Last time, I wrote about the fun week we had going to a mosque, temple, synagogue and some churches as research for our end-of-year performance. When I wrote we were already a week into the three weeks of devising and rehearsal time and I wasn’t having much fun. I hoped it would get better but unfortunately it didn’t.
Looking back now, having finished it all, the three weeks (with a few hours a week devoted to the project) are a bit of a blur. I can’t remember many distinct sessions because so many were similar: trying over and over again to turn the interesting things we’d seen into an interesting performance. There were almost no moments during this process that I enjoyed myself.
I guess it’s a good thing that almost everyone found this process difficult. If I’d been hating it and everyone else was full of joy I doubt I’d carry on with the course (I’m currently planning to stay for the second year). I think one big problem was the task as a whole: representing a place we’d observed. It’s very difficult to come up with an engaging overall theme or narrative when you don’t want to invent anything. And our theme — religious spaces — seemed extra difficult because so many of the events involved rigid rituals. Personally, whatever place we’d have chosen to observe, the task as a whole would have left me pretty cold.
We also had problems working well together as a group. Maybe an outside observer could have identified exactly what was going wrong but from within it was hard to tell. We tended to keep adding ever more ideas on top of the first idea without trying anything out. Some members of the group were almost too full of ideas and excitement. Others (hello!) had almost no ideas to contribute over the three weeks. But, again, it sounded like every other group had problems of one kind or another with how they worked — I haven’t spoken to anyone who enthused about three weeks of creative pleasure.
On Mondays we’d present the work so far to the teachersm, who would tell us how much of it wasn’t working (pretty much everything). The final week we also presented on the Wednesday, with the performance to family and friends scheduled for Friday evening. But the teachers decided there was so much work to do that the performance would be postponed till Monday. I can’t describe how much I’d been looking forward to the weekend I’d be free from the pain of working on the bloody thing. Monday seemed a long way off.
So we all continued with our efforts to re-arrange scenes, add new things, remove old things. Friday we had another run-through and finally, after three weeks, it seemed like we’d got something that began to work. Our notes from the teachers didn’t involve starting all over again. Rehearsals the following day were the first time I enjoyed the process — having found a structure that worked we could relax and enjoy trying new things on the off-chance they worked. I think we still tried to do too much in too short a time, but it was almost fun.
Then on Monday we each had a run-through, then a final showing for the teachers in the afternoon. There was just time to discuss yet more changes (I’m way more cautious about last minute changes than everyone else, but it went fine in the end) and then, at bloody last, the final show which, I think, went relatively smoothly.
But, I must admit, that one of the best aspects of Monday for me was appointing myself stage manager for the day. With 65 performers, eight scenes and a parade of animal masks, the small “backstage” area looked like an explosion in a charity shop after Friday’s showings. There were too many people only looking out for themselves and their own group — to be honest, too many people behaving like children — so there was no way it could remain organised. It would only take one person to be responsible for keeping order and I gave it a go. I didn’t stress myself and set myself the modest target of having the place no more untidy at the end of the day than it was at the start. I think I succeeded and, although it meant I didn’t see any of the performances, I had a great time. So that’s something.