Observer Christa Harris has been sitting in on rehearsals for Tamasha’s new production of Blood at Belgrade Theatre Coventry. Here are her thoughts from the first week
As an emerging theatre director I am constantly looking for opportunities to learn and develop my craft. My experience so far spans from amateur to fringe theatre, but I have had very little professional guidance; so when Tamasha offered me chance to observe their rehearsals for Blood as part of their Developing Artists programme I jumped at the chance.
My first morning began with a meet and greet with the creative team. It was great to have the opportunity to mingle with the group before getting our heads stuck into the text and I already felt like I was in good company within the first few moments of being there. By midday I had listened to the read-through of Blood by the brilliant actors Krupa Pattani and Adam Samuel Bal, got to grips with the space as well as explored the set, designed by Sara Perks.
The set, which has been described as an ‘urban box’ is gritty, isolated and multifaceted; to look upon it you can see an exciting city landscape and, in the next moment, a barren flat. There is a melancholia attached to the set as well as a simmering energy of rebellion. Its versatility which will host over thirty scenes in different locations is simply remarkable. The shades of greys incorporated in the set alongside the light boxes and the capacity to inject bright colour generate a clever metaphor of the love story of Sully and Caneze: two young people who find love in a despondent place. I could already see that the prison-like quality of the grey and steel framework juxtaposed with colour and light would enhance the mind-set of our two protagonists: at times completely trapped and isolated and other times filling each other’s’ world with colour and believing in their future. Set design has always been something that has interested me, a well thought out set can help define an entire play as well as add layers and meaning and so I was thrilled when Tamasha’s set had exceeded my expectations on the first day.
In the afternoon, director Esther Richardson led a discussion in which the team delved deeper into the world of the play: its language, its timeframe and, most importantly, its characters. The discussion was a way of tapping into the foundations of Blood and finding out how the characters function on a day to day basis: who they socialise with, what their history is and what their words reveal. As far as a traditional play goes, Blood breaks all of the rules; the events take place on stage over a year, but contained within our characters’ memories. At times the audiences will be completely immersed in what they believe is the present, but then sucked back out when the characters turn to them and deliver their lines directly. This is incredibly powerful tool as we are asked, not just as an audience, but as fellow citizens to listen to Sully and Caneze – they want us to hear their story and remember it. This discussion felt important in laying down the foundations of the play and I felt that I could now conceive a clear image of two fully formed characters and the worlds around them.
One of the things that really struck me on the first day was the amount of people on the creative team. I have always loved the idea of having a large creative team behind a production but have always found it difficult to have everyone on board from day one. I never knew how useful it was to have a lighting designer, sound designer and set designer in the rehearsal room right from the start of the rehearsal process, but there was so much that came out of the read-through and discussion from having all members there to contribute to and deliberate over the play. The play already felt epic and I could not wait to see what the rest of the week would reveal to me.
By day three of the week, I had witnessed the two actors approach the first few scenes in a variety of ways. Not only was it important to Esther to dig as deep as possible into the characters’ psychology, emotions and their outer surroundings, but a keen interest in the poetics of how the characters speak and their movement was a vital part of the process. When writing this now, it seems natural to assume that these things are practised in a rehearsal room, but it was the amount covered within such a short space of time that was amazing to watch. The use of spoken word throughout Blood is something that at times injects a stylistic angle on the play, a fluid poetic style is overt and the body language of the piece comes to life in the short sharp scenes that portray a whirlwind romance which comes to a head. This rhythm which changes tempo throughout the piece, was complemented in the rehearsal room by both Assistant Director Ryan Harston, a physical theatre performer and director whose hip-hop roots really brought the piece to life, and Movement Director Kitty Winter, who’s work with Laban allowed huge amounts of experimentation with the proxemics for each moment. In continuously reaping over a scene with new approaches, new revelations were made and interesting nuances were created between the characters. After each scene was read a new discussion was held, the actors would question their motivation for everything their character did and Esther would guide them to find the right answers. I felt the work being done wasn’t necessarily about creating something which was technically ‘perfect’ but making something with a purpose. Mining the text in this way was fascinating to watch and I learned a lot from this process; it will definitely be something that I introduce to my own rehearsal room.
As part of my Observership I was very lucky to be able to interview Blood writer Emteaz Hussain. It was great to talk to Emteaz about her ideas for the play, what inspired her and where her preferences lie in terms of her writing style. Emteaz has a natural flair for spoken word performance and her life experiences have clearly inspired her to write a piece about the complexity of love, the exploration of identity and the courage of youth. No matter what the experiences that lie behind the play or whoever the people are who have inspired her along the way, her story is primarily about hope and love. During a discussion on day four of the observership, Esther spoke of how ‘love allows you to see everything vividly and in different colours. You’re so lucky if you have loved or feel loved. Otherwise, life can feel like a world without colour’. Esther went on to speak of how love is not being entirely a ‘spring meadow’ as one who loves also has a fear of losing the thing they love so much. This analysis of love, felt to me the absolute reason for the journey these characters go on. It was clear from the beginning of the week that Hussain and Richardson work so well together and listening to their rationale behind the play highlighted this even further. By the end of the week, I could see the bones of the first part of the play. Although the journey had just begun, I already felt huge promise. I had gone from a captivated reader of the play to an observer completely in love with the characters and the story.
A lot of the time when I go to see theatre I analyse every little detail to the point where I worry about clarify of thoughts and misconstruing actions; but with Blood I could see that everything was covered – new things sprung up every day and each and every thought was well-considered: whether this was contemplation on the entire arc of the play, a small design decision or inspection of the way a particular line was delivered. There was so much trial and error and it was amazing to witness a team work with the text attentively and wrestle with moments of uncertainty until there was an epiphany in the room. This was something I loved most about my observership, as it highlighted to me that you don’t always have to have the answers straight away, but instead, it’s healthier to test things out, mine for meanings and create something better than anticipated.
One of the reasons I was drawn to taking this observership with Tamasha was due to my passion for making theatre which holds a mirror up to society and investigates the culturally diverse community that surrounds us. My week with the company gave me a shrewd insight into the rehearsal room which was so helpful to my development at this stage in my career. I am so grateful for having the time to witness Esther create magic in the rehearsal room with the beautiful words of Emteaz Hussain and two very talented actors. The observership not only motivated me within my own craft, gain a set of new skills and ideas of how to execute particular rehearsals, but it allowed me to gain the confidence that from time to time I have lacked. It was one of the most insightful and exciting weeks in my career to date and can only thank the team for allowing me to be a small part of their journey and mine.