Thursday, June 2nd 2016
Day 3 – Building The Dream House
After an intense few months of writing, re-writing, editing and re-editing, not to mention the mother of all merry-go-round of casting changes, rehearsals for the staged reading of my play The Beach House, was finally upon us. An idea I had come up with in September was actually going to be coming to life now. The excitement and overwhelming emotion is just too much to put into words (which is ironic seeing as I’m a writer). But I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of seeing my work come to life. It’s always been my dream and twice now, it’s become a reality.
A staged reading isn’t the full production, it’s more of a relaxed version, kind of like a rehearsal in front of a test audience. Nevertheless, there is still a lot of rehearsal that needs to be done in order to sew the scenes together and see the play as whole piece! Scary but necessary! Our amazing Producer & Director Tonje Wik Olaussen has been busy, busy, busy organising the event and finding cast members! I sometimes think she pulled them out of a magicians hat because… yeah, it was a roller coaster down Piccadilly circus and I spent most of the journey doped up on coffee, courtesy of the National Theatre! But hey, this is Showbiz guys!
Now, I’d already met the actor playing Ellie Campbell, the beautifully talented Grace Cheatle. I first met Grace at a quick reading at the National Theatre where she read a few of Ellie’s big scenes from the script. Immediately we were won over by her warmth and enthusiasm for the story and for Ellie. We had a good, instinctive feeling that she was, pardon the cliche, ‘the one.’
So, we had our first session at The Fly Pit Theatre in Norwood Junction (a place in Greater London, secured for us by our wonderful co-director Sam Dunstan). It was very convenient for me, because I live about half an hour away which meant I was able to drive down! I finally met Jon Parry and Thomas Maryan, the actors playing Danny and Shaun, (Danny’s the stranger who crashes his boat, in case you haven’t figured it out yet). It’s always nice when you meet an actor and have that instant camaraderie with them, because it’s a reassuring sign of a great working relationship.
We kicked off the first official rehearsal with a read through of the entire play, with this new cast. We’d already had a read through back in early May, (See previous post!) but this time, there was a different vibe. This was the real deal. These actors are the ones inhabiting the characters on Sunday. It was actually happening. We also had the welcome addition of the fourth cast member Baby Reject! (Whom I borrowed from my four year old cousin… sort of without her permission).
After the reading, Tonje gave the actors a brilliant exercise, using the concept of space. She asked Thomas and John to design and draw their idea of the Campbell’s living room whilst Grace designed and drew the living room (with my subtle contribution.) The house in – The Beach House – is basically a silent, fourth character. In my imagination, the story was being played out, sort of like a movie in my head. So everything was very detailed…. but not overly thought out like… where’s the oven, what’s in the fridge, how many DVD’s are in their collection. ..? But it was very fun to spend time thinking about it properly.
I noticed that Tom and John in particular made a lot of references to the script when scoping out the size of the living room and the house in general. At first they latched onto the idea that the house was a bungalow, but that was quickly disregarded as they remembered a specific scene where a character hears footsteps ‘upstairs.’ So, it really taught me the importance of including detail in the script. I’m not talking mass amounts of: ‘Oh the walls were painted this colour, the curtains a matching red, the sofa was shoved in the corner next to a coffee table and under a painting of the Queen!’ (You get my drift).
If there’s something very specific you want the actors and production team to know – include it in your script, even if it’s a side note in the stage directions, just make sure you do. If you don’t then it’s up to anyone’s imagination. In my script, we have a guest room, bathroom, Ellie’s room, Shaun’s room and a whole private beach that are never seen onstage. But due to reference it’s slipped into the audience’s imagination. The bathroom also has seashells on the door. A little touch I added, to pay homage to the character’s beach upbringing.
Personally, I love watching other people make up their own ideas about a house – that you’ve basically built inside your imagination. I’m not a diva, I love sitting back and watching people voice opinions on my work. It’s how I learn. But I’ve also learnt that it’s important to illustrate our imagination onto paper as best as we can. Communicate your vision to the rest of the team and the world. It’s our one job as the writer.
Our set has now been chopped into two rooms onstage: kitchen and living room which is literally separated by an invisible line. Hey, it’s theatre, we need to think practically. Obviously in ‘real life’ the kitchen and living room would be separated by a corridor and door, giving time for the characters to run from room to room. There’s also a cross cut scene. Something important happens offstage which coincides with the scene onstage. Cross cutting was the only way that scene could work in the piece.
Writing it was very easy when it was just my imagination. However when the only two sets are a few inches apart from each other, it does make for quite tricky viewing. Then again, it is theatre and theatre is all about the imagination.
We started off experimenting with some scenes from the second Act, scenes which require a lot of action, some of which, takes place under the cloak of darkness. This is where the giggling bug sets in. When you watch a thriller onstage, there’s a heightened sense of tension from both, actors and audience. In the rehearsal room it’s a different kettle of fish! We have to laugh it off. We just have to. There are some heavy issues being dealt with here and the only way to keep the environment relaxed enough, is to have as much laughter as possible! Sometimes the actors would trip or back into the wall during a heated moment and we’ll burst out laughing! It’s easy for me (I’m backstage so I don’t have to be in character) So I spent a lot of the time covering my big grin with my hand. But mostly I was grinning because it was all coming together very well!
Sam had also compiled an epic beach playlist, complete with seagulls and thunderstorms. I actually listened to a full ‘thunderstorm on the beach’ soundtrack (thank you YouTube) when writing The Beach House, to create the right atmosphere for my imagination to function. It’s one thing, listening to it alone, in my room with just my earphones. It’s another thing entirely, listening to it in a rehearsal room with two amazing directors and three fantastic actors. Like deja vu amplified.
Also, seeing Thomas with the doll for the very first time, was another thrilling moment! His character, Shaun’s bond with Baby Reject is something I conjured up right from the beginning. So this is is an image I’ll cherish forever!