One of the features that makes the Trainee Resident Director scheme so different from any course of its kind is that we are in open dialogue with Artistic Director Adam Spreadbury-Maher and Producer Louisa Davis about how our training is going and what could complement our core assignments as assistant directors, producers and stage managers on shows at The King's Head Theatre. Recently, a post-show chat led to us discussing how Adam runs a first day of rehearsals, and in turn Adam wanted us to see how this works in practice. This led to us holding a mock first day of rehearsals last week.
The first day of Adam’s rehearsal process is spent focusing on what Mike Alfreds calls "The Character Lists” in his book Different Every Night: Freeing the Actor. There are four lists that each actor must go through the text to complete. Alfreds does the lists himself for the whole dramatis personae and reckons every director should do the same in exploring a play in preparation for rehearsals.
The four lists are:
1. Facts about the character: This refers to the stage directions that describe the character and their actions (descriptions of appearance and behaviour, biographical details, etc.). There are not always very many facts but this is the only list of information that is incontrovertible.
2. What the character says about himself/herself: This is a list of lines the character says about themselves and should be noted verbatim.
3. What the character says about other people: This should include both things that characters say directly to a person and what they say behind their backs. It should include people and groups that are mentioned but not seen in the play.
4. What other people say about the character: This, like list 3, can be written by chronologically going through the play, or it can be grouped character by character.
We were each assigned a role in I Never Get Dressed Till After Dark on Sundays by Tennessee Williams for which to prepare the lists. We took turns delivering our lists to each other, and after each turn Adam would ask us our impressions of the character we had just heard about. We were welcome to make observations but had to be careful about extrapolating too much. We might have noticed, “She talks about herself a lot” or “He speaks mostly about the past”. There was a sense of how beneficial it is to have all the actors discuss their initial impressions of each character, especially when there is no room for entertaining unfounded ideas out of politeness- there needs to be evidence in the text for each statement. The character lists gets the actors talking, rather than the director's voice and vision dominating the first day.
The same lines would appear numerous times in different lists, where characters would refer to themselves and someone else in the same sentence, for example. Take a line such as, “your choice of employment is no concern of mine now”. By acknowledging the different clauses in each sentence and who is being referred to, the ensemble learn the different perspectives of each line collaboratively, and none of the meaning is lost. By having everyone prepare this work and share it on the first day, each actor in the play is given a platform, regardless of how major or minor their role is, and the character’s context in the play is introduced and explored thoroughly.
By giving this as homework in wait of the first day, the actors will have read the text on at least four occasions, in four different ways, "shaking the text through a differently perforated sieve to release patterns that are not always noticeable when reading the play linearly." (Alfreds) By engaging with the text in this proactive and detailed way on day one, you can establish a culture of grounding the rehearsal process in the text. With this foundation in place, at times of further character development, or even if there’s a disagreement about something like costume, the director and actor can refer back to the text.
Ultimately, each director has their own process which they cultivate independently as they are on their own in the rehearsal process, learning and honing their craft all the time. Alfreds spreads the lists out over the first week, asking one or two people to present their lists each day. Adam prefers to do all the lists on the first day and refers back to them as he goes through the first week of text exploration and exercises. The first day of rehearsals can be an isolating and nerve-wracking experience for the lone director, who is bringing together the cast for the first time. The workshop gave us a rare opportunity to share, explore and discuss the first day of rehearsals as a group of five directors.
If you would like to find out more about our Trainee Resident Director Scheme, we have an open day on Wednesday 16th December, 3pm. More details can be found here.