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Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The Passion: Week Three into Four

It's starting to get a bit crazy in Passionland, as the rehearsals step up a gear, with more calls, books down and the addition of layers.  Oh, for the love of layers.  The first few weeks of rehearsals were mostly about getting the words right, sorting out the moves and then repeating them a week later to make sure they still made sense.  Now the rehearsals become something more detailed.  I don't have to repeat basic instructions anymore, we can discuss character, build on what has gone before, add layers; layers of meaning to the words, layers of technique to performance, layers of physicality - making sure that the company is performing in the same style.
To do this I am rehearsing with many of the company separately of our regular dates, one-to-one sessions where I can get to the nub of what that actor needs to give the best performance without the distraction of twenty plus other people in the room.

Thursday 31st May 2012.  The Auditorium.  7.30pm.  Last Supper and Betrayal.

For the first half of this rehearsal I split the conspiracy scenes with Annas and Caiaphas from the Last Supper so that they could rehearse simultaneously.  After an hour of work on the Last Supper we brought these two sections, that run as inter cut scenes, together to see how they flowed.  I also threw a few costumes at people, academic gowns and surpluses for the priests and doctors which, barring the hem on Caiaphas, worked well.  We also sorted out some detail on the arrest of Jesus, the section where Peter attacks one of the soldiers and, with a judicious use of slow motion, made that work.

Friday 1st June 2012.  The GKR.  7pm.  Judas.
The first one-to-one session with the cast, working on character and physicality.  We really got stuck into Judas, his sense of shame and guilt, of being in way beyond his depth, of his fear, and created the physical expression of this.  We also touched on Joseph of Arimathea, who is in our version Scottish and it suits him very well. 

Sunday 3rd June 2012.  The Jetty.  Act Two.  Crucifixion to Resurrection.

It was a slightly frustrating rehearsal as a couple people were not available, but we did iron out all the moves and had another detailed attack on the crucifixion scene, where the dialogue has to flow well as any delay causes problems.  Then we played around with the final scenes, the resurrection and doubting Thomas. 

Tuesday 5th June 2012.  The Quay.  6pm.  Annas and Caiaphas.
The second session away from the rest of the cast, this time touching on the words and physicality of our high priests.  Lengthy discussions of tone, how grotesque these people should be, how their relationship works.  Annas is the clever one, the one who works through the law; Caiaphas is a borderline psychopath who only wants Jesus dead, via as much torture as possible.  The two have the same mission statement, just very different approaches.  Their arguments and squabbles serve an important moral purpose in the plays - their confusion and rage, blackly comic as it is, is there to contrast with the quiet dignity of Jesus.  Many 'evil' characters of the Corpus Christi plays, and the medieval period generally (the Vices), have this characteristic.  They are all sweetness and light until something gets in their way, then it's an immediate tantrum and their mask is thrown aside.  The difficulty for us is to get the balance right, to show them as absurd, not play up to it for laughs.

Tuesday 5th June 2012.  The Auditorium.  7.30pm.  Act Two.  The Trial.
Straight on from the character work I throw Annas and Caiaphas into their biggest scenes. However, pleased as I was with the improvements to the performances they were upstaged somewhat by a. a creeping curtain and b. the chorus of "ra"s.  This rehearsal - the last before books down - is to be forever known as the "ra, ra, ra" rehearsal, primarily because it was concerning a lot of chorus business.  Hence lots of reaction noises to speeches, most of them sounding a lot like "ra".  Any fans of The Prisoner will be proud.  Unfortunately, at a moment when I wanted the crowd to react to a piece of violence, rather than a profound cry of "O!" in the manner of a classically trained Shakespearean, instead I got an "Ooooah" which more properly should have been followed by the word "Matron!"  It was a little difficult to continue for a moment as the spectres of Kenneth Williams and Larry Grayson wandered through my rehearsal.
It was my own fault of course, I asked the chorus to make noises from behind a curtain, a plastic-semi-see-through curtain, which meant that though I could sort of see them I couldn't see precisely what they were up to.

Wednesday 6th June 2012.  The GKR.  7pm.  Jesus.
Quite an important one-to-one rehearsal, tackling the interpretation of Jesus.  The text is fairly clear on this, for the most part it is a re-structured version of the Bible and, barring the odd passage from other sources, is straight out of the gospels.  This has meant that Jesus is something of a blank slate, a walking, talking statue who speaks words and doesn't emote much - and a lot of the time this is very effective, the audience is invited to relay onto him their interpretation.  Some moments, especially as we get closer to his passion, require emotion, require something more.  The Agony in the Garden and the Crucifixion itself are moments where fear and pain are necessary - though he is the son of God he is a man made flesh and so goes through all the hardship a man would.  We worked on the Last Supper and the Agony in this rehearsal, working through the text, talking, running exercises - on Sunday these will be put into practice.

Thursday 7th June 2012.  The Jetty.  7.30pm.  Beginning Act One - backwards and books down.

An aside...
Thursday 7th June this year is where the feast of Corpus Christi rests, the date when many of these plays were performed.  This varied as it was a movable feast, tied to Easter earlier in the year, so sometimes it appears in very late June.  That said, the plays weren't always performed on the day itself.  Just because they were known as the plays of Corpus Christi didn't mean they had to fall exactly on the date itself, like the Diamond Jubilee weekend fell on the Queen's official birthday rather than either of the possible dates for the start of her reign (on the death of her father or on her coronation).  Sometimes people have asked me why The Passion is on in July rather than Easter and the reply is simple - these kinds of things, prior to their banning, never did.  It was always a summer event, partly because it was outdoors and partly because it became semi-tied up with a summer feast.  This production is tied between two black holes of social activity - the Jubilee and the Olympics - which would overshadow in a bad-for-box-office way the whole affair.  We only just skirt shy of Wimbledon and various other distractions that drive people away from theatre.  And, more importantly, July is where the free slot for Sudbury Dramatic Society shows fell. 

But back to rehearsals.  Books down - aways a feared phrase and always a difficult time, especially when you haven't given the cast much time to repeat their scenes in rehearsal.  The cast dealt with it very well, squeezing out lines sometimes painfully slowly but out they came.  The next two weeks of rehearsals will all be run backwards, i.e. starting with the last scene first, then the second to last followed by the last, then the third to last followed by the second to last then the last and so on.  This way many scenes are repeated and people are running into scenes they know increasingly well, not increasingly vaguely.  It was also because I had a number of the cast absent who were all in the first scene, so no point starting at the top.

Sunday 10th June 2012.  My home.  9am.  Recording links.

During the interval of the show there is to play over in the bar and auditorium a fake radio station, playing mostly music, but inter cut with news items about the arrest of Jesus.  It's part of my idea that the show just doesn't end, it starts before curtain up and may not let up until after the close.  This is the only part of the show in modern English, I just couldn't find anything close enough in the original to use for the device, so the text is simply my attempt at media-ese.  So, Peter Morris, our friendly sound man turned up at my home and I built my Heath Robinson sound booth and I did a not quite Alan Partridge DJ impression, complete with twitter updates.  After all this trouble I doubt anyone will even notice - too busy eating ice cream.  But at least I can say that, if I only edited (rather than wrote) the play, I did write the interval.

Sunday 10th June 2012.  The Jetty.  11am.  Finishing Act One - still backwards.

A limited cast call, just the major players in the scenes.  Mostly it was a case of introducing Satan into the action of the scenes as, due to a scheduling issue, we hadn't managed to do this yet.  Have noticed one minor issue that occasionally names are going astray.  Judas was called Judith a few times, or was called Jesus instead.  In the latter case the actor in question didn't notice, so each time had to be stopped.  On the third time the whole cast was chanting "Judas" at them.  Quite surreal.

So, now we've got another week of rehearsals with books down, working the show in chunks, before we start running it an Act at a time.  In theory, we'll have time each rehearsal to run the half and do an hours work on detail.  And then it's time for full runs... and then it's tech, dress, curtain up.  It's four weeks to go, a whole month of work to make this show into something people will remember for a long time.  And the schedule for the coming week is even more gruelling than the last two.

Jesus and his disciples

The Entry into Jerusalem

Judas sells his master, the Last Supper continuing behind

Request to Pilate to bury Jesus...

The Burial of Jesus

The Burial of Jesus... complete

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