All entries for April 2008
April 27, 2008
Week 2: Et in Arcadia ego
Starting a production is always difficult. As the director you know the show inside out, you and your team have spent ages preparing all those really exciting ideas and you’re finally seeing and hearing people do the roles that you’ve only read on the page. The cast, however, probably don’t know each other that well, almost certainly don’t know the play and they’re looking for the Director to prove that he can actually lead this production successfully.
There’s no reason for these two ideas to be contradictory and so the opening two weeks were crucial for Arcadia (as they are in every production) in not only establishing everything mentioned above but also putting us in a strong enough position to leap into it after a five-week break. If I had one concern during the first week of rehearsals it was that we weren’t very active as a group and spent a lot of time talking about what was going on, understanding the jokes and references and trying to get inside the characters insofar as they are symbols and representations of larger ideas that span the play. However, the success of our first week back is, I think, larger thanks to that approach. We’ve been able to rehearse a scene or two per rehearsal (so we’ve done six scenes this week) and because the cast understand the context of the scene as both adhering to the play’s own internal logic and what we’re trying to achieve as a production we’re able to start by bringing texture to what we’re doing.
Speaking broadly, this week has been trying to achieve two things: firstly, to complete the blocking of the play insofar as I’ve written ideas down that I really want to see enacted (I object to telling people just to walk a little bit upstage or downstage; they’ll find their own ideas in the rhythm of the scene which will look more natural than anything I would have consciously prepared) and secondly to start bringing ideas in about character and about how an individual line links to the play as a whole. To give an example, Chater reads his inscription of ‘The Couch of Eros’ centre-stage behind the table. Bernard will read the same inscription in the next scene, in the same way and in the same place. Chater and Bernard are now inextricably linked not only by both being foolish and proud but by their spatial and temporal fixings in the space and even in their delivery; I’m giving the audience clues…
Another example springs to mind. Where Thomasina and Septimus sit initially defines the spatial power relationships within the play: stronger intellects SR and weaker SL. At the end, when Thomasina has finally outstripped Septimus, they swap places to convey the shift physically as well as through the narrative. This is a device that echoes throughout the play; where people have sat or stood has been a direct comment on them: how well they are faring in terms of power, status, intelligence, prudence and wit.
Arcadia is brilliant for this kind of approach. Time and space merge to allow me this kind of creative mise-en-scène. At the same time, now that we’ve blocked the play with this in mind the next week will be about challenging that and seeing where the stresses are in order to bring a greater depth to the play. And there’s still plenty of character work to do. I’ll describe more about that next time though. Until then…
See photos of this week's rehearsals »
The story so far
Rehearsals for Arcadia began in the last week of Term 2. After eleven and a half hours of individual auditions, Rob Marks, the director, and I had found a cast that we were both excited about and we were chomping at the bit to get them into the rehearsal room and begin to see materialize what had previously only existed in our minds.
One of the joys of Stoppard’s work is the clarity and lightness with which it presents complex and apparently incongruous ideas. In Arcadia, for example, an audience is presented with ideas of Romanticism and Enlightenment, heat exchange and chaos theory, alongside philosophical musings on the nature of time and the sexual proclivity of early nineteenth century aristocracy and modern-day academics. To explain how these multifarious topics intertwine is an unenviable task and certainly not one I will attempt here. I maintain that the only explanation is the play itself – the peculiarity is, once you know the play, it’s difficult to think of Romanticism without the butterfly effect and so on.
The richness of ideas and the vitality of the characterizations and narratives of the play, whilst hugely rewarding to a reader and an audience member, give the performer a tough challenge to face. For the first week of our work, we focused on creating two banks of knowledge for the actors: (1) what the characters know and when they know it; (2) an understanding of the dramaturgical purpose of each character. In planning these early rehearsals, what we did not anticipate was much how fun this seemingly academic exercise would be.
Rather than baulking at our investigations both within and outside the rehearsal room, the cast leapt upon the discoveries and the result is already visible in rehearsal. The day we decided to have a go at performing characters who are referenced but never in the play – including the sexually insatiable Mrs Chater – is going to stick with all involved for a long time to come … for better or for worse.