Sleeping Beauty: Rehearsal Diary – Week 1

by Ewan Black, Company Member

Sleeping Beauty is a tale that has been passed on through time for thousands of years. It’s a story that’s had parts added and parts taken away, a story that has its darker versions and it its Disney versions. It is in this way that our company, with Sally Cookson at the helm, will create a new magical re-telling which will once again breathe life into a fairy tale classic that is a favourite to so many – but how do we get there?

Sleeping Beauty at Bristol Old Vic

On the first day I have never entered a rehearsal room with so little knowledge of where the journey will take us. The process that Sally Cookson and her team have created is an exceptional one. There is no script, many of the characters are not developed or don’t even exsist, many of the songs have not been written. The process is largely based on improvisations done by the actors and by many conversations had over cups of tea debating which turn we take and which bit goes where. I quickly realised that I was a small cog entering a much larger, and already running, machine. Sally had already done a weeks prior rehearsal with some of the actors in the company. This is to create a basic skeleton to the story and also broad brushed scenes that would later be filled with the improvisations done in the room. Benji Bower also creates the music along side our improvs with a team of three musicians that will play the songs come the performances.

We start the process by meeting everyone that is involved. The costume creators, the set designer, the sound designer, the stage mangers, the actors, the writer and the musicians and we all wonder if we’ll ever remember all the names! We then played some games and quickly began getting to know one another and started to become a company. We then read through the story version of Sleeping Beauty that dramaturg Adam Peck and Sally had put together. In our version the original story has been put together with a story called The leaf that hung but never grew. A beautiful story of friendship, magical adventure and sheep.

Through the first week we improvised scenes that had been broadly created by Sally and pinned down what we would actually be doing. Adam would continually rewrite, change and add bits to the script from what we had improvised until we were all happy. Along side this Benji and his merry troupe would be away creating songs. Sometimes we would all work together and we would sing what they had written. A favourite from the week was a little blue grass number which gets the feet a tappin’!

One of the best parts about this way of working is that as an actor you get to create your character. Your name, where you come from, your age, everything! We are all playing fairy god mothers in this version, boy, girl, man or woman – you’re a fairy! We created our characters by doing improvisations where you are thrown into a situation that Sally has made up and it then forces out some characteristics.

On Friday we went to Bristol Costume Services and had a dress up day! It was hilarious. I was dressed head to toe in pink, with a little pink hand bag and a lovely floral pink hat! Stuart, another actor in the company was dressed in a rather revealing little blue dress which was very funny to see, since he is rather tall and bald. We all looked dashing and very colourful!

It’s been a very great start, having got some of the first scenes down and I’m excited to get into the magical heart of what we are creating! It’s a fantastic collaborative way to work and it’s already producing some great stuff but there is much much more to come. Sheep chase scene is all I’m going to say.

Ewan recently graduated from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and is a Peter O’Toole Prize winner, generously supported by Bristol Grammar School

Sleeping Beauty plays in Bristol Old Vic Theatre from 27 Nov 2015 – 17 Jan 2016. Find out more and book tickets here. Check back next week for more from Ewan in the rehearsal room.

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