Few people are in any doubt that a great deal of theatre takes place in London, but it a very select and special few that get up and go to work as ‘theatre makers’, full time, at least. The rest of us, until we get there (and many, many, many never will) work full time, part time, all the time! Trying to strike that creative balance with a commercial one that keeps a London-priced roof over their heads and an occasional £5 pint or two within touching distance.
Scratch nights are often the place making theatre starts. Low paid, and no-paid new writing nights are springing up across London and beyond. Little hubs of creative hope where creative types are meeting in back rooms, living rooms, cupboards… you name it, all over the city to bring new work to life. Because not only is time difficult to come by (and the larger the cast the worse it gets!) but rehearsal space comes at an eye-watering pocket-draining premium. Then there’s the size of this city, which prohibits anyone from being round the corner from anyone else… I could go on. But instead, I am going to suggest 10 ways in which that precious little time and money can be capitalised on instead.
One of the wonderful things about the set-backs, is that every actor understands them because they are largely all in the same boat! Everyone in the room is there to make work, for often little or no money, and the process can be a wonderfully fun and collaborative process, or a logistical nightmare. Most often, I think, it is a bit of both…
1. Before you get in there… prep is your friend! Know your piece inside out, and rock up with a notebook full of notes and ideas to try. The rehearsal room can be the place where creative ideas grow, but don’t rock up relying on them to show themselves out of the blue. You most likely don’t have time to rely on that. If you’re armed with notes and ideas, if one idea doesn’t work? No bother, you’ve got half a dozen more!
if one idea doesn’t work? No bother, you’ve got half a dozen more!
2. Prep is also the friend of your actors! While you’re busy getting your head stuck into the world of the play, you can gently encourage them to do the same. I like to complete and send out the facts and questions exercise (if you don’t already know and use it look it up – it’s brilliant) ahead of time, and ask actors to either complete one themselves or to add to a shared one as a group. Hosting on a group doc and encouraging collaboration also allows your actors to work together and potentially bond a little before hand, so that they feel more comfortable more quickly working together when the first day comes around.
3. In the run up, which can be we long as months or as short as hours, be strict where you have to be. Be ruthless. If you sense are being messed around with a cast member changing hours, time and time again, and they have to go, they have to go. Your word is final.
4. When it comes to finding rehearsal space, get creative! I’ve recently had the pleasure of an accidental actors Come Dine With Me where not only did we swap between houses, we swapped food, too. It kept rehearsals varied and social, despite the set-backs and distractions of being somewhere different every time and working around furniture/ families/ pets…
5. On the first day… get everyone’s heads in the game with a warm up. I like to plan games in advance, for which I find the Nick Hern Books ‘drama games’ range invaluable, but even just a simple focus exercise, moving around the space can be beneficial. Maximising your time is the goal, so it may feel silly to spend any time in the room not working on the challenges the script presents. But by starting the day (evening/ snatched hour!) off by taking the edge off a room full of strangers, and encouraging your actor’s to start that tricky process of melding together as a unit, you will save far more time in the long run. Get some head space, then hit the script.
Get some head space, then hit the script.
6. Take regular breaks. As with point 7, the tempation may be to blast through as much as possible, but if you don’t allow time for the progress you have made to sink in… you’ll be lost by the next rehearsal.
7. Get the crucial things into the rehearsal room as early as possible. Props, music, costumes. Nobody wants to be surprised by a tricky prop or discordant piece of background music on the day! By bringing them into the rehearsal room early on, you can let them shape the piece as it grows. If the hat falls of or a mirror is dropped and shatters, it’s out early on with no last minute dramas and (most) costume malfunctions avoided. On a more practical note, you also know how much you can physically carry around on your person between your day job and rehearsals and the temptation to get too carried away is vastly reduced.
8. Leave the outside, outside, as much as you can. Remove the outside world from the world of your rehearsal room. Mobile phones on silent and in bags (like being back at school!) and out of the way. If your actor has brought a child/ friend/ dog with them, respectfully and kindly ask if they might wait outside. Wherever you find yourselves rehearsing, treat it like a work space.
9. Documentation is your friend. When rehearsals are sporadic they can wind up being very far apart. Don’t lose your hard work! Write notes as you go, and make sure your actors are equipped with pencils to do the same (Always bring spares!) I have found recording helpful too, for if you get really stuck. Sometimes it is also appropriate to share this with the cast. It can make an especially useful catch-up tool for anyone who has to miss a rehearsal.
10. Looking ahead to the day of the show... Where possible, aim to see the performance space ahead of the day with your cast. Where this is not possible, know the size, know the set-up, mark your rehearsal space out and bring pictures if necessary to offer context to your cast. Then when you get out there, you are prepared to bring your energy and enjoy it!
bring your energy and enjoy it!
These photos are from my latest project The Spinning Room, a short one-act play presented at Dispatches, a scratch night at the OSO Arts Centre, Barnes, South West London.
All photos credit to: Christina Bulford (CB) Photography ©