Monday, 22 February 2010

Rehearsal report 8

A four hour session to work on ‘Nature Nurture’

We begin with improvisation exercises. This time the emphasis is on getting the three performers comfortable with spontaneously trying out ideas in given situations and also bouncing off each other to generate exchanges.

We then go into character using an exercise called ‘Fast Food Laban’ where we establish how the character moves and which part of the body leads. I ask the performers to come together to make a family photograph where the status of the characters and their relationships to each other can be ascertained by their posture and positioning. Then I ask them to tell me their story.

We undertake some deeper character work. I ask the performers to spend some time summarising their character biography. We’ve already had a lot of discussion about character and the family’s situation, but I want to formalise this and to glean as much as I can from the performers to get the greatest possible sense of their view on their characters.

We share the biography work. I enjoy all of the interpretations of the characters and the small stories that emerge, Arnold’s attempted escape when he was eighteen, how Frank used to walk Jean to work when she had a job at the post office, Frank’s relationship with his parents and the fact that his father died before he had chance to show them that he could produce children. We now have a collective understanding of this family’s sadness.

I ask the performers to go back into character, gather them together for the family portrait again and again, ask them to tell their story. The performers are familiar with the exercise, having tried it out already, and are now further furnished with story to recount to us because we’ve developed this to a fixed state. The speaking family portrait is recorded on dictaphone and filmed. I really enjoy the quality of the story telling, it has a candid tone, like ‘creature comforts’, it is suggestive of the story and the situation without giving too much away and the body language of the characters is telling. The speaking family portrait could feature in the presentation of the work should we want to use it.

Next I ask the performers to set up an improvisation. I ask them to create their status quo, the world they inhabit. The family have spoken about the routine, I ask them to establish the routine, to demonstrate how it works. I leave the room so they can begin the improvisation and immerse themselves in the family’s world.

I return ten minutes later and am delighted by what I find. The family exists! It has a way of existing and a way of communicating and exchanging. There are charged silences. It is banal but it is very engaging. A fascinating world has been created. The improvisation continues for ten minutes. I record it all on my dictaphone to transcribe for the next rehearsal.

In story construction it is typical to disrupt a status quo to generate a dramatic situation. I attempt to disrupt the status quo by delivering a postcard (which is signed ‘love from Frank jnr’ their deceased son).

Frank rips the first postcard to shreds which is striking and could be read in many ways. Of course, the audience wouldn’t know what was written on the postcard so its arrival injects a certain amount of mystery for the audience and Jean is straining to see what has happened.

Status quo resumes. I had hoped that the postcard interruption would make more of an impact on the status quo. Possibly need to facilitate this kind of thing better in the future.

I send another postcard. This time Frank takes it to the table and Jean is party to the information. Frank and Jean respond to the postcard ‘who would do this?’

A kind of status quo resumes but something has changed. Arnold has started to ‘act up’, to become demanding. He is curious about the postcard and he sets about trying to find out what it’s all about and trying to get access to Jean without Frank being present. Although he is submissive, he also has control. Various scenes take place in various locations (toilet, bedroom, bathroom) where Arnold experiments with this control.

Lots of material is generated through this long form improvisation which has been recorded on dictaphone and will be transcribed for next session, potentially offering a framework/structure for the piece. 

Lessons learned are to pay attention to what the actors are doing, saying, behaving towards each other rather than looking for story. This is a devising process rather than a written one and trying to impose a writing structure in this context is counter-productive.  Devising is more about teasing out what’s there.

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