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Amy: Getting The Ball Rolling

Ruddy hell are you still there? Bet you thought I’d forgotten about you! No such luck I’m afraid; I’ve just had my head snugly inserted up my – I mean, deeply immersed in rehearsals. Now I know you’ve all been on tender hooks awaiting updates on the Foursquare tournament, but it’s been a rather traumatic and painful experience… As it stands today Andy has 8 points, Flora has one point – whilst the rest of us ghost behind with nil points. Allow me to take this opportunity to say, this isn’t a result which we ladies take lightly and we’ve been rallying together to knock Andy off his pedestal (which he seems far too comfortable on for my liking)! Oh but the game is so revealing! Tactics are getting dirty; rules are being brought into dispute, backhanded and vicious serves coming into play and even, dare I say it, a bit of shit stirring! The latter of which resulted in Andy being revoked a point. Tensions are running high but it’s still all to play for folks…

Now, where was I? Ah, yes, rehearsals – for this show I’m hoping you’ll see no less! Since I last left you, we’ve really engrossed ourselves in the development of the play – treating ourselves to a rehearsal near enough every day! For me this is really valuable as it keeps the ball rolling and means your character and ideas are constantly being challenged and developed – although don’t get me wrong, I’m looking forward to a couple of days respite. I’m planning on using this time to digest and process everything we’ve been working on (God that sounds wanky doesn’t it) and to get off book ready for Sunday’s rehearsal – as by then it will be less than week until we open! 

Journeying back we’d recorded the entire play, allowing us to play with it physically in the space, so returning to this idea – we repeated this exercise but introduced the geography of the set, so we had something to interact with rather than just each other. Designer Katie and director Liz had also come up with the idea that during the passage of time, Simon and Lisa barricade themselves in the office – piling up the desks etc in front of the exit. Not only does this give me and Andy more freedom in the space but allows us to explore the idea of trapping ourselves or blocking out the outside world – key themes of the play. We’re so lucky to have designer Katie on board; at our production meeting, dream team Blake and Drake shared our character biographies (bit of actor homework, creating a backstory for our characters) allowing the whole team to get a more detailed indication of the characters – leading to a discussion about costume ideas and how the characters imprint their identity within the office environment. For Simon, he desperately doesn’t want to be in the office, he feels trapped and it’s just a place of work – physically he’s present but not in mind or spirit. So for his workspace it’s going to be very minimal and clinical; a coffee mug, a newspaper and a couple of ‘inspirational’ visuals for his writing. Lisa is the polar opposite; the office is her life, it’s where she desperately tries to connect with other people and reveals her emotional immaturity. This spills over into her work space as colour, clutter and sentimentality – photographs, teddy bears, fairy lights etc. We’ll all be mucking in together to source the costumes and props, with the aim of achieving a sense of heightened reality (to compliment the heightened situation).

With Liz and assistant director Flora at the helm, we began to work through the first couple of units of the play – up until the inciting incident of gunfire – probing as to the characters objectives, ensuring that we are actively always trying to affect each other. The opening section of the play gives us a real chance to play with status; invading each other’s space, standing off against one other and battling for equality. With this in mind we tried a couple of exercises to explore status – a particularly helpful one was setting out a row of chairs; one end was the highest status (1) and the other end was the lowest (8) – Andy and I both planted ourselves at the ‘markers’ where we felt our status are at the start of the scene. As the dialogue unfolds we had to move up and down this ‘status ladder’ according to what we felt we were doing to each other – or indeed ourselves, be that raising or lowering status. By physically exploring this, we were able to see where the biggest shifts in status where – which we’ll be able to feed into the scene to find the beats and rhythms, choosing the biggest hits (as there isn’t always a constant power struggle). 

The opening of the play has actually proved quite challenging to get our heads round – for Simon and Lisa, this is just another day at the office; although Lisa is thrown off her stride by finding Simon in the office before her for the first time, whilst Simon has been caught in the act of writing mid-flow (today affectionately likened to being caught mid-wank!)  So we have to explore this idea of a mundane routine, just another day at the office, whilst exploring the little quirks that show the two are clashing over opposing objectives. To establish Simon and Lisa’s long history together, Liz had us perform a series of improvisations – free from the script to explore how these two characters interact and put up with one another… And importantly, why?! These two characters really irritate each other and after working together for so long, they know how to push each other’s buttons – so what keeps them amicable, why don’t they just lay into each other when things go pear shaped in the play? We also explored what our characters jobs are within the Finance Department and how the two might interact or reply upon one another to get aspects of their jobs done. Liz gave us a variety of scenarios to explore, including; 6 months before the start of the play when Simon has broken up with his girlfriend Joy and the first time Lisa’s bullying diary is introduced into the office, the last Friday before the office Christmas party, the first time Lisa receives flowers on her desk, the day after Simon and Lisa have a meeting with line manager Cheryl after Lisa lodges a complaint against Simon, what happens when Simon explodes and swear at Lisa and finally, the two trying to make conversation – finding common ground. Aside from being hugely entertaining for director Liz (and providing ample material for a new office-based sketch show), these improvs showed that over time the two have learnt where each other’s ‘line’ is and the repercussions for crossing them. For me, I managed to latch onto the idea that Lisa is actually very emotionally manipulative; bursting into tears and causing a scene to guilt others to get attention or her own way. Poor Simon… Although – hey, wait, he’s just downright mean to Lisa at times! Talk about a superiority complex! 

To round off these couple of days, we explored our favourite exercise again – the silent sketch show! Although this was mainly for writer Laura’s benefit to show the arc of the play and characters emotional journeys, it was exceptionally well timed as we had access to the space at ALRA North (an old cotton mill), which was hugely extensive. This time again ignoring the actual geography of the set, we were allowed to explore the characters in this wider environment, not having to perform to a specific audience… In fact at times, both Andy and I disappeared into the various crevices of the building – which is hugely liberating, not having to worry about ‘performing’, instead just inhabiting the character. Now that we’ve got our footing with the opening of the play and an idea of where we’re working towards, we can spend the next few rehearsals unravelling the heart of the play – whereby Simon and Lisa begin to pick each other to pieces… Ooh my saliva glands are already going! 

But that folks is a story for another day… 

Assistant Director Flora Anderson (left) and Director Liz Stevenson (right)