This is the last week in the rehearsal room before tech week in the module, and the sound designer is also in the room to contribute their soundscape to the stage picture. Although the tension is slightly raised from previous weeks, we sing happy birthday to a member of the cast and share their cake!
Katy begins the day with notes from the run-through of Act 2 at the end of week 3. Again, she gives big notes, while asking slightly more detailed questions, including what action the actor is playing on a particular line. The rest of the morning allows opportunity to play around with movements that hadn't been working, experimenting with up to 10 different versions of how a movement sequence could look. After each experiment Katy asks the actor how they felt, ensuring that the movement is rooted in truth, as well as visually interesting. The movement direction enables the actors to use their physicality to understand their actions and the energy, pace and rhythm of the scene. This is particularly important given that the main character in the play has an illness that affects her effort, energy and physical strength.
The second half of the day involved more scenes with movement and a run of Act 1 to finish. Before one of the big movement sequences, Vicki, the Movement Director, gave one of the actors some space and individual support to build them up to the high level of energy and tension needed for the scene they were about to run. This involved them listening to music, 'lying in bed', with the music getting louder and Vicki leading them up through states of tension until they were at fever pitch. The result was incredible and seemed to help the actor, who would have the benefit of the previous scenes to build up to this point during a run of the play.
Over lunch Katy kindly allowed me an opportunity to ask her questions about how she prepared for rehearsals. This play benefitted from a workshop period with Katy, Kendall (the writer) and actors, developing the scenes for a rehearsal draft, so Katy contributed to and was invested in the play long before rehearsals began. At the first day readthrough I was fascinated by Katy's annotations to her script and asked her to explain them to me, which she did. After breaking the play into small, manageable chunks, units, corners and events, Katy uses different colour stickers to highlight moments of change, including light and sound effects and technical notes; moments for movement; script notes for the writer and improvisations around these scenes. It occurred to me that this understanding and breaking down of the text provides Katy with a plan for her rehearsal period and a basis for discussion with her creative collaborators. It was really important to Katy that this play had physical sequences in addition to the text, to allow us to see inside the character of Anna's head, to break out of the reality, and, as Katy puts it, “take us out of the academic so that we can experience what the character is feeling with her”.
Throughout the process I've been really interested to see how Katy gives notes to the cast and how much conversation there is while working a scene, particularly in the earlier stages of rehearsal. I learned very quickly that Katy doesn't interrupt, but allows the scene to run before a short discussion about how the actor felt and some redirection. I can see that this is a helpful method, as it allows the actor to digest the note and try again. Katy doesn't give all of her notes at once and sometimes uses improvisation, movement or an exercise to find a clearer, more accessible way into the scene for the actor. From the outside it would seem that this allows the actors more freedom and ownership of their performance.
I was fortunate to attend the run-through later in week 4, which was attended by Sarah Frankcom (Artistic Director), Suzanne Bell (Dramaturg), Amy Clewes (Producer) and other members of the Exchange team. This was a great opportunity for the play to have an audience and for the cast and creatives to assess what worked. Afterwards we gathered in a circle on the floor to hear a few words from Sarah, Suzanne and Amy, with Katy leaving her notes for the beginning of the next day's rehearsal.
I was pleased also to hear that Sarah's notes were 3 big notes about listening, questioning and inhabiting the space, which she gives to every company working in the module, as this confirmed to me that this is a usual and seemingly helpful way to work.
The Almighty Sometimes runs 9 - 24 February 2018, Theatre