The expo – and so it begins

Directing a play is always an adventure. You get your ship ready, choose your crew, raise your anchor and set sail.

There is also a fair bit of blagging involved, in my case anyhow. I’m sure most directors would agree. They may now be accomplished, successful and highly regarded by their peers, but once upon a time they too were starting out. And every fledgling director surely has that moment when they ask themselves: do I really know what I’m doing?!

About to embark on my second directing journey, the first being in 2011, I held an ‘expo’, as is customary with the Southsea Shakespeare Actors. This is an evening where anyone interested in the play can come along to find out more about the characters, plot, rehearsal commitment, performance dates and the director’s interpretation.

The play I will be directing, Here by Michael Frayn, only has three characters, so I started by giving a brief overview of each character – names, playing age, key characteristics and background info, if known – before covering the setting and summarising the plot. Basically we have Cath and Phil, both playing age mid 20s to early 30s and in a relationship together, and Pat, their landlady and playing age 60s.

Here woolly jumper

It’s a good idea to throw in an activity or two during an expo – something relevant to the play that will get people on their feet and interacting with each other. I doubt many actors can sit still for long, if our lot are anything to go by! I took a scene from the play that I’m particularly fond of – I call it the ‘jumper scene’. Phil and Cath are wearing matching jumpers, and both end up in Phil’s jumper when he puts it over Cath’s head. Of course I could see the hilarity of getting two people together, possibly who have never met before, and cramming them into an oversized jumper, so I headed down to the British Heart Foundation shop at once and bought a lovely woolly blue-and-white striped number (see picture). The scene went down a treat. Obviously the actors had scripts in their hands, but in a way that made it even more cumbersome and amusing.

For the second activity I decided to do a bit of improvisation. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed, and often found really useful in developing a character or just for getting the creative juices flowing. A lot of the dialogue between Cath and Phil focuses on bitty arguments or discussions about inconsequential things, which I’m sure most people have experienced in relationships. I asked for two volunteers – a Cath and a Phil – and gave them a subject over which to argue. I also asked the rest of the group for a suggestion. My favourite was whether curly or straight pasta is best in a Bolognese, apparently drawn from an argument in real life! We repeated the exercise with another two volunteers and another few subjects, and I realised this would be a great activity to take into the rehearsal room once the play is cast. Aside from helping the actors develop the natural rhythm of such an argument, it could also serve very well just as a warm-up before the text work begins.

I came away from the expo really encouraged by the interest in the play from company members along with a few new faces, and excited that it’s finally about to begin. Auditions are this week, and I’m feeling both eager and nervous – eager to see everyone read or perform, and nervous because, with such a talented company, I have a feeling I’m going to have some very tough decisions to make when casting!

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