Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Rehearsing Greetings from The Trenches in Leiden Holland.

It's not often you get the chance to go abroad to rehearse a play but it recently felt very necessary to go over to Leiden to rehearse my play - Greetings From the Trenches - with my friend, fellow actor and singer - Emma Brown. I flew by Flybe from East Midlands Airport and transferred by train to Leiden at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. Emma met me at the airport and accompanied me to the house I was staying in. As I mentioned in a previous blog post we had been rehearsing by Skype before and that is fine for text work but sometimes you need to be physically together to work things through and to block the play. Such was the case in late October 2014 and I took myself off for five days' worth of exploration both theatrically and continentally. The libation of Dutch and Belgian beer was a constant theme throughout as well as experiencing a fibrous meal called 'sauerkraut surprise' - but that's another story altogether!

Interior Hooglanse Kerk
Emma arranged a rehearsal space at the Hooglanse Kerk around the corner from a city centre stretch of the Nieuwe Rijn canal. It was a very pretty part of the old town of Leiden and near to the old roman fort. I have never seen so many bikes in my life! It was here we deconstructed the text and worked with it on a daily basis to find how it would work visually for the audience and ourselves in order to tell the stories with conviction and variety.
A tender scene in the play.

Emma has a very creative mind and we work in remarkably similar ways so the whole process was a joy to develop and great fun to explore and discuss. I like Emma's intuitive responses to change and her ability to retain the information quickly. We had particular fun with the scene about Hans Schwabe's Strassenbahn  (tram system) obsession. I am not at liberty to reveal anything more about that because it would spoil the surprise. Trust me when I say it should be very funny and show another side to the character Frank Philips and his relationship with his mostly tolerant daughter Madeleine. Through our rehearsals in Leiden we have discovered a lovely chemistry between the father and daughter in the play born from my original writing and the simple fact that I get on well with my friend Emma. It is an easy relationship built on mutual respect and an ability to see the funny side of most things.

We paid particular attention to finding how we could create ghostly moments through isolated lighting and our positions on the stage. After all it is essentially a ghost story.

rehearsal space

We worked particularly hard on the scene where Frank describes how he gets his creative inspirations and I recalled creative development exercises from my University days where getting down and dirty on the floor with some chalk and the liberty to randomly scribble could be inspiring. Sometimes taking oneself away from a desk or a laptop keyboard and just being 'free' can achieve surprisingly good results. Once again Emma's input was exceptional for our finished result and I guess it helps that I am not an arrogant director.

"When two mind begin sparking off one another...

... the result is pure creative magic."
Further into the week we went out to a local cemetery to film Emma (in costume) singing part of the German version of Silent Night. Her friend Hans suggested the location and we filmed by an angelic statue and also by a big old tree. The statue placement worked best. This was for the promotional video now seen on the Jakobus website. When filming with a video camera outside you become very aware of every little disruptive noise. Luckily the boys marching band, very audible throughout the afternoon, had now drifted away to another part of the city.

Towards the end of my stay we utilised the time related objects in one corner of the church in order to film myself talking Simon Schama style to the camera about the play. It proved to be an inspirational spot and visually appealing. So much so that I on the last day in Leiden I took some publicity shots of Emma for her own singing career.

We also recorded the theme tune for the show on piano (Die Vermisster) as well as me singing "If I Had A Door" and her friend Hans's beautiful rendition of Stille Nacht. Hans also took the rehearsal photos for us.

On Sunday afternoon we had a rehearsal in front of a group of English speaking audience and they gave us some good feedback (very favourable) which we have taken on board to improve the play.

Afterwards we retired with some of the audience to the CafĂ© De Bonte Koe for some 9% Dutch beers and a couple of shared cooked Dutch sausages! Sausages are a constant link (sausage link geddit?) in the play so this was most appropriate as well as amusing. Loved the tiles inside. I could just imagine my fictional characters Hans Schwabe and Frank Philips enjoying a drink or two together in there as well as sharing a hot sausage with mustard.

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