You might be interested to know that the first ever rehearsal room was designed by an obscure character named Tarquin The Rotational in approximately 420 BC. Sure, the ancient Greeks had developed something resembling a rehearsal space (including basic coffee making facilities and a bad piano) but it was open air, and not nearly dirty enough. So ultimately it was the Romans – and specifically Tarquin – who landed upon the idea of putting random right-angled markings all over the floor in electrical tape of different colours, and installing low-hanging piping upon which taller actors could repeatedly smash their foreheads.
Nowadays of course we have rehearsal room design down to a fine art, with specialist companies such as Luvviesupplies.com providing venues the world over with a fresh stream of ready-distressed curtains in unprepossessing blueish hues, and over 300 kinds of odd-shaped bendy mirrors made out of polystyrene and glued-on tinfoil. The Rehearsal Room Standardisation Act of 1978 also means that, by law, every theatre has to provide its rehearsal studio with one (1) random copy of an out-of-date pantomime script, to be left strategically on a wonky chair in the middle of the room, preferably featuring six missing pages and an unfunny song about Jeremy Beadle.
So yes. Rehearsals proper for BUZZARD began this week, in the Bristol Old Vic’s classically-themed room, pictured above. Every rehearsal studio has its own indistinct charm… my favourites include those of The Hampstead Theatre, full of an immense amount of random junk accumulated over the years, never spring-cleaned, including more silly hats than you can shake a stick at; and the main rehearsal space at Realworld Studios in Box, Wiltshire, which in its raw state is essentially an aircraft hangar with an upturned beer crate in the middle.
Somewhere in the labyrinth that is BOV backstage, I’m spending the week trudging up and down and gesticulating in front of a curtain that will – in the show proper – become a large projection screen featuring ‘gathered’ images: powerpoint slides, silly photographs, animations. I’m spending much of the working day frowning at a wall and reacting to things that aren’t there. In any other situation I’d be considered insane, but here, I’m an artist! Hallelujah!
My co-director and I have made the decision that I’ll don the full outfit once we’ve blocked the show to our satisfaction… probably lessening the amount of stomach fat I’ll sweat off as a whole during the pre-show process, but never mind. However, I have found it utterly essential to don the costume’s feet from 9am, day one. A certain misplaced pride prevents me from wandering into the BOV cafe wearing the things each time I pick up a coffee – but if I’m speaking lines as the Buzzard, I absolutely need the relevant footwear. I’ve heard that for certain actors it’s the same with hats, hair, shoes or jackets: and that some directors complain that this often leads to hat/hair/shoe/jacket acting; hopefully my penchant for the cartoon bird feet won’t lead to me channeling vital emotions straight into the floor.
Interestingly enough (or not, I dunno, you decide) next weekend there’s an ‘open doors’ day at BOV. This strikes me as worrying on a certain level, a bit like opening all the doors at a zoo, but that aside, there’ll be a BUZZARD rehearsal coinciding with this access-all-areas initiative. This throws up the possibility that I’ll have the occasional audience – or audient – passing through from time to time. I worry slightly about the presence of small children, given that BUZZARD contains a staggering amount of effing and jeffing. But from experience I can tell you that in Singapore, the government’s censorship system classifies any show containing lewd material as “RATED ARTISTIC,” so I’m going to put a hand-made sign on the door saying exactly that: RATED ARTISTIC. If you see this announcement, and you’re not of a squeamish disposition, come on in and say hello. I’ll be the one in the feathers.
As a final aside, have a look at this:
That’s the sight that confronts me every time I gaze ceilingwards from my upstage position in BOV’s rehearsal room. Now, I’m sure that the regular cleaning of extractor fans is a minefield, health & safety-wise (damned if you do, damned if you don’t) but that’s not why I direct your attention to this dusty terror. I’m not complaining. No, I’m fascinated by the idea that what we’re looking at here is a good few decades of thespian skin flakes clogging up the gills of this eminent old ventilator. It’s fucking THEATRE HISTORY, right there, man. Imagine the talent contained in the DNA hanging precariously above my head every day. I don’t know – what do you reckon? What have we got here? 0.00000082% Tim Piggot-Smith? 0.000000014% Helen Mirren? 0.0000002% the actor Freddie Jones?
On a more disconcerting level there’s the question of what sort of use could you make of the material gathered here. I wonder if Sean Bean realises that someone could easily nick off with his genetic blueprint simply by whizzing a cotton bud around the rim of this institutional orifice? I suppose separation of one individual’s genetic code from another would be pretty difficult, and you might end up cloning a terrible Franken-actor with the body of Idris Elba but the head of Joe Pasquale. Perhaps the best option would be to just dump the whole clump of accumulated dust into a single huge jar, add boiling water, and see what happens. Given the slapdash method and the miniscule quantities of any given thespian available you obviously wouldn’t be able to produce anything with any real potential, but you might just be able to brew up, say, Danny Dyer.