Sunday, 26 May 2013

Challenging a Repeat Performance

Each show has its own set of challenges. Whether its simply stamina, challenging emotions or a costume that's really difficult to get in and out of.  This year for the National Arts Festival I will be performing in two shows (presented by Tuks Drama and The Matchbox Theatre Collective) that we have performed in Grahamstown previously. Both shows choreographed and directed by Nicola Haskins. So this year, instead of learning a new show, or creating something new we are relearning work we did in the past. And I’m learning that this presents its own challenges too.

A still from As Night Falls in 2011, choreographed by Nicola Haskins.
In 2011 our cast of 8 performed the physical/dance theatre piece AS NIGHT FALLS in Grahamstown, and again at the Krekvars Student Festival and Aardklop. A lot has happened since 2011 and most of us can't really remember much. That, and two of the original cast members needed to be replaced. Watching the video of the show I started to remember pieces of the choreography which had once been second nature. Like an amnesiac recollecting out of place moments in their past that don’t quite complete the puzzle I would remember flashes, not only of what I did on stage, but back stage too. Then we started to remember all the mistakes, all the fun we had backstage, out of breath and dying for a bottle of water that we had left in the wing opposite. That time that my lamp broke apart on stage and the batteries rolled across the stage, or the performance where I didn’t catch that bottle that came hurtling at me at a not to optimal angle and I had to run clean across the stage to catch it.  That time in Grahamstown when my fascinator fell off my head, or when audience members, ‘shocked by our work’ walked out halfway through the show while the other half of the audience loved it. Or during a different festival when the lighting operator made a mistake and we did the opening scene, which is supposed to happen in darkness with the cast creating patterns of light with head lamps, under full lights. And I think our cast’s favourite moment, when, during the third movement of the show the music cut out, and we carried on silence.

In these rehearsals I have been surprised by how my body has been able to remember more than my conscious mind. How, when we left the music on there were large sections of choreography our bodies would just do instinctively two years later. 

So far the greatest challenge I have found in relearning is how to keep my performance fresh. How not to be trapped between memories of the past, and what we used to do and to stay present in the moment this time around. And that is one of the beautiful  and challenging things about theatre to me. As a theatre performer you know a show backwards, forwards and sideways before you go on stage. Most of the time you know more than just your own part or choreography. But every night when you go on stage you need to deliver your performance to a paying audience who is seeing the show for the very first time, no matter if your audience is smaller than your cast. And every performance needs to be fantastic.