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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 »