From Page to Stage (Part One)

What is it like directing a play? How do you find your cast and what exactly does the rehearsal process involve? Mathilde Berry, the director of our upcoming production of Death in High Heels, shines a light on what happens between preparing for auditions and getting ready for opening night:

Director Mathilde Berry (r.) and Assistant Director Birte Oldenburg (l.) in the rehearsal room - the mannequin in the middle is part of the set decoration of  Death in High Heels

Director Mathilde Berry (r.) and Assistant Director Birte Oldenburg (l.) in the rehearsal room - the mannequin in the middle is part of the set decoration of Death in High Heels

Directing a play is one of the most exciting, creative processes that I can think of, a true labour of love. I enjoy the challenge of turning a script into a “living thing” over weeks of rehearsals and then letting the play take on a life of its own once it goes on stage.

Before the auditions: colour-coding the script

When it comes to planning things, I love to use colours. There are 10 characters in Death in High Heels and apart from a couple of exceptions, you will always find 3 or more people on stage at once. But which ones?!

To help me see how significant the individual parts were, I started by colour-coding each character, their dialogues and their actions on each page of the script. This is how I discovered that there are parts such as Mr Bevan, Miss Gregory, Dorian Pouvier and Miss Doon where the characters come and go while Irene, Rachel and Aileen are on stage most of Act I and Inspector Charlesworth and Wyler all of Act II. Rose comes and goes, with hardly any text in the group scenes of Act I but her actions have to be perfectly timed for comedic effect. Finally, we get a chance to meet the characters individually over 20 pages of Act II through the police interviews.

Without this methodical colour-coding transposed in a 2-page spreadsheet I wouldn’t have been able tell the people coming to audition what kind of parts they could expect. That big piece of planning also helped me and my assistant Birte to plan for rehearsals much better based on people’s availability.

Casting the play

Casting the play involved making hard decisions because more than 30 people turned up to audition. I had to find the right chemistry between actors that fitted my vision of the potential characters, and consequently I had to send home many good actors that I couldn’t cast. But I did find the right cast and at the time of writing, the play’s appeal keeps growing. I‘m truly enjoying the rehearsal process with my lovely cast, who keep bringing out of the script some little gems!

The cast, still working on their poker faces

The cast, still working on their poker faces

Storyboarding with Legos!

A big challenge was presented by some of the directions relative to entrances and exits, particularly in Act I - and with up to nine people on stage at once. I had to deal with all sorts of questions, for example about the number and positioning of doors, the balcony and the stairs, and where best to position the table, desk, clothes rack and mirror.

With all these questions in my head, I had a Eureka moment: I could use my daughter’s Legos to find answers to these questions!

The Lego cast on the Lego stage

The Lego cast on the Lego stage

As a family project, Charlotte and I spent an afternoon building a miniature set. And not only did we build the set, but we also used her Lego figurines to help storyboard the characters’ entrances and exits. And that’s how I found out that I only needed six doors, where it made sense to position the furniture and where I wanted some of the action to happen - deciding against some of the stage directions contained in the script.

In part two, we will take you inside the rehearsal room, so watch this space for more!