Being allowed to sit in on a Tmesis Theatre Company rehearsal is like being asked on a date by someone you have liked for a long time; the unknown is exciting and a little bit scary.
As a recent acting graduate of The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, I had the privilege of being taught by Eli Randal (Director of Tmesis) and after she saw my curiosity in working from a physical perspective, she mentioned to me about sitting in on rehearsals for Happy Hour; joining in on the warm ups and giving feedback from an outside eye.
Unfortunately, just like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, it seems to me that some companies are a bit sceptical about opening their doors to outsiders, as if they don’t want you to find out their secret ingredient for their everlasting gobstopper. So you can image how I felt when Tmesis welcomed me in with open arms (literally hugs all around) - it was like finding a golden ticket.
Although I am calling today “Day One”, this is actually not the first day of rehearsals for the company, as months of preparation from the creative team and a successful Research and Development process came before we even stepped into the dance studio today.
Our day began with Lois, the designer, talking us through the new and rather exciting set and costume design. The actor’s eyes all lit up as Lois spoke about the endless possibilities to be had with the new playground she has created for them and ideas for movement pieces already started flying around the circle.
It became apparent that the concepts being explored in this piece are so huge, so current and so utterly bewildering at times, that is the process of honing these into a clear piece of entertainment, following the storylines of four characters who all have different motivations.
Although this piece is ultimately based on a search for happiness, the underlying concept is actually somewhat dark. However, this did not stop us having plenty of laughs today and some brilliant moments were found solely through improvisation and playfulness.
So if you asked me about how my date went today?
We are going on a second date tomorrow…
*Thick Geordie accent* Day 2 in the Happy Hour House.
So people read yesterday’s blog… Yay! However, much like that of the Big Brother experiment concept in Happy Hour, I then realised that the cast and crew might become subconsciously aware that anything they said or did in front of me would be written in my blog. Some of the actors joked about who would be mentioned first and there was certainly a clear winner in my mind…
The man, the myth, the legend that is Adam Davies. Adam led the warm this morning - I use the word “warm up” loosely as it was more like being thrown into the fiery pits of an army boot camp. Although this high intensity form of training was tough and crazy, it really pumped everyone up and there was a sense of achievement (plus a whole lot of sweat) in the room when we had completed the full workout.
I then had the pleasure of meeting Chris Fittock, the writer of Happy Hour, as he handed around new scripts that were hot off of the press. Table reads aren’t necessarily something that springs to mind when you think about the process of devising a physical theatre show, however during this experience, it became apparent that this is fundamental. Working with a writer in the room is really nice, as they can create words that are personal to what that actor is bringing to the character – a beautiful thing to behold.
Another true beauty was seeing the actors play with the new set, which was delivered and constructed this morning while we all got an extra hour in bed. It’s a rare luxury to have a full set in a rehearsal room, as often actors are unlikely to be able to investigate it until show week. Watching them play around with the potential of their new environment, brought a static piece of construction to life and suddenly we were in the dystopian world of Happy Hour.
So what did I learn today?
Tmesis has a very inspiring vibe where each and every member of the company brings something to the table. And the way in which Director, Eli, works allows the cast members the time and space to uncover moments in unexpected places. When improvising, Eli doesn’t just stop the actors if she feels something isn’t working like some directors might. Rather, she lets them muddle through and sees where it leads them, which I believe shows a real sense of trust and openness.
With this, Tmesis actors know that in fact, Big Brother is not watching them and therefore they have the courage to take risks and that’s where the magic happens.
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?
Once upon a time, in a land where the Beatles were born and you can buy scouse for £2, the Tmesis Theatre Company entered the room for Day 3 of Happy Hour rehearsals.
A sense of calm and relief filled the air, as Jen took us through a Yoga warm up, which was well needed for our aching muscles. In stark contrast to yesterday’s military madness, this got me thinking…
I can see how each actor brings a small part of themselves to their character. For instance, Adam’s character is the manager of his sector; he is the person to look to when things go wrong and he strives to be like Superman. In parallel, the real Adam works well as a leader and his high intensity workout mirrors his drive and determination. In another instance, Jen’s character is extremely poised and in control (for the most part) and real-life Jen’s guru attitude reflects this perfectly.
The exploration continued as an improvised staff disco happened, bringing more snapshots of their wants and desires. Digging deeper, we spent a good chunk of rehearsals today exploring Ian’s character, Dave, as we were intrigued to find out more about what makes this guy tick.
Over lunchtime, talking to Ian, he admitted to the group about his addiction to crisps. We then seemed to hold some sort of fried potato intervention to get to the route of Ian’s problem. This totally echoes something that would happen to Dave and Ian brings his lovable comic charm to the part.
Through all of this, I don’t wish you to think that Adam is a power hungry enforcer, Jen is a goody two shoes and Ian is a bit of a loser; but rather that these actors work with their energies to then create a character which is a sideways step from themselves.
When it comes down to it, what’s fascinating for us as audience members is being able to see an aspect of ourselves in those on stage, to relate, feel with and for them.
Today I realised that I can see an aspect of myself in every character in Happy Hour and maybe I’m in search for happiness too? Well, maybe we all are…
Mirror, mirror on the wall, you show us what we look like, not who we are.
I searched the word “Ninjas” on Thesaurus.com. It said “Ninjas cannot be found”. Well played Ninjas, well played….
Those of you who know Tmesis, may have noticed in my previous blogs I have only mentioned 3 cast members so far, when Happy Hour is in fact, a quartet. This elusive extra person is the “practically mute” dark horse of the show, hence why she has not been named up to this point. Some called her The Pint-Sized Performer, others call her The Mini Grecian Goddess and we know her as Eleni.
Today was Eleni’s turn to lead the warm up and as a woman of few words, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Yet again this was a different experience, working with massage and relaxation and evolving into some group contact improvisation. Like some office team building trust exercise referenced in the play, we negotiated moving one another across the room as a collective.
This gave me a moment to think about the bigger picture here… in a normal situation with people who aren’t necessarily used to working in a physical performative state, this exercise would be somewhat dull and clunky. With Tmesis however the chance to engage like this is welcomed with open minds and bodies. Being a part of this exercise with them, I felt extremely safe as I was back-flipped and sored through the air. This all comes from an ability and willingness to listen with their whole bodies and a massive amount of trust.
Today’s warm up was ideal as it followed nicely into the in depth work Eli wanted to do on the piece. Looking at the “office flow” sections and so on, I began to see parts of the show forming in a much clearer way.
Eleni always brings a big smile into the rehearsal room and just like her character, she does things that perhaps others do not notice. This little ninja has a great perspective on the world, because after all, she is always looking up.
Walking out of Dolphin Dance Studio for the last time today I felt an assortment of emotions. I felt pride, I felt somewhat sad and I felt genuine happiness.
Today was my last day being with the Happy Hour gang; it’s outrageous that you can learn so much in such a short amount of time. Compiling a list of all the things I have discovered from being with Tmesis, it ended up being 6 pages long, so to keep this blog light and snappy I’ll share a small portion of them with you…
Top ten things I have learnt from my time with Tmesis:
1. Make a choice, take a risk.
2. Teamwork makes the dream work.
3. Take a towel and spare t-shirt to rehearsals.
4. How to play Four Square.
5. Work hard and laugh harder.
6. Eli Randle is super competitive.
7. If you hit someone hard enough with a keyboard it will break.
8. Celebrate your individuality.
9. I can write (apparently).
10. Find pleasure in everything you do.
Watching a full run of the show this afternoon, it was an hour happily spent (see what I did there...). Only 5 days in, the cast are in an incredibly strong place. I truly look forward to seeing Happy Hour on tour with the secret knowledge that I was there when some of those moments were first discovered – that makes me feel rather fortunate.
Working on a show that centres on the concept of happiness, you can’t help but start to examine your own life. I realised, in some respects, happiness is a choice. So take a week out of your normal everyday life and do something that interests you and more importantly, gets you out of your comfort zone. I did, and Tmesis has inspired me more than I could have ever anticipated.
Props to the people who have read all of my blogs, it’s been delightful to go on this journey with you.
See Happy Hour at Unity Theatre Wed 5 - Sat 8 Oct