Before Christmas we spent about 10 days working through the text, gathered around the rehearsal room table at PPHQ, building a shared understanding of the world of the play (Greater Sheffield in 2005), the backstory of the characters (from 1940 until 2005) and agreeing what actually happens in the course of the action of the play. From there we were able to build a detailed time-line that recorded key moments in the lives of the characters (starting with when they were all born) as well as the events that take place over the course of the play itself, alongside important social, cultural and political events that help explain and contextualise the choices Matt has made in crafting the imagined previous lives of the characters in the play.
One of the central themes of Matt’s play is family. Nearly all of the characters are related to each other by one form of familial bond or another. As such, they have vast numbers of shared memories and experiences from the lives they lived alongside each other, many years before the beginning of the play. These memories and experiences, like in life, have a huge impact on how they behave in the ‘here-and-now’ of the play – the choices they make, the feelings they have towards each other and what they say and do to each other. In order to accurately capture the characteristics of the characters, to truthfully portray their onstage relationships and to understand their behaviour, we went through a process of identifying these past lives, so artfully built in to the play by Matt when he wrote it. In other words, we aim to understand the action of the play by clearly and continuously uncovering and articulating everything that pre-dates it.
With the bulk of that work completed before Christmas, and digested over the festive season (along with lots of turkey, wine and chocolate), we reconvened on Wednesday last week to begin rehearsing the action of the play. Heavily informed by our research in to the world of the play and the characters’ backstory, we started to practice the words, actions, intentions and spaces of the play, all with the purpose of making Matt’s story clear, accurate and life-like. These have been the ‘first draft’ rehearsals of the scenes of the play, with the actors on their feet, acting out the scenes with each other for the first time. We will have three or four rehearsals of each scene before we start running the play in full.
As I wrote about in my last blog from the SIXTY FIVE MILES rehearsal room, this approach to rehearsing a play is rooted in a Stanislavskian approach to acting and is pretty much common practice in one form or another, as I understand it, throughout Western Theatre. I remember reading about it in An Actor Prepares and Building A Character when I was doing my Theatre Studies A Level. Then a few years ago I was offered an incredible opportunity by the Young Vic to better understand putting the ideas in to practice – David Lan arranged for eight directors to spend two weeks at the Maly Theatre in St.Petersburg, where we learned from the theatre’s Artistic Director Lev Dodin how they used the Stanislavky Method to rehearse their work (with the most striking revelation being that the company often rehearses productions for up to three years before opening them). Most recently I have found Katie Mitchell’s book The Director’s Craft to be the clearest and most practically applicable way of using the method within a British production model.
Whilst we hope to have the chance to take the production on tour at a later date, SIXTY FIVE MILES is currently scheduled for a limited run in Hull only. You can book tickets here.