Saturday, 2 February 2008

Production week and opening

The production opened last night (1st Feb) after an open dress rehearsal for Traverse and Stills staff on Thursday afternoon and a public preview on Thursday evening. We have sold out all the performances and have had to add another one to cope with the demand for tickets - it's been incredible. If the gallery wasn't going into a new exhibition next week we'd probably have been looking at doing another week. I'm intrigued to know exactly what it is that has caught people's imaginations about this, but something clearly has - I keep being told "there's a buzz about the show", though where this has come from no-one seems to know.

Rehearsals were a wonderful experience - one of the best rehearsal periods I have ever had on a show. The four of us working on the show (Ewan, the actor, and designers Tristan and Charles) worked very happily together - it felt very creative in a way that productions don't always. It's easy to get bogged down in the practicalities and everyday distractions of a production, but that didn't happen this time. The rehearsal situation was quite strange: we were working in the Creative Lab room at CCA in Glasgow, which is a lovely bright room with white walls, a wooden floor and lots of natural light. It's also connected directly to the offices of the Creative Enterprise Office, separated only by two black drapes which hang in the connecting archways. This means that both sides of the curtain are intimately aware of what is happening on the other side. My partner Lucy was at a CEO event during rehearsals and someone from the office said that she could probably recite the play by heart herself. However, both sides of the curtain ploughed on, pretending not to notice what the other side was doing.

During rehearsals we spent a lot of time working through ideas - trying things out, refining or adapting them, sometimes rejecting them. The process was, in Thoreau's words, a case of "simplify, simplify". Anything too complex or artful seemed so out of place and false that it was rejected. Sometimes Ewan and I would work on out own, and then show our work to Tristan and Charles later. Other times, the four of us would work together. It was that unusual thing a genuine collaboration: the boundaries between our prescribed roles blurred heavily, but with no preciousness on anyone's part. Tristan and Charles didn't bat an eyelid when I arrived back from lunch with a jacket I had spotted that seemed perfect for Ewan to wear: it was examined, considered and found to be the right thing. This was typical of a process in which the end result was the important thing, not whose ideas were used or not used.

We finished our three weeks at CCA with a showing. This was sparsely attended - only three people made it. But they were three very useful people as they each gave fantastically useful feedback that we were able to consider as we worked on it at Stills this week.

When we arrived at Stills on monday morning, the installation of the set was almost complete and looked wonderful. I have never get over the bizarre feeling when I see the real set for the first time of thinking "oh, it's just like the model". After all these years you'd think I might have got used to it. Kevin, who had built the set, had miraculously re-created the smooth curve of the seating: easy to achieve with card and scissors, a little harder with 18mm MDF I imagine. All the worries about how the space would work gradually disappeared: the acoustic gave just the right reverb for Ewan's voice, slowing the delivery down a little. Stills consists of two connected galleries: the front one is smaller, but higher than the lower one to which it is connected by three steps. The larger one has a lower ceiling (a mezzanine level was built above it when the whole gallery was refurbished in the mid 1990s), which means that you get a very bright sound (bare walls and concrete floor), but not overly reverberant. The sand worked better on the concrete floor than on the floorcloth we had used in rehearsal to protect the CCA's wooden floor - when Ewan drops it in the floor it scatters weirdly leaving a kind of ghostly presence. As Ewan and I worked in the second gallery, opening out and adapting our work to the set, Tristan and Charles worked on the first room. Charles spent three days writing onto the walls Thoreau's lists of what he bought and sold while he stayed at Walden - several people asked him why he didn't use vinyl lettering, but the hand-drawn quality of the pencil marks was exactly right.

I shall post some of Dave Grinly's production photos to give an impression of the two rooms and of the performance.

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