Theatre rehearsals are still relatively new for me, and I take every opportunity I can get to be a part of them. Yesterday was the first rehearsal of Short, Back and Sides at Theatre 503, where I got to meet the two actors – Fiona and Hugh – as well as the director, Tom.
They started with a quick plain read-through, followed by any questions from the actors. Tom set out the system of the rehearsal quite early – they would work on the play between the three of them and only ask me for thoughts/questions/solutions if they were having difficulty. This was partially at my request following an earlier phone call with Tom. I am fascinated by the rehearsal process and enjoy watching other professionals take a piece, run with it, find what works for them in it. That’s when you find out if your writing really holds up, I think.
Run through done, they then worked through individual sections, noting changes in “units” and finding ways to smoothly link between them, before moving on to block out the first half. Seeing it come together, I don’t think I could stop myself from smiling. Though the actors had just met, you could see a relationship forming already and with a low-key two hander like this that feels so important. I cannot wait to see the results.
I’m gutted that I couldn’t make the longer rehearsal at Rich Mix today, but heartened that the actors are taking it upon themselves to meet independently to run lines. This is why I love actors and why I love the arts. Passion flows plain and abundant. My aim in the creative process is to try and give them something worth being passionate about.
Generally, I see now that, at the base of it, theatre rehearsals are mainly a process of contributors offering different ideas with insights from their particular areas of responsibility. Thoughts are pulled, discussed tested, tried – but never rejected straight out. I can imagine this might be maddening and unproductive sometimes, especially if there a lot of egos, but when people are genuinely looking to make a piece stand up and do the best work they can, it’s a beautiful, fearless mode of working.
For my own part, as a writer, I am not too precious with exact lines since I tend to write more with the progression of story/emotional beats in mind. In this sense, I’m not a particularly poetic writer, but I have clear idea of where I want something to go. As such, I am perhaps too quick to let people cut lines, partly because I am generally of the opinion most drama is overwritten anyway and partly because I trust an actor’s instinct on a line over my own. There was one instance yesterday where an actor was having difficulty with a fairly extraneous line and I was happy to let it get the chop. However, curiously, the other actor gave their reasons for suggesting the line stayed and they were actually completely right. I felt a bit silly about that and realised that by not knowing my script backwards and the reason behind every line, especially since I’d written most of it a while back, I was not preparing as thoroughly as I should’ve done. There’s absolutely no reason that the process of prepping for rehearsal should be less rigorous for the writer, and I won’t let that happen again.
So in summary, my main take away lessons are: Be happy to let others play with your writing, but trust that you’ve written words for a reason (though knowing why is better) and attempt to get those words to work before taking a decision to lose them.