"At the Globe, the mass is the most extraordinary thing, because they are literally stood up and able to touch your toes if they want to! So the groundlings are a very potent thing here, and largely they tell you great things. They tell you when they’re amused, they tell you when they’re shocked, they faint when they feel ill!"
Taking us through Tech and Press, Emma talks about the relationship between actor and audience, and experiencing the show as an audience member herself.
Time: 10 minutes 52 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
Paul Shuter: If, during this session, you hear some music in the background, this is because we’re sitting in Emma’s office and there is a performance of Twelfth Night. And right on cue, there’s the music! And so what you can hear is some of the really rather special music from this production as we’re talking. We’re going to reflect, first of all, on Tech Week and then on the previews. So first of all, Emma, could you describe what the process is during Tech Week, for people who don’t necessarily know what it is that everybody’s doing for all that time?
Emma Rice: Well, Tech Week is when you take a show out of the rehearsal room and put it on stage (which sounds very simple). But you have to remember that, not only have people not worn their costumes before, so you’ll get lots of split seams, for example, or trousers that are too tight! But they haven’t worn their wigs or their make up or had the right props or dealt with the audience. And also it’s when the technical teams, so the lighting operators and designers, sound operators and designers, and stage management, learn what their tracks are. So everybody is working out where they move and at the Globe it’s especially big, because you do have people running round the outside of the building to a pool of dressers, that are waiting to wrap them in a kilt, put them in a boat and push them through a door! So it’s quite a physical process. So we’ve learnt all the dance steps, we’ve learnt all the songs, we’ve learnt all the words, but the tech is when you learn the show.
PS: This is a full week?
ER: No. We tend to (I’m doing this from memory), we tend to do what we call a 'load in' on the Monday, which is the set going up. And then [we do] around seven tech sessions, which is a morning, an afternoon and an evening, seven of one of those. And [that's] followed by an open dress, which is when we invite the staff to come and see it, for free. And that’s great for the actors, because they get a little sense of what the audience reaction might be, followed by previews.
PS: By the first previews?
PS: Okay, so then you've teched the show, you’ve done the open dress to an enthusiastic group of Globe staff members and stewards. How many previews were there?
ER: I think we did about six.
PS: And what’s going on in the preview stage?
ER: Oh, I love previews! I absolutely love previews, because you could rehearse for three years in a rehearsal room and you will still learn so much in a preview. It’s when you understand the chemistry that happens between the work that you’ve done and the show that you’re creating, when it comes into contact with not just people, but with that thing that is undefinable, which is the mass. And at the Globe, the mass is the most extraordinary thing, because they are literally stood up and able to touch your toes if they want to! So the mass is a very potent thing here, and largely they tell you great things. They tell you when they’re amused, they tell you when they’re shocked, they faint when they feel ill! They leave if they’re bored and they look away if they’re not engaged, you know they can look up at the sky or at an aeroplane. So as a director, it’s amazing because this is the moment when you go, ‘Great! They’re completely hooked and they’re laughing when I wanted them to (or hoped they would)’.
But also you can go, ‘Gosh!’ It’s like you can feel an almost rock-back if you haven’t got your pacing of the story right. So as a director, you go, 'That’s the bit I need begin to crank, I need to surprise them'. Because you need a show to not be ahead of the audience and particularly Shakespeare’s. Many people in there, not all, but many people will have seen another production of Twelfth Night or studied it at school, and you need to make sure that the production is surprising them, that you’re not lagging behind in some way. And they tell you, that isn’t me imposing my taste on them. They tell me, 'Time to move on. What’s happening next?' And it’s a question I ask almost every day of my process, 'What happens next?' Because if you can’t answer that, you get indulgent or you do work that will eventually be cut. You have to keep cranking your way through the narrative.
PS: And during that preview process, presumably you’re in all show, every show?
PS: Are you watching the show? Are you watching the audience? Or are you doing a bit of both?
ER: Everything. I mean I’m sort of in my hyper-alert phase at that point! I’m watching every pigeon, every dresser! Because it’s my job, as well, to note the absolute mundane, you know? I can say, 'Can that dresser tie her hair back? Because it’s too noticeable seeing somebody'. Or stage management, I don’t want to see somebody with a headset on. So I’m noting really basic details like that, through to the shape of a performance or indeed the structuring of a scene, so you have to be hyper-aware. Because if you don’t give those tiny notes, nobody else ever will. So that big hair will come in and out on a random basis, so I have to really micro-manage the show. And I love it, I love that bit of the process.
And also things change, because at the Globe we have this on-going issue with not taking photographs or filming or phones going off. And in A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, I integrated it into the pre-show. And we had a go with this and I did a dumb show in one preview, where I had tourist on the boat bringing out a camera and the cabin boy saying, 'No', and bringing out a phone and saying, 'No'. And it wasn’t really that funny and we started the show in all the wrong way. And that’s when I thought, 'Well I need to find another way'. So we made some placards that the stewards walk around with, and now every show can have those. But that all happened in preview and that was me thinking, 'How do I get a message over to an audience without distracting from the show?' It’s all the detailing!
PS: And do you move about the theatre during the performance, or do you sit in one spot but change the spot?
ER: Oh, I’m not very proud of this answer! I tend to sit in quite similar spots. I ought to sit in bad seats but do you know it’s…I don’t know whether I should worry about it. I make sure my assistant goes around, all my designers and sound designers are moving round the space. I kind of like having a fixed gaze so that I can keep building, rather than getting knocked off my own process. But as I say, I always think I should move and then I think, 'Oh, watching from the Gents' Box, it doesn’t help me get the big idea sorted'. If that makes sense? I do later on in the run, I pop in all over the place during the run.
PS: Yes, we’ll come back to that. Can you think of a couple of things that you’ve changed during the Twelfth Night previews, and talk us through that?
ER: Yes. We had a big drama in the Twelfth Night previews in that Pieter Lawman (who plays Antonio) lost his voice completely, and I had to decide whether to put an understudy on before the show was teched. And I thought that wasn’t a good idea, because it felt like I’d never get the show into its straight line, what I would call the straight line rather than the wavy line. So, we brought in another actor, we brought in an actor called Jason Baughan, he’s worked here many times, who was brilliant. And he performed for the first few previews. Pieter, because he was quite well apart from his voice, was able to watch the tech and learn his track and we fed him in when he got well. But it meant that in previews, I was already I was swinging an actor into a show that hadn’t teched yet, so that took up a bit of time.
And mostly it’s trimming; it’s not cutting, it’s trimming. You’ve made the big shape and then…I always over devise, I’m much better than I used to be. But you can’t help it when you get excited by details, it opens up. And when you look at it with an audience that are looking at in the bright sunlight, you just think we’ve got to get on with it! And, you know, I try not to be brutal and I try to be very clever, actually. It’s the time to be clever in tech, you need to be quite disciplined with what’s achievable and what’s the biggest effect. So an actor often want to discuss issues and I don’t, because I think that will all get sorted. I don’t need to be involved; what I need to do is get this machine in fine working order. And having directed for a long time, I always think a show is like a bicycle and when I see actors having to pedal very hard to make it work, I think I haven’t built the machine well enough. So what I want to see is actors dancing on the show, that the show carries them. And that’s my work, my work allows them to dance and scoot and play on the surface. And that’s the job that I do in previews, it's I think that’s too much hard work I need to build the structure so rock solid underneath them.
So the dance routines, most of them were cut by a third, for example, some of the singing. Often what happens is I don’t cut, I blend. It works out that you can put some storytelling over the music, so you begin to layer in the ideas rather than sitting them separately. I think we lost about fifteen minutes between the first time we performed the show and the time it opened. But as I say that isn’t all cutting; a lot of that is condensing. You say, 'This is all good, but it’s too spread out'. So you pull things together.
PS: Then the show does its Press Night. Do you read the reviews?
ER: No. You can’t avoid the story and I need to know the story. And I need to know the story, because I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t. But also I need to know if the actors need my support, or a specific actor needs support. So I do say, ‘How are they? What’s the story?’ And they were good. And ultimately at that point I don’t need to know any details. And yes, that’s what I feel. It doesn’t really help, it feeds neurosis and it feeds a lack of confidence, neither of which help a show that’s going to do (as you say), sixty, seventy shows. You need to love a show, believe in a show, and that’s what I spend my time doing.
PS: And the point about a show like Twelfth Night here is the reviews may be a comment on it, but they’re no actually going to have much effect on the life of the show, because you’ve programmed it for when you’re going to programme it. You couldn’t extend the run because it’s too cold.
ER: Yes. Oh no, it’s set in stone. It is what it is. And people will come or they won’t come or they won’t queue or they’ll leave at the interval or they won’t. Thankfully, and touch wood, it’s been an absolute…we haven’t really dropped a ticket, so it’s been marvellous.
PS: I can’t even go home without walking past a returns queue.
ER: It’s exciting, isn’t it?
Thanks to Liz for the transcription of this interview.