Local Director Emily Adams has spent the past few months popping into the Table rehearsal room to observe how our Associate Director Zoë Waterman has brought the play from script to stage for its regional premiere. Here, she blogs about her time at the New Vic…
Observer Mondays – The Art of Discovery
My second time in the rehearsal space for Table I had the opportunity to observe ‘creative problem solving’; a necessary part of any rehearsal process. Every play throws up its own questions be it staging, character intentions or effects. The New Vic is in the round, which is a fantastic space for storytelling but as the original production of Table was performed ‘on a large, low platform, surrounded by audience on three sides’ there are going to be stage directions which no longer translate in the New Vic space. This issue became clear as the actors work a scene based in the commune. A very tense scene with high emotion, the script quickly sets out that there are two spaces at play; one inside where the character Gideon and his family are and one outside where they move to have more heated discussions away from Gideon’s child. It was great to watch Zoe, the director, and the cast work out this spatial dynamic together. Zoe is collaborative in her approach and it takes a distinct lack of ego to work in this way. It is lovely to watch. There is nothing more freeing than for an actor to hear, “let’s try this and see what works”. That is the beauty of rehearsal. It is a non-judgemental space where you get to try, question, explore and discover. There is no need to have all the answers before rehearsals start. I watch as Zoe and the actors suggest and try out different ways to play out the scene; the question always on their lips ‘Does this make sense to the audience? Is it clear story telling?’ And this takes time. Even once the actor’s movements have been set, I can tell not everyone is certain they have solved it. But that doesn’t unsettle Zoe. Rather she assures them that it is clear to the audience and even if all are not fully on board yet, they trust her director’s eye. Zoe may be collaborative but she is also gently commanding, a vital quality that ensures actors have creative freedom without the production losing sight of where it is heading.
The afternoon is spent watching movement director, Lucy Cullingford run the actors’ first movement rehearsal. Movement is an integral part of the play and covers any aspect of the production that needs some sort of choreography. This does not mean dance, but rather set moves that physically tell the story. In the play, Table there are many scenes that require this, most notably the sex scene and the birth of Gideon. These two very physical aspects need clear choreography so the story is told well and the actors have clear directions in what they are doing.
To start the session, Lucy leads the actors in a multitude of exercises that encourage them to connect with their bodies, with their breath and with each other. I love physicality in performance and the following hour was a sheer delight to observe. After the initial exercises, with bodies warmed up and inhibitions quietened, Lucy pushes the table into the middle of the rehearsal space. Here we have the ninth cast member. The central character that runs through all of the play’s stories. The actors are encouraged to connect with it. Climb on it. Run over it. Cling to it. Whatever feels right for them within that moment. Once again, we are back to creative discovery. Zoe watches her cast interact with this central set piece and, afterwards gives them the time to talk about any discoveries they have made. Some of these moments of connection may be used in the play, and some may not, but that again is the beauty of discovery in the rehearsal room. As audience members we get to see the tip of the ice-berg, but in observing rehearsals we see that so much more lies beneath the final decisions presented in performance.
As I have said before, it takes a village to put on a play; a collaborative director, open actors, intuitive movement directors, exacting production teams, and so much creative discovery. It is an art. It is an art that is necessary and when it tells stories like the ones we hear in Table, we must always do what we can to ensure that this art form continues to be a part of our local communities. I leave the rehearsal room that day feeling very fortunate in having the New Vic on my doorstep. It is a good feeling indeed.