Read Part One: December Rehearsals
After two successful weeks of rehearsals in December at the Worcester Arts Workshop, we were now in a theatre space that would eventually be host to our first audience. Alan Riley had bid us farewell last month, as Richard Fletcher had now joined us with much to catch up on! Thankfully, part of my role in the company as stage management trainee was to keep up-to-date recordings of each scene and send them to the cast so that they could see from the audience’s perspective; this had been extremely beneficial to Richard, as he was able to watch these films and rehearse in his own time. We were also introduced to the tour manager Edmund Sutton, who I would be working with very closely over the next six months.
The new space was mightily refreshing to work in. Set designer Carl Davies and set builder Chris Bassett had happily surprised us on the first morning, as the set had already been assembled for us! We had expected that it would be our job to collect it from the workshop, but this meant that rehearsals could get underway first thing. The Coach House Theatre in Malvern is a very different place from the rehearsal room in the Arts Workshop, and the atmosphere was transformed as we began creating within this new intimate theatre space.
For the first few days I was required to continue editing the script and video-record the scenes, as the latter had proven essential in the short term. This was the first time the full company was rehearsing together, and with only two weeks before the new production of Finding Joy would be performed in front of an audience! It was also time for me to actually step behind the set and plan my own journey backstage… and by the end of the first (technically third) week I had a lot to catch up on after just one day away attending an audition for the BBC Norman Beaton Fellowship in Bristol. Having spent nearly three weeks observing the action on stage, suddenly working in the confined space between the set, costume and props, I had to learn a lot on the spot about where I needed to be, when and with what!
The madness that usually occurs off stage is something that I have gotten used to as a performer over the past few years, but this was something new… I have immense admiration for the company on last year’s tour, as it was just the four cast members who ran the whole show! Timing was crucial, as they had to run each lighting cue themselves, as well as manage all their costume and mask changes. Thankfully now with my presence backstage, and with someone onboard actively lighting the show, that pressure has been lifted allowing the production to be more ambitious; backstage the actors now have the use of a dresser and stage manager combined, aka Super-Tim!
Throughout all my learning in rehearsals for Finding Joy, my favourite aspect of Rachael Savage’s direction was something that I noted early on, but had not been able to fully appreciate until now, and that is her genius employment of stage management by the actors within scenes. There is no need for my role in the show to have to be incorporated into blackouts and scene changes because there are none! Part of the magic in Vamos’ productions is the space being smoothly prepared within an earlier scene, and therefore all ready to be used in later scenes, allowing the story to flow seamlessly. That is of course until the interval when I am required to preset for the second act as discreetly as I possibly can.
On one of the rehearsal days before Christmas we had BBC Midlands Today in attendance to film the football scene in Act 2, and an interview with Rachael, for a feature that would air in the new year. Well the new year is here and last week Vamos Theatre was given News coverage in conjunction with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Royal Shakespeare Company! Not only that, but I was also actually in shot for a brief moment… a mini cameo for me working as lighting technician!
When touring the show last year the scenery was more colourful, but now that has been deliberately reduced and neutral beige has taken precedence. Where the pinks, blues, yellows and greens had once been, everything is now muted, and the previously pink sofa has a patterned green cover that perfectly matches the 50s theme. Shades of blue and green are carefully utilised; Carl’s design and cleverly chosen colouring and shading still inspires intrigue and makes the scenery come to life when interacted with. This change to the set gives more attention to the action on stage, so that any colour that enters the space is immediately apparent and makes the storytelling more vibrant.
Over twenty-two days of rehearsal, every scene has been redeveloped and each detail has an improved purpose. This results in a darker and more thought-provoking story that consequently gives way to the contrasting welcome lighter moments, which has a greater emotional impact. What was already a superb production (that also toured last year) has now evolved into a magnificent piece of full-mask theatre! I may be considered biased what with being so involved with the production, but as Finding Joy stands as a piece of theatre, even from backstage I can completely connect with the story that brings laughter and tears from myself behind the scenes, as it does for the audience front of house.
This show is ready to take its audience on an extraordinary journey every performance, as we travel on our own journey across the country throughout the next six months. Please do not miss your chance to find Joy with us and share a story that may be without words, but speaks to everyone…
The inspiration behind this production is the story of Audrey Greenland and her teenage grandson Rowan who, together with Audrey’s daughter Penny, shared their experiences with Vamos Theatre’s artistic director Rachael Savage. Audrey sadly passed away just as rehearsals began back in December, it therefore feels even more of an honour to be a part of her legacy and to work on a project inspired by her family’s insightful and heartwarming story.