross, with someone on it.  This rehearsal was about the text, primarily, we only talked about how the lifting will go ahead.  Next Sunday the cast will work with the cross itself and in the space - but without anyone on it.  Only once we know the precise dynamics of raising the object will we move onto the person. 

And so ends the first week of rehearsals - I'm off now to break into the second week, with another seven to go before the curtain goes up.  I hope you'll stay with us and follow our progress.  The next blog will be about the run up to this production and a little background to the plays themselves.  Till next time, enjoy the rest of the rehearsal photos below.

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