This week work began on the second component of 'Elephant in the Room', 'Mother and I', a two hander that explores the nature of denial in addiction (alcoholism in this case) as experienced by 'Lucinda' and her daughter 'Fiona'.
Ruth and I begin rehearsal/workshops in the absence of the other actress required for the piece. I have held back from casting the role so far because I haven't been able to find the combination of youthfull appearance and mature performance style that I am looking for. This combination seems necessary as Ruth is ageing up 23+ years to play 'Lucinda', so it seems sensible to find an actress who looks younger to play her daughter.
At the casting session I requested that attendees bring character appropriate footware. This was for two reasons. Firstly because it would give me a sense that the performer and I were singing from the same hymn sheet regarding the character, and secondly because footware assists in movement and the physicality of the performance. Character research into Lucinda continues along this vein with myself researching the kind of shops where the character would find her clothing etc. and identifying various outfits and shoes for her to demonstrate to Ruth (and Designer Hannah) how 'Lucinda' should appear. Prior to the rehearsal/workshop I had set Ruth off on the task of finding a soundtrack for Lucinda and Ruth had found that this required her to dig deeply into the character's given circumstances. Ruth came to rehearsal equipped with a substantial back history.
We discuss the back history. We considered Lucinda's social status as Ruth and I have differing views. I had imagined Lucinda to come from a 'well to do' upper middle class family, but Ruth thinks that she would have been from a step slightly lower and climbed socially on marrying her first husband (and cut off her own family after meeting him). Initially I am unsure but realise that Ruth has discovered a real character truth, this is one of the underlying factors in Lucinda's problems and is representative of what is at the core of Lucinda, the fact that she doesn't feel she is good enough. This is also a whole level of denial that I hadn't considered. The denial that underpins the addiction in the first place. The addiction as an avoidance strategy, which is then itself denied. - lesson learned here, try not to stick too ridgidly to 'story' or perception of characters at the start, more work towards a theoretical/thematic/exploritory aim, in this case 'how can denial in addiction be best represented'.
We also consider the family dynamic and the mother daughter relationship between the two characters, the relationship between Lucinda and her first husband, and her new relationship with her second husband. We think about Lucinda in the present day and what some of the struggles with her new lifestyle in the states might be like. We discuss her love of growing tomato plants (another diversion, healthier than drinking, but an avoidance strategy never the less and possibly a light hearted conversation topic used to disarm/divert when cross examined about her behaviour and drinking).Then we set about on an improvisation. I had intended that this would be an exploration of a morning after some extreme behaviour from Lucinda, but we realise that first we needed to work out what has happened the night before. So we change our plan and 'hot seat' Lucinda in a drunken and incoherent state. This is very effective.
'I miss Marks and Spencers', 'no one walks anywhere in the states, not even to the bottom of their own gardens to mow the lawn, they have 'sit in' lawn mowers', 'i'm always very very polite', 'and all i do is sit there (drinks)', 'i don't want to play bridge, it's a slippery slope to old age' (more denial here, denial of her ageing and more sedentary lifestyle), 'Gerald doesn't understand, he thinks I should be happy in 'the land of opportunity', 'there's nothing for me in England now' etc. etc.
From Ruth's performance it becomes evident that a younger looking actress isn't as essential. Ruth's manerisms and vocal tones are extremely convincing of a mature woman. With this in mind I am able to reconsider casting someone who has the right performance quality for the 'Fiona' character but who isn't the fresh faced 21 year old that I had originally thought was necessary.
We quickly visit this actress and confirm that she is entirely appropriate to play 'Fiona'. Sarah Lou will join us at our next rehearsal/workshop on Thursday.