Sleeping Beauty – Rehearsal Diary: Week 5

by Ewan Black

So here we are in the final week of rehearsals, and it’s all gone very fast. Through week five we continued to work on the second part of act two. It became apparent that this wouldn’t be so easy as we have to create a satisfying ending. What I mean by “satisfying ending” is that we want the audience to feel like all the problems of the story are resolved or left in a way that is pleasing – we ended up creating a chase scene, making sure the play flows well and, as I was saying, create that fulfilling ending.

The chase scene took a while to go through because there was a lot of movement involved. The chase is married with a fantastic heavy rockish song which makes it all a lot more exciting. Doing the chase scene without the sound and lighting effects was still good but I’m sure when we have all of it together it will vamp up the effect and create a fantastic bit of theatre… again I don’t want to go into too much detail about it – you’ll have to come and see it!

The ending has proven quite hard to crack for us. We have already had four different variations and I have a feeling that as we go into tech next week we will have at least another one, or at least a slight alteration. As I said this is because we are trying to find the ending that satisfies, that finishes our characters stories and that provides a great message for the audience to go away with and think about. Part of our problem is that we have taken two stories and put them together to make one. We have the story of Sleeping Beauty and the welsh folk tale of The Leaves that Hung but Never Grew. We need to make sure both stories are completed by the end, and that they are combined well.

On Friday we did a run of act two and some problems arose. Sally realised that the act didn’t quite flow right and that we had lost the “heart of the story”, which in our case is the relationship between Prince Percy and Deilen – and of course, their individual stories. We had lots of funny bits and larger than life sections that in reality aren’t part of what I like to call ‘the core story’. When I first look at a play I like to find the core. So for me, that would be picking out the key components of what actually happens in the story and putting aside the things that aren’t essential. This helps you to keep on track of what is, as Sally said, “the heart of the story.” So on Saturday, Sally and dramaturg Adam Peck thought about where they could implement more scenes that would show the developing relationship between our two main characters. We also cut down some of the other scenes that weren’t crucial. Sally and Adam also decided to swap some scenes around to make the show flow better. Then finally we changed the ending to answer the questions that the welsh folk tale asks and create that all important satisfying ending.

On Saturday afternoon we did our first full run through of the show. It went well, we also saw that the work we had done in the morning really helped shape the story. Sally and Adam took notes of what they thought worked, and what they thought didn’t work, and I’m sure we will do some more editing on Monday before we go into the theatre to start tech.

The show is in a great place and I’m excited to add costumes, lighting, sound and, of course, the stage to what we have done! Into tech week we go!

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

Photography by Steve Tanner

Sleeping Beauty plays in Bristol Old Vic Theatre from 27 Nov 2015 – 17 Jan 2016. Find out more and book tickets here

Sleeping Beauty – Rehearsal Diary: Week 3 & 4

by Ewan Black, Company Member

Ewan in rehearsal for Sleeping Beauty - Photography by Steve Tanner

Ewan (left) in rehearsal for Sleeping Beauty – Photography by Steve Tanner

Week 3

Things are going very well in camp Sleeping Beauty! With a lot of discussion about what will work and what won’t, we eventually get to the end of act one. This meant we could move on to the next stage of the devising process.

Once we have the shape, the basic text and the songs in place we now go back to the start of act one and finesse, edit and fine tune. We started doing this on Tuesday and through the week would go very slowly over each scene really picking out the detail. In a way we started rehearsing a play the normal way! It’s still a very open process and many of the scenes change dramatically and sometimes even the main story line will too. What I’ve come to notice is that we go round in big circles testing out every idea under the sun and then normally use the original one. It’s just part of the process because then we can be sure that we have taken on the right idea!

We had George Mann and Marc Parrett come in to look at the movement and puppetry. Sometimes we would be looking at movement and puppetry at the same time, all whilst singing and doing magic!

This is also a chance for Benji to go through sound ques with the band and really sharpen up when the music comes in. Benji is doing the sound design for the show so this means any explosions, phone rings or magical noises need to placed.  This sometimes takes a while but it’s worth doing now so that it doesn’t take up too much time during the tech week.

After we had gone through the whole first act, readjusting and polishing, we then did a run for most of the people involved with the show. So the lighting designer, set designer, producer, costume designer, stage manager and marketing all came to watch. This is so they could get an idea of where the show was going and start thinking about ideas for their departments if they hadn’t already.

We ended this week on a very positive note with a fantastic first act in place. Time to dive into act two!

The company in rehearsal for Sleeping Beauty - Photography by Steve Tanner

Week 4 

Week four takes us into the second act of Sleeping Beauty. We have a rough idea of where the story will go, but there are still lots of plot holes to fill and resolutions to be made. We start by improvising – the same way we did act one in the first two weeks. Sally will tell us what needs to happen in the scene and where the story needs to go, we improvise that and Adam Peck will record it.

Lots of fantastic things came out of this week and it’s proving a lot faster to improvise as our characters are already built now and we almost know who will say what where. We’ve actually moved very fast and by the end of the week had 35 minutes of act two down, leaving only two or three scenes to do next week.

We spent two days on a travelling scene which has turned in to quite an epic piece of devised theatre! In this part of the show the girl and Prince Percy are travelling against the elements, which are being created by the company. Benji and brilliant band created a rather amusing song to go along with it which I have the pleasure of singing! This part took two days because it had to be choreographed by George Mann and it’s quite a lengthy bit of music that has to be filled. The end result was absolutely fantastic.

A personal favourite from the week though was a little sheep dance but I’m not going to get into that as I don’t want to give it a way! Sheep kick line. I’ll just say that.

So we are in a great place going into the final week of rehearsals and I imagine next week we may do a full run of the show!

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.

St. Joan of the Stockyards: Rehearsal Diary – Intensive Week

by Marco Adduocchio, Company Member

St. Joan of the Stockyards follows the story of Brecht’s version of ‘Joan of Arc’ – in this case called ‘Joan Dark’ – and her battle against the meat King Pierpont Mauler. Its theme is religion vs. capitalism, and what happens when these collide. The play is set in Chicago, but we are not setting it in a particular time period so that it’s accessible to everyone and can be related to any era the audience chooses. The process has entailed a mix of devised material and working with the script. The original script was incredibly rich and long, so we had to cut it down to an hour and a half from the initial length of five hours. Nik Partridge, who is the director of the show, has been inspiring in his approach with it and lead us to demonstrate the folly of capitalism and show how the themes of the play relate to society today, with humour and precision.

St Joan of the Stockyards in rehearsal

We started the week with the full cast and we had already blocked most of the show – we just had to refine and develop the scenes.  On the Wednesday, we did a full run of the show. We are in a great place to have all the scenes blocked and the transitions almost sorted so early on, as now we can focus on working on the characters and lines. Our deadline for learning the lines is the 20th of November – but we are almost already off book!

During the week, we have been devising some movement to represent the craziness of the stock exchange and the stockyards. I quote my favourite movement teacher, Gail Gordon: “Any fool can move quickly albeit not accurately, but it takes skill to move slowly”.  We were doing a lot of slow motion movements repeatedly for some scenes until we got it right, which was exhausting. We also did some restraint movement where other actors had to hold us back to simulate a crowd of rioters.  Our assistant director, Maisie, has been fantastic – she is able to pluck out ideas for movement out of thin air, which is a skill that I strongly desire.

On the Thursday, we met our musical director, Ben, who has been writing music for the show and on the Friday we started learning the song he has written.

The show really utilizes all the skills actors need in modern theatre. It is very dynamic with its use of the staging and levels, as we are performing it in traverse, which opens up many options for the audience. This is because the main action will be seen by everyone, but there will be subtle moments where some audience members will be able to see other movements depending on the angle they are sitting at. We are also utilizing the balconies, which will simulate the environment in much more detail.

Overall, the week was very successful as we are working hard and developing the show at a good pace. We are looking forward to progressing further with it and improving what we have done to the highest standard it can be.

Check back later in the year for more from the St. Joan rehearsal room…

St. Joan of the Stockyards plays in Bristol Old Vic Studio from 13-16 January 2016. Find out more and book tickets here – book before 15 November 2015 to get the early bird offer of £6 tickets.

Sleeping Beauty: Rehearsal Diary – Week 2

by Ewan Black, Company Member

Another fantastic week has flown by with new discoveries and lots of laughs! We started the week off looking at scenes with the wise (fairy) women and developed our characters more. We improvised most of the first act and finished the week with a lot of content.

Doing the improvisations has been a great way of quickly getting to grips with our characters. Now that we know more about who we are playing, it has become very apparent that forming scenes will be easier. This is because we now know, with a bit more assurance, how the characters will react in the scenes we do. For instance, we have a fairy that is the leader figure so she tends the lead the way and give instructions.

This week we have also started receiving some of the script, written from what we have been saying in the improvs. I don’t know how he does it but Adam Peck has been lightning fast at taking down what we’ve said and a few days later we were presented with some pages of the first draft. It’s great, you will read through a scene and realise that most of it has been taken from what you’ve said the days before, so sometimes you already know your lines! The first half has started to take shape now and I’m more than sure it will be mostly there by early week 3.

Benji and his merry magical musicians have been hard at work too. They’ve been producing nearly a song a day! We’ve spent some time in the mornings learning the new songs and then late morning we sometimes get it on it’s feet and try put it into the scene. Although Benji creates the music it’s still up for discussion when we get to learning it. So sometimes if we feels like a lyric has a better alternative its a safe enough environment to just speak up. Most of the time we will all agree and the lyric will change. My favourite song to date has got to be the little bluesy number about wrapping poor prince Percy up in cotton wool to make sure he doesn’t get pricked by anything sharp. We call it the spoon song.

We also had Marc Parrett come in. He is the director of puppetry and we were working with him on how to breath life into some of the puppetry that we are doing in the show. We also workshopped the idea of the room with pointy things. We spent a few minutes, cutting out cardboard scissors and then manipulating them and bringing them to life. It looked fantastic but we ended up not using it as we came up with a different idea for that part of the show. This happens a lot but normally doing one thing will lead to something else so everything we do has worth.

Towards the end of the week we began getting a few more scenes down. Because of this Sally decided to have a sit down session and review what we had done. In these little sessions lines get added, cut and read many times. I imagine we will do this every so often to edit the script, make sure all of it makes sense and it’s, well… good!

So week two has proven very productive seeing us well into the second half of act one. I think we are on schedule so far but we have a lot of plot holes to fill and story line to be made clear in the coming scenes next week.

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.

Sleeping Beauty: An interview with Michael Vale

Designer and regular Sally Cookson collaborator Michael Vale talks to us about his design for SLEEPING BEAUTY. Working from the idea of creating a playground for the company to interact with, we caught up with him as he shares the model box with the company for the first time…

Sleeping Beauty Model Box - Design by Michael Vale, photo by Duncan Smith

Sleeping Beauty Model Box – design by Michael Vale

Can you tell us a little bit about the design for Sleeping Beauty?

The design for Sleeping Beauty is basically a simple wooden shape or structure which works as a kind of playground for the company to devise the scenes on in the rehearsal room. This is often a good way to approach the design for devised work since before rehearsals start you probably only have a loose structure for the story and not a series of written, finished scenes so you provide a canvas which both the designer and the company can work on.

You’ve collaborated with Sally Cookson before… has this shaped your approach?

This has naturally shaped my approach since when you have worked more than once with the same director you get a feel for how they tell stories on stage. This also means that you can develop a ‘short hand’ with the director when it comes to understanding how a scene works aesthetically and in context.

Describe your average day in the Sleeping Beauty rehearsal room…

It’s a lot of observing, looking at how the company are working together and developing the style of the show and judging the right time to intervene in their process in order to develop the design and the story further.

We’ve been very lucky to have worked with you before! Can you tell us a little about your previous Bristol Old Vic experiences?

I have always had a good experience at Bristol Old Vic since the stage and auditorium itself are so present and beautiful that it provides the beginning of the design for you.

What can people expect when they come to watch Sleeping Beauty?

They can expect to see a classic story, well told, full of wit, humour and surprises but weaved in and out of a lesser known fairy tale, The Leaves That Hung But Never Grew by Daniel Morden.

Sleeping Beauty plays in Bristol Old Vic Theatre from 27 Nov 2015 – 17 Jan 2016. Find out more and book tickets here.

Read the latest from the rehearsal room in Ewan Black’s rehearsal diaries – published every week!