I haven’t sat in on many play rehearsals in my time and when I have, they’ve been dress-rehearsals on a stage. So when Mandy and Tilly mentioned the opportunity to come and sit in on rehearsals taking place at New Perspectives HQ for their upcoming one-man production of A Christmas Carol I was really excited at the prospect of observing how the process takes place in the rehearsal room.
The first day I went along the play had already been in rehearsals for two weeks, but up to that point had been kept with just the core group – Mandy had explained that this was to let Director (Matthew Cullum) and Actor (Kern Falconer) get familiar with a shared way of working. The first day I went in Charlotte, another member of this year’s STEP UP Creatives Ensemble was coming to sit in too, and it was also Stage Manager Jack’s first day on the project – so we weren’t the only people coming in for the first time. Also present were John, the Composer and not forgetting Jamie, Matt’s delightful dog.
On entering the rehearsal room I immediately saw the set, which Matt explained had been put together from a combination of existing stock items and a couple of pieces from the set builders, which were yet to be delivered. The set consisted of a small square raised stage with wood detailing and traditional shell-shaped footlights along the front edge. A wood-panelled proscenium framed the set upstage and there was a table and stool positioned stage right. There were other small hand props brought on stage by Kern when he makes his entrance at the top of the play. The form this production of A Christmas Carol takes is that of a travelling Victorian story-teller and magician of sorts, who brings to life the story of Scrooge, inhabiting each of the characters he meets along the way, as well as old Ebenezer himself. So that’s a lot of lines to learn and a lot of individual characters to portray for one actor!
The rehearsal process was interesting to observe. Kern would perform a section of the text on the set and sometimes Matt would give notes along the way. For example, he’d ask Kern to further exaggerate one of the characterisations in a scene where he was playing a conversation between three men in order to achieve greater clarity for the audience; or perhaps picking up on certain movements they could try in different ways. Every so often Matt would say ‘let’s just let it run’ and Kern would perform a complete section which let things flow more and then Matt would give notes at the end.
It was most interesting observing moments when Matt and Kern discussed at length and in detail a really small moment in the play. for example the way one character would morph into the next, from the point of view of both Director and Actor, to arrive at the best conclusion visually, practically and in terms of the most engaging way to show the audience something. Seeing these sorts of exchanges take place and observing the ways all these minor moments build together to create a much richer performance, really helped give me a much deeper appreciation of the complexities involved in the work of a Director and an Actor. Kern mentioned that it was quite helpful to have people sitting in on rehearsals as he then had more of an audience to connect with; I imagine this was particularly helpful whilst playing the story-teller character whose lines appeal directly to the audience.
On the second morning I visited the set builder’s workshop in Derby with Mandy, and we collected part of the proscenium arch for the set, and a new table they had built to the right height to replace the stand-in one they had raised on blocks. Earlier that morning I had shown some initial sketches to Director Matt, who had previously raised the idea of producing some Victorian-style poster art for the wood-panelled proscenium, in the style of promotional material of the period; for example the posters used to advertise circus acts and illusionists.
After discussing more ideas with Matt, I worked on a couple more sketches which I brought in on the third day when I went in again to watch rehearsals. That day Jen was there to observe too, so it was nice to see another friendly face from the STEPU UP Creatives group. They were rehearsing a section of the play I’d not seen the previous time I’d been there. It was a section from later on in the story when things have become decidedly more ghostly, but there were still plenty of humorous character moments making us smile!
Since showing these initial sketches, I have worked up a few full-scale posters in colour which will hopefully be used on the set and may also make an appearance in the programme produced for the play, which is very exciting! I’m going to spend another day in the rehearsal room this week, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how the play has moved on since I saw it last.
Emma Pegg, Designer, STEP UP Creatives Ensemble 2012/ 13