Hello. My name is Simon Coates and I'm one of the actors in Regeneration, which is beginning a UK tour at the Royal & Derngate in Northampton, then travelling to York, Edinburgh, Bradford, Nottingham, Cheltenham, Richmond, Wolverhampton, Darlington, Oxford and Blackpool. I will be blogging every week from the rehearsal room, giving an insight into how rehearsals are going and what processes are being used to get the play onto the stage and in front of an audience.
The cast assembled again on Monday morning after a weekend of line-learning. 'How do you learn your lines?' is a question actors get asked a lot, and it's a difficult one to answer. The act of learning lines is only a small percentage of an actor's workload - it's the relatively easy bit - and so the topic rarely gets discussed. It's a task that gets done as quickly as possible, and with little fuss, so that we are ready and armed for the rehearsal room floor, where the real work begins.
The journey onto the rehearsal room floor can be a tricky one. Week one has been spent around the table, discussing in detail each scene. However, the time eventually comes when we have to do what we're paid to do: stand up and say the lines. It can be a peculiarly vulnerable time. You only have a tenuous grasp of the lines, you don't know how you are getting into or out of a scene, you don't know where you are going once in the scene, and you don't yet fully know why you are saying what you are saying. In short, you have no idea what you are doing. Luckily everyone is in the same boat, so we can all fail together. This is why rehearsal rooms are always closed to everyone except those most closely involved in the production. The last thing you want is tens of people witnessing you stumble your way through a scene. It's tempting at this stage to hold on to your script, as it provides a kind of security blanket. But you've got to put it down at some point, not least because you need to work out what to do with your arms. Luckily, the deputy stage manager is your friend and saviour at this point - he/she will call out your line every time you say 'yes please', which at this stage of the process is often.
The question of why your character is saying what he/she is saying is an important one, and our director is keen to use a technique called 'actioning' to discover the answer. This involves choosing a transitive verb for each of your lines in order to explore how your character might be seeking to change another character, or what the characters are trying to do to each other. Take these lines from the play, for instance:
A: Do your patients ever relapse?
B: Couldn't tell you. No idea.
A: Is there any incidence of suicide after the treatment?
B: I shouldn't think so. Haven't heard of any. As I say, you're welcome to watch, but I normally do these treatments on my own.
Now with some possible actions:
A: (quizzes) Do your patients ever relapse?
B: (resists) Couldn't tell you. (conceals) No idea.
A: (probes) Is there any incidence of suicide after the treatment?
B: (warns) I shouldn't think so. (challenges) Haven't heard of any. (belittles) As I say, you're welcome to watch, but I normally do these treatments on my own.
Of course an audience won't know what these actions are and nor should they. But by exploring the characters' motives in this way and experimenting with different actions we can suggest, and it's this suggestion that keeps the text alive and active and the audience's ear engaged.
Monday morning was largely taken up with the theatre staff meeting the cast, creatives and stage management team, and people generally getting to know each other. Audiences would be amazed at the number of people involved in getting a play like this on and touring round the country. They will only see the 9 actors on stage, but there are scores of hugely dedicated people involved, most of whom remain invisible and silent. Once the greetings were over, the cast, writer, deputy stage manager and director slowly read the play out loud for the first time, including all stage directions. By the time this had been done and the wardrobe department had taken all the actors' measurements the first day was over and rehearsals proper could begin.
Rehearsal methods vary depending on the director's approach, and the first day or two are often concerned with him/her setting out how the rehearsal period will progress. Our director, Simon Godwin, is keen to thoroughly examine the text of the play, and the remainder of our week has been largely taken up by doing so. This began by slowly reading each scene and noting down, collectively, any present/historical facts, and then creating questions arising from those facts. For instance, we know that the play starts in Craiglockhart military hospital for the shell-shocked. From this fact we asked: How long has it been a hospital? How many patients are there? How big is it? What is the layout? How far is it from the station? Do the patients wear uniforms? How big are the wards? Do patients share rooms? Where do they eat? How long have the doctors worked there? How long have the patients been there? Do the doctors eat with the patients? Where are the doctors living quarters? Where is the sick bay? What do their dressing gowns look like? Can they smoke in the hospital? What disciplinary procedures are there? Are the doctors military men? How many nurses are there? What are the medical methods used? Is there a library? Do doctors socialise with patients in the evenings? And so on. By slowly working through each scene in this manner we have ended the first week of rehearsals with a series of many questions arising from the facts in the play. By spending the next three weeks rehearsing with these questions in mind, we hope to build a believable world in which the characters can exist.
The actors have also made timelines for their characters leading up to the date at the start of the play. This involves deciding on what year they were born, where they went to school, whether they are married or have children etc. This is made slightly easier for the actors who are playing real-life characters such as the war poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. For actors playing fictional characters this is where imagination comes in. A timeline for the play has also been collectively decided upon, so that we know on what date each scene takes place and the exact time of day. With a quick trip to the Imperial War Museum, two movement sessions, and two guest speakers, it has been a long and stimulating week.