November 13, 2013 by Sian Rowland
Last week I wrote about writing a play by accident. I had written a thirty minute comedy for the Funny Women writing award which was now about to be performed live on stage at Wimbledon Theatre Studios.
I met my director (my director!) Jennifer Bakst and took to her immediately. I was impressed that such a young director had such vision and energy. She got the idea immediately and really seemed to like my script. Over the next few days actors were cast and I met them for the first time on rehearsal day. I came armed with doughnuts and muffins and this started us off on a good foot.
The rehearsal process was fascinating. Apart from the read through I’ve not really heard my words being performed by strangers before and it was a revelation. There were a couple of read-throughs and some ironing out of name pronunciations (Coleridge, Berkley) and some words (verdure, verisimilitude) before the directing started in earnest.
Jennifer would stop the read through every few lines and ask questions like, ‘why did she say it like that? What’s their relationship here? Is she telling the truth or spinning them a line?’ Now if you’re from this background you might be thinking, ‘duh! Of course this is how directors and actors work,’ but don’t forget that I’ve spent the best part of my career asking questions like, ‘do you think it’s sensible to bite someone just because they wouldn’t hand you the ball?’, ‘when’s Ofsted coming?’ and, ‘what the hell has Gove done now?’
The director made the actors think about what they were saying while giving them free reign to interpret the lines and try out their own ideas. I sat there quietly observing thinking, ‘yes, she’s got it absolutely!’ or ‘I’d never thought of that but it could work too.’ It would have been the easiest thing to jump in and tell the actors how to do their job but the director’s role is to suggest, lead and facilitate their understanding and to support them if they go off track a bit like…well, a bit like being a teacher. Suddenly I was on terra firma.
When we got to into the performance space the actors really came alive. This was their arena. Jennifer had clear ideas on the shape of the performance and decided to ditch props and- as it was a rehearsed reading- to use the scripts instead. This worked really well with scripts becoming fans, gauntlets and novels.
My favourite scene (am I allowed to have a favourite scene as a writer?) was the rap battle scene and the two actors involved threw everything into it. As a member of the sold out audience (sold out!) I enjoyed every second and loved hearing people laugh at lines that I had written. It was an amazing experience but now I’m hooked and writing another….