I’m back! And oh boy do I have a lot to share!
Okay so, I’ve been getting a lot of messages from you guys on Twitter and email, asking me about this whole process. And I know that a lot of you really are thinking about venturing into this world or are just very curious about theatre and what goes on ‘behind the scenes.’ So, I’m going to scribble up a rehearsal diary, from the very first table read back in May, right up to the staged reading performance which took place on June 5th and beyond.
So here goes, all the way back to May! I really hope this helps you guys! And please, if you have any questions just leave a comment below!
May 3rd 2016
Day 1 – The Read Through
A month ago, myself, our amazing Director Tonje Wik Olaussen and three super talented actors – Billy Postlewaite, Gemma Wilson and Robert Thorpe-Woods – all sat down in a small room, above a pub in Balham, to read my play, The Beach House.
Read throughs are an important part of the production process. I think it’s probably the most important part, because it’s where you as the writer, get to see and hear your story’s heartbeat for the very first time. It really helps to hear the script read aloud. While some things sound better in your head – once they’re on paper and read aloud – it becomes obvious that it should just stay in your head! Script reading usually helps once you’ve finished the first draft but not polished it. So, I’d literally written all of Act 2 that week and finished the whole play that Saturday night, ready for the read-through on Tuesday. Basically, it was a busy Bank holiday! Read throughs are also a great opportunity to time the play, giving everyone a general, rough idea of the running time so you can either cut or enhance.
Building a relationship with actors is vital. For a read through, it’s necessary you have the right actor who is the ‘type.’ Even though we shouldn’t type cast blah blah, it’s a read through so you just need to hear them. They’ll be reading with the necessary emotion of course, but they won’t be performing. Not at the table read anyway. Remember, you’re the writer and your job is to assess the script first and foremost. If you’re rehearsing scenes afterward (like we did) then you can see if they fit the bill or not. Tonje found us three actors who were kindly willing to read through the script with us. She sent me their CVs along with their showreels so I could have an idea of who they are and the kind of work they’d done. They were people that Tonje knew quite well so it was a very comfortable fit. It’s also a good way to build up your networking profile too. It’s a small space, they’re the first actors to read your script, your creative baby, so there’s going to be an inevitable bond there! Friend them on Facebook if you can or follow them on Twitter. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again now, social media is the easiest networking tool available. Use it!
The Bank holiday weekend before the reading was a frenzy of writing, editing, printing complications and OCD explosions. Even though we live in a digital age where everything is on an iPad, phone or laptop (which is my preferred method sometimes too), a paper copy is crucial for table reads. Now, I don’t know what it is – maybe it’s just me, maybe it’s others – in fact, if you’re one of these people, comment below, but… when you read out loud from paper, you’ve suddenly uncovered a whole bunch of cringing mistakes! I’ve read, re-read and combed over the script a thousand times, and it reads fine! But on paper, oh no! Suddenly there’s spelling mistakes, grammar errors and stress levels shooting through the roof! I was literally sat there thinking, “Where did all this come from?” But luckily, the actors know it was all a frenzied motion and again, it’s only a read through. I had my pen in hand, and scribbled as much corrections as I could! Again, I wouldn’t have had this chance had it not been for the read through!
So if you’re partaking in a read through and you’re responsible for… well… everything the actors read, make sure you’ve got a paper copy beforehand that you can read from in advance and graffiti it with as much notes as you can!
Tonje secured us the N16 theatre in Balham, which is a space we’d gravitate back to during final rehearsals for the staged reading. I’d never been to a pub theatre before. Ever. Come to think of it, I’d never set foot inside a pub at 10am before either. The whole boozy aroma, first thing in the morning was something I suspected I’d have to get used to in this business (wink, wink). I didn’t realise just how big the place was! One corridor led off into another and a staircase led into a new room etc! I half expected to turn a corner and end up in Narnia! Our reading room was perched on top of the pub, decorated with a colourful circus decor. Secretly, I think we were waiting on edge for a clown to jump out and scare the bejeezus out of us! We had tables and chairs which we managed to cluster around for the reading. The lighting was a bit weak, it felt like reading under candlelight… but that actually added to the theatrical effect that carried through in the script. Especially for the scene which takes place in complete darkness, under torchlight only.
Come that Tuesday, I was trembling with nerves. This was an idea I had back in September. After my first play, Darkridge finished with the Doughnut Theatre, my creative brain just wouldn’t leave me alone. I always envisioned this piece as a home invasion type of theatre and enjoyed planning the story and just writing it out. For my own sake at least. If you’re a writer, then you know and can agree – being a writer is a solitary existence. Especially in the first few months of planning and writing. For so long, it’s kept just between yourself, your computer and of course, the producers who read it.
After Blackout Creative Arts picked it up, my confidence grew. But once we had to sit down with actors, professional actors and read the whole script from start to finish my confidence turned into paranoia. What if they didn’t like it? What if the characters weren’t written properly or the story wasn’t strong enough? After I very nearly ‘George Lucased’ the whole thing up in the first place, it kind of felt like judgment day.
When I worked with Doughnut Productions, it was just three of us reading from the script as I wrote it and I could edit it as we went along, so when it came to the final read through for Darkridge – I’d pretty much heard it all aloud anyway. This would be the very first time I’d hear The Beach House out loud, apart from myself and my sister quickly reading through lines.
Once Tonje hit that stopwatch and I read the opening stage directions, everything sort of… flowed. Of course I corrected and highlighted points of improvement here and there, but actually… I was damned impressed with the way it read. I couldn’t help but feel a surge of pride. And it was one of those ‘pinch me’ moments.
Afterward, it’s imperative that you take criticism. I don’t know how you guys work as writers and how you respond to criticism, but personally, I love it. I love hearing other people’s input good or bad and I don’t want anyone to feel intimidated by expressing their honest opinions to me. I’m not justifying my script, I’m improving it.
After the reading we tried some of the action scenes in the rehearsal space. Even though the actors had the scripts on them, it was very rewarding to see them working through some of the toughest scenes in the story. Even though the scenes we rehearsed are tightened with tension, we had a real laugh acting them out. And that’s how it should be in the rehearsal room. Light hearted, fun, relaxed! It was also an opportunity for us to try out a certain portion of tense dialogue between two characters, much of which, ended up on the cutting room floor! (That’s another post).
All in all it was a beneficial, jam packed three hours! And actually, a lot of the final changes stemmed from that one reading. Yes, another re-write had to be done, which I shall talk about in Day 2 of The Beach House Diaries. But it helped ALOT and the feedback is invaluable! Afterwards, it’s good to take a break for a couple of hours at least. Leave your notes untouched until you’ve had time to process the feedback. Tonje scheduled a meeting later that week with myself and Sam Dunstan, our amazing co-director, so we could go over the script with a fine tooth comb. This is where your notes that you’ve been scribbling all over your script will come in handy. Very handy!
Blackout Creative Arts – @BlackoutCreativ
Tonje Wik Olaussen – @TonjeWik
Sam Dunstan – @SamuelCDunstan
Gemma Wilson – @GemmaCW
Robert Thorpe-Woods – @robthorpewoods