Making progress

posted in: Ethiopian project | 0
Nate, who plays the character of Sneak

Monday was the first day of rehearsals proper. One week had been spent in me getting to know them (and them me); one week had been spent collectively translating the script; and now we could start the real work of preparing the production.

Monday went well. We began, fairly obviously, with the opening scene. This shows the town in which the play is set waking up, the arrival of the old man Egeon, his arrest when it is discovered he comes from Syracuse (or Piasa in our version), and his account of the shipwreck which separated him from his wife, the two sets of twins from each other… which we stage as a sort of flashback. This whole section was surprisingly effective: they quickly took on board the rather complex movement. And as the scene largely relies on the performance of three characters – Egeon himself, a sinister character called Sneak, and the Prince – it was fortunate that all three proved to be very good. Not only did they already know their words, their stage presence and characterisation were excellent.

So I suppose this strong start fuelled my over-confidence, which fell to earth with a bump the following day. After what is essentially an extended prologue, we now moved on the actual story, and the confusion by the presence of both sets of twins in the same town, but unknown to each other. Naturally, this section relies heavily on those four, and it soon became clear that their grasp of the language was nothing like as complete as I had hoped. Which led to discussions in Amaric as they worked it out, leaving me a more or less helpless observer (Binyam was absent, busy buying material for flats, props and costumes.)

It made for very slow progress indeed, and a good deal of frustration on my part. At the end of the session, I let them know (if they weren’t already aware) of my disappointment, and gave them a (relatively gentle) bollocking. That they needed to do some work on their own, to ensure they knew what they were saying, without me having to oversee matters.

And between us, me, Binyam, and their own Telegram group, it was clear that we communicated the message. Today, though I was the first to arrive, there was soon a steady flow of early arrivals. And though I did have to do a certain amount of organising, getting some to read in for absent colleagues, they did get on with running scenelets on their own, two or three at once.

Because our normal classroom-cum-drama studio was occupied, we started by using the terrace to warm up, play zip zap boing etc, and this naturally attracted a good deal of attention, from the cooks and security people, from the film school staff, and from their students. All welcome, from my point of view. And then, when the classroom emptied, and Binyam suggested we move there to escape the heat of the sun, the cast argued for staying outside. And since this was to be our performance space, I was all in favour – the more familiarity the better.

We ran most of the play, 14 pages out of 18, and I was far happier with what we achieved. The prologue was again very good, the Antipholuses and Dromios (or Danis and Teejis in our version), showed signs of getting to grips with their words and roles, and some of the smaller characterisations were just terrific. So I ended the day much happier. Still a lot to do in a short time – first night is a week today – but I am hopeful. And, naturally, they were happier too.

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