Some pictures from rehearsals for The Freelance Magdalene, my contribution to Bristol Old Vic’s Short Fuses programme last month…
Short Fuses was performed in the round (with yours truly surrounded ON ALL SIDES by an audience hungry for TASTY STORY and FINE THEATRE.) I haven’t done a show in that configuration for a while, and never as a solo performer. Lessons? Even though it’s just you, sole focus of attention, alone on stage, you don’t necessarily need to turn constantly, like a pig on a spit. Freelance Magdalene is performed in conversational mode, acknowledging the spectators rather than shoving an imaginary fourth wall (or, indeed, a fifth wall in this case) up between stage and audience. The resulting instinct for the actor is to try and make ‘contact’ with as many people as possible, all the time, and you just ain’t gonna do it.
I imagine if I were an owl, able to rotate my neck 360 degrees at whim, then director Tanuja Amarasuriya and I wouldn’t have had to carefully choreograph every step I took whilst telling my weirdy tale. But, let’s face facts – I’m not an owl. So we had to. And we did.
Another note from the rehearsal room – this show had an unusual writing process, in that I first constructed it as prose. To be precise: it was written quickly, as standalone disconnected paragraphs of prose, some of it narrative, some of it purely descriptive, and sometimes just sparse tangential sentences with a vague common theme. My hope was that this stream-of-consciousness tactic would help me find some unusual destinations and ideas, unhindered, some fresh ways of spinning a story, and that within our 7 days of rehearsal we could then chop, change, delete and streamline chunks of the text so as to make it properly dramatic, to create something intriguing and engaging.
As it happens, the basic structure of the text remained pretty much intact. Despite everything I’d produced a coherent narrative. But we certainly lost a lot of surrounding detail… we only had 20 minutes of stage time, after all. And you don’t want to pump an audience full of so much odd-bod poetic imagery that they go completely Scanners on you. That would be messy.
When going through a process like that, you enter an editing phase that writer-gurus describe, unpleasantly enough, as “killing your children.” You’re ditching what you consider to be some of your best content because it’s too much, or too digressive, or just not essential to the picture you’re painting. I fucking massacred my offspring in this show. Here’s one passage that bit the dust:
“A border country Kibbutz, right on the edge of the occupied territories, long before the wall was built. Pretty boys from Argentina and beautiful girls from New Jersey with long, dark flowing hair, on quad bikes, riding up and down the length of white plastic tunnels that covered mile-long stretches of crops, each and every one of these visions of youthful loveliness wearing a sub-machine gun strapped to their side.”
Next up at BOV, another self-performed piece commissioned by Paines Plough for their Come To Where I’m From programme. The brief is to write about Bristol; my contribution is going to be called M32 is also a galaxy.