Sunday, 30 June 2013

The End

After seven months of productions, having to dissect the work of four very different playwrights and having learnt a tremendous amount my time on the Graduate Scheme at the Citizens Theatre has come to an end. Auditions have been held, new soon-to-be graduates have been recalled and places for the next season have been offered.  

Whoever these graduates may be one thing is absolutely certain: they will be embarking upon one of the most unique and invaluable experiences available to someone who wishes to pursue a career in the theatre. They will be given a year’s worth of productions in order to learn, develop and flourish under the tutelage of some of the best theatre practitioners in Britain, and, most importantly, in total financial security. All of this past year has was made possible by the generosity of the Robertson Trust. It is their organisation that funds the Graduate Scheme and should a graduate actor wish to achieve a similar level of professional activity in their first year outside of drama school it would prove to be very difficult indeed - in the entirety of the UK only the Dundee REP provides a similar scheme.
Due to the opportunity the Robertson Trust has provided I have spent the past seven months steeped in the Scottish theatre industry and, naturally, have learnt a great deal as a result. I have been given the chance to take things I learnt at drama school and put them into practice whilst learning an entirely new set of skills from a plethora of different actors, technicians, assistant directors and audiences; I’ve been on tour to Leeds at the West Yorkshire Playhouse learning the intricacies of ‘digs’ and how fantastic it is to spend every moment of your day with the company your working with, your offstage relationships bolstering the ones onstage. I have made incredible friends.
There are several more tangible successes I can cite as to the importance of the Graduate Scheme. As a direct consequence of my time at the Citz I have had two further offers of employment and Lucy is doing equally well and straight after Far Away finished began rehearsals for a production of Lee Hall’s Spoonface Steinberg that will be opening at the Jermyn Street Theatre in early July.
The Robertson Trust’s continued support for the Graduate Scheme at the Citizens Theatre can only ever be an immensely valuable thing. It will ensure that a wealth of opportunity continues to be available for graduates when they need it most within an industry that is overpopulated, financially precarious and, at times, incredibly frustrating, however, one that is incredibly special. For me, it is something I have longed for since I was young, have worked incredibly hard to succeed in and will continue to do so buoyed by the prospects the Robertson Trust and Citizens Theatre have made possible. I am immensely grateful for the opportunities both organisations have given me this past year and would like to express my heartfelt thanks to all concerned.
Thank you also to all of you who have been reading this blog. It started off as something we thought would be rather cool to do and although some bits didn’t come to fruition quite as we intended (including Lucy’s coverage of Takin’ Over the Asylum – she apologises) we hope it has been interesting and gave a small insight into all the various goings on that this incredible building allows.
For Lucy and I now begins the tricky bit. A rather astute man once said of the acting profession that “it’s a marathon not a sprint”. By this he was referring to the fact that in this profession longevity is the true prize to aim for, to make your career last from a fledgling graduate just having left drama school to a seasoned RSC actor, still throwing yourself about the boards in your old age. To put things in perspective: out of the 19 other students that I graduated with on the BA Acting course at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland last July five have already changed careers.
But it all keeps coming back to love. It is why Lucy and I auditioned for the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in the first place and why we will continue to keep throwing ourselves back into this most ridiculous of professions until it kills us. Love is also what you will find permeating through every splinter of the Citizens Theatre’s ancient Victorian architecture, it is present in every piece of work that it produces and is itself produced by some of the most dedicated staff I've ever seen.
Will Lucy or I see this sight again? We really don’t know. But whatever the future holds one thing’s for sure: It’s been quite a year.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Apologies! Faustus! Far Away!

A.H: First, an immense apology! It has been an age since my last blog and within that age a great deal has happened that has passed undocumented. Dr Faustus came to its natural end and so after nearly three months together the cast have returned to their respective corners of the country to continue their respective actorly journeys. Rehearsals for the Caryl Churchill double bill of Far Away & Seagulls have started, matured and reached their twilight hours as tech week lurks its head next week. In short: tons of things that should have been dealt with in detail in this here blog haven’t been. But I’ve an excuse!
The first week of rehearsals for Far Away was greeted with an offer to work on a project for Stewart Laing who directed The Maids at the Citz in February. The show is a new version of James Hogg’s classic Scottish novel Confessions of a Dangerous Sinner and taking part would require a great deal of filming over the space of two weeks which we would work around rehearsals for the Caryl Churchill’s. If you take both rehearsing and learning lines for Far Away AND Seagulls and then learning lines and sword fights whilst also shooting night shoots up Arthur’s Seat for Confessions before returning to the Citz with two hours sleep to continue rehearsing Far Away you may begin to get an idea why all at A Season at the Citz has been a tad quiet. If you’d like to see the culmination of all that extra work then the finished project will be on at the Tramway theatre next month and, although it may seem a bit biased, I highly recommend it.
Walking down Arthur's Seat at 5.50am for Confessions of a Justified Sinner
Meanwhile, back at the Citz the Caryl Churchill’s have been going from strength to strength to complicated. After the world of Christmas shows and the devilish antics of Faustus (where I did a lot but said little) it has been a pleasure to work with such a complex text. Caryl Churchill is considered to be one of the great living English playwrights and trying to do these short plays justice has proven incredibly hard. Not because she’s bad but because she’s so good!
Lucy and I in a publicity image for Far Away. Image by Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
You have so little lines to convey so very much. The text requires its actors to be absolutely precise with every sentence; then, and only then, does the play work, however, if the specificity slips so does the clarity of the play. I can tell you very little without giving things away but what I will say is that the moniker ‘short plays’ may imply something small in stature, but in terms of its subject matter and execution they are absolutely epic. Far Away has required the Citz to assemble a community cast of nearly 80 people! It would be too spoilerific to divulge ‘the why’ here so I won’t. Needless to say it’s going to look brilliant. View all the info and the trailer here: http://citz.co.uk/whatson/info/far_away_and_seagulls/
Finally, before I go, it would be remiss of me not to give over a quick paragraph to the end of Faustus. In short, it went brilliantly. It began very serenely with the birthday of yours truly on the Sunday before a cycling trip from Loch Lomond to the village of Luss with Chris, Leah and Gary on the Monday day off: 1 Loch, 1 pub lunch, 14 miles and lovely company.
From L to R: Chris Keegan, Gary Lilburn, Leah Kelly surveying the
 Loch with one of our trusty bikes
Friday night was a cast and crew last meal/ Dominic’s surprise birthday meal...which he then failed to show up to. All these events led up to the final performance on Saturday night. The final night of a show is always a very strange experience. There’s a natural want to go out with a bang and somehow give the definitive performance of the show in honour of all the hard work you’ve collectively accomplished, however, due to the live nature of theatre this want is rarely accomplished. The final Saturday was a lovely show but topped off with a plethora of odd moments where you would find yourself doing something entirely wrong despite having done it perfectly every time before. Luckily, it concluded in a merry manner with drinks and dancing on the Saturday night and a wee bit of food on the Sunday before trains and planes were caught and the cast of Faustus safely whisked away. I absolutely miss them and long for a catch up in the near future, however, such is the nature of Theatre. A sentiment nicely summed up by Todd half way through Far Away: “It’s ephemeral...you make beauty and it disappears, I love that”.
The Dr Faustus costumes all wrapped up and ready to be sent back to West Yorkshire Playhouse
‘Far Away’ and ‘Seagulls’ are on at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, from the 23rd May - 8th June. For all tickets please contact the box office on 0141 429 0022 or book online at www.citz.co.uk.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

A Statement of Intent

A.H: The actor Chris Keegan who, among many other roles, plays Cornelius in the show began our first rehearsal in Glasgow last week by telling us of his Nan’s worries for the cast’s souls. Apparently, upon learning we were doing a production of Dr Faustus she was so worried about the potential damnation of the cast that she told Chris she would be praying for both his soul and the souls of the entire cast. Well, it must be working as this first week has been an absolute success. Press Night on Tuesday went down a storm (as did the party after) and the changes we’ve added to the show are now second nature. The latter half of the week saw a birthday in the cast and a fantastic meal in the West End to celebrate before a well-earned rest on Sunday and Monday.
To be performing this show in the Citz is a joy. The production is such a clear statement of intent for the artistic vision Dominic plans to imbue all of his future seasons with. Naturally, the show isn’t perfect, there are flaws and problems but the audacity of the production combined with Colin Teevan’s rewritten middle provides so much to like.
The end of the week brought about another very clear statement of intent. Sunday saw the one night extravaganza that was Tell Me the Truth About Love. Organised by the actress Maureen Beattie the night was a massive charity evening designed to help the theatre reach the finish line for its Seat Restoration campaign. It was a fantastic evening of poetry, prose and charitable auctions where many important people gave a lot of their important time for to support an important local cause. Despite having 10am rehearsals in London the next day the infamous Shakespearean actor Simon Russell Beale had come up for the day, Siobhan Redmond (who is currently very busy playing Mephistopheles in Dr Faustus) gave up one of her only two days off to rehearse and perform in the show and Billy Boyd, who had taken a day off from a busy rehearsal schedule with his band, completed the roster.
FromLeft to Right:
Billy Boyd, Siobhan Redmond, Dominic Hill, Maureen Beattie and Simon Russell Beale.
 Photo by Tim Morozzo
The evening was made by actors and patrons of the theatre alike, both coming together to help bring the 1878 built building into the 21st Century. The evening was topped off with Dominic Hill laying out his vision for the Theatre’s renovation in 2016 which will see the building of a new foyer, and backstage facilities as well as ensuring the Old Lady of the Gorbals will be here for another 100 years. Hopefully that also includes Simon Russell Beale next treading the Citizens Theatre boards in a Dominic Hill production.
On a more personal level this week saw the delivery of the final script I will be working on during my tenure as one of the two Graduate Actor Interns at the Citz: the Caryl Churchill shorts Far Away and Seagull’s. The two roles I’ll be playing couldn’t be more different and both are rather text heavy, which, hitherto, has not been the case with my roles in either Sleeping Beauty or Dr Faustus (not that I’m complaining, mind). Naturally for a playwright who has been dubbed one of the finest living English Playwright’s the plays are fantastic! One is an apocalyptic fairy tale; the other a very sweet meeting of minds; both a lovely challenge. It will also mean that Lucy and I will be reunited once more after months apart the signing in board has looked like this for too long...
Dr Faustus’ is on at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, until the 27th April. For all tickets please contact the box office on 0141 429 0022 or book online at www.citz.co.uk.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

We're Back!!

The view from the Gods at the Citz
It has been three weeks since last I settled down to write about the company of actors bringing the trials and tribulations of Dr John Faustus to the stage and now, having returned to where we first started rehearsals nearly two months ago, tonight will be the official opening of Dr Faustus at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow!
The two weeks of rest was predominantly spent cleaning my dusty room and washing every piece of clothing I’d taken with me to Leeds. There was also a wee sojourn to London to see my friend Eve Ponsonby who is currently being amazing alongside Iain Glen and Tamsin Greig in William Boyd’s play Longing before finally returning to Scotland to catch fellow intern Lucy in Takin’ Over the Asylum in Edinburgh.
The company reunited again
We were brought back together again last Wednesday and to see everyone again was fantastic. By the end of the two weeks it felt like an eternity had passed since we last saw each other, Leah, who plays Wagner, had even managed to go to Budapest! We immediately began retrofitting the show for the Citz. We initially began to re-tech the show before our first preview Friday evening. We’ve since polished up certain bits, restored Marlowe’s epilogue which serves as a warning to those who choose to overreach their station. One of the interesting things that came out of previews is just how well the show suits the Citz stage. Due to just how vast the Quarry Theatre was and how far back the seats stretched to the set often seemed to exclude those members of the audience on the periphery and also meant that Kevin (Faustus) had to work very hard indeed to include everyone. In contrast, the stage at the Citz is so much more intimate. Dominic, our director, described it as a crucible space which will help to condense and retain the plays energy.
Needless to say, I’m rather excited about tonight. Press night must be incredibly scary if you’re playing Hamlet or some other famous titular character but for me I’m dead chuffed to be a) back at the Citz, and b) back on home turf. Above the stage at the Citz, looking down from the Proscenium arch are the four muses of the Theatre (you can see three of them in the picture at the top of this blog). In the epic poems and ancient plays of old you would invoke the Muses to provide inspiration and luck for the artistic endeavour about to be embarked upon.
And so in the tradition of times past, and ahead of the Press Night tonight I thought it would be rather apt to plagiarise that other great poet of old with that most famous of invocations of the Muses:
“O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!”

            William Shakespeare, Henry V, Act I, scene i

 Dr Faustus’ is on at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, from 5 Apr to 27 Apr. For all tickets please contact the box office on 0141 429 0022 or book online at www.citz.co.uk.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Parting is such Sweet Sorrow

A.H: And so the first half of the journey that is Dr Faustus has come to a close. After three weeks of rehearsals and three weeks of performance Dr Faustus’ tenure at the West Yorkshire Playhouse has come to an end.
But what a time we’ve had. Over the past month and a half through curries, pints, Wardrobe meal deals and an excessive amount of the aptly named ‘Deliciously Moreish Yorkshire Crisps’ this fantastic company of actors has become an even more fantastic bunch of friends.
The last week went brilliantly. Our director Dominic returned from Glasgow on Thursday to see what was, by all accounts, a very good show before a notes session on Friday, a rehearsal of the Marlowe epilogue for Glasgow and some re-rehearsals to tighten up and refocus some of the existing scenes. Having a director come back to a show that’s been up and running for some time is incredibly important.
Dominic (far right) directing Annie (left), Siobhan (centre) and Ollie (floor)
As actors we aim to be consistent in our performances every night so that if an audience member were to come and see the show on opening night and then again on closing night that person would see the exact same level of performance, energy and drive. Having your director back to see the show with fresh eyes helps to ensure this aim and keep the show vital and alive. Dominic left again after the Saturday matinee as we broke for dinner in expectation of the evening show.
But not before a rather important celebration for some very important people took place. At 5 o’clock the cast were invited by the West Yorkshire Playhouse to a small reception of tea and cake to say thank you and to give us a wee send off before the final show. However, thanks to a rather lovely speech by our assistant director Andy the tea and cakes turned into a celebration of a group of people who hitherto have yet to get a mention in this here blog: the community company.
The community company first arrived just before tech week and were predominantly made up of members of the Playhouse’s newly formed youth theatre and two members from the Heydays Company, the Playhouse’s equivalent for older members. On stage they have added to the world of the play immensely while, off stage, they have joined us on several nights out culminating in last night’s mega, mega night out where it was an absolute joy to have such brilliant company to send us off proper. Collectively they have been invaluable and at all times the maintained the most professional of attitudes. And so to Liam, Will, Jacob, Pete, Anne, Amy, Thea, Nicci, Rudi and brilliant Beth a huge, HUGE thank you, you’ll be missed a great deal.
As for those of us who will be continuing to Glasgow? Well, imminently we have two weeks off which means everyone’s off home for a very well earned rest. I will be taking a quick detour to London before heading back to Glasgow to rest well and recuperate. To be home will be lovely but I will miss Leeds a great deal, both the beautiful city and the home away from home that has been the Playhouse, but above all the people. Thank you to you all and I so hope to see you again soon.
And there it is again, another ending. 
Dr Faustus’ is on at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, from 5 Apr to 27 Apr. For all tickets please contact the box office on 0141 429 0022 or book online at www.citz.co.uk.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013


A.H: So, week. 2 of the Leeds run of Dr. Faustus came and went without a hitch and now this evening (Tuesday) will signify the beginning of the end for the company’s tenure at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Since our director Dominic has returned to Glasgow the company has one very important job to do: keep the show alive. This may sound odd but if the company begins to get lazy or an actor decides to simply repeat the same performance every night the show is doomed to endure a barrage of coughing fits and yawns from the audience in front of them. Thankfully, due to the fantastically talented individuals who make up the cast, said laziness has yet to materialise. In fact, Dominic’s decision to have all of the actors onstage almost all of the time has been one of the great joys of the show allowing you to watch your fellow actor’s performances evolve and become increasingly nuanced.
Dominic too, despite being back in Glasgow, is not yet finished with the evolution of the play, we may be finishing in Leeds but we still have a three week run in Glasgow to go. The whole company is called on Friday so that we can put the final chorus back into the show and rehearse it so that it’s ready to be implemented for the Glasgow run. The decision to remove Marlowe’s epilogue was taken fairly early into rehearsals, however, now that Dominic has seen the finished show several times he thinks it’s important it should go back. One problem this will certainly solve is one with which we’ve had continued difficulty and which is very important we solve: the audience never seems to know when the show is finished. Let me explain...
Night after night, the play has consistently ended in the following fashion:
Faustus in despair is left alone in his study just as we find him at the beginning of the play, the clock begins to strike, being a tragedy and all the language begins to get a bit dramatic with talk of stars and mountains etc, the speech builds to a crescendo, things get a bit devilish, aaaaannnnnnndddd blackout!...but then for a good ten seconds nothing happens. After the ten seconds have passed the house lights come up and we actors, bashfully awkward, swivel on the spot to face the audience looking expectant. Five more seconds pass of just-said-“howsyourdad?”-to-someone-whose-Dad’s-just-passed-away-awkwardness...and then...applause.
Embellishments aside this can get a bit frustrating, so, hopefully, the return of the final chorus will give our ending a very clear full stop, as opposed to our current state of affairs which is more of an ellipsis.
Endings of a different sort are a surprisingly unexpected requirement of an actor’s life. It’s a fairly obvious thing to say but each time a production is put on it must eventually end and make way for a new story to be told by a new company of actors with a new creative vision. This is crucial to the evolution of theatre and allows it to remain pertinent and to comment upon the world it holds its black mirror up to. However, the end of a production also means the end to a wonderful company of friends who after three months of rehearsals, performances, cast meals, and nights out have become a second family. Whilst in Leeds the cast of Dr Faustus have become precisely this, as have the staff of the West Yorkshire Playhouse who have treated us fantastically and made the Playhouse a home away from home. As we prepare to say goodbye to the Playhouse we thank them immensely and know we will miss them greatly.
Dr Faustus’ is on at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, until Saturday16th March, and at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, from 5 Apr to 27 Apr. For all tickets please contact the respective box office or book online at www.wyp.org.uk or www.citz.co.uk.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Previews and Press Nights

The Cast having a breather
As of two days ago the show has officially been open for a week! And what a week it has been: previews, first audience reactions, cutting out bits of the show then re-rehearsing the show, all culminating on Wednesday with the first of two press nights (the second being in Glasgow).
The period from the first Preview through to press night of any show is always fraught with activity and is an extremely valuable period in a shows life. Last Saturday, with the tech and dress rehearsals out of the way, the first batch of audience members arrived for preview number one and us actors waiting to hear how they would respond. It went well but when we arrived at 10am the next day Dominic had a list of things he wished to cut, change and tighten up based on that previous evening’s performance. It is often the case after four weeks of rehearsing the same jokes, tricks and moments over and over again that you can become a bit immune to the punch lines or the weight of certain moments. So, having a four hundred strong fresh eyed audience view it in its entirety can allow everyone involved to see the show afresh and, for a director, can be very telling.
A famous theatre director was once asked about the key to directing. His reply was simple: “Kill your darlings!” He was referring to the little gems found in rehearsal, or written into the script which may seem either hilarious, beautiful or a moment of genius, but in terms of telling the actual story that moment simply gets in the way. When this is the case, no matter how genius said moment appears to be, get rid of it and get on with the story! Such a moment of darling killing example was part of Dominic’s list of cuts and things to tighten up before the Monday evening Preview. If you view the production photo’s on flickr you’ll notice the following picture:
Photo by Keith Pattison
However, if you come and see the show tonight you’ll notice this moment in the play is nowhere to be seen. That’s because it has been cut. Essentially, Colin Teevan had written a montage in the second half of the show showing Faustus falling from celebrity and it was written that we would hear over the tannoy a new star on the rise who had made the same deal Faustus did: Colin wrote that this new celebrity would be Derren Brown. And he said yes! He recorded lines for the show! We had a Derren Brown cameo in a show about magic! THE Derren Brown! The guy who can do this: . But, alas, after preview one Dominic decided that that montage was muddy storytelling and, in actuality, we just needed to get on with Faustus’ story. So we murdered our darling, but rightly so! If it doesn’t serve the story there’s no point. It is one of many deleted scenes that you’ll find in the script but not on the stage.
Although this week has been extremely busy on stage, back stage is a different story altogether. As the show gets into full swing our dressing rooms have become our new home. The walls are covered with cards and well wishes from press night; the girls’ dressing room has so many bouquets of flowers it could be mistaken for a florists and Ollie, Chris and I have decided to fill our free time with a wee tournament of Cards (above) which has become very serious indeed! It has a rude name so I shall not utter it here.
The week ended with two very well deserved days off. Sunday had a very clear remit: sleep and box sets, but on Monday I decided to be the audience for a change and watch someone else do all the work while at Northern Ballet’s The Great Gatsby. A lovely show in a stunning theatre with some incredible dancers, however, for a story that, in its own way, also deals with a type of damnation I would have liked it a great deal more if it just had a bit more of a punch to it. But then again everyone’s a critic!
‘Dr Faustus’ is on at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, from 23 Feb to16 March, and at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, from 5 Apr to 27 Apr. For all tickets please contact the respective box office or book online at www.wyp.org.uk or www.citz.co.uk.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Dr Faustus: A week in pictures

A.H: It’s been a busy week at the old West Yorkshire Playhouse and everyone’s hard work culminated today when we ran the show for the first time in front of the representatives from Wardrobe, Sound, Lighting, our Designer Colin Richmond, our writer Colin Teevan and some of WYP’s young company who will be joining the production to help out in the party and group scene’s. It was exhausting but, by all accounts, a resounding success. There’s definitely still a lot of work to do when we begin the tech on Wednesday but, if it’s not too immodest to say, it feels like we’re in a very good place. Here’s how the past week went down in pictures:

Monday: In the foreground Dominic Hill directs, from left to right: John Kielty (Valdes), Kevin Trainor (Faustus), Ollie Williams (Evil Angel) and Chris Keegan (Cornelius). Far right is our assistant director Andy.

Tuesday: The cast assembles to run the second half of the play. 

Wednesday: When I woke up lovely Leeds was covered in Snow and after a long day of rehearsals we left the playhouse to discover that the cast's John Kielty had snuck out to build a Dr Faustus devil snowman which soon became the talk of the Playhouse. Since John's a Scot he built this snowman entirely with his bare hands....no, seriously!

Thursday: Chris Keegan and I were made aware Wednesday evening that the local bar 'The Wardrobe' was testing its new menu this week and so the first 10 customers who arrived at 12pm each day would receive a free meal. We instantly resolved to put our morning off to good use with a free Lamb Hotpot: AND IT WAS AMAZING!

Friday/ Saturday: Towards the end of the week more and more of the costumes started to arrive. The dressing room table photo with all the female paraphernalia on it actually belongs to a male member of the company whilst directly above we have a headdress that belongs to the Las Vegas section of the play.
Sunday: After an exhausting week of rehearsals I mostly spent my day off here doing absolutely nothing. Which is just as well because...
Today (Monday 18th): First full run through of the show. In the background you can see the audience we assembled: The youth group on the left, the directing team in the middle and the production team on the right. Meanwhile, in the foreground, the actors remain undaunted.
So, what now? Well, tomorrow morning (Tuesday) we'll run the show again incorporating all the notes from today's run in the hope that it will be slicker and more detailed. Then on Wednesday we move into the Quarry Theatre to begin the technical rehearsal where Dominic will begin to marry the work we've been doing in the rehearsal room with that of the technical world of lights, soundscapes and smoke. Then on Saturday we have our first preview and it'll be time to show this wee project we've all been working on to the public and see what they make of our very modern version of this age old story.
‘Dr Faustus’ is on at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, from 23 Feb to16 March, and at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, from 5 Apr to 27 Apr. For all tickets please contact the respective box office or book online at www.wyp.org.uk or  www.citz.co.uk.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

What a Week!

The set begins to take shape: my personalised on stage dressing room
After a long 6 days of rehearsals today marks a well earned rest from the week’s exertions, of which there have been many.  If there is any truth to the age old axiom of “no pain, no gain” then judging by the amount of aches and pains that ran through my back as I woke up this morning I think we’re in line for a West End transfer.

Well, maybe that’s a bit much but we have been working incredibly hard: the entirety of Friday and half of Saturday was devoted to movement sequences and dance work (hence the pain); by the end of the week we’d successfully pieced together the play for a second time and, as of tomorrow, we will have begun to go through it again in even greater detail. The week ended on Saturday where, when not dripping in sweat, we were learning all the magic we will have to perform from our resident magicians: James and Ben. This, of course, was immense fun and a particular highlight of the week as the magician’s plethora of physic bending impossibilities reduced the male cast member’s expressions to those of a 10 year old boys.
Learning magic with James Freedman (2nd from left)
However, this doesn’t mean that we haven’t been having a thoroughly good time. Our arrival in Leeds has marked a renewed social vigour in the cast and, aside from when pesky late night rehearsals got in the way on Thursday, we’ve been happily taking advantage of the local pub ‘The Wardrobe’ every night of the week. The week’s social antics reached their nadir in the form of a cast visit to the astoundingly tasty curry restaurant ‘Aagrar’ just round the corner from the theatre where the food was exquisite and left the company in merry cheer. Friday was more of a cultured social affair as the company were kindly given complimentary tickets to see Phoenix Dance Company's new dance show which was good, however, for me, it was slightly overshadowed by the fact that I saw this on the wall and realised that we will be following in some very big footsteps:
Christopher Eccleston in 'Hamlet' at the West Yorkshire Playhouse
However, this week has also been busy off the pitch due to the fact that as opening night gets closer the business side of things begin to creep in. As actor’s we are classed as freelance artists which means that we are our own business. Therefore, along with their agent it is an actor’s responsibility in the run up to a show to unashamedly promote ourselves via e-mail and post to local casting directors, theatre directors and radio producers our headshots, C.V’s et al with an invite to the production in the hope of future employment. This means printing out headshots in an industry standard 10 by 8 format, finessing letters so that they are to the point yet neither too cold nor too sycophantic and sent with a knowledge that this won’t actually make any difference whatsoever in a vast majority of cases but hopefully will on the one, and that is worth all the work. I began by citing the old adage of “no pain, no gain”; the maxim that most aptly sums up the naive hopefulness of letter writing? “Shy bairns get nowt”.
‘Dr Faustus’ is on at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, from 23 Feb to16 March, and at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, from 5 Apr to 27 Apr. For all tickets please contact the respective box office or book online at www.wyp.org.uk or  www.citz.co.uk.

Monday, 4 February 2013

From Glasgow To Leeds


(Above: From the Citizens Theatre to West Yorkshire Playhouse)
A.H: DO NOT PANIC! Cancel the national emergency, call off the sniffer dogs and tell the Coast Guard they can stand down: after fears of some sort of Life of Pi-esque travelling catastrophe I can officially announce that the Dr. Faustus Company has safely arrived in Leeds!
After what seems like two extremely brief weeks of rehearsal in Glasgow the final two weeks before we open will be spent at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds. It’s a beautiful theatre and the staff are fantastic. The day began with the second meet and greet of our rehearsals as Team WYP came out in force to welcome us and the cast of Refugee Boy (who will be performing in the Theatre's second space) to the theatre. We were then taken on a tour of the building and I now see what Dominic meant about the Playhouse stage being rather different to that of the Citizens. Simply put: it is HUGE! The adjective that most readily came to mind wasn't so much theatre but arena.  
From the Citz Auditorium to the Playhouse's Auditorium

Not that I’m worried, quite the contrary, there’s something I find inherently exciting about arriving at a theatre you’ve never performed in before, besides, as Dominic pointed out, we saw it from its most daunting angle. This feeling of excitement was amplified further by the fact that the majority of the set and props for the show are being built for us by the Playhouse and so, upon arriving into the main rehearsal room, we were greeted by quite a lot of the actual set. It's always a brilliant moment when all the little bits of furniture and set on display in the model box (think a dolls house version of the finished set) begin to appear in real size, ready to be played with/ on/ accidentally broke. Then I take advantage of the theatre's very charitable staff discount before being whisked upstairs to the Wardrobe department to try on the most grotesque of masks and be fitted into the most iconic of dresses...that last bit may make a bit more sense once you’ve seen the show.
But apart from that and a quick dance call to make sure the choreography we learnt last week hadn’t fled from our minds, I wasn’t needed much today. Thus I decided to take advantage of this rare break from rehearsals, do a Michael Palin and explore the fantastic the city of Leeds. Here are some of my discoveries:
My walk to work is beautiful!

Leeds has enough Ducks to nessecitate the creation of a sign

This local statue is actually a prop from Prometheus
Rehearsals, Mark 2 had begun in earnest
The local Topman is HUGE!
Dr Faustus’ is on at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, from 23 Feb to16 March, and at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, from 5 Apr to 27 Apr. For all tickets please contact the respective box office or book online at either www.wyp.org.uk or www.citz.co.uk. 

Friday, 1 February 2013

Interview #2: Jamie Hayes, Head of Stage

(A huge apology for the lateness of this interview. Combined with the hectic run of Sleeping Beauty and the fact that Lucy and I are now in different cities it means that this has taken quite a while longer than anticipated to post. But, finally, here it is: our 2nd interview of A Season at the Citz. Enjoy!)

It is often the case that a set which seemlessly supports and compliments the tone of the action playing out on it can be invaluable to a production. Bearing this in mind the Workshop is one of the most important departments in any theatre. It is their responsibility to build the set and bring the designer's vision to life. All of the Citz productions are built on site by a dedicated team of carpenters, welders and builders. Jamie Hayes is Head of Stage and has worked at the Citz for 5years having previously worked at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket and the Prince Edward Theatre.  

What are you working on at the moment?We're working on Stuart Laing’s The Maids. It’s coming along very well but it’s quite a tough engineering challenge. Essentially, Stuart wants a cloth to come in at the start of the show at a certain speed and then truck all the way upstage and then go back out again. And this cloth moves in orientations up and down at certain points. Its very unusual that you’ll get a cloth that comes in and then has to move when it’s in position. It sounds relatively easy to do but it’s not. When you consider that you’ve got lots of lighting bars. We usually have about six or eight or even ten lighting bars so how do you float something through that? It’s a tougher engineering challenge than it sounds. It’s a bit of a head scratcher. The Citz being the way it is, a Victorian theatre, it doesn’t allow you to do the things that you could normally do in other theatres. In a modern theatre you could do that pretty simply. You just have to think your way around it. So that’s what we are doing at the moment.

Could you describe an average day in the Workshop?It’s kind of tied heavily in with the process. Usually with a production you get the plans and a model. Our usual build period is three weeks. As we are coming out of production on one show we will get the drawings for the next, which means you can order all the timber, look at it and cost the show...so when you come in on a Monday morning all the timbers in. Dennis, whose the master carpenter, will usually have done drawings for the lads so he just passes out the drawings to them and the chippies go away and build it. You get your drawings...and you go off and take what you need. You will have a pile of pre cut timber of all different sizes and then you construct it. Average day goes from drawing, to cutting to producing.

How do you find working at the Citz?I like it very much simply because you have a workshop so close to the stage. Once we get on to stage, there’s constantly bits you have to fabricate. The designer might say, "actually I’d like another piece of flat there, I’d like something here, I’d like something there". In other theatre’s they have workshops pretty much a mile away from the stage, so you have to go all the way back to the workshop which causes all sorts of problems. Here, from a designer saying they want something, we can have it on the stage in two hours. But there’s a downside to that because a designer will factor that into it. So they will always have something cookie or zanie to throw at you because they know the workshops right there.

How did you get started?It was always around...when I was young and I did amateur dramatics as a child so I knew a bit about theatre. My wife and I moved to London about 20 years ago, because we were sick and tired of Edinburgh, and I thought what am I going to do in London? Someone said to me the best theatre in London is the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, without a doubt if you ever go to a theatre you want to go there, so I just bit the bullet and in the morning I went to speak to the master carpernter and said ‘listen, Im interested. I like theatre and I only really know Theatre’ and he said ‘right start tomorrow morning. I’ll teach you everything I need to know". So I pretty much walked through the door not knowing a thing about it, not knowing how to pick up a hammer. Amazingly this guy let me in and that was it, boom! Started. Worked there for 8 years.

How many theatre's have you worked in?A lot of theatre in london. The nature of London is, as soon as you get to know people down there and work with all the visiting companies and producers, you get phone calls all the time asking if you want to come and work in such and such theatre. So, all though I was based in one theatre I did a lot of freelance work in all the others. Pretty much every theatre in London, bar a few, I worked in at one time or another.

What advice would you give to someone looking to go down this career path?My advice would be: prepare to work long hours for average money, if that’s your passion in life, don’t even think about, just go for it. If you want to be involved in theatre, just go for it. If that’s what you’re interested in then it’s a very fulfilling job. You've got to be prepared to think on your feet constantly and to work, and work, and work, and work, and work. Don’t expect to be at home too much and get on with it.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Next stop Leeds!

A.H: Naturally for a play as epic as Dr Faustus it is very apparent that we have a lot of work to do. In total we have four weeks of rehearsal and, as we reach the end of the second, it seems that we’ve barely scratched the surface. This past week and a half has involved going through the play scene by scene making sure that we understand all the 16th Century text before getting it up on its feet and knitting together a skeletal version of the play which we will then develop and fold copious and ever more intricate detail in to.

Above: 'Primum Mobile'(left) and 'The Firmament'(Right) two of several references we've had to illuminate
However, it’s also like working on two plays. The work we have to do on the 16th century text is entirely different to that of the modern section which is more like working on a new writing project. This involves going through the text, making sure it works, seeing whether there’s lines that can be cut, or alternatively cut lines that need to go back in. After this initial work Dominic will then pass any notes on to Colin who will rewrite these sections before passing them back to us to work with in rehearsal. So with two weeks to go there’s fight’s still to choreograph, illusions to learn and then disguise and 16th century text to mine further but the cast are more than up to the task (and absolutely lovely to boot!)
However, In comparison to Sleeping Beauty, I’ve had quite a bit time off. This is because Dr Faustus is essentially a two hander. The very first line of the play is the Chorus telling the audience that, actually, this isn’t going to be a play about mythical wars and heroic Kings but of an ordinary man’s journey through the world. As such, this means that the play is filled with characters whose sole purpose is to briefly aid the narrative before rapidly disappearing in order to give way to the next archetypal character the story requires. However, as a result this past week and a half has been a great amount of fun filled with a great amount of dressing up; we have three very large cloth rails in the rehearsal room which have every sort of costume on it which, depending on the scene’s requirements, means we’re welcome to mix and match to our heart’s content.
Another facet of the project which has been an entirely new experience for me is the logistics of the fact that we’re off on tour! This means that the end of last week was largely spent making a bunch of phone calls to various Leeds households to arrange accommodation, but only after learning as much as I could from other members of the cast about the perils of the world of ‘digs’. However, another peril that comes with touring is one that is far less easy to prepare for. The West Yorkshire Playhouse’s theatre is quite similar in its design to that of the Olivier Theatre at the National in London, the stage is very wide and curved allowing the audience to sit all around the stage and thus we will all have to play to two more sides of audience than we will at the Citz which is a much more traditional stage in the sense that that proscenium arch means the audience all, more or less, view the same image. As far as fitting the Leeds set into the Citz space is concerned, well, as our director Dominic put it: “you couldn’t find two more different types of theatre to stage this on”. But I’m sure the tech staff will enjoy the challenge.
So, as the Glasgow run of rehearsals come to their end and the skeletal shape of the show is set Leeds is where the real work begins. We’ll have to incorporate set and costumes into the work we’ve already done, the final rewrites of the Teevan section will be finalised and signed off and, of course, the show will open to an eager audience who will pass judgement on this strange world we’ve created...who knew damnation could be so much fun?
‘Dr Faustus’ is on at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, from 23 Feb to 16 March. And at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, from 5 Apr to 27 April. For all tickets please contact the box office on: 0141 429 0022, or book online at www.citz.co.uk.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Dr Faustus Rehearsals Begin

A.H: And now for something completely different! Adieu to Ogres, Fairies, Table Slaves and Princes and a hearty welcome to tales of damnation, fame, asylums and soul music. Sleeping Beauty is over and Lucy and I now move on to the next phase of our Theatrical endeavours with the Citz. However, sadly, this also means that there must be a parting of the fellowship as Lucy heads to Edinburgh to rehearse Takin’ Over the Asylum at the Lyceum while I remain in Glasgow to rehearse Dr Faustus. In a way it’s rather apt that we’ll be spending the next phase of our internship apart, it was fantastic to be with Lucy on Sleeping Beauty knowing I had a wee confidante in the room going through similar challenges and worries as we found our feet. However, now that said feet have been firmly found and, moreover, thoroughly worn in, it seems right that we now stretch our legs apart before coming back together for what will hopefully be the triumphant Far Away.
But what a journey lies ahead till then. For Dr. Faustus it’ll involve four weeks of rehearsal in Glasgow, two in a different city, a four week run at the West Yorkshire Playhouse before returning to Glasgow for another four week run. The first league of this journey began on Monday at 10am as the full cast arrived from all their different corners of the country and began the process of getting to know each other over copious cups of tea and shortbread. Then it was through to the rehearsal room for a read through of the script, the first time that Dominic Hill, our director, and Colin Teevan, our writer, will have heard the full script out loud in full.
‘Hang on!’ I hear you cry, ‘what do you mean by “our writer”?’ Dr Faustus doesn’t need a writer, it’s already got one: Christopher Marlowe! Surely we’re not augmenting a well established 17th Century?  Well, you see, actually...we are. Dominic has had two acts of the play entirely rewritten by Colin Teevan, his writer and collaborator on the acclaimed NTS/Dundee rep production of Peer Gynt. As we sat round the rehearsal table preparing for our read through Dominic clearly laid out his reasons for rewriting the middle two acts: first, it may come as a surprise to find out that there are actually two versions of the play which are known by academics as the ‘A’ text and the rather different ‘B’ text both published within ten years of each other and so the text we all know and revere is actually already corrupt. What is Marlowe and what is not is estimated but a definitive version of Dr. Faustus written solely by Christopher Marlowe does not exist. Secondly, if you read the original version of the text the middle of the play is noticeably uneven in tone and structure. And so when Dominic first reread the play with the idea of potentially putting it on these factors stuck in his mind and eventually led him to the idea of having these troublesome middle acts rewritten by Colin. And finally, Shakespeare’s tragedies were given happy endings in the 19th Centuries and so in comparison to that blasphemy we’re not really being that drastic. So, cut to a year later and after several drafts and redrafts we now have a new version of Dr. Faustus to show the world, part Marlowe, part Teevan, and it is completely fantastic!
Obviously, I won’t give anything away but what I will say is this: as Monday drew to a close and I was walking my 20minute walk home and the combination of the design team’s ideas, the casts read through and Dominic’s vision for the play ringing in my ears I simply couldn’t shake the sheer excitement of it. The script simply by itself is dark, funny, disturbing and amazing, and then if you throw a bunch of insanely talented people into the mix with the intention of bringing that amazing script to life then I don’t know what could go wrong!
‘Dr Faustus’ is on at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, from 23 Feb to 16 March. And at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, from 5 Apr to 27 April. For all tickets please contact the box office on: 0141 429 0022, or book online at www.citz.co.uk.