The Heresy of Love: Rehearsal Diary

Graduating from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School this summer, final year student Tilly Steele plays Juanita in The Heresy of Love. She fills us in on the rehearsal process…

The Heresy of Love is a play based on the life of Sister Juana Ines de la Cruz. Despite being a nun and a woman, neither of which lent her much literary credibility, Sister Juana became one of the most celebrated and prolific writers of the Spanish Golden Age. She crafted poems, plays, and was a proto-feminist who wrote passionate defenses of her right, of every woman’s right, to have a voice within the world… and here I am, struggling to write a rehearsal diary…

So, it’s Thursday, and not very long until opening night! Ahh! As we prepare to move into Bristol Old Vic Studio next week, we have started running the show in its entirety. The cast of Heresy have been together for around four weeks now, but as we are all training together at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, we have been together as actors (and as friends) much longer. This means that we are lucky enough to have a very supportive and friendly atmosphere in the rehearsal room from the get-go. No ice breaking required.

The process has been heavily rooted in research surrounding Catholicism and the real-life events and people which the play depicts. We’ve read up on theology, sung in a cathedral, been to mass and met real-life nuns and priests. Thankfully, I am playing an incredibly mischevious and wayward servant, and so have mainly undertaken rigorous studying into how to have a good time. An actor’s life is tough.

It’s not all been heavy going though, as our warm-ups have included such joyous inventions as ‘Naturalistic Plague Tag’, born from the imagination of our director, Jenny Stephens. This involves the cast walking around the space in character, improvising reasons to be able to touch another character and so pass on the plague. Once you have heard some of the hilarious reasons given by some characters to avoid contact with others, you don’t look at them in the same way again. Especially when the reasons involve self-flagellation…

We ran the show today in front of our director, assistant director and designers. It’s always nerve wracking, but it becomes clear as the action unfolds that we thankfully haven’t ruined Helen Edmundson’s very good writing and have an excellent show on our hands. We are at that stage in the rehearsal process where the various threads of plot, character and theme we are holding in our heads begin to come together, and we start to feel secure enough in our characters to explore the story and add richer detail to our characterisations. It is an exciting time in the process as we all start to look forward to welcoming our audiences at Bristol Old Vic Studio, hoping that they too will be swept up in the story and add a new dimension to the world we have created together as a company.

– Tilly Steele

The Heresy of Love plays in Bristol Old Vic Studio between 6 – 14 March. Book tickets here.

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