By Jonathan Dryden Taylor
The flying time from London Heathrow to Chicago O’Hare is nine hours, or, to put it another way, approximately three and a quarter performances of King Lear. But for our company, those nine hours represented more than just the passage of time.
There’s always a point in any production where you begin to realize that rehearsal isn’t just an end in itself; that you’ll have to be putting this work in front of other people at some point. Of course, you always know on an intellectual level that you’re creating work to be seen, but there’s something seductively private about a rehearsal room that can sometimes prevent that knowledge being absorbed emotionally. It can come as a shock when you finally have a full-bodied realization that, before too long, what has been an empty room will become an auditorium full of people.
Traveling to another continent really helps that moment to arrive quicker, it turns out! And once we’d arrived in Notre Dame, what had been a private group of five in London, rehearsing on our own without a director or stage manager, became gratefully absorbed into the wider AFTLS family. Finally getting to meet the people who help the organization to run so smoothly has given us a very welcome support network, but also reminded us that the first public performances are just round the corner.
Unpacking the suitcase containing the whole production in our new rehearsal room on campus helped us ground ourselves in these new surroundings. We may be five thousand miles away from where we first got this play on its feet, but finding all the costumes and props we’d gathered together over the last five weeks was an instant visual reminder of the work we’d already put in.
When there’s any kind of interruption of the rehearsal process- and a transatlantic flight is quite an interruption- there’s always a nagging fear that momentum might be lost, that you won’t quite pick up from where you left off. Fortunately once we started tentatively dipping our toes back in the choppy waters of King Lear, we were not only able to consolidate the work we’d done in London, but we found it was beginning to develop, to gather the kind of pace and energy any production needs as it approaches its first performance.
Maybe those nine hours in the air had allowed some of our ideas to percolate from our short-term memory into the long-term, maybe the excitement of arriving at Notre Dame had given a shot of adrenalin, maybe the approach of opening night had focused and concentrated our minds. Maybe it was a combination of all three. But whatever the reason, our play was energizingly and reassuringly taking shape.
But while it’s good to know that this production travels robustly, as we gear up to take it from coast to coast, that’s not enough. It’s our job now to take our solid but skeletal structure and flesh it out. Colour it in. Bring it to life.