Told by an Idiot: The past interrupts the present, reality turns into fantasy, fantasy turns into reality
Monday, 25 November 2019
Rehearsal blog week 2
This week is going faster than the first one! We dedicated a great deal of time to running and polishing the ‘clog dance’ this week; a traditional dance that has its origins in Wales. Both Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel were excellent clog dancers; you can trace clog dance DNA in the agility with which they create whacky walks, routines and balletic moves in different rhythmic dramatic situations and routines. Paul (our director) asked me to find videos of Charlie and Stan clog dancing for choreographer Nuna Sandy ahead of starting rehearsals so she could create an ‘Idiot’ routine for the show.
Amalia and Jerone (our Charlie and Stan) rehearse the dance throughout the week accompanied by Sara on piano and Nick on drums. Nuna choreographs new material and the actors dance on the set for the first time. There are two parts to this dance; one is part of a scene called ‘Rubbing Along’ and the second is perhaps Stan’s fantasy, which happens at Chaplin’s mansion in ‘The Reunion’. I say perhaps, because this has not been fully decided yet, though it seems to be working well within the logic of the piece. Most of the material is found in rehearsals and decisions are not set in stone until the last minute, allowing for spontaneity and creative improvising to continue right through rehearsals.
The ‘clog dance’ is accompanied by a score composed by Zoe Rahman. Sara and Nick (the other two actors / musicians in the play) show their acrobatics by using improvisational techniques on piano and drums as well as playing multiple characters in the story. All of the action has musical accompaniment and the styles range from jazz to reels, music hall song and hip hop. Sara has been learning the music this week and she will continue to do so next week. In order to craft a more complex meaning – and feeling – the music often plays against the action. Paul mentions that Chaplin talked about this juxtaposition as well. The music is not illustrating; the action can be funny, but the music can make you feel uncertain or worried. The humour is scathing; it is humour with a smile which is cracked at times.
This week I set out to understand the mechanics of the complex and multi-layered storytelling techniques that we are using in this devising process. One of the most fascinating – and daunting – things about the narrative is that it is non-linear and thus, the scenes are completely disjointed. Having said that, everything has an internal logic and there is an overall structure for the piece as well; which does not mean there is no room for play or changes. Paul did write a script ahead of starting rehearsals and asked me to write the titles of each scene on big paper and stick them to the wall. As the weeks roll by, the play starts to cohere and have a life of its own; which makes us change the order of the scenes.
Paul often says that we “jump all over the place” and the joy of it is that we have lots of fun and everything is up for grabs at this point. The daunting part is that we sometimes get a bit disoriented and need guidance from Paul, who has spent over a year thinking and doing research for the play. The past interrupts the present, reality turns into fantasy, fantasy turns into reality. The use of time and space is quite cinematic and scene transitions become ‘a thing’ in themselves. We cut from one scene to a completely different one and there is use of subplot as well. Transitions become really important and they help to anchor both the piece and the audience.
Because parts of the score are quite jazzy (Zoe is a remarkable jazz musician), and some of the scenes are set in the U.S. I think a lot about different films, such as Woody Allen’s earlier ones. Interestingly, Zoe comments that Nick’s drumming during ‘Victorian Childhood’ reminds her of González Iñárritu’s film Birdman.
We had a production meeting this week and one of the things that was discussed was the non-use of mics, Paul insists that we should not mic a play where there is almost no speech, and this totally makes sense. Instead, the tech will involve using some projection of captions.
By the end of week two we stagger through scenes 1 to 7 which feels absolutely great. We have 12 scenes in total so the plan for next week is to stagger the whole show. Paul is planning to run the whole play at least 5 times before heading to Plymouth where we open before Christmas. I am learning a lot about directing from a place of confidence, playfulness and flexibility whilst at the same time keeping up the pace and staying disciplined with time.
Andrea Cabrera Luna
Assistant Director for ‘The Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel’