It’s a good sign when you leave your job late in the evening, have to be back in early in the morning, and still go home feeling lucky. It’s now nearing midnight, I’m sat in bed with a bowl of ice-cream and finally enough time in my day to write about the process so far.
Or more accurately, tech rehearsal time. For those of you who haven’t experienced this bizarre and exhausting event, allow me to fill you in. Technical rehearsals are the process of going through the play adding in all the technical aspects of the show such as lighting and sound. It requires huge amounts of preparation, concentration and initiative from the creative team and equal amounts of patience and stamina from the actors. It is always exhausting. Essentially, it’s one of the final and crucial stops before the dress rehearsal where cast and crew will run the show as if it were a real performance, just without the pressure of a paying audience.
One of the reasons I first fell in love with theatre was experiencing the really unique bond you have with a group of equally passionate cast members after such a short amount of time. While the nerves we saw in week one may be creeping back in thanks to the looming presence of an audience, you can’t dispute the new found trust and camaraderie between this group of performers. Without a doubt, this has been a driving force behind the creation of We Were Told There Was Dancing. Interestingly, because the production takes place over a vast area, a lot of the cast members haven’t seen the rest of this very diverse piece of theatre. Their focus has remained on creating, rehearsing, and refining their specific moments. I imagine this means they’ve all had quite different experiences over the last three weeks and will continue to do so throughout the run.
This morning you could sense the inevitable anxiety that comes with the final few days of rehearsals. All of a sudden, the production that you’ve talked of and generated ideas about for the last three weeks (or in the case of the creative team, several months) becomes a very real performance which will be over in 7 days time. It’s both the speed of which these final few rehearsals disappear and the fact that you have such a limited amount of time to share all your hard work that, I think, causes this anxiety. A tutor once told me that you only get nervous about things your care for and it’s fair to say we all care deeply about this production.
Nerves aside, the focus and passion amongst the company is pretty remarkable. Even in these last few days scenes are being tweaked to ensure this play is as exciting and moving as possible. It’s a credit to the company that everyone is able to adapt their performances so quickly. Cast members are constantly helping each other out, taking it in turns to run lines or movement sequences, ensuring each moment is as precise as possible. Meanwhile, the creatives are running round our underground network communicating through walkie talkies to feedback how each scene is getting on and what we’ll be working on next. I wonder if anyone above ground has any idea of the madness going on right beneath their feet.
Throughout the next few days we really get to see the production come alive. The spaces that not too long ago were abandoned basements and tunnels are suddenly bursting with character. Our designer, Bethany Wells, has done an incredible job stitching stories into the fabric of this deserted underground maze. Lighting, sound, costume, props, and set all play a huge part in telling these tales so this week is proving to be incredibly exciting. Seeing how all the spaces suddenly link together has brought a whole new dimension to the production and it’s become clear that the scene transitions are just as integral as the scenes themselves. Test audiences are being used for the tech and dress runs meaning the actors are able to see what it’s like having a group of people to engage with in their scenes. The audience form the final character in this production and it’s going to be fascinating to see how different audiences react and interact with the piece.
Over the next few days there will be an abundance of emotion from all parts. Nerves, fear, excitement, pride, and a whole lot of love will be felt from cast and creatives alike. Whenever I think about why I work in the arts, it always comes down to two reasons. The first is because I want to put something into the world that makes people think or feel something they don’t always get the chance to, and the second is because to do so makes me feel alive. Looking back on the rehearsals and forward to the performances, I can happily say We Were Told There Was Dancing has well and truly ticked those boxes for me. I can only hope our audiences leave with their brains ticking as much as mine has been while working on this show.
We Were Told There Was Dancing runs at the Royal Exchange 17-20 August '17