We’re currently in rehearsals for Orlando
, our latest collaboration with the Department of Drama & Theatre Arts at the University of Birmingham. Throughout the rehearsal period, we’ve been working with a brilliant ensemble of students to bring Virginia Woolf’s epic novel to the stage and we invited the cast to write guest blog posts about the process. For more details about Orlando
, click here
Monday 7th November (Morning Session)
This morning, we did our first sit-down read-through of Orlando. That’s right — we had our first read-through a whole week into rehearsals! By this stage, all our nerves had vanished, the biographers’ lines have been allocated and we even have a rough shape of the whole show. So a read-through now felt a lot more comfortable and productive.
We paused at the end of each scene to answer all of the questions that we had posed last week. In some cases, Phil helped us out with his dramaturgical research. We found out how people bowed to royalty in the 16th Century; how crumpets and muffins were traditionally made; the symptoms of smallpox and even heard about the very questionable sounding ‘ship’s biscuit’ that sailors used to snack on during long voyages.
For any questions that could not be solved by research, we had to come up with our own answers. Marmaduke is now not only a sailor but an explorer, whilst it turns out that King Charles II has a bit of a thing for Orlando (it must be the legs). We discovered that the people of England hear of (spoiler alert!) Orlando’s sudden gender change through court gossip and his links to royalty.
And yet there are still questions that remain unanswered. Most of which revolve around the staging of various tricky bits such as the ice-skating, Euphrosyne’s dog and Fiona’s hot sausage. Stay tuned for the answers…
Monday 7th November (Afternoon Session)
After having gone through the script in stages, working on each scene individually (having our lines fed in and then improvising), Gareth asked us to attempt an improvised run of the whole play. He instructed us to say any lines we remembered from the text, and to fill in the rest by paraphrasing. The improvised run wasn’t about knowing the lines, but understanding why we say what we say to each other. Perhaps it is to narrate part of the story, or to change another character in some way. We were all surprised by how smoothly the run went. Ironically, the later scenes (and those which were worked on most recently) were the least cohesive. However, we were proud to get all the way through the show.
Later, Gareth finally unveiled the mystery of how we were going to portray the ice-skating scene. He showed us a simple move, which although stylised, created the illusion of ice-skating and which I was sure would be very entertaining to watch. In small groups, he then got us to create a variety of figure-skateresque poses that we could hold with our upper bodies. We then put the moves together in a variety of sequences and performed them to music. The moves work so well with the music and it really creates the perfect atmosphere for the scene: a mixture of the fantastic, the quirky and the burlesque (in the traditional sense of the word).
Tuesday 8th November
The beginning of a rehearsal wouldn’t be the same without scrambling into Circle A, B, C or D and having a round of Bananas Of The World, Unite! and that is where our Tuesday rehearsal of Week 2 began. The days have been getting progressively colder and so it was rather appropriate playing a series of games to get us all warmed up.
We then continued working through the logistics of the second half of the show, with, as Gareth says, “no acting required”. With the production having so many props, not only is it extremely helpful to walk through each scene working out where each prop will be set, who picks it up, who puts it down and where is it placed, but it also feels very necessary.
Surprisingly, prop location seemed to run relatively smoothly for me in these walk-throughs: the placement of our crates and boxes, not so much. With each crate being shuffled around for scene changes, it is vital that we write down in our scripts which crate we move and where it ends up as each of them contains props to be used throughout the show — and it would be a nightmare if the crates got muddled up and one prop ended up on the other side of the stage! However, Gareth and our wonderful DSMs are so organised and on the ball that they remind us of crate movements and locations when we run each scene through, or when, as Gareth likes to say, we do it again “but with some acting this time!”
Personally for me, going through the logistics of the show has been so immensely helpful as it means it can be completely drilled into my head well before we open and I can promise I won’t be running around like a headless chicken wondering which box goes where!
One last thing to mention: improvising our lines throughout the process has given me a newfound confidence when learning lines. During each rehearsal, it is clear that everyone is getting more and more confident with the text and I’m finding myself remembering far more of my lines than I thought I learned the night before! All in all, Orlando is building up to be an absolutely brilliant show which I am immensely proud to be a part of!
Wednesday 9th November
Satya Baskaran Iyer
Today’s rehearsal began with the usual warm up: Bananas Of The World Unite! Bananas is always a fun and energising way to start the rehearsal as we are so pumped up after it that we can’t wait to get going with all the adrenaline and energy in our systems. This was followed by an intense game of Wah! What is so good about Wah! is that it ensures we are always on our toes, ready to react to anything and everything that happens onstage.
After this, it was Fiona’s turn to bring a warm-up game to the class. She introduced us to ‘Honey, I Love You’. The rules of this game are very simple: one person (a) is in the middle of a circle made up of the rest of the group (b). Then, (a) takes turns being asked questions by each person in (b). If (a) laughs or breaks composure in any way, they are out and must take the place of the person in (b) who asked the question. Then, the person who made (a) laugh becomes the new (a), and the game continues. It was a great game, especially because it brought us closer together as a cast in trying to make our fellow cast members laugh, as well as another composure exercise, especially in a play with so many truly comic moments.
After this, we continued with our rehearsals. For the last few days we had been going through each scene ensuring that the logistics of the scene worked. This meant going through each line and finding out where we would get each prop from, figuring out our exits and entrances with relation to the scenes before and after, as well as working out the kinks in each scene. After doing this once with the scripts in hand and with “no acting required”, we followed by doing an improvised run of the scene we had just worked on. During this improvised run Gareth would often take individual actors out of the room to give them secret information (or ‘Filters’) that would affect the offers they would make to everyone else in the room. This is an exciting way to experiment with scene dynamics and nobody else knows what is about to happen. We simply have to respond in the moment. We worked in this way through to the beginning of Act 5 – which was incredibly fast!
For the final hour, we continued to work on the ice-skating sequence. Having previously created the moves, it was now time to put them in the order which we’d actually perform them in the show.
We cannot wait for everyone to come and see this show, and if the past week-and-a-half has been any indication, this show is going to knock your socks off!
Thursday 10th November (Afternoon Session)
The show was now taking a clear and concise shape as we’d sorted out all the logistics of Act 2, so we started the same process for Act 1. We heard a wonderful piece of music that would accompany the arrival of Queen Elizabeth I. As we became aware in running the scene with the music, timing is, indeed, everything! We also found out that I LOVE milking my entrance for everything it’s worth! But once I’d calmed down a little, we had a great beginning!
Thursday 10th November (Evening Session)
Thursday evening was, as it often is, hard work! It’s been a long week and an even longer day. We arrive back from dinner and all we want to do (I speak for everyone when I say this) is curl up in bed and have a nap. BUT we must power on through – we have a show to produce! (Gareth’s chocolate delivery also gave us a little bit of extra motivation… no one could ever say Gareth doesn’t think about his cast members…!)
We began the session with our usual ‘circle’ activity, mixing it up a little by placing a certain cast member in a different position, so that we all had to work out where the rest of us should be positioned as fast as we could… It’s a lot harder than it sounds! Gareth has also prompted us to work on helping one another out, rather than only being concerned with ourselves – if we use these skills while on stage, this will ultimately make it easier for all of us to transition smoothly from one scene to the next.
Next, I had the pleasure of running the warm-up game! As a teenager, I helped out with the youth theatre that my mum ran and would often take part in directing the games. One of mine and the kids’ favourites would be Captain’s Orders, fast paced and high energy – so, of course, this was the clear choice for my game! Captain’s Orders consists of 11 different instructions that I demonstrated for the group before starting. I then stood on a box (as I’m not the tallest of people…) and shouted out the instructions one after another and the last person to complete the instruction was out of the game. For example – some of the directions consisted of, “Bombs Overhead!” which meant the group had to ‘hit the deck’ and lie down on the ground with their hands over their head. I would then call out another such as “Climb The Rigging!” which meant they had to jump up as quickly as they could and act out climbing a ladder. There were a few different instructions similar to these, including “Port” and “Starboard”, meaning they had to run from one end of the room to the other. As you can imagine – a few bruises were attained. But also a lot of fun!
After this, we then practiced our skating sequence – as I’m sure you’ve probably already heard plenty about! At this point, Gareth was beginning to get us to do it without the instructions in front of us – nerve-wracking, but very good for our confidence, as we clearly knew a lot more than realised we did! So after practicing a few times over, making a fool out of ourselves, and being told we looked more like sumo wrestlers than ice skaters, we were knackered! And so we continued with plotting the logistics of the production. It sounds boring, but is actually very reassuring, and each time we work through a scene thinking only about logistics, we get to improvise and experiment using the secret filters which Gareth has been giving people. We finished the session on a high, as we had made plenty of progress and were looking forward to a bit of a lie-in the next day!
As Gareth said… “Now you may go to the pub!” As we replied… “You can go to the pub if you like, but we’re off to bed.”
Friday 11th November
The speed of which this has all come together has blown me away. Today finished off two full weeks of rehearsal and we’ve shaped Orlando almost entirely! Our way of warming up has now become ice skating. The sequence is active enough to get moving and stretched, and requires a high level of focus to remember all the movements, getting our brains into gear.
A real struggle with this play has been the seemingly infinite number of things, props and boxes being used and moved around throughout the scenes. To solidify in our minds all the logistics of picking up and putting down props, we all ran through the whole second half at our own pace, purely to cement when things need to be used. There was something quite comical about everyone doing different sections of the play with speed; umbrellas opening and twirling, confetti sporadically thrown in the air, a spatula sitting in for a little boat floating around. But it was very successful in drilling in when props needed to come off the shelves and be brought to life.
Very excited to be moving into the theatre after this weekend, and looking forward to seeing our set and moving around in the performance space. Everything is happening so quickly! Two weeks left to production week and counting…
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