Director Owen Horsley tells us what we can look forward to as audiences are invited into the rehearsal room for Henry VI: Part One.

For the first time in its history the Royal Shakespeare Company is opening its doors to the rehearsal room to offer a unique insight into the process of making a play.

This is such an incredible opportunity to step into the room where it happens. The rehearsal room is a fascinating place filled with imagination, creativity and discoveries. It is where we meet the play and as a company figure out how to tell the story together. It is where we experiment with different interpretations of scenes and characterisations, some of which never make it to the stage. It is where we practise fights, movement and get to grips with the language of Shakespeare.

Director Owen Horsley in rehearsals.
Owen in rehearsal.

No bells and whistles

As we approach Henry VI: Part One there will no bells and whistles – this is not a production; this is a rehearsal. We will use rehearsal costumes, props, weapons, as we move towards an honest and rough way to tell the story of this epic history play. Plus, this is a rehearsal room in Covid times, so we will be drawing on all of our theatrical experience to create something that maintains distance and is without contact.

We have faced a year where these doors have been closed for everyone so the prospect of getting back inside is filled with joy and anticipation. We know some things will feel familiar, but some things definitely won’t. I think it is really exciting that we get to share that moment with the audience. The audience has always been a vital part of the work we do, and it feels right to share this unique moment in history with them. There will be lots of specific opportunities to engage throughout the rehearsal day that we hope will appeal to as many people as possible.

people in a rehearsal room spread out
The cast and creative team in the Ashcroft Room
Photo by Ellie Kurttz © RSC Browse and license our images

When the best discoveries happen

The morning streaming session will create insights into the process that we have often taken for granted but audiences have never seen. By tuning in they will witness the highly skilled creatives that engage in the room, including Fight and Movement Directors, as well as engage with our research work through meeting experts in the fields of Shakespeare and history. These sessions will highlight the skills and training at the RSC and also explore how we approach a scene, a character, and shape the story.

For me it is also really exciting to be able to create an opportunity for actors around the world to join in with our rehearsal room. This has been a hard year for actors who have not been able to do what they love. Every morning we will do a company warm up, which we encourage everyone at home to take part in. The sense of company at the RSC is really important and we want people to feel part of that from day one.

We will also be holding informal conversations with the company at the end of the day. This captures another part of the process which is really important – the chat after the day’s rehearsal. Often this is the time when the best discoveries happen, when you have the time to step away from the room and talk. We will be holding a few of these conversations in the iconic pub 'The Dirty Duck’, whose walls have borne witness to many of these conversations over the RSC’s history. These post-rehearsal chats will also be a chance for our audience to have their questions answered and thoughts heard.

As we return to the act of making theatre again in person, I think it is great to rethink how we do that. The rehearsal room has always been a very sacred space and one that is shrouded in mystery for audience members. I’m excited about opening the doors and engaging the audience in a very new and honest way.

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