I was invited to attend an hour of Derby Theatre's rehearsal of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice on Tuesday this week and was given the opportunity to interview two of cast (LV) Rebecca Brierley and (Ray Say) played by Kevin McGowan plus Derby Theatre's Artistic Director Sarah Brigham.
It was a fascinating hour and a part of the rehearsal was spent exploring a theatrical practice (Seven States of Tension) originated by Jacques Lecoq. Director Sarah Brigham led the process with the cast. The scene was placed as the main cast are returning as an inebriated mass - high on booze and high on LV's singing success at working man's club hosted by Mr Boo who is also in attendance. The scene is chaotic, funny and each character has their particular state as they enter the room. The states are never static throughout but remain in flux.
The seven states are:
Exhausted: a heavy state, comatose, no tension in the body at all. If they have to move or speak it is a real effort. Typical of this state is the character who has a severe hangover.
Californian: Laid back. Everything you say is 'cool' but probably lacking in credibility. Not an uncommon state. Floating about the space in a care-free way. All seems like a bright sunny day.
Neutral:'economic' as it is known in contemporary dance. It is what it is. Nothing more and nothing less. Totally present and aware. State of being before something happens. Movement with no story behind the movement.
Alert: Something about to happen. Short attention span. Slightly tense. In farce it would be a state of curious and possibly comical.
Suspense or reactive: Narrow but strong focus. Connect with people. Have to think and make decisions. All the tension is in the body – between the eyes.
Passionate or Opera: Tension has exploded out of the body creating anger, fear, despair. Everything is dramatic like walking into a room and finding a live wolf growling at you.
Petrified: Bomb is about to go off. Can't move. The body is solid tension.
Sarah asked the assembled actors to walk around the space on the rehearsal set and on instruction adopt one of these seven states. She included herself in the game. When the proper scene was rehearsed it was evident that some of the seven states were demonstrated in the short but raucous scene.
The cast and technical team broke for lunch and Kevin McGowan, Rebecca Brierley and Sarah Brigham retired to a smaller meeting room for the interview with Derby Theatre's Heidi McKenzie in attendance.
There was a fair amount of traffic noise from Green Lane so I kept the interview relatively short. As it turned out it was full of fascinating insights into the actors and director's worlds.
Phil: I was interested Sarah in your director's process of talking the story through with the actors where you are looking at the inner story of the play and what the actors, in character, felt about situations they were faced with. Could you talk us through this.
Sarah: Yeah Phil, it's a couple of things really. It tends to be before we set up the scene. Here we are talking about the given circumstances of where the characters have been. This is so that when the actors enter the stage they enter with a life. They've not just walked on from the wings. They've come from something. At the moment we're at the stage of just talking through the scene and the shapes of it. Specifically with this script, because the language is so beautiful we are just highlighting moments where the language just needs to 'zing out' because Cartwright gives us some really great lines.
There are also moments of “What's your intention there? Why are you here? At the moment it's just a general conversation just to take us through the process. When we get on to next week then it's more about nailing that down and making some really hard core decisions. Presently, the options are all there so we could play it this way or that way and we also have to get the actors to the end of the play so that they know their characters properly. Then when we come back we can go 'no actually, that decision I made yesterday isn't right because now I realise that is wrong - where my character ends up. It makes more sense that he would do it this way or she would do it that way. It's a lot of exploratory stuff and leading, If the actors are in it they can't always see everything that's there. They need the opportunity to just try it and then for me to coach them and say 'why don't you try this way...?'. Then they can feel whether it works for them.
Phil: Thank you Sarah. As actors how did you feel that the exercises you did with the seven states worked in terms of identifying a particular feeling or mood within the body of that section that you did coming back from the club?
Rebecca: (LV) It's really helpful for me. I chatted to Sarah quite a lot about Little Voice because she doesn't say much and I didn't want to fall into just being … stood still. You don't want to just do nothing or give nothing. She's got so much emotion going on so it's finding that physically. So, for me, that was really interesting to find what state she's in because she's there a lot of the time even though she's not vocal, so it's finding it physically.
Kevin: (Ray Say) Er, it's a good exercise. And going back to what Sarah was saying – at the moment it's the mad part of the rehearsals. Well I think it is. From an actor's point of view you've got a script – you kind of know the words and you are analysing the words, what they me to you and what they mean to everybody else. You're thinking about where you are gonna move and you're thinking about how you are gonna move and you're thinking about all the practical considerations. So even though it's a mad time, certainly in my head at the minute, it does move on, as Sarah was saying 'where you have the words at your fingertips'. Then, you start to play the scene properly. This actor's giving me this – I'm gonna give them this! And they're not giving me this – I WANT this! So at the minute it's the kind of hard confusing time and I think – next week we begin to play.
Sarah: It's the cauldron at the moment isn't it? Basically you pour everything in and you just try whatever comes to hand and eventually the right things will float to the top – almost.
Kevin: The movement that we did before, about the scene, is a good way to get into the physicality of how you feel and how everybody else feels.
Phil: And have you done a similar exercise in other parts of the show?
Sarah: It depends on what the scene is and where we are at at that point. It's also, I think, a little bit, from a director's point of view, about easing the actors into it. I think if you go straight in there on day one and go (claps hands sharply) “Right! Here's an exercise!” it's not so good. Really what most actors want to do is get on to the words and they want to get into the script and they want to feel like they've at least got some semblance of character before you start throwing those 'other things' at them. So it has been, thus far, a lot about the scenes and working out the basic chronology. Actually what is the journey of these characters practically? Where have they gone to? Also about talking about the belief system of the characters. Eg: If I believe that I am invincible then that effects how I speak to everybody. If I believe that I am desperate then that too effects how I speak to everybody.
Phil: And that too would affect the reaction to your own self belief.
I paused for a moment to look through a pile of notes I had made during the rehearsal. I said to the group that I was knowledgeable about the show having seen it a couple of times and I had a distant familiarity with the scene I had witnessed in the rehearsal earlier. It is one that LV has exposed her raw talent in front of an audience without hiding and was now at home exhausted. I expressed how I liked what the cast were saying about each one waiting for that desperate moment where their lives were suddenly turned around and finally, they had a chance to escape their shitty existences somehow. I turned my attention to Rebecca who plays LV.
Phil: Your character, Rebecca, being, if you like, the meekest of the characters, that doesn't show many strong emotions until certain points; what would your 'getting out of the shit' moment be? Is it getting away from the whole terrible family.... apart from Sadie who seems to like you.
Rebecca: You mean what would I want? I think she doesn't want to get away from them necessarily. She just wants it to be different. He mum and her clash so much as they're really different people and she's really doing it for her Dad but also for her Mum. She thinks 'if I do this this then I make Mum happy – maybe; then Mum'll see me as something great. Mum in the play has got a very tough job and I do play her up as LV because I am so awkward. I think LV could have made more of an effort but I don't see that written or suggested in the play.
Phil: What does LV's dead Dad look like?
Rebecca: My Dad? I've been looking at pictures because I have this sort of fuzzy image in my head of him. I've not come to a specific photograph of someone and thought 'this is him' but I imagine him as kind of – glasses – erm, he's a bit awkward. He's not necessarily the most handsome man but to me – he's my Dad and I think he is beautiful. I wear his jumpers in the show and I imagine him as being quite a woolly jumper dress down, casual sort of man. I've not got a person there yet … I'm still searching for him. We've been working on memories and going back and times I've spent with him. I suppose it's like real life memories. You know when somebody's gone and you are losing sight of them a bit. They're in your head and I'll see snapshots. I'll see his shoes. I haven't got an exact description of him yet but I am getting there!
Phil: (to Kevin) Ray Say, with your relationships, what were some relationships like before you met her Mum?
Kevin: I like to think that he was in love once and that was one of the things that he lost. I think he was probably treated quite badly and that kind of soured him. From then, you know, at the end of the scene we just did with Mr Boo saying “The meek shall inherit the Earth” and he's like “What? No that's not the way it goes. Be tougher! Be the top! And … use people cos people will use you.” Simple, but that's it and that's the way that he approaches it.
We ended the interview there as the traffic roared by outside. Interesting thoughts to ponder further on.
The Rise and Fall of Little Voice runs at Derby Theatre from Friday 31st October to Saturday 22nd November.