Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Being a writer in rehearsals. Being an actor...

This time thirty years ago I was in rehearsals for my LOSING VENICE in the old Traverse in the Grassmarket.

I still blush to think at how utterly useless I was.

I had no idea exactly what I was supposed to be doing there. No-one had told me, and somehow it didn’t feel safe to ask. Hearing my words spoken aloud left me feeling horribly exposed and full of loathing for my work.

Sometimes I could hardly bear to hear the lines; I would sit with my head in my hands, and so, of course, all the actors thought I hated what they were doing.

Meantime I really admired what they were doing, and only felt sorry for them having to speak such dreadful words. 

In subsequent productions I learnt to try to keep my eyes open during rehearsals and pretend to smile and also, if I could possibly could, try to answer the actors’ questions. At first when they asked me what such and such a line meant I would tell the truth and say I didn’t know. “It’s just the way I heard it”, I would say. Which was hardly helpful or reassuring. 

Later I learnt to make something up and try to say it with an air of confidence. Often that assuaged whatever anxiety had induced them to ask in the first place. And so I learnt it was sometimes useful to lie a bit.

I also learnt that most of the painstaking research I had undertaken as part of my PhD thesis had been an attempt to answer the wrong question. I had been trying to understand what Calderon intended to say in his plays; when probably, like me, all he was trying to do  was trying to create moments that worked on stage.

Whatever that meant.

Over the years and over all the subsequent plays I gradually came to understand that what I was supposed to be doing as a writer was listening to the words, making sure they were the right ones and in the right place, and then changing them if they weren't. 

And that what I wanted from the actors was not that they say the lines always in the same pre-ordained way but that they be in the present moment. The moment suggested by the script, and by their creative response to it. That they’re able to trust the moment, trust the text and trust themselves.

And then let go of that moment and move on to the next.

As I was to say eventually in my GOD’S NEW FROCK: 

“Welcome to this moment. This moment that has never happened quite like this before and will never happen quite like this again.”

And it’s only now, as I re-rehearse my GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN, that I begin to understand quite how difficult this is….

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