Articles for March, 2015


Tricycle

Actions and intentions: Rehearsal room blog for After Electra

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 by Tricycle

A small selection of the books in the After Electra rehearsal room

Today we are welcoming back Phil Bartlett, Assistant Director on After Electra, for the second in his series of rehearsal room blogs. that plays at the Tricycle from 7 Apr – 2 May.

Hello again! With our rehearsal time in London at an end and the company back down in Plymouth for final rehearsals and the premiere of After Electra, I thought an update on our progress was due. Following a first week filled with research and discussion, the subsequent fortnight in London was primarily focussed on using the information we had discovered in those initial days to help give the seven scenes April has written physical shape. We haven’t had the set to rehearse on – that’s a luxury which will be waiting for us in Plymouth, where the workshop are constructing Michael Taylor’s design as I type! – but stage management expertly marked out the shape of the acting area on the floor with tape and the various items of furniture we’ll be using have gradually replaced the stand-in rehearsal room chairs as they’ve been sourced by members of the creative and production team.

During these two weeks we’ve worked through the entire play twice, and both times when arriving at each scene Sam has asked the actors to begin by reading it aloud from their scripts. From the start of rehearsals the actors have all had a good grasp on their lines, but this exercise has nonetheless proved extremely valuable – it both reminds everyone of the essentials of the scene (that is, the words the playwright has written) and highlights any small inaccuracies of vocabulary or syntax that may have developed since an actor originally learnt the text. We then gave the scene physical life within the confines of the performance space, finding moves to support the action and pausing as questions arose or if a moment felt false. To help them navigate their way through each scene Sam asked the actors to identify what their character’s ‘intention’ is at the start of each section. An intention is a prevailing ‘need’ or ‘want’ which drives a character’s choices until either the intention is fulfilled or a stronger intention takes its place – examples of intentions are ‘to find my wallet’ and ‘to stop my girlfriend from leaving me’. Intentions help prevent actors from feeling lost within a scene as they provide them with a concrete objective to work towards. Then, to prevent their performance of the character pursuing this intention from becoming repetitive or generalised, actors can assign individual lines specific actions, which together work towards achieving the section’s intention – examples of actions might be ‘to soothe’ or ‘to provoke’. Actions are also very useful for directors as they provide a means of shaping and refining an actor’s performance without prescribing how an actor should deliver a particular line or moment; the focus is instead on the impulses driving the character’s behaviour, which gives the actor greater creative control and encourages performances which are alive and ever-changing. ‘Don’t play feelings, play actions,’ Sam has said more than once, and watching him rehearse with the actors makes clear the value of using actions to clarify a character’s journey through complicated sections of the play.

Director Samuel West

Director Samuel West

Whilst scene-work has been the focus of the majority of rehearsals, we’ve also set aside time for activities we hoped would further our understanding of the story we are telling in other ways. Last week we spent an afternoon reading Sophocles’ Electra, the Greek tragedy which April drew on when writing the play. After Electra is by no means an adaptation of the ancient story – indeed, you don’t need any knowledge of it to understand and enjoy the piece – so I wasn’t sure how useful it would be to spend time exploring the original, but taking a pause from regular rehearsals to hear the actors read this classic alerted us to some interesting parallels. Both plays feature strong, complex and flawed female protagonists, and both consider the effect an absent father has on the relationship between a mother and her adult children. Numerous times Sophocles’ characters uttered phrases and articulated ideas that wouldn’t sound out of place in April’s play, and one phrase in particular struck us as encapsulating an idea central to After Electra:

οὐ γὰρ θανεῖν ἔχθιστον, ἀλλ᾽ ὅταν θανεῖν
χρῄζων τις εἶτα μηδὲ τοῦτ᾽ ἔχῃ λαβεῖν.

Death isn’t the most hateful thing –
Worse is when someone wants to die but cannot.

Reading Electra encouraged us to consider the complex relationships and ideas running under the surface of what appears on the surface to be a black comedy, and furthered our enthusiasm for the play April has written.

In the session after we discussed Electra, we had the privilege of meeting with the artist Tom Phillips. Given the central character is After Electra is a painter, we’d already done a lot of research into the art world and various movements – this photo [attached] shows just a tiny proportion of the books we’ve brought into the rehearsal room, and we’ve also watched documentaries on female artists like Sandra Blow. Hearing Tom speak first-hand about his life as an artist, however, proved especially helpful – there was a real lack-of-pretension in the way he spoke about his work, and he made clear that (for him at least) there was no separation between the ideas fueling his art and the act of creating it – it is all ‘labour’. We were able to ask Tom questions about the kind of experiences Virgie might have had as a woman artist in the ’sixties, ’seventies and ’eighties, and later in the week some of the cast went along with Michael to visit one of Tom’s studios. The knowledge they gleaned from this experience – the look of the studio and the way Tom works within it – will feed into our staging of the play as we continue rehearsing it next week on the set in Plymouth.

After Electra is on stage at the Tricycle from 7 Apr – 2 May. Click here to watch the trailer.


Tricycle

Who is Virgie? Researching After Electra

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 by Tricycle

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Today we have the first in a series of guest blogs from Phil Bartlett, Assistant Director on After Electra that plays at the Tricycle from 7 Apr – 2 May.

Hello! My name is Phil Bartlett and I’m the resident Assistant Director at the Theatre Royal Plymouth, where I’m involved with the theatre’s extensive programme of new writing. Currently I’m in rehearsals for After Electra, a new play by April de Angelis which is being directed by Samuel West and premieres in Plymouth this March and will then play at the Tricycle Theatre. After Electra is a black comedy centred on Virgie, an ageing artist who refuses to grow old without making a fuss, and the fallout from her unconventional birthday celebrations. Over the next few weeks I’ll be using this blog to give you an insight into the rehearsal room, reporting back on how the play develops as Sam and the actors interrogate April’s script and translate her words into action.

Rehearsals kicked off with a read-through of the entire script. As the name suggests, a read-through involves the actors speaking their lines aloud and is a chance for everyone involved in the production can hear the script as it stands on the first day of rehearsal. Read-throughs aren’t always useful, but with a new play it’s often helpful and in this case it was a delight to hear the actors together give voice for the first time to the comedy and drama of April’s dialogue. The read-through was followed by designer Michael Taylor talking those present through the model-box, which is a to-scale model of what the set will look like. I won’t reveal too much about the design at this point, but it was exciting to see how full of detail the environment is going to be and get some indication of the kind of furniture, props and lighting we’ll have at our disposal. The Drum and the Tricycle stages are different shapes and so Michael also explained to us how the set would be adapted at each venue to fit the spaces.

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After lunch, the wider production team left us and we began rehearsals proper. Rather than standing the play up straight-away, however, we gathered around a table in order to go back to the first page of the script and gradually work through each scene compiling a list of facts and questions. Facts are anything we know from the script to be true (for example, that the first scene takes place on Virgie’s birthday) whilst questions are anything left unanswered in the text (for example, the exact date of Virgie’s birth). It took us a few days to work through each scene in this way, taking turns to read a speech a time regardless of who will speak it in performance, but was an invaluable way of checking that everyone was clear of the given circumstances of the play and highlighting any ambiguities in the script we needed to fill in. Often these ambiguities are details the audience will never know the answers to, but deciding amongst ourselves the precise layout of Virgie’s house, for instance, ensures everyone is performing in the same play and helps solidify the world we are presenting.

At the same time as compiling our facts and questions, we took note of any dates mentioned in order to construct a timeline of events. Some of the characters have known one another for more than fifty years, and so whilst the action of the play takes place over just seven months the people concerned have a collective history which stretches back into the previous century. Using any specific references in the script to time as anchors, we filled in the gaps ourselves to pinpoint exactly when and where the key events in these people’s lives took place, and in so doing discovered clues linked to their relationships and behaviour. ‘Life did get a bit chaotic,’ says Virgie at one point, but establishing a firm chronology has already helped us hugely in understanding the memories and experiences the characters carry with them when they enter the story.

To help us find interesting and water-tight answers to the many questions our script work has raised we’ve collectively been carrying out lots of research outside of rehearsals – this has ranged from consulting maps to work out where exactly along the coast Virgie might live to investigating the movements of the tide at specific times and finding out the cost of a holiday to Venice. Much of this research has already been done once by the director or playwright before the start of rehearsals, but asking the actors to also research the topics related to their characters allows us to collectively decide upon the most interesting answers – provided, that is, that they are supported by the script. Research isn’t just limited to typing key phrases into google, either – actor Rachel Bell, who is playing Shirley, is arranging a tour of the House of Lords, for example, and we have plans to visit an artist’s studio. We’ve looked at paintings (such as the violently physical Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi, mentioned at an important point in the play), listened to poems (Ted Hughes’s Full Moon and Little Frieda, for instance, which cropped up in our discussions of an important offstage character and is definitely worth taking a few minutes to enjoy – link: http://www.fullmoon.info/en/fullmoon-poems/hughes.html, and even had a drumming workshop (as this video proves!) https://www.dropbox.com/s/ht36dppm1li4gzv/20150212_105044.mp4?dl=0.

This work is only worth doing, of course, insofar as it furthers our ability to tell the story well, and after four days we had amassed enough information to begin exploring scenes on our feet. Finding a physical shape for the story inevitably raises a host of new questions, but it’s great to already see the information we’d uncovered in those initial sessions support the actors in making exciting, convincing performance choices. The first week ended with us arriving at a basic shape for the first scene of the play, and having then had a couple of days off to rest and continue individual script work we’re all now looking forward to getting back in the room and continuing our journey through this extraordinary play.

After Electra is on stage at the Tricycle from 7 Apr – 2 May. Click here to book.


Tricycle

Blog Takeover: Stevie Basaula

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015 by Tricycle

Today we have a vlog from Tricycle Young Company member Stevie Basaula who is playing Juan in Shamser Sinha’s The Dissidents. Looks like the company are having far too much fun when they should be working in rehearsals!

The Dissidents is part of Takeover 2015, a week long programme of theatre, film, workshops and events programmed by and for young people. The Dissidents opens in just over two weeks time (26-28 March) – click here to watch The Dissidents trailer. Click to see the full Takeover 2015 line up.