Wednesday, 10 November 2010

What doesn't kill you

Today has felt like this.

I had two rehearsals planned for today, one from 4 till 6, and one from 7 till 10. Both were scenes that all but one actor had rehearsed before, and the rehearsals were specially planned so that this actor could catch up with his cast members. I'm not afraid to say that this particular actor has been bugging me for weeks, he didn't show up to a single rehearsal on time, he was unfocused and seemed bored most of the time, and was generally a negative influence on the rehearsal room. I hoped that by holding smaller rehearsals and focusing on his character he would become more engaged in his character and the play as a whole. Today i was setting this plan in action.

At 11 in the morning i got a text message from him saying that he had 2 assignments due in on Thursday and that he couldn't come to both rehearsals today, and asking if there was one he wasn't needed for. Normally I'm quite sympathetic about people re-scheduling rehearsals if they have deadlines, but last night at rehearsal i told people that they had had this week's rehearsal schedule for 3 days, and that this was the LAST chance that they had to tell me if they couldn't make any of them. I made it very clear that i wouldn't stand for people dropping out of rehearsals on the day. He heard me, and signalled that he had no problem with this.

I replied to his text this morning, telling him that i had planned the rehearsals on his behalf since he had skipped the rehearsals the first time we went through the scenes, and that he took on a commitment when he was cast, and had known about his deadlines for weeks and needed to organize his time. I told him i expected to see him at 4, on time and ready to work.

An hour later he text me back saying that he had to put his work first, that his heart wasn't in it (and how that came across last night in his frankly abysmal performance in the character workshop) and suggesting that i re-cast his character because he doesn't know any of his lines and doesn't feel dedicated enough to continue.

I could honestly kill him.

Never mind that we're 6 weeks in to rehearsals, never mind that he's one of the male leads, never mind that on the rare occasions he has turned up for rehearsal he's been rude, disruptive and negative, what i don't get is why he stuck it out this long. In the first couple of weeks, with people dropping out left, right and centre, i gave everyone in the cast the option to leave, consequence free, if they felt they weren't enjoying the experience or couldn't commit the time and effort needed. I gave him more than one out. Waiting this long doesn't just screw me over, it damages the entire play and everyone working on it.

I had to come up with a solution.

I immediately racked my brains thinking of good, reliable actors who weren't already cast in something. At Sussex, with a student ratio of 70:30 girls to boys, in a drama society that is even more gender biased, this was tough. I called Lana (my best friend, housemate, and president of the drama society) and asked her if it was ok that i cast a non-fresher, a known entity, someone i knew i could trust. She gave me free rein to cast whoever i liked. This was a huge weight off my mind.

My immediate thought was James, who was the lead in my play last year, The Goat, by Edward Albee. He's a very talented actor, one of my best friends, and someone i know i can rely on. I called him and told him my problem, and he said he's think about it and come see me in a couple of hours.

I went off to rehearse the start of Act 2, which we've probably done more than any other scene in the play. As usual, the actors were great. They are becoming familiar with the material and with each other's rhythms, and it really shows through in their performance. Their eagerness to rehearse, and their kind words of encouragement really helped me through a stressful afternoon.

I came downstairs to find James waiting, telling me he was thinking about it but that he probably would do it. I told him about the character, and what was going on over a pint and a burger while we waited for the evening rehearsal to start. He said he'd sit in on it and see what he thought.

7 o'clock rolled around, and i told the rest of the cast what had happened, and introduced them to James. Everyone was very kind and sweet. My cast really are a lovely bunch of people. I decided to get on with things as much as we could, and led the way to the rehearsal room.

There were people in there. They refused to move. By this point in the evening i had lost all my will to fight and was willing to cancel the rehearsal for the evening and drink myself into a stupor. My cast wouldn't let me. The people in our room said they'd be out by half 8, and my cast decided that we should go down to the bar, have a drink and some food and just chill out and talk about what had happened. While down in the bar, James said he would definitely be in the play. I could have kissed him!

All in all it was an unbelievably long, stressful, exhausting day, and yet i feel strangely uplifted. We now have a great actor instead of a crappy one, we've lost a negative influence in the room and the cast have bonded over it. One of the girls said that there is a sense of solidarity in the cast, as though they are bonded by the fact that they have stuck with it, and in a sense i think that's true. The cast that i have now are wonderful. They work so well as a unit, working hard, encouraging each other, praising good work and offering constructive criticism where it is needed. I was willing to give up today, but they pulled me through and we ended up having a productive and fun rehearsal. I started the afternoon crying, and i ended it laughing so hard i had tears in my eyes.

This is what makes directing so damn compelling.

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