a personal rehearsal diary

by Scott Graham

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

Day 2

We start with a physical warm-up. Massage, then concentrating on back stretches, finishing with loads of sit-ups. I say loads but they are the minimum we will do as we always set a smallish target and increase each day. It has been a while since I have done any intense exercise so even these hurt.

It is great to start the day like this though. If we were to start with the text then I am not sure we would ever get the energy to get out of our chairs and be physical.

We set the performers some simple rolling exercises but they prove problematic at first. This does not set off alarm bells with us but it does remind us that it is easy to take certain skills for granted when you get used to working with dancers in the rehearsal room. We just break things down a bit more and from there progress is swift. In fact the results inspire some more ideas for physical scenes and myself and Steven chat about where they would sit perfectly with the text. But still I have that voice in my head saying, ‘Hold back. Hold back. It is too soon.’ I am really aware of it this time. I am sure that it was never like this on other shows. It is possible that the ambitious plans and subsequent pragmatic revisions for Market Boy have had a profound effect. I hope it is a new wisdom and not some protective conservatism.

But saying that, I still get too excited and probably push the exercise too far. Not to the point where anyone would protest but possibly to that place where the performers are taking in so much new information that newly discovered techniques are starting to unravel. Thinking positively, it would be very exciting for me to come out of this process having learnt how to balance this impulse to push forward with a practical understanding of how much new information you can realistically expect your performers to retain.

The afternoon was spent taking chronological sections of the text and mining for meaning and possibilities. I thoroughly enjoy this type of analytical observation. So much so that I am desperate not to sully it by allowing it to become analytical naval gazing. It must always move the process forward and it is never to be hijacked by an individual’s process or to become a think tank for the self- justification of the actor/director. In these sessions I constantly discover that I have learnt things, that we have accumulated an understanding of writing, human nature and stage craft. This seems obvious but my point is, you do not go around all day reminding yourself of all the things you know or have learnt. It is these sessions that allow you to be surprised by the thoughts, convictions and opinions that you find yourself coming out with. And you sometimes find that you sound like you know what you are talking about. Ultimately you may find that you DO know what you are talking about. And this is thrilling! To be able to sit in a room with respected practitioners, internationally renowned writers like Mark Ravenhill and be able to guide and nurture a performer’s journey through a text is extremely satisfying. (Although I have to admit it was a lot easier before Mark came into the room. I am now very aware of not trying to speak for him. I am also suddenly totally aware that I am running the risk of him saying, ‘Well, actually, that is not what I meant at all.’ To be honest I am desperate for him to feel the same confidence in me as I feel in him. I think the difference, and where the paranoia lurks, is in the fact that a playwright’s work is often done in private, crafted somewhat and then presented to the people who will challenge it and take it forward. I have seen and read his work and I have developed a trust based on this. Even though he has seen our work he has never seen us work –actually in the process of working – and this, by contrast, feels like tightrope walking naked.)

Mark offered some cuts this afternoon. They were all good. Some involved the bracketing of sections that were good but were probably just in the wrong place. He also suggests rewriting a crucial section near the end. This is an exciting suggestion as it means he has developed an even keener understanding of his work and is now beginning to hone the text. Not just fixing what is broken but really starting to polish the words.

I think everyone is happy. The physicality is certainly challenging some. Tomorrow may bring sore limbs and aching backs and it will be fascinating to see how people respond to this. I used to live on this addiction to lactic acid. But it is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. Again the trick will be finding a balance where you can protect, nurture, as well as drive on. This not a race though. The voice says, ‘Hold back. Hold back.