The Observers’ thoughts on the second week of of rehearsal for The House of Bilquis Bibi:
The second week has felt quite epic, even though I have only been observing for three days. I feel I am gaining a lot from just witnessing the process as it unfolds. Running through longer sections today the play was really coming alive, and it was possible to see the results of the work so far which was exciting.
I have been struck this week by how directing is akin to medicine. I feel at times like a junior doctor watching Kristine making a diagnosis – an accurate assessment of what might be blocking an actor or a scene – then proposing an exercise which gets to the root of the problem rather than just responding to a symptom in a state of mild panic as I know I have sometimes done! At the same time I am aware of the importance of not intervening too soon and giving space to the actors to find and ‘drop into’ a performance over time.
In this sense the actor-centred approach is really making sense to me. I am aware of how much I have focussed in the past on the text and my ideas about it, to guide my suggestions in rehearsals. Observing this process is making me aware of the need to shift my focus, at times almost seeing black instead of white – centering my attention on the actors in the room and how best to help them, rather than the characters as abstract entities.
The introduction of sound this week has really added texture and a sense of place. It is tantalising seeing the model of the set and the beginnings of costume and imagining the different elements coming together.
Well, week two has come to an end, and what an interesting and intense week it’s been.
Watching Kristine working with two of the actors at the beginning of the week to bring out a truth in the opening scene was fascinating to watch. One of the actors has a tendency to ‘play’ comedy, and sometimes caricature her performance. During an improvisation with both actors around the story, the actor found a vocal freedom, and as a result, both actors were able to find a lovely rhythm within the scene that grew naturally.
Kristine’s emphasis on ‘playing actively’ is fascinating. She talks about listening and responding in the moment during a scene – this does help make extraordinary, engaging theatre. During improvisations, the actors are mostly free to listen and respond actively – and the key is to keep this quality whilst playing the scene. When, however, the actors dont have their ‘impro head’ on (as Kristine calls it), the scene often becomes flat, and the thread between all the actors on stage, gets cut. So each actor needs to bring this quality to the stage all the time, for there to be actively engaging theatre.
Another interesting moment for me was during the overture sequence which involves movement to create some beautiful ‘tableaux’. Whilst explaining to the actors how stylised this piece needs be (involving the actors making shapes with each other propelled out of their grief), she stated that the movement has to have the psychology within it for it to have meaning. I found this fascinating, as such a simple thought, can (and did) make such a huge difference to how fluid and connected the scene can become.
It saddens me to think that the rehearsal period will be over in ten days. I am already learning so much, and putting it into practice in my own show has felt very exciting indeed.
Actors, not characters.
Imagine a director instructing an actor to act in a certain way. Wouldn’t you expect the term ‘character’ to pop up sooner or later? In the rehearsals with the director Kristine Landon-Smith the term ‘character’ doesn’t come up and it doesn’t seem to be missing.
Her approach is rather to work with the actors and with what they can bring to the process, which shows some of Philippe Gaulier’s influence on Kristine’s way of working. She asks the actors to play with pleasure, and to play in response to what they hear in that particular moment. She has certainly created her very own way of stimulating the actors to play in a spontaneous ―rather bottom-up than top-down― manner. That includes finding, developing, and providing helpful tools for the actresses in their play in this particular process, if necessary.
It has been most interesting to see how Kristine has gradually developed these tools with individual actresses in a very detailed and careful way ―which might have been quite hard work at times for both the director and actor. One of those tools for the actors is the specific use of a particular language and accents in the rehearsal process which function as a key or door to their acting in this play. It’s fascinating to watch.