This is probably the most exciting time for an actor. You have just spent eight or nine weeks getting very comfortable in the rehearsal rooms. This is a good and bad thing. The space is marked out like the stage but it’s not the stage. You get used to taking shortcuts to where you want to go, you feel that you have conquered your movement from one side of the stage to another. Everyone can be seen and gathered in the rehearsal room. But then you move to the theatre and everything and I mean EVERYTHING changes. That easy walk to the top of the roof set now requires three flights of stairs. Where you just used to pop around a flat in the rehearsal room now you are faced with a solid wall and you must find another way around.
This orientation is the first thing we do in tech rehearsals. Actors are allowed an amount of time to just explore the set. So, for a time you can see actors moving through doors, opening and closing props, walking routes from one place in the set to another, whilst muttering their lines under their breath. Another important step is finding where your 50,000 props are hiding backstage. This leads to actors scrambling around in the dark anxiously asking ASM’s (assistant stage managers) where that plate of spaghetti has been set.
It’s the first time seeing the set so you 'ooh' and 'ahh' then find fault with everything and then ask all the questions about how the hell you are going to do THAT part of the play with the set looking like that. And then you fall in love all over again when you are told how it works. Then you are being flung down trap doors and finding your route through the labyrinthine corridors under the stage to get to your dressing room for that lovely 20 page break you can spend there. Then the challenge of returning to the bowels of the theatre, trying not to get lost on the way.
It’s time to get into costume and this is where the fun begins for the actors. We have usually seen the costume designs in the first weeks of rehearsal and although you do some fittings throughout rehearsals you never get to see anyone else’s look. So those familiar faces you have worked with are totally transformed. You walk passed someone you have close personal scenes with and don’t recognise them! The costume designs on Vice Versa are brilliant - many had us collapsing with laughter! The brilliant wig and costume departments at the RSC have done it again!
This is all before you even start teching the show. Tech rehearsals are the time that actors take a back seat for a while. Not completely, but almost. It's the time for music, lights, sound, props and costume departments to sort out what they must do to make the show pop. So, we go through the show but not at true performance level and very slowly add all these elements. It can be a tricky process and some sequences in the show are more complicated than others. There is a lot of waiting around, then flurries of action that get stopped every few seconds to make sure that everyone is happy and contributing their part.
We have a complicated opening to Act Two and it was brilliantly handled by the entire cast and dressers and stage management. I don’t want to say too much because we open soon but it requires a lot of movement and focus from everyone to get it right. But an audience watching should not even notice the huge amount of activity happening backstage - that's why we do tech rehearsals.
We are looking forward to sharing this great comedy with audiences in Stratford!! Soon you shall find a naughty monkey, a braggart of a General, his hapless, hoodwinked and smart servants, a prostitute, a young pair of lovers, a Senator neighbour, and a bevy of other Romans congregating in the amphitheatre!