Friday, 12 February 2010

Rehearsal report 4

Prior to rehearsal I meet with Dan Bye, a theatre writer and director from the region, to find out about his writing/devising process. This conversation is affirming; Dan describes a couple of different approaches and I pick up a few practical tips about how to shape improvisation and how to use it to its best advantage ('coach' the improvisation by calling things out to the performers or by writing them notes when only one character needs to make a change or be privileged with knowledge that the other characters aren't party to, tell the performers that its ok to 'fail', and to be aware that sometimes seeing things that don't work can illuminate as to how things will work). Dan also reminded me of a story 'rule' that I had temporarily forgotten, that the stakes have to be high and that it has to be of life or death importance (or mean that much to the characters) for the audience to really engage with the story. Thanks to Dan for generously giving up his time and sharing his experience with me.
So, I go into the 'Mother and I' rehearsal/workshop considerably boosted and reassured that I'm not insane for going into rehearsals without a script. I realise that I am further along in the process than I am giving myself credit for.
Sarah Lou joins Ruth and myself for rehearsals, having taken on the role of 'Fiona'. We spend some time filling Sarah Lou in on the back story that Ruth has developed for 'Lucinda' as well as giving her a more detailed premise of the story we are attempting to tell. We talked about their relationship, the fact that Lucinda would hand Fiona over to someone else (her grandmother) when she became challenging (though just the usual challenges, terrible twos etc) and that Fiona was very self sufficient, having been an only child and isolated by her mother's emotional distance from her. We thought that Fiona would be entirely comfortable with Lucinda's presence in her home as a result, and a little bit bewildered and unsure by her interest in her since her father (Lucinda's husband) had died and her mother had remarried and moved away to the states.
We are all in agreement that Fiona is a 'pressure cooker' character who puts up with a lot and says very little but when pushed to the limits will explode.
Then we think about raising the stakes. We asked how bad had it got for Lucinda (and consequently Fiona, the protagonist)? Recent incidents to indicate the extent of Lucinda's drink problem include :
- getting a taxi to the airport and trying to buy a flight (no luggage with her), the airport realising her drunken state and alerting the police who then had to contact Fiona for her to be collected from the station after being cautioned for being 'drunk and disorderly'.
- going to the old family home having forgotten that she no longer lives there, going inside and being aggressive to the people who now live there (them recognising her and handling with care and contacting Fiona rather than Police to come to get her).
- getting excessively drunk on flight to UK and wetting herself on plane, having to be assisted by cabin crew.
- being flirtatious/suggestive/inappropriate with Fiona's husband.
- violence & aggression, uninhibited behaviour.
I describe how I see a scene where Fiona attempts to confront her mother about the behaviour working. Silence on the part of Fiona and a lot of talking from Lucinda, apparently unaware of what's gone on the night before and Fiona's simmering anger, making comments about the newspaper or other general trivia. Eventually Fiona is no longer able to keep quiet, a comment from Lucinda, some kind of button pushing criticism, sets her off and we learn the full fury of Fiona's resentment and parts of the back story are revealed.
We set about an improvisation, not to explore the scene as I see it, but to explore the relationship between the two actresses and the two characters. What I've said about the stakes being high has filtered through and it's exciting to watch, we start with a very direct confrontation 'So, do you want to talk about last night?' and the level of intensity is high. Lines that I particularly liked during this exchange were :
Fiona 'Yeah, why not, let's just brush everything under the carpet and go to 'Marks and Spencers'
Lucinda 'I'm only trying to help'
Fiona 'I'd just like to spend some time with my mother'
Fiona 'You don't show people who 'you' are'
Fiona 'You don't change, do you mum?'
Fiona 'I'm sick and tired of having to defend you to my husband, he doesn't want you in this house'
Lucinda 'Your husband wants me off the scene for reasons other than those you're admitting to'
Lucinda (whispering)'This time you've taken it too far'
Lucinda 'Then bloody well behave like one'
Lucinda 'I'm having a drink because of what you're doing to me'
Then the intensity dropped and Lucinda and Fiona began to get on well, so I stopped the improvisation.
We go back to the improvisation and this time Lucinda works harder to deflect Fiona's direct confrontation, bringing up Fiona's failings and making statements that upset Fiona. This improvisation is even more intense and even more engaging and Ruth's strategy of having Lucinda attempt to disarm Fiona through criticism is very effective. I record this exchange on my dictaphone.
I ask how low Lucinda will go. We begin to talk about what kind of mental state Lucinda should be in in her drunken state and in her morning after state and about Lucinda's status. We realise that the status play for Lucinda is very complex. I want to explore this further through improvisation but Ruth feels that it would be more constructive for her to have a text to work with so that we can work through status and different types of drunkenness/mental states without her having to think about a logical dialogue.
We conclude the rehearsal/workshop with a plan to undertake further research into the behaviour and mental states of alcoholics, for me to look into the chapter on status in 'Impro' by Keith Johnstone and for me to generate a text that can be used to explore the elements above at the next workshop/rehearsal.
Observations on writing this report are that Lucinda is a very complex antagonist. We have to understand Lucinda implicitly for Fiona to be equipped to disarm her.

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