Here’s the second part of Mathilde Berry’s notes of her directing work for our upcoming production, Death in High Heels (part one can be found here):
The rehearsal process: backstories, improvisation and choreography
The rehearsal process is where the magic happens. It starts with a read-through where the cast comes together to read the play for the first time in their own voices. This is how some of the lines that I had read several times before truly jumped at me! I started to take more notes, to reflect more on the characters and to get a lot of ideas for the rehearsals themselves.
I wanted to start shaping the characters with the actors’ input and individual personality early on - something which cannot be found in a script. For this, I used both backstories and improvisation: to help develop the characters and to understand where they are coming from. Without being stuck to the script, actors were able to explore in everyday situations at Christophe & Cie what their characters would be up to, how they would behave or relate to each other. We developed some of the backstories in character, i.e. over an improvised lunch break, Aileen, Irene and Rachel were trying to find out more about Rose and we explored all of these characters’ backstories in an unusual way, at the same time creating a special bond between them.
Other highlights of the rehearsal process involved playing with furniture: our swivel desk chair on wheels has now become a character in its own right, getting giggles from our cast during rehearsals (and secretly hoping for laughter from our audience!).
We’ve also explored playing with levels, using the balcony and differences in height, particularly in the Miss Gregory and Miss Doon scenes, to highlight the emotional tension between the characters - or in the Inspector Charlesworth and Sergeant Wyler interview scenes.
Having up to nine people on a limited stage space at once can be tricky, particularly to allow the audience to see all the important actions at the right angle at the right time. Ensemble pieces need to be choreographed pretty much like a ballet to ensure smooth actions and this is where the role of the director’s assistant becomes so crucial: meticulously taking notes of who needs to stand where on which line to allow the next action of another character to flow smoothly was at the heart of the rehearsals of Act I Scene 1 and I’m grateful to Birte for making sure that we kept a record of all these moves so efficiently.
A Few Words Before opening night
Being a director can be challenging at times, but it’s a rewarding creative challenge that I’m more than glad to take on: how many times do you get a chance to do some serious Lego building or to decide about which hat you want to have centre stage?
Thank you to my wonderful cast and crew for making this Death in High Heels such an amazing adventure!
More about the play here.