Sugar Water Rehearsal Diary: Week 2

By Genevieve Barr, cast member

Genevieve in rehearsals at Graeae. She sits cross legged on the floor of the rehearsal room with script and pencil laid out in front of her. She is wearing leggings and hoodie.

Genevieve in rehearsals at Graea

Exploding boxes, pyjamas, licking necks and lots and lots of baked beans.

After six months overseas, I returned to the UK last month to start rehearsals for a brand new play written by Jack Thorne, ‘The Solid Life of Sugar Water’. I play the part of ‘Alice’. My wonderful counterpart, Arthur, plays my husband ‘Phil’. And that’s it. There’s two of us. And sixty-six pages of script staring at us.

A tumultuous journey so far, we are finally reaching the end of the second week and gasping for a few days off – but there will be no resting on our laurels. Next week is the last week at Graeae before we take the production to Plymouth, and a dawning of dread is already starting to swirl around my ankles.

So let’s not talk about that.

I am fortunate to have some very supportive friends, whom this week, have kept me in reality check. For when asked about my day, the other day, I said:

“This morning I was experiencing the beginnings of foreplay in bed, this afternoon I went to the cinema, an art gallery and had a kiss on a bridge. I don’t know which one – the text doesn’t say.”

Bless them, because rather than get bogged down the details, they turned to me and said:

“Gen, what on earth are you talking about?”

And that’s the real struggle as you get more and more immersed in this beautiful play, you start to go slightly insane. Acting isn’t about playing the role, it’s about becoming the role. And so, every day ‘Alice’ becomes more Genevieve and Genevieve becomes more ‘Alice’. You might as well start calling us ‘Genalice’.

Thank goodness my character’s name is not ‘Tilda’.

(Try taking the first two syllables of my first name, and the first syllable of ‘Tilda’ and see if you get what I mean)…

Probably not that funny. Sorry.

When I first read the play, two things became immediately transparent to me:

1) This would be one of the toughest roles I’ve had the fortune to play.

2) My granny was definitely, firmly, assertively NOT allowed to come and see it. Our relationship would never recover.

To pinch some of Jack Thorne’s words when he was talking about the play the other day, it is a story about recovery. The couple are trying to deal with a very traumatic event – with the death of a newborn baby and through their grief, their relationship has deteriorated. They have to rediscover why they loved each other in the first place and deal with having sex for the first time since it happened. We will take you through a journey of our relationship – flashing back into the past, but also trying to have sex- an uncomfortable experience both textually and literally.

At least for me – I can’t speak for Arthur!

For while Phil and Alice have been married for a few years, Arthur and Genevieve have only known each other a couple of weeks. The trust and amount you have to give each other in a very short period of time is immense. It isn’t always easy – but we are getting there.

Amit, our director, does a great job of keeping me sane (ironically, for those who know him). He understands which buttons to push with me.

At the start of the week, I was really grappling with with the physical aspects of the play – the movement on the bed (for the bed is upright against the wall, so when we are lying down, we are standing up and when we are standing up, we are lying down)…the mind just boggles. There are a lot of technical aspects to figure out – for the play jumps back and forward, in fact it just hops all over the place. During all of this, I have been trying to understand who my character is and why she feeling the way she is – in every word, sentence, paragraph of the play.

We are getting there – and I am proud of the amount of progress we have made – though there is still a way to go. So it is with excitement, tremulation and slight trepidation that I look ahead to next week and what it brings.

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Sugar Water Rehearsal Diary: Week 1

By Arthur Hughes, cast member

Black and white picture of arthur in rehearsals. In the background there is a blackboard covered with pictures and drawings. Arthur is in the foreground smiling, he is wearing a flowery shirt

Arthur in rehearsals at Graeae

This blog begins the first of many following Graeae’s exciting new production of Jack Thorne’s new play ‘The Solid Life of Sugar Water’.

I have the pleasure and privilege of playing ‘Phil’ in this play alongside my fellow cast member Genevieve Barr who is playing ‘Alice’.

Rehearsals began last week on the Monday 11th May. I have to admit that before we began rehearsals proper I was rather terrified. Genevieve, Amit Sharma (our wise-cracking director), and I had had 2 research and development days about 3 weeks prior to get the ball rolling, however with a play as complex, delicate and beautiful as this one, the lead up to the first day was a period of excitement, trepidation and, yes, some anxiety.

How marvellous to be writing from the end of the first week with anxiety replaced by hunger and drive!

This week has been an intense, focused and fascinating journey into the play.

One of the main directives of the week has been the three of us combing through the text to decipher all we can about the characters. Cue large A1 size sheets and colourful marker pens on the floor as we detailed all we knew about Alice and Phil.

These large reminders and discoveries are now tiled across the rehearsal room for our reference.

Another vital exercise was assigning each line in the script an active verb to play with the text. In order to realise the full potential of each verb we chose, Genevieve and I physically explored each verb to understand the range we have when playing each line in the script.

Due to the intimate nature of the play, with a lot of action taking place in the bedroom, in the bed; our set is a brilliant concept to make the most of this. With a full size bed vertically lining the back of the set, the actors will stand with backs to the mattress, giving the audience a birds eye view of the couple in bed.

It was therefore imperative that myself and Gen started to become physically literate with what this would entail. Following a session with our movement director Cathy, we began to experiment with different sleeping positions one adopts, and how to use tension and speed with our bodies to fully give the impression of moving around in bed. A lot more exhausting than simply lying in bed I assure you!

One of the most important things this week for me has been solidifying the working relationships with my colleagues. As the play features a cast of only two, each decision and discovery is informed by each other, and our director Amit. I feel at the end of this week that the three of us have forged a malleable, easy, but determined working relationship that has been incredibly fruitful so far. With such a great team around me in all aspects of the production, I am confident in the critical success and potential of the show, and look forward to diving further in over the next 3 weeks before our first preview in Plymouth. Goodness gracious!

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Blood Wedding at Beacon Arts Centre

By Alyson Woodhouse, Creative Learning Trainee

In some ways, this has been a much quieter week for me. I have been working from  Greenock, (a lovely, but extremely wet and windy part of Scotland), but there weren’t
any Blood Wedding Workshops as it happened. I was able to use this bit of quiet time, though to breathe a bit, and reflect on how the placement has gone for me so far.

Alyson with fellow Blood Wedding Trainees, Michelle and Nickie

Alyson with fellow Blood Wedding Trainees, Michelle and Nickie

If someone had asked me before the placement started about what I thought I would learn from the experience, I would probably have spoken about learning how to deliver educational workshops in a more refined way, gaining a clearer understanding of the practical, administrative processes involved in preparing a workshop, and even some more general information about how a show is produced. And, while I have indeed learned a great deal about all of those things, perhaps the area I have discovered most about is accessibility.

Before working with Graeae, I suppose I had an intellectual knowledge of the varying ways theatre can be made accessible for all audience groups, IE the integration of BSL or Audio Description in to a performance. I also had my own ideas about the types of drama that I find easy to follow as a blind person, and why, but I had very little experience of how accessibility is put into practice. I therefore found being given the opportunity to work with Jenny as an Audio Description Consultant for the show an invaluable one, as it has introduced me to the artistic value of accessibility in a performance instead of simply viewing this as a purely practical or intellectual matter. I feel that in a sense, this area of my training with Graeae has made the strongest contribution to my own vision as an aspiring director, as I am wishing to be given the opportunity to some of the skills I have learned in this area into practice.

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Michelle’s Blood Wedding Blog from Derby!

By Michelle Rolfe, Arts Management Trainee

The set of Blood Wedding on the stage at Derby Theatre. The background is dark with the letters LOVE lit up in the centre surrounded by pink light.

The set of Blood Wedding on the stage at Derby Theatre

I am writing this blog from somewhere over the sky’s of England as I return home for a couple of nights before back to Derby next week. Derby Theatre is the first theatre I have been to where the entrance is within a shopping centre, this meant some hunting to find it at first but luckily it is well sign posted. I came down for press night and the following few days. It was lovely to see the Graeae team again and we all enjoyed a night out after the show on Wednesday. As I have previously said a lot of working within the theatre (and many other professions) it is about who you know as much as what you know. Therefore I have been jumping at the chance to get to know people better.

I met Aiyana on Wednesday and caught up on the happenings of Monday and Tuesday. This meeting dictated much of my activity over the following days. Two of our cast members were not in suitable digs and we needed to find somewhere for them both ASAP; both for Derby and the rest of the tour.

It has surprised all of us (even those who have personal experience) in how difficult it has been to find accessible accommodation at a reasonable price. It seems unfair that for wheelchair accessible accommodation you are looking at paying double or more in comparison to dig prices. Most traditional digs are not suitable so you are looking for B&Bs, hotels, student accommodation or holiday lets. Staying in a hotel might sound nice but when you are there for a week or more it’s difficult not to have kitchen or laundry amenities, and it is costly to eat out all the time. We have also learnt that what one hotel considers an accessible room is not the same elsewhere.

Derby Theatre have been very welcoming and given me access to everything I could need while there but I am missing the team in Dundee to!

The set sits nicely on the stage in Derby. It’s a slightly wider stage than Dundee but it works well. Personally I also like the auditorium; it’s very open and lovely when lit. I’ve included a picture of the set from the interval of Friday’s show.

The polaroid pictures displayed on a red pillar as part of Ross Fraser McLean's exhibit at Derby Theatre

The polaroid pictures displayed as part of Ross Fraser McLean’s exhibit at Derby Theatre

Ross Fraser McLeans exhibition is an gorgeous addition to the show. Audience members and members of the team have been asking him if the pictures are for sale.  In Dundee he turned the cafe bar into an exhibition space that had a number of large prints plus 50 small black and white framed photos from rehearsals. These smaller images are my favourite as they give an unusual insight into rehearsals and show both the stresses and the fun in the process. At Dundee Rep’s press night Ross took Polaroid pictures of the team and collated them on one wall, this is a fun way for the audience members to see how many people have been involved in the development of the production. I am sure there are a few faces missing though of the camera shy.

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Blood Wedding Rehearsal Diary: Week 4

By Michelle Rolfe, Arts Management Trainee

Rehearsals started this week and things are now in full swing. Monday was spent in the rehearsal room with the obligatory meet and greet to start with. As with all these things it was a little slow to get going. However the tea/coffee/pastries and Jenny Sealey’s request we find out some gossip about someone we have never met before relaxed everyone and we got off to a fine start. This was followed by a read through of the script. It was great to hear the actor’s voices delivering it; it brought out new meanings and thoughts about the characters, which we later discussed.

Blood Wedding cast and creative team at the read through

Blood Wedding cast and creative team at the read through

During the afternoon we looked at the module box and learnt about the design. The production will be completely accessible, with BSL interpretation, captioning and audio description being integrated into the production. Although this creates extra work for the cast it also allows them to explore their characters in ways they might not have done in a conventional way. Love is a theme that runs throughout the play and there is a nice symbolic element to the design I suggest you look out for when you come and see the show. During week one of rehearsals we were very lucky to have almost the full creative team in the room. This allows them to come together and support each others design elements of the production.

I was very pleased to meet members of the Graeae team and start to have conversations and see their working practices. It was great to have a chat with Emma, the projects producer for Graeae and learn more about her job and how she got to where she is. I also had a good conversation with Aiyana, the producer where we went over the budget in details.

This week we have been joined by Alyson Woodhouse, the productions creative learning trainee and Nicola Wildin, the trainee director. Like myself they both come from a working arts background and have a key interest in creating accessible theatre. During the next couple of months we will be taking it in turn to tell you about our experiences working here at the Rep and then taking the show on tour.

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Blood Wedding Rehearsal Diary: Week 3

By EJ Raymond, cast member.

Third week of Blood Wedding rehearsal and it is getting so busy!

It always starts every morning with a half-hour warm-up before we work on some of the scenes that we need to polish up.

EJ in Blood Wedding rehearsals

EJ in Blood Wedding rehearsals with Ricci McLeod, Amy Conachan and Gerard McDermott

I am working with two of the cast with the basic signing language – they’re getting there, I am proud of them!

Jenny Sealey, the director, was focusing on who is responsible for moving the props/furnishes off/on the stage, who is responsible for the live audio describe, and also who is responsible to “click” the controller for the live captions.

Mark Smith, the choreographer, arrived on Friday and is helping Jenny Sealey, the director, with some of the ideas for dancing, movements and go on. I’ve never done the salsa before, I have to admit it! Blame on the history of my two left-feet!

We’ve now all removed the script from our hands and have run over all scenes in full – we’re all getting there which is so exciting!

My character’s costumes seems finished.

Philip recorded the loud screams from Amy, Millie and me – I last had to use my loudly scream 12 years ago! We also did another voice recording for one of cast to learn what my deafness voice was like, hopefully it will help him, as he is going to play as my character’s son.

On Saturday we all work under Mark’s magic fingers and practice on the dancing in one of the big scenes. What a sweet and busy week!

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Blood Wedding Rehearsal Diary: Week 2

By Gerard McDermott, cast member

At the beginning or this week we did some interesting character work.  We were asked to stand in two lines facing each other but slightly out of kilter as if we were each facing an imaginary mirror.

We were then asked to take it in turns to speak to ourselves, our reflections in character; to pick out our own personal flaws and foibles; our relationships with the other characters in the play; to reveal details from our past. This was an opportunity for the actors to invent details about their character which are not necessarily mentioned in the script. For example, how our character feels about the other characters in the piece; how past events in our lives have shaped our opinions; whether we love, like or even hate the other protagonists in the narrative.  This, combined with the actual script, help us as actors, to create fuller, more rounded portrayals of the part we are playing.

By contrast, later in the week we worked on a much more practical level on the physicality of our characters, how they moved in the space; how they portrayed their nervous energy and or their confidence.

Gerard in rehearsals

Gerard in rehearsals

The wonderful voice coach, Ros Steen, joined us on Wednesday and put us through a rigorous, physical workshop focusing on different vocal qualities we all have, but are sometimes hard to locate.  I particularly enjoyed this.  I’ve always felt that my voice is best tool that I have as an actor and I just love playing with it.  Ros took us back to the basics of the voice, with all of us laying on the floor concentrating on our breathing. We can breathe in a very deep way or just in a short and shallow way, all of which dictates the quality of the voice.  We all have the same equipment when it comes to vocal capacity and often it’s astonishing to discover just how powerful a tool the voice can be.  Also, it was remarkable how the deaf member of the cast EJ found this workshop useful and how she was able to bring Ros’s techniques into her work.

On Friday, we did, what we call, a stagger through. So, perform the play from beginning to end as well as we can with the limited time we’ve spent rehearsing.  This was very telling and helps us to focus on the weak points in the piece and which bits need more work.  It’s coming together nicely.

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