Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Playwriting, Editing, Techs... and Knitting

Sunday was the first day of tech-ing for ‘Brightest and Best’. It was also - I realised with mixed feelings - almost 23 years since my first similar experience, for the Barnes Theatre Company’s production of The Mermaid some time in the last century. The BTC was run by Anne Carroll - one of the most inspiring theatre-people I’ve ever met. It was just a youth drama group, but those early experiences are still the ones I measure everything against. Techs were magical at the church hall on Kitson Road, and I vividly remember coming through the doors the weekend before the show to find Coeks and Darrol suspended up ladders, fixing lights and painting flats. That’s where I fell in love with theatre.

The first day in the ‘space’ is also the moment I revert to theatre geek. I find it incredibly exciting to look around me and see everyone locked into some kind of activity: Helen engrossed behind her sound desk; Eliot attempting to design an improvised window effect with a hi-tech lighting board and square of black cardboard; Ali – seconds earlier hanging by her fingertips from the rafters of the rehearsal room – now dressing the set; Will and Hetty trying costumes for the first time; Anna and Nadia… knitting.

But what struck me most in Sunday’s epic eleven-hour call was that it felt like just another form of writing, or at least an evolution of that process - the high speed making and unmaking of decisions (blocking, sound and lighting levels, props…) just another act of (physical) editing.

Something that has also been incredibly important for Natalie is the idea of spaces, or gaps. On one level, that’s been about filling in the world of the play. Just as a playwright develops the back-story that belongs outside the play, she and the cast have done amazing work to discover what the audience never sees. What Daisy Gibson looks like, for example? Or what happened when Terry was chased round the biology lab with a scalpel?

But even more significant has been the discovery of what happens between scenes. ‘Scene change rehearsals’ have been a major part of the process, and not just for practical reasons of slickness, etc., but because they form an integral part of the drama. So much of the storytelling exists in these liminal moments of change and transition. It’s in seeing these that I get to witness the expression of ideas that have been explored in detail during rehearsals. It’s made me more aware than ever that a play isn’t theatre until it’s in performance, and that this transformation is much more profound that simply a movement from page to stage. In fundamental respects, the direction has just been a continuation of the process I began with pen and paper.

And the process isn’t over yet. We just about got to the end yesterday, but now’s the day of the dress rehearsal.

Then, tomorrow, we’ll be in front of an audience for the first time.


(This is a cross posting with Natalie's website and the official BB blog - with lots of information about the show and the company: http://www.natalieibuwashere.co.uk/Natalie_Ibu_Was_Here/BB_Blog.html)