July 20th

Rehearsal 3

Tonight’s rehearsal for A Christmas Carol was light, fun, and very productive.

The rehearsal began 20 minutes late when birthday boy Chris (39) going on 50 burst into the rehearsal space with his freshly trimmed strawberry blond hair and a Shakespearean strut.

Walter had secured us a nice room at Temple University. The room has a classroom feel to it with an empty gas canister and a replica M16 sprawled along one of the tables. It’s our second time rehearsing at TUJ.

A Christmas Carol is a short novel about a bitter miser called Scrooge. (Played by Tim, who is nothing like Scrooge…cough) With the help of three ghosts, Scrooge changes dramatically, and becomes kind and generous by the end of the story.

Trying to condense A Christmas Carol into a sixty minute play was very challenging as a writer. Charles Dickens often wrote with a fluid, epic and film like style, with locations changing constantly and dozens of theatrical and flamboyant characters. However, I hope I’ve managed to honor the book in a fun and respectful manner. I kept a lot of the original dialogue and also incorporated some of Dickens own notes and quotations.

Dickens’s desired a face-to-face relationship with his public (the relationship he was to achieve literally with his readings), in which he and his audience were present in the same room. Our play opens with Dicken’s (played by Chris) reading to the audience.

The rehearsal was split between debate around the table and work on our feet; discovering and exploring the basic physicality of the show and its movement sequences.

Tonight’s rehearsal was Walter’s last until September. He’s going on holiday to America for a month. We rehearsed Marley, Fezziwig and Christmas Present scenes. The Fezziwig scene is one of my favorites as it’s full of joy, merriment and music. It’s also a very contemplative scene. Especially at the end.

I should also mention Chris made a rather fetching Mrs. Fezziwig.

One hilarious moment in the rehearsal was when Walter called Scrooge ‘Bob Marley’. Images of Bob Marley singing ‘No woman no cry’ through Scrooges office window, on a cold, Victorian Christmas eve filled my mind.

At the end of the rehearsal, Tim recounted his horrifying experiences at a public school, he attended in London (During the 1800’s) ‘The teachers you see’ he exclaimed with a tint of resentment ‘caned the naughty boys’ bottoms for punishment. In the shower room, you could always tell the boys who had been caned, by the black stripe on their behinds.’

I always wondered where the inspiration for the name Black Stripe theatre came from.

July 11th – Rehearsal I

July 13 2017
We met at Temple University and it was agreed that since I will be going away for the remainder of the summer after our rehearsal next week, we should focus on the sections of the play that I am in – Marley & The Ghost of Christmas Present.
We worked on the Marley bit first. At this stage I am coming to the part(s) as much a blank slate as possible. I try not to make any decisions that are chiseled in stone and like to explore the part(s). There are certain guide posts that I focus on in each part and they help me make decisions.
* Relationship, to the scene partner(s)
* Event(s) what does the audience see occur.
The difficulty I find in this material is in the language. It is one thing to read the story of A Christmas Carol and very much another to perform the dense enjambment of Dickens’ dialogue. And the tone and style of speech is eccentrically Dickensian.
At one point Marley says “…Nor can I tell you what I would…” Tim pointed out that ‘would’ means want
(Tim has recently used the phrase “I should like to direct the play”) I will take him at his verbiage to mean not that he should but would like to direct the play.
Would means wantshould means would.
Does this archaic usage suggesting a character from another older past world? Was it a common usage in Dickens’ day?  Possibly a springboard to the character(s) and the setting of the story.
Here is a tricky one:
“Oh, captive, bound and double-ironed !Not to know the ages of incessant labour, by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed! Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness! Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for ones life’s opportunities misused! Yet such was I! Oh, such was I!”
It makes sense in reading, but the focus when spoken needs careful preparation.  
Find the meaning of each sentence. Decide the subject in each sentence. What is the point of the sentence?
Who am I talking to? The audience?  Scrooge?  Myself?  God?  What am I talking about? What is the main event of the scene? Mini events?
And then there is the fact that Marley is a tormented ghost wrapped in and dragging heavy chains.
What does that circumstance suggest to my choices? Physically,  psychologically. Vocally.
It was suggested by Chris or Justin that I am compelled to and fro by unseen magnetic forces. Later it was suggested that the other actors may act as these forces manipulating my movement.
Much food for thought.
We spent an hour on Marley and then moved to the Ghost Of Christmas Present.
I worked on trying to be a benevolent Santa Like Spirit.
This will be a guide in future work in my imagination and in the rehearsals.
I laughed and chuckled and found all things light and funny.
Here the ghost describes Tiny Tim…  “Coming home from church one day Tiny Tim hoped that the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant for them to remember upon Christmas day who made lame beggars walk and blind men see”… Tim suggested that I should not laugh when talking about Tim being a cripple.
 Or could it be that the Ghost represents life as a great comic farce with all things being equally absurd. Life is a cruel joke.
More food for thought.
An hour spent with Ghost of Christmas present. Much help and discussion form the others. Onward to next rehearsal Tuesday. God Bless US Everyone.

July 6th – First Rehearsal

July 6th 2017

The first readthrough of A Christmas Carol went well. We’re very glad we have a small cast of four and that everyone showed up and even though I was thirty minutes late, my tardiness didn’t dampen the spirit of things.  Everyone seemed excited rather than nervous. Tim was talking about his recent ‘explorations’ – or is that auditions? – for two Edward Bond plays he hopes to stage with us next year.  It turns out, Tim is pleased he’s cast as Scrooge in this project because it means he won’t need to don his directorial cap in January, the month we proposed for the performance.  Postponement of the Bond was looking more and more inevitable anyway as the agency dealing with Bond’s estate had not yet given us the green light for a January performance, and Tim was struggling to find a suitable young boy (or any young actor) to play one of the leads.  Not needing to find actors or hold auditions is a saving grace of this production.

Another saving grace is working with friends. Tim, Walter Justin and I know each other very well. In March we finished working on Dealer’s Choice by Patrick Marber, so we’re all aware of each other’s abilities and what makes us tick.  Tim, at 70, is a prime age to play Scrooge, a part, I think, he is perfectly typecast in. Quite amusingly after the read through, Tim told us what he thought of the part.  He said Scrooge will be “easier” to play as it is “very different” from him.  Admittedly his last role, Stephen in A Dealer’s Choice, was a struggle – it’s a huge part and Tim thought the role was too similar to himself.  But Tim ‘different’ from Scrooge?Tim IS Scrooge.  Or is that, Scrooge is Tim? I can’t think of anyone else as squeezing, scrapping or wrenching as him for the role. And we weren’t shy to tell him that either!

I think the difficulty we are going to have with this project, which was very apparent during our sixty minute reading, is making the play accessible for young viewers and non-native speakers. Justin, actor and adaptor of the text, has streamlined the book to an hour length play.   It takes Scrooge on a journey with visits from the four ghosts and Dickens – in a couple of funny scenes where the writer shows his desire to grace the stage with his characters. Reducing the dialogue – which has been mostly lifted from the text, rearranged and reassigned to other characters – to show the major events whilst also maintaining enough of the richness of thought and phrasing is going to be tough.  Another issue which Justin brought up is getting the actors to clearly show distinctions between the multitude of characters they play. His text was originally written for two – and requiring a virtuoso performance from the actor playing every part other than Scrooge – so adjustments in stage directions are necessary.  Justin said he is very happy to make slight adjustments to make it work for four, though he did mention he is not willing to accept changes until rehearsals are underway. I can see his point: it is not worth doing this in advance only to have the actors change it later on once rehearsals start.  We all agree, though I think Tim harbors several edits and is probably very eager to start getting his lines down as Scrooge is a big role and onstage the whole time.