WE DIDN'T MEAN TO GO TO SEA Sarah Hunt
Monday 30 June 2008
Week 1 of rehearsals.
I arrive at the first day of rehearsals with that typical feeling, a mix of excitement, nerves and that all too familiar sinking feeling created by a vivid imagination and professional paranoia; I walk in the room the director takes one look at me before his face drops and he makes a quick aside "We sent the letter to the wrong actress, I meant to cast the other girl!" Luckily for me this was not the case.
I was the only one out of the four of us who had been in a different callback group so I really was the newbie. This meant that the first read through that we did together was really interesting for me as I had no idea of their takes on their characters and vice versa. Initial amusement at ourselves was ever present as we embraced the fact that for the next eight weeks we would live most of our time being 14, 12, 10 and 8 years old collectively.
As the week progressed we engaged ourselves willingly in trying to learn the ropes, literally, of sailing, as well as the knots, the tides, the geography of East Anglia etc. I think we all regressed quite naturally back to our childhood and that guilty feeling as your teacher desperately tries to help you with that ever increasingly difficult sum...Ivan ( Director) and Nick (Writer) would catch little more that utter puzzlement on our faces!
The first week was also the real introduction to our characters. Each of us plays two different parts, one of the Walker children and an older outside influence. This means that the challenges we face are two or three fold. We have to convincingly, without parody, be children with their own hierarchy dependant on age and experience. This is really important as it informs the relationships between them. However, we also play adults and to make things even more challenging we have to play them across gender! I have a feeling this process is going to be a lot of fun and a massive challenge!
We are our characters! I don't mean that in week two we have all whizzed through the rehearsal process and developed our characters to perfection. We actually are our characters and the relationships developing within the cast are almost identical to the ones in the play. Ivan really has done a fantastic job in casting this play!
With my character, Titty, it's like looking back in time and seeing myself aged 10. It's not often that you get to play a character that you love but I really do love Titty. Of course playing a ten year old with such a provocative name has it's interesting moments and the double-entendre switch has well and truly been switched on this week! It also doesn't help that with myself being a small but "curvaceous" girl. Titty is not only Titty by name but also by nature! She also has some quite innocently flirtatious and coquettish lines that I have to be careful to play age appropriately.
The Dutch Pilot came alive this week. He is my other character and about as opposite from Titty or myself that you can get. I have to spring seamlessly from being an innocent 10 year old girl to become a 50 year old, fat, Dutch man. At this stage I am still a little unsure of my Dutch accent, falling somewhere in between French and German and he seems to be turning into a bit of a grubby father Christmas character but I'm hoping he will be quite amusing.... We'll see!
This has been quite a difficult week. I think we are all aware of the rehearsal process evermore drawing to a close and the panic is starting to seep in.
The ironic thing about this play is that although it may not appear very complex e.g in its narrative thread etc it is such a complicated play to rehearse. We have so many things to remember, our lines (obviously helps), our movements (nothing unusual) our character motivation (to be expected) the names of the ropes (?), the direction of the tide (?) which way the wind is blowing and as a result where the sail is on the boat which deciphers which way the tiller should be which informs us of where the jib is and therefore which side of the boat we should be sitting on (? ? ? ) .
Characters are really starting to show now and relationships are being played out a lot more easily. I'm excited about next week and really sinking our teeth into character work and playing around with new ideas. I'm also really keen to get into my costume so that I can experiment a little more with child like physicality and movement (whilst swaying from side to side on a boat).....
WE DIDN'T MEAN TO GO TO SEA Laura Stevely
Saturday 28 June 2008
Choosing digs is a daunting task. You're presented with a list of 30 or so names and addresses and minimal descriptions - double room, ensuite, own TV does not really give you much indication of what you're in for. There is no way of telling if your landlady is going to be a psycho or a nudist or a lesbian. So when I turned up at my Ipswich dwelling I was prepared for anything.
Turns out, my abode for the next 2 months, is an actor's dream! A beautiful and large en-suite room in a beautiful and large house, and a landlady who's hardly there. Perfect.
So first impressions of Ipswich are pretty good so far.
First outing in Ipswich was the traditional welcome drinks at The Greyhound pub. The lovely Penny (Company Stage Manager) was getting them in as we, the cast, got acquainted. After a few G & Ts - the conversation was flowing.
So unfortunately one of the actors has had a run-in with a pet at his digs, and so has decided to move into my PALACE!
I really did bag a gem!
So the social outing this week was the cinema. It seems that the good people of Ipswich do not share our love of film as in the 8pm screening of Indiana Jones, there were just four other people in the cinema. We also had a bit of trouble finding a pub that served food after work. Oddly, most of them stopped serving at 5pm! Perhaps there is some strange Ye Olde Suffolk law that forbids it! And there was no Salt Popcorn at the cinema. Jeez.
Ipswich has not lived up to the high standards set in week one!
Would you believe it? Our landlady has gone away for 8 days - PARTY!
Unfortunately, all this blog writing and line learning leave very little room for partying so we had a dirty take-away pizza and a couple of cheap bottles of Rosé, whilst doing a line run of Act One. After we'd polished off the second bottle, we thought it would be highly amusing to do the play in a Yorkshire accent. We thought we were hilarious. The poor neighbours.....
Very much enjoying having the place to ourselves. Discovered we have Sky TV, the internet and a cleaner! This is better than home...
So life in Ipswich continues. Rehearsals are getting longer and later, but we still manage to fit in a few social outings.
We are pleased to see that the Iranian film, Persepolis, is on at the local Art House. We turn up at the advertised time to discover the manager decided to cancel it as he didn't think anyone would turn up. It was replaced with the Sex & The City movie. Don't get me wrong, I love SATC as much as the next girl, but Art House it ain't!
Disappointed, we went in search of some other entertainment. Being a Tuesday, this was pretty sparse. We were turned away by Mecca Bingo as we weren't members, and so found ourselves back in the pub. Nothing new there then!
As we had rehearsals on Saturday morning, we had our first taste of Ipswich on a Friday night! We agreed that Karaoke was the choice of entertainment and found ourselves in the Hare & Hound on Norwich Road, where the drinks were cheap and the music was loud! David was first up with an epic 8 minute version of Meatloaf's I Would Do Anything For Love. He brought the house down, but quite possibly damaged his vocal chords in the process! I braved the stage next with Madonna's Papa Don't Preach. I think Simon Cowell would agree that I have the X Factor! Sarah and David dueted on Sonny & Cher's I Got You Babe, and the crowd went wild! We befriended the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly that night, and by the end of the evening, Sarah was dueting with the big scary tattooed bird who had a voice like a fog horn! During all this, Duncan is still studying the songlist, in search of the perfect song. I suggest Space Oddity and he's up like a shot. David Bowie would have been proud.
At the end of the night, I called a taxi, but they refused to pick me up from the Hare & Hound! I mean it wasn't that rough! Oh, and did I mention that there was a pole-dancing pole in the middle of the pub....?
WE DIDN'T MEAN TO GO TO SEA Duncan Barrett
Saturday 28 June 2008
WEEK ONE - LEARNING THE ROPES
As soon as I read the script I knew that we were going to have to get to grips with a lot of nautical terminology. In my group recall we had come unstuck on the pronunciation of the word ‘halyard' - without even contemplating what it might mean. I'd read a bit of nautical fiction when I was younger - Joseph Conrad, C.S. Forrester, Patrick O'Brien - and had done some basic sailing at school, so in a way I think I had something of a head start. But I was still pretty apprehensive at the prospect of delivering lines such as ‘It's only the anchor chain rubbing against the bobstay as she swings round with the ebb'.
Ivan had explained at the recall that the set would not be an actual boat - an idea that had been considered and rejected - but rather a kind of exploded model, with the various parts (cockpit, cabin, deck) leading off in different directions from a central drum. Although this took some of the pressure off in terms of everything being realistic, it was clear we were going to have to master the basics of sailing theory in order to have a chance of knowing what to do onstage. Fortunately Nick, the writer, was there on the first day of rehearsals to give us a blow-by-blow idiot's guide to sailing - talking us through the mechanics of tacking, jibing and so on and the relationship between sails and wind. We weren't sure at first how much we would end up miming in terms of ropes and so on, but either way we would need to know quite specifically what it was we were meant to be doing.
We were lucky to be able to rehearse with the set - in an early, undressed form - right from the beginning, and we spent the first week of rehearsals grappling (quite literally) with how to move around it. At times we found matching the script to the ‘boat' a frustrating experience - like the real life Nancy Blacket (Ransome's model for the Goblin), our set was cramped enough to make movement tricky - getting everyone in the right place sometimes felt like one of those puzzles where you have to move one block at a time to make a picture: if we weren't careful, we'd end up colliding with each other trying to get to different parts of the boat. Added to that was the challenge of representing the (invisible) conditions of the journey - knowing, for example, which side of the boat the sail would be on at a given moment, which side of the boat would be higher up, and so on.
The other big problem was getting our heads around the jargon. I had brought up a copy of the Nautical Dictionary - a bit of a family treasure, as my great grandfather had written the first edition - which proved to be a valuable reference tool, and we were lucky that our production manager, Steve Cooney, is a seasoned sea-dog, so he could watch (and correct) our seamanship on stage - as well as explain what on earth we were talking about. Ultimately, there is an element of ‘Casualty-acting' to it all - as Nick pointed out to us, you don't have to understand anatomy to play a surgeon - but we are still struggling to make sure we know exactly what's going on in the imaginary world of the play, as well as in the theatre.
WEEK TWO - FINDING OUR SEA LEGS
This week we relocated from the Sir John Mills Theatre to the Eastern Angles workshop, which gave us a chance to see how the set came apart - and got put back together again - in order for the show to tour. It's an ingenious design - as well as looking gorgeous and solving all the problems of how to put a boat on stage, it packs away almost like an air-fix kit, into flat, manageable pieces.
The workshop actually felt like a better location for rehearsals - it was out in the sticks, and felt a little like a working boatyard, with bits and pieces of wood stacked up around the space and an airy, almost outdoorsy feel. But the real breakthrough this week came when Steve arranged for us to go sailing on an actual boat - tracing some of the route plotted by the play (along the Orwell, past Pin Mill) and going right out to sea.
The boat we sailed in - Quickstep - was a little bigger than Goblin would have been, but the trip gave us a real sense of the challenges the four children would have faced. Although I'd spent a bit of time in little boats on reservoirs and lakes, I had never properly sailed at sea before - rather like the Walker children in the story, who have only ever sailed on a lake. The thing that struck me most was how vulnerable you feel, even in a powerful, sturdy boat - how entirely you are at the mercy of the elements. Ransome's children don't really give in to fear, but the environment they find themselves in would be really quite terrifying - with a powerful wind dragging the boat over on its side and threatening to rip the sails from their hands. We didn't go much further than the Beach End buoy - where their voyage proper begins - and even with a pair of expert sailors on board the experience was pretty scary.
We had a minor accident when Laura accidentally caused the boat to jibe. I was so worried about ducking the enormous boom when it flew across - which as Geoff had warned us could not only concuss, but actually kill a human being - that I didn't notice another mechanism which was attached to the mainsheet beneath. The sail swung over and I got my leg caught in a kind of metal claw which was attached to a transverse runner across the middle of the cockpit. It didn't quite draw blood, but the bruise - which was bigger than my fist - still hasn't entirely faded over a week later! It's a testament to the skill of the Walker children that they manage their crossing without any kind of serious accident.
I think we all learned a lot from the opportunity to sail a boat at sea - and David and Laura especially, who have never even been on a sailing boat before. When we came back into rehearsals the next day, we looked at our set in a rather different light - and we tried to transfer some of our experiences and muscle memories across. The other thing that struck us was how brilliantly the set had already captured the essence of space on board - and the kind of movement that was required to get around. We had a newfound respect for the Goblin.
WEEK THREE - IN THE DOLDRUMS
This was the hardest week so far, as we struggled to get off book and to force all the jargon that we had gradually learnt the meaning of to somehow stick naturally in our heads. I think David and I had the worst of it, since as Jim and John - who both captain the Goblin at times - we spend a lot of time issuing orders: ‘bring her round,' ‘let the jib come across', ‘haul her in', ‘pay her off' and so on. There was one section of the play in particular that I just could not get my head around - when we change course three times in quick succession. Each time the instructions are fairly similar, but the details are important, and I found myself getting tied in knots trying to work out which manoeuvre was which. And it's all very well learning your lines in isolation, but trying to remember them while putting together an anchor or tying a bowline is another matter. It was a frustrating experience - and at times it seemed like the technical aspects of the show were getting in the way of everything else.
I suppose what we've learnt is that this kind of work requires a much firmer grip on the text than we are used to at this stage of rehearsal. Thursday was a much more productive day, because we'd all hammered in our lines and business quite obsessively, and been line-running like mad, both the previous night and before rehearsals that morning. None of us had quite expected it to be this hard - as young actors were weren't used to having problems remembering things in rehearsals (something that more often afflicts the older members of a cast) but this show was clearly quite exceptional. I guess a little like real sailing, it's an exercise in focused multi-tasking.
The other big change this week was to the set. Whereas before we had been imagining the sails and ropes, now we had rehearsal models fitted to our boat. At first we had a functioning, but scaled down, mainsail, with genuine halyards to hoist it up and down (we knew what they were by now), and with freestanding mainsheets (the ropes which pull it in and let it out) fitted to a rig at the back of the cockpit. But once we had some ropes it seemed odd to be miming others, so although there was no jib sail on our set, Steve obligingly fitted us with some jib-sheets to pull on. Suddenly it began to feel more like a real boat - even though the ropes we pulled on weren't really attached to anything, the human part of each manoeuvre felt a lot more real.
WEEK FOUR - BACK ON COURSE
This was when things finally started to come together. Having consolidated our lines and practised our nautical business over and over again, we finally got to the point where we felt comfortable with what we were doing on stage. By the end of the week we were able to bring the focus back on to the characters and their relationships with each other, rather than focusing primarily on tying the right knot or pulling on the right rope.
The final touches were added to the set - including, most strikingly, the three pieces of sailcloth which nestle between the usable wooden sections of the boat to complete the circle of action. Towards the end of the week the whole thing was painted - no longer a sterile white, but a sea-like mixture of blues and greens, with charts traced all over its surfaces.
On Saturday morning we ran the play - and managed to get through it with only a handful of prompts. There were a lot of minor hiccups, but we soldiered on - and it was a relief to find that we were now confident enough in what we were doing that when something did go wrong we could cover for each other and get the play back on course. (A little while ago, this had seemed terrifyingly unrealistic!) We were still getting notes on our sailing technique - Steve didn't like the way we jibed the boat, Ivan thought my clove-hitch was not up to scratch, and Sarah was having trouble with the crucial bowline that saves me from being lost at sea. But overall we felt much better about the whole production. It was scary to think that a real audience would soon be watching it, but it no longer seemed impossible that we would be ready for them.
WEEK FIVE - ON A RUN
More technicalities this week, though not really our responsibility for once - the lights, music and special effects (fog, projection screens etc) all had to be worked through, and we had to get used to working with Stewart's complex 3D soundscape, which runs almost all the way through the show. Monday was a rather deadly 11-hour tech, but by the end of it we had assimilated most of the what we needed to know for things to run smoothly. We would still have to practise some of the timings - in particular the near misses in which objects hurtle towards us on screen - but for the most part the technical side of things seemed to fit quite neatly around what we were already doing, and it was a relief to have sound cues to remind us what we were supposed to be hearing around the boat.
The biggest difference for us was having the sound of sea and waves while we were on deck. We'd been trying to remember to move on stage as though we were really out at sea (rather than on a stationary wooden platform in a theatre), but the noise of waves crashing and the wind whistling in the sails helped enormously with this. If we were ever in doubt as to how rough the weather was supposed to be, the answer would be in the sounds we heard all around us. In 3D it felt eerily like the real thing.
On Tuesday night we packed the set away in the van - a more time-consuming activity now it had all its trimmings attached - and on Wednesday morning we arrived at the marquee on the waterfront ready to construct it from scratch for the first time. It was a long and dreary process fitting it all together - and then there were lights to rig and focus and projectors to get going, all in a dark, hot tent on a glorious summer's day. It was nice to be near the water, with hundreds of real-life Goblins bobbing around just outside, but it seemed like the job might take forever. In the end of course it all got done (the actors flaked out after a while and the technical geniuses finished it off by themselves, which probably made things go a lot faster) and we had time to squeeze in a quick run in the late afternoon. Nick was back in town for press night the following evening and he obligingly watched and offered comments on how things were looking. We were feeling pretty drained from getting the whole thing ready, but we threw ourselves into the run and did a pretty decent job of it I think. (Mike - the regular Eastern Angles photographer - was taking production pics throughout, so we all did our best to look beautiful as we hurtled about on the high seas.) Some of the technical cues were way out - I don't know if that was our fault or theirs - but Ivan said we'd sort out the timings of those the next morning. Although the run had been far from perfect, Nick was delighted at the progress we'd made since he'd last seen anything of the show and the general mood was positive that we could pull it off on opening night.
The next day we started at noon and worked through the trickiest technical cues, practising them over and over until we got the timings exactly right. Then we did a quick - rather low-key - run to consolidate everything before the proper performance that evening. (We wanted to preserve our energy - and also our voices, which were still hoarse from shouting over the sound of the waves the day before.)
Waiting for the audience to arrive, we started to feel pretty nervous. There were so many things that could go wrong in this show and although we felt we could now get through it, we also had no idea how it would go down. Would the audience enjoy it? Would the kids find it too scary, or too technical? Nick was anxious that the Arthur Ransome Society would take issue with some of his changes - most significantly his introduction of the Father dream sequences as a way of bringing out John's uncertainties. Would the Ransomites feel he'd been taking liberties with one of their sacred texts? And then there were the sailors - what would they think of our bowlines and clove-hitches? Would our tacks and jibes convince them that we were really sailing at sea?
In the end the show went down really well. From the opening lines the audience was very warm towards us - and they found the play a lot funnier than we had expected. It always happens that after rehearsing something for a while you begin to forget the little things that made you laugh or charmed you to begin with, but now we were seeing and hearing them all afresh in the eyes and laughs of the audience. For the first time in ages it was fun to be performing the show - and we felt again the sense of being kids at play that we had experienced in the early stages of rehearsals.
We were lucky with the weather as well. That morning it had been incredibly hot in the marquee and we had been desperately hoping for rain. (We are drenched in sweat by the end of this show at the best of times!) But then when the rain did come it beat down so loud on the roof of the tent that we were worried we would never get our voices to carry over it. Fortunately, it turned into a really lovely evening - cool and summery, perfect for the opening night reception on the waterfront for press and special guests. One of Arthur Ransome's boats, Peter Duck, had been brought up alongside the marquee to mark the occasion - and Steve was delighted when the owner agreed to let him come sailing on her early the next morning.
At the reception we had a chance to speak to some of the experts that we'd been so worried about offending. The Ransomites were all delighted with the show - and I think Nick was really pleased that they liked it so much. They didn't mind at all the introduction of Father in the middle of the night - in fact they felt that the adaptation drew out some of Ransome's ideas more clearly than the novel itself. One of them was even spotted wiping away a tear at the end of the play. Everyone was happy - and relieved. We had made it through the storm of rehearsals and come out ship-shape on the other side. Now the big challenge ahead of us was the tour.
WE DIDN'T MEAN TO GO TO SEA David Ashwood
Thursday 26 June 2008
And so, on Monday 2nd June 2008, it began. A journey that would change the lives of all involved. A rollercoaster ride of emotion, line-learning, actioning and jib sheet hauling... The 'We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea' rehearsals.
We started the week with company introductions, which is always slightly overwhelming (so many names to remember!), followed by a read-through of the play. After auditioning months before and having the script resting in my flat for weeks, it was great to finally hear the play aloud. The writer, Nick, was also there on the first day and we spent the afternoon asking him questions about the script, mainly questions about the technical, sailing references in the piece. He patiently gave us a crash course on wind, tide and various sailing terms which, to someone who has never even been on a boat before, was quite headache inducing!
We spent much of the first week sitting round the table with the director, Ivan, reading and discussing the characters. Who are these characters? What do they think of each other? Where are the tensions between them in the play? Ivan wanted us to get a good feeling for the characters and certain moments in the play before we actually started putting it up on its feet.
Towards the end of the week we were exploring the play on the actual set, which we were lucky to have available in the theatre on day 1. The set for the show is wonderful - a distorted version of Goblin, with three separate but joined sections: the cockpit, cabin and bows of the boat.
This week we were kicked out of the Sir John Mills Theatre - the nerve! The theatre was hosting a show for the Pulse Festival, so we took the set to Eastern Angles' storehouse for the week.
We spent this week working through the piece, discovering the various moments and how best to stage them on our set. One thing that's quite challenging about the play, and also quite exciting as a performer, is that all four actors are on stage throughout the show. We have to be very spatially aware of each other, as well as controlling the pace and focus of the piece - there are four actors in character on the stage, but we want the audience to be watching certain moments at certain times.
Our production manager, Steve, took us on a mid-week sailing trip which was lots of fun. It really helped us understand and bring to life lots of the physical sailing moments in the play: the movement of the boat, how you move around it, hauling in the various ropes, using the tiller. It was great to get back on the set after this experience and try to make our boat come 'alive' in the play.
We spent some of this week "actioning" the first section of the play, when the characters are introduced to us and introduced to the boat. Actioning is an exercise that Ivan often uses to bring out the subtext of dialogue and to discover the relationships between the characters. For every line or phrase you must find a transitive verb - a verb that implies you are doing something to somebody else. It's a very interesting exercise, as you realise which moments you're clear about and others that you'd previously felt unsure of.
All of the actors in the cast play another character as well as the children. I spent a lot of this week trying to get comfortable with the character of Jim. In the book Jim is described as a strong, confident young man, whereas in our production Ivan sees him as a lonely, socially awkward character. He's doom-laden and although he's a confident sailor, he makes lots of mistakes. I've also decided he probably smells. One of my scribbled rehearsal notes just says 'Jim - smelly idiot'.
We were back in the theatre this week and Nick Wood, the writer was with us again for a day. We staggered and stumbled our way through the play while Nick, armed with a notebook and pen watched from the back of the seating bank. The characters are starting to develop quite well I think, but we're clearly not as confident or convincing with the ropes/props/sailing as we should be.
So this week we focused on tightening everything up, making sure we were doing the technical things properly and confidently. We now have all the ropes on the set that we need, which has really helped. We also have a mainsail now that we can bring up and down, which looks great.
Our stage manager Penny, Sarah, who plays Titty, and I made our way up to BBC Radio Suffolk on Tuesday afternoon. We were interviewed by Luke 'The Big' Deal about the show and about Penny's recent stage management award. She is indeed wonderful and now all of Suffolk will know it!
Pat Whymark also paid us a visit this week in an attempt to get us singing beautifully. The song 'Spanish Ladies' appears in the book and our play. I also have to play the tin whistle in the production which I'm valiantly learning. It's always great picking up new skills when preparing for a show. Not only will I be able to sail to Holland, but I'll be a penny whistle maestro by the end of rehearsals.
Our final week of rehearsals. I can't believe those first three weeks flew by so quickly!
We continued to work through various moments of the play, focusing largely on Act II, but I was worried that our pace hadn't really picked up this week. We still hadn't run the play, which I was looking forward to and expecting this week.
Wednesday and Thursday morning we had Stewart, our Sound Designer with us. It was really exciting putting various scenes to music, and the sound of the waves and the wind really brings the boat to life.
At the end of the week we started running the play in its entirety. It was great to get a real sense of the character's journey in the show. On Saturday, we did one last run of it before Production Week. We kitted ourselves out with costumes, props, sound and lighting effects, which really elevated our performances and renewed our excitement for next week. It also meant that our Technical Rehearsal on Monday shouldn't take too long. Have I just jinxed us by writing that....?