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Different eyes

May 8, 2023

I don’t know how I let Donna convince me that (a) I could play Violet in my piece and (b) direct at the same time. Well, she did exactly that a few years ago – both appearing in and directing a one-act two-hander. It wasn’t so much that I thought ‘if she can do it, so can I’, more that I thought ‘well, she did, so I guess it’s possible’. I honestly don’t know how she did it.

It’s one thing getting together with the other actor to read and talk about the play. It’s something completely different when you’re onsite and need to start blocking. How can you figure out if the blocking works if you’re in the middle of it, not sitting at a table seeing it? Answer: you can’t.

So, last week when we had our first onsite rehearsal, I asked Donna for a favour. I asked her to come and be my “eyes”, sitting at the director’s table to help with, amongst other things, the blocking. Happily she agreed. Not only did she watch, but after the first run through, she switched places and read Violet so I could actually see what things would look like from the audience’s point of view. She also asked some good questions that led to Ben and me revising our delivery of certain lines.

For that first rehearsal we had the place to ourselves for the full two hours. The play’s only about 10 minutes long, so I didn’t think we’d need much more than an hour. In fact we used most of the time.

Some weeks ago, when the three directors (Dave, Donna and myself) got together with the stage manager to work out a rehearsal schedule, it was decided that Dave and I would share nights – me having the first half hour for my little play, then he and his cast coming in for the remaining 90 minutes. That seemed about right at the time. Again, my play’s only about 10 minutes long. If that first rehearsal told me anything, it’s that half an hour is not long enough. So we’re going to start 15 minutes earlier.

Back at the beginning of the year, I sent the play to the first person I thought of to play Violet. Jenn, who was the director of the first panto in which I was involved, is a woman of considerable theatrical experience. Although she no longer wants to tackle large roles, because she worries about memorising lines, she will still take on small roles and I figured this would be fine, because, again, the play’s only 10 minutes long. She did like the play, but couldn’t take on the role because she was going to be away in June when the show will run. Then I thought I had someone else lined up for the role, who would also have been great, but that fell through, too. Which was when Donna somehow managed to persuade me that not only could play Violet, but I could also direct. When I ran into Jenn after that decision had been taken I did voice my concern about attempting to act in and direct the play. She very kindly offered to come to the rehearsals in May and be my “eyes”. I took her up on the offer for the first time yesterday.

New eyes, new notes. Not exactly contradictory, but different. And good. Yes, she was right. Much more needs to be done with Ben’s entrance. He’s new to all this and doesn’t naturally turn on a dime, but, as I discovered working with him on Cinderella, he can adapt and he did. Problem with his entrance, as far as nailing it down goes, is that my character has her eyes shut at the time, but I need to see what’s going on.  So Jenn and I swapped, giving me the chance to actually direct Ben. And it worked. (When we were outside debriefing afterwards he said he worried that it was just creepy now. I assured him creepy was fine, because at this point the audience has no idea who he is or what’s going on. Creepy could, in fact, be quite good.)

New eyes, new takes. 

So, this is a bit funny. The two characters in the play are an elderly woman and the much younger ghost of her long-dead husband. The other night Donna described it as a fantasy because, you know, there’s no such thing as heaven and hell (or purgatory) and there are no ghosts. So from her point of view this is all really happening in Violet’s head. Interesting. Although I’m with Donna completely on the non-existence of heaven, hell and ghosts, in my mind when I was writing this scene, yes, I guess it was a fantasy, but in the same way Harry Potter is a fantasy. You still have to believe when you’re reading the books that he and his adventures are real or there’s not much point. Jenn, on the other hand, did not raise this, instead treating James as completely real. I’m with Jenn. (Sorry, Donna.) If James isn’t real, I don’t know how to play Violet. Or perhaps I misunderstood what Donna was trying to say. Obviously Violet has to believe James is real. 

Speaking of real… As I said to Ben when I sent him my own notes last night, we are getting there. It’s early days for full rehearsals, but there were moments last night when it felt very real indeed, moments when I truly believed these were two people who really, really loved one another. He said he felt the same. 

It’s a little play, but I am starting to believe it is going to be really good.

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