A Midsummer Night's Dream | Inside the Rehearsal Room
A Midsummer Night's Dream– Week One, Day Five
By the end of the first week some elements of the set have been introduced into the rehearsal room, including a mock-up of the ramp at the back of the stage.
Movement Director Ben Wright is leading a session with the cast today. Michael asks the actors to show Ben Scene Four, which starts with the Fairies singing to Titania. He clarifies the exits at the end of the previous scene and, while watching the entrances at the beginning of the next, notices a trend developing among the cast – ‘We’re getting good at coming on and finding a centre.’ Michael encourages them to avoid this tendency. After they run the scene, he asks: ‘What’s the story? They’re lulling her to sleep. But also, in our “Burning Man” world, there’s something a little druggy going on.’ He refers to a ‘sugar-cube moment’ in the scene, characters reaching out to one another’s faces. ‘We’re excited by where we’re going, into a slightly spaced-out world.’
Having seen a runthrough, Ben says he’s going to give the actors some ‘building blocks’, which he describes as a ‘foundation we can move in and out of’. He creates a ‘basic phrase’ and then walks the cast through it several times, encouraging them to remain supple: ‘Soft. All of the joints have got air in them so they’re not locked. Even your feet are moving beneath you. There’s no disconnect between body and feet.’ Later, Ben says of a move, ‘It’s a head roll, not a body roll. A ricochet effect like falling into a hole’. The actors’ health and safety remains a key priority – ‘The quality of the movement and you will be safe.’ Tara, the Associate Director, joins in, learning the choreography along with the cast in order to help them remember it later.
Watching this, Michael makes suggestions and asks requests: ‘Having seen that, the language of that, is there a version where…?’ And he and Ben will discuss an alternative, experimenting with the actors. It’s a very collaborative process with everyone in the rehearsal room contributing ideas and supporting one another. Composer Ben Ringham adds a couple of bars to the score to allow more time for the movement. The lighting is also discussed, syncing it with the blocking to help focus a specific moment. The Fairies gather round Titania during the song, in what’s described as a ‘Wicker Man circle’. Michael wants the group to remain still – ‘Static’s better so she’s the focus.’
Next, Ben devises a way to lift Titania and carry the sleeping Queen to her bed, on a raised platform accessed by a spiral staircase. Michael clarifies the height of the platform to enable Ben to calculate whether the cast can actually lift her that high. Michael’s keen to ensure the lifting and carrying come out of the preceding action – ‘I think I might want a slightly more organic way into that.’
Having watched the choreography of the song, Michael reflects on the storytelling: ‘I’ve got one observation – it’s a lullaby to lull her to sleep. The only thing that seems slightly contradictory to me is, “Come not near our fairy queen…” Keep the movement but change the attitude behind it.’ Learning the choreography has, to some extent, been at the expense of remembering the song, the actors dropping lines and then catching up on them later. Ben suggests they re-visit the routine next week, and then every week thereafter.
Following a short break, there’s a shift in the mood of the music with a more contemporary score that references both Lonnie Donegan and the Carpenters. ‘We’re going to add all you Fairies to Karen Carpenter,’ smiles Michael. He suggests Ben start in his usual way: ‘I would go for your general language first.’ Ben encourages the actors to opt for small movements – ‘Be understated with the steps.’
Michael wants the Fairies to be part of the ‘de-assing’ of Bottom, removing his teeth, tail and hooves. ‘Think backing upstage, masking a scene change,’ Michael calls out to the cast, ‘but keep it fluid for me. If you’re in the audience watching you don’t want to see any of that.’ He turns to Ben – ‘What’s the language when they retreat?’ Responding to this new routine, Michael asks Ben (Ringham) to add another minute to the score.
While focused on the movement, Michael reminds the actors to remember their characterisation: ‘Just hold onto who you are as well, even when you’re doing this choreography. Otherwise it’ll be harder to go back and re-incorporate it.’