Routledge

Extras

a personal rehearsal diary

by Scott Graham

from the making of pool (no water) by Mark Ravenhill

Day 16

Mark is back with us today. It would be great to show him the work we have done so far but responding to five missed calls on his mobile, one of our actors found out that his wife had just started having contractions. Off he went to be with her.

(I stepped in and while I have always fancied performing in this show I have to say I was RUBBISH. Reading from the script I lost all theatrical perspective and any sense of what would be right. It reminded me of the difficulty and frustration of directing from within. We used to do it all the time when we were performing but that was because we had no choice. It is clear (and incredibly obvious I suppose) that there is so much more to give from the outside. Our experience of being on the inside does give us a shared sensibility with the performers and a practical understanding of what we are asking them though.)

We are yet to hear whether he and his wife have had the baby and what this means for his availability. This was the risk we took because we wanted this performer and now we have to live with it.

It is different for everyone I am sure but the weeks after the birth of my daughter were all consuming. I also know an actor who heard his partner had the baby, went home to see her on the Friday and was back at work on the Monday! There are of course practical demands and considerations concerning the show but it is certainly not for us to make those demands (yet). The performer will be having his world turned upside down now and in amongst all this chaos a tiny part of him will be thinking about when he could and when he should return to rehearsals.

All of the above seems to suggest that this situation does not terrify me. Well I can assure you it does but it is partly of our own making. We just have to deal with it. But on the inside ... you don’t have to be stoic on the inside. This is terrifying!

But it will be good to have Mark back though ...

***

I led the group through a really sweaty warm-up, again using a set routine of choreography to stretch to and then push towards a more aerobic delivery. Having loosened the cast up I then spend the next hour icing my shoulder trying to stop it seizing up. It felt great during and immediately after the warm-up but while I sat and watched the others work it just became gripped again. This is very frustrating.

Not having one of our performers makes it impossible to work on some contact work and recap the big physical scene, so Steven takes over and they start work on adding some footwork to the section he has created (‘Select Delete’). This is usually where brains start melting and dripping out of ears but they remain focused and work at an incredible speed. It is such a shame that this process will have to be recapped when the missing performer returns. And it will not be easy for him. The focus will be on him and he will feel that he is holding us up (which of course is true!). It is not a nice place to be. I have been there and it is a real battle to stay positive and productive.

In the afternoon I want to work on a small section of text and movement but the cast seem to hit that post-lunch lull we have seen before. It feels like they are resisting me and this is all the more difficult as I only come to them with an idea I want them to engage with. I do not want to just tell them what to do here. I want them to meet me halfway but this doesn’t really happen. I find that my idea sounds a bit feeble now that I have voiced it. But then all it would have taken to sound strong was for someone to say, ‘yes’. But I get virtually nothing. This is worrying. I know that the idea lacked a real clarity but I thought I could bring that to them to help me with. I guess I was uninspiring and they were uninspired.

So why were they good with Steven and bad with me? Is it a clarity issue? Is this a trend that I have not noticed before now? The implications are devastating. If I have a lack of clarity it is when I feel nervous or lacking in confidence, then this idea will only lead to greater lack of clarity. It will be self-fulfilling.

We eventually get the scene up and running and it involves me simply choreographing their moves. Not the way I had planned it but it is done and it works. At the end of the session I thank them but I don’t really mean it. I am both frustrated at them and embarrassed if the reason why the session was so turgid was because they have no confidence in me as a director. I know they come to me for help with the text and for ideas but maybe when we are up on our feet they can see through me. That is what it feels like! And I know that sounds self-indulgent or like classic paranoia but it does have an effect on me and how I feel about the next time I am in front of them and presenting an idea.

I wonder if I come across as apologetic about my ideas. I have noticed that I tend to avoid eye contact and say, ‘This is not it but what if ...?’ I wonder how I would respond to someone who consistently dismisses their idea before sharing it.

***

I find out today that the Guardian and The Times are coming to review the show in Plymouth. I know that we said we would push for this out of respect for our co-producers (Drum Theatre Plymouth) but never imagined we would be so successful. It now feels so early to be having such important reviewers coming to see the show. I know the show improves massively while it is in Plymouth and by the time it has its London press night it is usually at its peak. There is so much to learn between its first nights in Plymouth and that press night in London but now the show gets evaluated and pronounced upon as soon as it is born. It puts a lot of pressure on us. It is the kind of information that you may not give to the performers until after the event if you think it will be detrimental to their confidence (or might lead them to overplaying).

***

Mark is having a look at the ending of the text tonight. I talked him through my suggestion and he said he will have a look and try to get something back to us tomorrow. At the end of the session a member of the cast asks about the ending again. It is clear that I have not been able to reassure them and they need to hear it from Mark, but to be honest I need to hear it from Mark too. They were expressing the correct fears and were also correct in nominating Mark as the only one who could allay them.

***

Myself and Steven have planned another meeting for the first session tomorrow. I think the timing is perfect as we have reached a section in the script that I have absolutely no idea what to do with. Steven admits that he is the same. Just admitting it and giving ourselves the space to solve it means that we will solve it, so I am confident about moving forward tomorrow.