Sunday, June 29, 2014

Love of rehearsal

I love rehearsals and always mean to write about them.

But they’re so intense and so intimate and then also change all the time. That makes them hard to pin down and makes me, also, reluctant to make what happens public property.

At least I know now what’s measnt to happen.

At the beginning I didn’t know a thing. I remember sitting in on rehearsals for LOSING VENICE, my first original play to be publicly performed, about this time of year in 1985 without knowing at all what I was supposed to be doing.

I was obviously supposed to be doing something, but what it was I had no idea.

No-one ever told me and I felt too embarrassed to ask.

So there i was with everyone, rehearsing in the middle of the set of ELIZABETH GORDON QUINN, which didn’t help much, listening to actors saying my lines and feeling sorry for them. Sorry for them for having to say lines that I felt sounded so awful.

It was a kind of torture for me, I felt so vulnerable and exposed.

I wanted to hide, and  couldn’t, but did my best sometimes by putting my head in my hands.

This was not a helpful thing to do. The actors all thought I hated what they were doing.

So the first lesson was to smile.

That was what I tried to do in the next rehearsals, not always easy, but as years passed I discovered what i was supposed to be doing and also discovered I could do it.

Then I could smile for real.

The thing I was there to do was see past my own doubts and uncertainties, and the doubts and insecurities of the actors, and the director too, and think objectively about the text.

Was it working? If so, hang onto it. If not, change it until it did.

Difficult skill, I would say. I’m proud of it.

It’s a process that’s supposed to stop on opening night, in fact quite a while before. But it doesn’t, of course. 

With JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN I’m still at it, even though I wrote it in 2009 and have performed it a good many times since.

Which makes me realise, yet again, how hard it is to write a good play. 

I’m actually intrigued to discover that even though I’m rehearsing to perform I can still think about the text.

I wrote a radio play once called TORQUEMADA (a translation and adaptation of a beautiful book by Galdos) and the producer unexpectedly asked me to play the butler in a scene. I was so excited at having to say “Dinner is served, sir”, or whatever it was, that i completely failed to notice that actually the scene could be rewritten far more economically and effectively.

It’s like there’s two different compartments of my brain, that don’t always work together. And when I’m performing something written by someone else then usually the writing bit has to turn itself off.

Not always easy. But somehow a huge relief.

Even in rehearsal, as a writer I feel alone. The one thing I love about rehearsing as a performer is the feeling I belong.

I still remember so vividly feeling that the first time I was involved in rehearsing a play, way back in 1964 or 5. It was the first time I think I really felt at home in a group of people. The first time I felt I truly belonged.

And that was how I found my vocation in theatre. As an actress. How sad it got tangled up in my fear and shame of being trans.

Sad that I lost twenty years before I finally somehow found my way back as a writer. 

Sad it’s taken another thirty years to find my way back as a performer.

But how extraordinary that I have. Mad also, at this moment, to be doing it in the crazy uncertainties of the Fringe.

But all that lies ahead. What’s happening now is patient hard labour.

But what a joy. What a gift to be alive...

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