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And so, with everything in place, we could begin working on the play in earnest – we had a play, a creative team, and a venue (read the first Directing Diary if you’d like to know more), all we needed now was to get the ball rolling!
So, first things first, we needed a cast. Now, normally, outside of the capital, I would start talking to friends, spreading my net, seeing who was interested (and free) and I could entice with the possibility of an exciting new project – truth be told, holding auditions in Brighton is less of a chance to see some new faces and more an attempt to cast beyond your usual suspects by seeing the one or two friends and friends-of-friends you hadn’t seen before!
However, in London this is a very different process. More actors, more opportunities to see and cast new faces, and more systems to find a host of willing auditionees. In this case, we relied heavily on Casting Call Pro, organising over 50 auditionees (for just 7 parts), whom we all saw in one scant day. I’ll freely admit how much I was dreading this – I haven’t seen that many new possible collaborators in one day since I first got to University! I was also intrigued by the whole process of not even inviting people I didn’t think were fit, a sort of pre-audition based on headshots – something I’d never experienced before, having never turned people away before even seeing them: how was I supposed to know who I wanted to see and who not? All very nerve-wracking…
Anyway, I ended up sitting in a room in Shoreditch, hoping the 50-60 actors that I had deemed worthy in my own ignorance would cut the mustard. With Diana’s help, sorting through the possible auditionees turned out to be an extremely enjoyable process – every new face presented new and intriguing possibilities, and the general quality of auditions was very high, be it through dumb luck or amazing acuity… Let’s assume a little of both! Either way, there were more than enough talented performers to choose an excellent cast from, with complementary styles and looks, and we could finally attach names and personalities to the characters.
A final word about auditions: I find it particularly fascinating to dig a little deeper into what different directors want, as everyone seems to have different requirements for the actors they like to cast, beyond the basic ability to perform. For example, I like working with actors who bring a lot to the table – I want to work with them to create a character, create a scene, create a moment (and so on), while I know other directors who like their actors to just say ‘yes, boss’ and get on with it. It’s interesting how neither way is right or wrong, and different actors may appeal to each of those two types of director for very different reasons… although I do (rather arrogantly) think that my method creates a more whole and nuanced production, it not all having sprung from one imagination – an argument for another time, perhaps.
So, after much debilitating deliberating, we managed to cast a cast, and had the luck of being able to cast all of our first choices – again, a rarity in my experience, although I don’t think that’s necessarily a difference between theatre in Brighton and London: we just got lucky. Either way, we ended up with a collection of talented, attrative and creative actors, and could now dive into unpicking the cat’s cradle Snoo Wilson’s fertile imagination had woven. I can’t believe how contentious this is now-a-days, but I always start the rehearsal process with a readthrough of the entire play – why you wouldn’t want to hear you chosen cast read through the project you’re going to embark upon is beyond me, although some directors rail against starting like this. Anyway, with a play as complex and surreal as More Light, it felt fitting that we would need to read it through together, to eliminate any outright confusion from the start, although I did want there to be a slight sense of uneasiness from the cast – they’ve got to be happy to inhabit the strange world Snoo has created, but they can’t know every nook and cranny intimately.
After that first read-through, and a chance to ask and have every possible question answered, I normally dive straight into some rather intense character work – a good character grounding is an excellent way to make actors feel comfortable in plays where they still may be teasing out a full understanding of the material, and also gives even the most peculiar scenes a point to start working from. Ideally, it is also the way back into the art and magic of the piece after some of the more grinding blocking work is done, but more on that later!
Anyway, my intense character work often, but not always, involves hypnotism. No, not stage hypnotism, not Derren Brown or someone pretending to be a chicken or anything like that – that’s a whole different kettle of fish. Basic hypnotism is just about accessing your subconscious, about opening your mind to thoughts you may not recognise, and allowing yourself to think, thus move, thus act in different ways. I’m not going to go into too much detail here, as it is one of those things that loses its impact the more you know about it, but ask me for more details if you’d like to know more.
While all this work was going on, we were also kicking the production into high gear: I’m not going focus to heavily on many aspects of the production here, as I prefer to remain blithely uninvolved in most of it, knowing how poor a producer I am, but will pick up on the elements I found most exciting. First of all: the design, and Mike (Lees) has really outdone himself – a gorgeous, sumptuous, yet deceptively simple set doesn’t so much transform the Rose as it illuminates the space, in line with my initial note to keep the Rose central to the production: if we’re going to perform in an underground lagoon, we need to acknowledge and not ignore it! Mike also blew us all away with his incredible costume designs, perfectly amalgamating the space-y theme, the Renaissance theme and the magical theme – I won’t spoil the surprise, but they are all gorgeous, and must be seen to be believed; I still can’t believe Mike is making them all by hand.
Anyway, enough for this installment: I could go on, but I’ll have to contain myself to next time.
Next time, read about the challenges of blocking a play that happens in a dream, and more production trials and tribulations!
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