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In real time, we’re now at the beginning of Week 2 of the run of More Light, but in this directing diary we’re a week before the show opened: I had just given the actors a week off, to let them learn lines on their own and let them make the play their own, and we all came together again for our first full run, and the final week of rehearsals (which, handily, was also production week…).
The first run-through is often a disaster, but rather unsurprisingly so – this is the first time your cast put everything together: all of that character work, blocking, line work and repetition is now, supposedly, in a position to be done together, but your actors are still making connections, still attaching a line to a move or a move to a feeling, so it is often a complete and utter travesty. Cues will be missed, lines will be all over the place, and your prompter will be reading out every third line… Younger directors, in particular, often seem dismayed by the quality of their first run, not realising it is necessarily a mess – the actors gain a great deal of understanding when trying to reintegrate every aspect of the work that they’ve already done into the finished product, it just won’t be pretty. I also like to use the opportunity to give the cast a little jolt – lines are never learnt well enough at this point, so this is a great opportunity to blame the line-learning and put the fear into them a little.
A little word on ‘putting the fear’ into people – it’s not something you should do lightly, nor something you should do for every project. I reserve a little disappointment and frustration for shows where the energy isn’t quite up, or the cast are getting a bit lax – both problems I find are solved by a little authority. I prefer disappointment over anger or stern words, but that just depends on what works best for you.
Either way, that first run-through, if handled correctly, should initiate a heartfelt push into the run – if it’s well run, actors are excited about their upcoming show, but aware of how much work it will take. It’s a tough balance to get right, and I think I may have erred a little more on the ‘you guys need to work hard’ side of things over the excitement angle: it is a play with a lot of tough lines, and I was particularly disappointed by how far the lines were from ready – not the actors’ fault, just a tricky mouthful to deliver well. In any case, you should walk out of the first run-through with a clear target in mind, and a very good idea of what needs doing to make the show open with a bang!
In More Light’s case, we needed to use the last week of rehearsals to make the lines more solid, build confidence in the cast, and tweak little moments – like most of my productions, it is a smorgasbord of delightful little moments, just a minute or two here or there that reveal the true depth of certain characters and situations, and these, unless they arise naturally, have to be gently massaged into brilliance in the last week before the show. I always think that it’s good practice, once the show has been run once through fully, to try and run it again as many times as possible before the run – once everyone gets a sense of the piece as a whole, the whole operation will feel a lot smoother.
And that, very simply, is how our last week ran – the occasional bit of detailed scene work to create my little moments, and otherwise running the play over and over again, until everything clicked together and became a vibrant whole. Also, the drive here was to push towards opening night – it’s important to build up momentum and energy within the cast, as opening night is, for now, the most important goal to aim for. Not that it particularly is for anyone else, but opening night is the actors’ litmus test – the first time they show their work to an audience. If they don’t dive into it 100% prepared and with full energy, they will never build up the confidence they need to make the show a success.
However, before they can get to that point, the production has to get up to speed as well, and normally you end up with between 1 and 2 days to amalgamate the two strands of the show before showing it to a paying audience – it should be more, but Fringe budgets and venues normally mean that time is far shorter than most would think possible. So, at the same time as you’re working your actors up to performance standard, behind the scenes the production is kicking into full gear – lights, sound, props, costumes, set, everything has to be ready for the weekend before the show, just as the actors are. It is normally particularly tough to unite the actors and their tech crew – they both see the project as theirs, and on uniquely different playing fields. I find getting everyone introduced early often makes this run a little smoother.
On More Light, we only had one evening and the day of the first show to get in – again, Off West-End venue and all that… It was a tough couple of days, but a lot of patience from everyone meant that we could bound into opening night with a smile – the energy that had been building all week was fizzing and ready to blow, the set and costumes were ready, and everything was ready to be seen by the paying public. It was a stressful venture, that last week, but how your cast and crew (and, moreover, you) handle that week will show just how much you want this to work – also a good thing to note!
My next and second-to-last entry to this Directing Diary will talk about the run of the show, and then we’ll finish everything up by a quick look back over the whole project. At this actual point in time, we have just started the second week of More Light’s run, and it’s all going rather well – nice audiences, and three excellent reviews – I’ve linked them through below, and our ticket booking information is linked above – I hope everyone can make it!
5 STARS ‘…in the reflected lustre of this impeccable performance, Snoo Wilson’s enigmatic vision truly shines’ (FringeGuru)
4 STARS ‘entertaining, articulate, erudite and sometimes witty nonsense’ (WhatsOnStage)
4 STARS ‘a witty, solidly performed and rather unique piece of theatre’ (TrashLounge)
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