In Rehearsal - A Splinter of Ice - Blog 3

Posted: 2021-03-28 12:00:00

The joy and frustration about making theatre during this period of lockdown has been just as you adapt to a new way of doing things the world changes and you are re-adapting all over again. You simply cannot sit back on the laurels of the previous show- rather each new show brings with it new innovations and challenges.

A Splinter of Ice will be no exception.

Thus we found ourselves this week back in the splendid confines of the Cheltenham Everyman preparing after 3 weeks of rehearsals to open Ben Brown’s new play, except instead of opening to an audience we would be bringing in the cameras.

Co-director Alan Strachan and designer Michael Pavelka were sadly unable to get to us due to the continuing constraints on travel. This meant that our unusual rehearsal process continued into the technical rehearsals. Production Manager Tammy steering Michael (in France) around the set on a zoom call trying to show him how things were looking, Siobhan our costume supervisor and CSM Paul attempting to get Alan into the zoom meeting and then finding somewhere he could watch from (for reference not over the lighting designer’s shoulder!)

Michael P has been working on a very tight budget due to the risks involved in staging work at the moment. Yet looking at his set you would never know it. It exudes period and his frame like structure which encases the stage suggests intrigue, doors within doors and a quiet sense of unease lurking in the shadows. It is a stunning piece of design.

Once the set was up the actors arrived and by the evening we were down to the hard graft. It’s my first tech in over a year and as with most directors probably share a quiet love for the quiet rituals and routine into which they all invariably fall into step with. Fuelled on little sleep, endless coffee, M&S sandwiches and the blinking lights of the lighting and sound desks punctuating the darkness. Night and Day tend to blur a little but often they are peppered with the exciting moment when months of working by model box and imagination cohere into concrete 3 dimensionality. Let there be light and sound and set and most directors will be in heaven. Children in a sweet shop.

At the end of a long day of technical rehearsals there normally would follow a debrief in whatever pub is close and open. Yet of course everything in Cheltenham is still shut and so instead of the pub we plodded back up hill to the hotel where we would close bedroom doors and wind down with our thoughts for company. I think we all lamented the time we lost going over the questions, concerns and problems which inevitably form the bulk of the conversation- and I’m sure the actors missed the opportunity to complain about the director!

Although to be fair to our actors they would likely have foregone the pub as they have been on an almost monastic diet of work, running lines and trying to get as much sleep as possible to conserve energy. Stephen and Oliver especially rarely would leave the stage through the entirety of the week. Furthermore none of us are used to working so much post 5pm this past year and so the evening sessions certainly left us all shattered.

The really strange thing for everyone was the weird hybrid world we found ourselves in. A theatrical set, on stage in a theatre but being recorded and made at this stage for the cameras. There is no point in pretending that we had an audience in with us and we decided to try and embrace the challenge and explore making a proper film as opposed to an archive of a stage show. The live show will be out on tour by the summer so we didn’t want to make audiences a pale imitation. Instead we wanted to create something new. 

The theatre space was almost asking demanding the actors play to it and certainly that temptation became hard for all of us as we tried to bridge a happy medium between one form and another.

There was a degree of nerve holding through the early dress rehearsals which went smoothly for the most part. Michael and Alan found the zoom link ever more frustrating- as they could see and hear very little but we muddled through and made the best of the situation everyone showing great patience. 

And then Tristan and Andy arrived with their cameras and things stepped up a gear. We had left 5 sessions to effectively film a 85 minute feature film. That isn’t a lot. Yet it is 4 more sessions than we had to film The Habit of Art this time last year in the empty Devonshire Park Theatre in Eastbourne. Much of that time was spent with all of us on stage in a variety of close up and mid shots attempting this new art of capturing a performance on stage as a piece of film. We have been watching the recent Uncle Vanya produced by Sonia Friedman and as many recordings and live streams as we can as part of our research. Yet for the most part we are writing the rules as we go.

It’s exciting. Very demanding especially on the actors who are still feeling their way with the stage performance now pivoting into their camera experience above all else it forced a huge feat of team work which is I suspect why so many people love working in the theatre. Here we were, back in a theatre, on a tight schedule attempting to do something that sits close to the less than advisable side of the spectrum. A meeting of film and theatre- new world and old world. Yet we are doing this to breathe life into theatres, into a new play which has spent years trying to find its way to stage. 

In some ways the feeling at the end of the week was just like the end of any other opening week. Everyone was exhausted, desperate for lie down and a drink but also excited for what lies ahead. 

However strange, challenging and odd it has been, it’s basically just been wonderful to be working on a new play in an old theatres. 

At the end of the day- it’s as simple as that.


Happy #WorldTheatreDay