You can plan for a lot of things in a rehearsal process. I certainly believe in planning. I had sent an email to the cast telling them what I expected and what to expect of the first rehearsal. I had created for myself a timed agenda/crib sheet going through all the things I wanted to cover in the two and half hours of my first rehearsal for Julius Caesar.
Certainly I was very pleased that some of this planning paid off, nearly everyone was on time (and the two or three people who weren’t were within the 10 minute safety zone) so we started roughly on time with the traditional “go round the circle and introduce yourself” business. There is always a moment in this when it seems to be a bit self-help/AA like – particularly when one or two of the group started confessing to eating large quantities of sweets (although I am beginning to suspect that the first person to do so was in fact making ironic commentary on the AA like nature of the exercise!).
I then did my little intro – why I was directing the play, why I was updating it and why there would be a twitter feed. Except that I think I may have missed some key bits of info on this – possibly due to the fact that I got back from Venice late the night before and then straight into a slightly fraught 9am meeting at work in the morning. I should have mentioned the parallels between the twitter-revolutions of the Arab Spring and the ‘revolution’ of the play. I wanted to mention the involvement of women in generating the revolutions of the Arab-Spring and how they rarely subsequently took power as the reason I had chosen to cast both Brutus and Cassius as women. Ah well. There will be time between now and February 15th to get this information across.
The next part of the evening was the bit I had planned for, but also hadn’t planned for! In setting up the context setting exercise I had simply imagined that the information I got back would somehow be what I expected back (although in some cases I wasn’t sure what I expected) and this assumption was clearly ill founded and, on reflection, perhaps not even desirable.
In the context setting exercise the actors got into ‘relationship’ groups – these might be romantic/familial/employment/friendship relationships – but all where there is an existing (or might be an existing) relationship before the play opens. Where the actor was playing more than one part they were told which part they were focussing on in this group. I asked them to think about who they were in the modern context, what was their job, what was their relationship with the other people in the group – if they were a ‘servant’ what did that mean in the modern context (secretary, body guard, housekeeper, etc) and asked them to think about their past history together and also what their daily lives were like.
As this progressed I went round to see different groups and explain things and discuss things with them. The results were both extraordinary and encouraging! Actors had found, even within the smallest roles a rich and imaginatively worked out character – some may have come prepared but some created this on the spot – for example the minor character of Artemidorous – who has barely a page of a scene – is now a speech-writer for one of the conspirators (and therefore privy to inside information) but also an obsessive stalker of Julius Caesar – keen to pass on her information but also giving Julius a keen motivation for ignoring her – genius!
Many others came out with equally well worked out back stories and characterisations. I hope – I think – for those who were more tentative in settling on the specifics of their character this will be encouraging and they will see that within the confines of the text there is also a huge freedom for imagination and creativity for the actor. Perhaps the audience will see it – perhaps they won’t. What I do know is that they will sense it – it will be a deeper, richer production for the fact that each plebian has a name, a job, a reason for being where they are, an opinion (no matter how swayable) and a true relationship to the context and plot of the play.
All this fantastic creativity came out of just one hour’s work – we have many more hours in which to refine it, change it if need be, in the rehearsals to come – but what a great start. I won’t see some of these actors for rehearsals on actual scenes until later in November. But the work we did last night means they have something concrete to work on, knowing that they have agreed a framework with both me as director and with the other characters in their scenes.
The last hour was taken up with a verse and text workshop. I largely cribbed this from the brilliant verse workshop we were given by RSC Open Stages Skills Exchange – led by George – at the Questors Theatre in September. I added to this a few other classic iambic pentameter ‘tips’ and called it a night. Well apart from the traditional trip to the pub.