Thursday, 18 February 2010

Rehearsal report 6

It has been over a week since the cast of ‘Nature Nurture’ met for a workshop/rehearsal but I have been thinking about the piece in their absence. There are questions that I am still not able to answer about the family dynamics and I aim to tackle these in the rehearsal room . However, I don’t feel fully equipped to facilitate exploration of these through improvisation exercises. I realise that to improve process for the future I should learn more about workshops and improvisations to find/access what I need to develop the script.

I consult Dean who I know has a lot of experience in delivering and participating in improvisation workshops and he makes various suggestions that I take on board.  I’m aware that some practice is required for improvisation to flow. It’s not something that can be just switched on when required. There is an inner ‘self censor’ that inhibits spontaneity and make improvisation frightening and difficulty. This ‘self censor’ has to be overridden and performers need to feel safe for the ideas to flow and for the improvisations to reach their potential.

I prepare various improvisation exercises to warm us up (articulation alphabet, emotional mirror, name the monster, and blind gift)and further exercises that are more specific to my aims (ie gathering material/information about the family dynamic).

We get through the warm up exercises in 25 minutes and we’re all looser as a result of participating in these. It seems strange to then get the performers to all sit round a table and to improvise the routine of a communal meal when we’re revved up with physical energy, but I don’t see any other way to direct the rehearsal/workshop towards what I want to achieve. I leave the room while the cast work on this improvisation. I do this because I want them to feel a sense of ownership over the work, and while I’m in the room watching them, there is a sense that I will guide or direct them. I know that I need them to generate material for me to shape, so it’s important that they feel that they can take the lead.

I return in ten minutes and am presented with the banal atmosphere I was hoping for, though surprisingly lots of conversation and a sense of narrative. The performers naturally gravitate towards some kind narrative logic to their conversation and relationships.

I coach as I am watching. Suggest ‘mantras’ that pass through their minds as they are improvising to see how these affect the mood of the improvisation. Initially everyone chants the same mantra in their subconscious  and then I get individuals to take different mantras. We also try out a few status changes.

Next I gather the group together to make sure that they are aware of the developments that have gone on for me in their absence. These are notes about firm decisions that have been made about the characters and their circumstances. I also highlight the questions that need to be answered. I had expected that we would then revisit the meal time routine and explore the family relationship in that context and also look at the other improvisation games I had prepared, but instead we seek to answer various questions about Arnold, and we move into more hotseating.

It seems that Arnold is the key to unlock the story. Why oh why does he stay? Ok, he’s wearing a straight jacket and tied to a chair (and possibly also gagged), but we’re not convinced that that’s even enough of a reason to prevent him from leaving the miserable situation we’ve put him in. We’ve always spoken of the fact that he can free himself from his restraints should he choose to!  Dean refers to caged animals who, when their cage door is left open, remain in the cage because they are unsure of what lies beyond. Pete speaks of cults where members are free to leave, but choose to remain, even when they are subjected to oppressive regimes.  

We establish at which stage the family’s current circumstances began. I had always envisaged that from birth, the Arnold character would have been overprotected and that his life had always been abnormal. However, when we begin to hot seat, Arnold recounts happy childhood memories. I ask if there has been an incident that has triggered the situation as we find it and we agree that something has happened at some point. This harks back to the monologues that were used in the casting session, which hinted at an incident, that I had dismissed (because in that version of the story it was Arnold who was dysfunctional and I realised that it was more interesting if it were the parents who were dysfunctional).

Of course I’m aware that there should always be an inciting incident in a story, but I am looking for an inciting incident in the more immediate story (ie what we’re actually going to show through the text) where the immediate status quo is threatened and am probably not giving the back story enough attention. I’m really glad that the cast guide me back to this point.

Collectively we identified an incident/accident from the past that is shaping the present. We agree that Arnold wouldn’t have actually done anything wrong but that it would be perceived by his parents that he has, and that something disastrous (or relatively disastrous in the family’s world) is his fault. This blame (used as emotional blackmail) and the subsequent guilt that Arnold experiences is what perpetuates the situation, what keeps him, and the family in stasis; they are unable to move on, and the parents are not facing up to their own responsibility in the disaster.

Dean described an experience from his own life where when he pushed for freedom, he was granted the freedom in an emotionally blackmailing way (ie ‘well, if that’s what you want, go then’). This really rang true to us all as well and we saw this as a way of bringing about the tension of his being able to leave (permitted and able to free himself from his restraints) but not being able to leave at the same time (because of his own guilt/fear of what would happen if he went).

Further discussion takes place about the relationship between Frank and Jean and we conclude that they are very much a double act (initially I had suggested that Jean was rather controlled by Frank).  I have researched emotional blackmail and identified various types of emotionally blackmailing personalities, so I feel able to write both characters this way.

We conclude by examining a text that I have prepared to demonstrate my approach to scripting the piece. What I have written is rhythmic direct address story telling that introduces the given circumstances very rapidly. The text reads well and the performers respond positively to it, though Tanja suggests that the denseness (monologue speeches, lots of lists and alliteration) might be broken up by ‘lighter’ dialogue exchanges, pauses and silences. I am in agreement with Tanja.

I feel that we achieve a lot through the discussion that occurs and that it is necessary for it to take place. I am most grateful to the performers who seem ‘raring to go’ with the physical/practical for having patient with the more cerebral process.  I think the improvisation warm up that we did, and the exercise where I left the room have really helped with the group dynamics, even though we didn’t draw upon improvisation skills in the session.

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