With anticipation building up before Snow Orchid's opening night this week, the show’s Assistant Director, Olly Francis, gives us a taste of what’s to come...
The life of an AD can certainly be a varied one. Each experience I have had so far with theatre in Cambridge has been completely unique, and Snow Orchid has hardly been an exception. I’m writing this coming out of what has essentially been a full day of rehearsals. Both mind and body have been utterly wrung through with emotion. The cup of tea on my side table is gradually restoring much needed sugar and warmth to my systems after being drained by the cathartic rush that follows any good old, honest, theatrically-induced cry. And I couldn’t be more delighted. Such is the nature of working on Pintauro’s Snow Orchid.
A demanding script like this requires a very particular kind of rehearsal attitude, and a Sophie Leydon rehearsal room is certainly something quite exceptional. As is the joy with all student theatre, the space finds a balance between moments of focused professionalism, and moments of allowing felicity to take over, and just enjoying being part of a group of young people, sharing in a common interest. With this production, I feel I have experienced both these in the extremes: the good natures and sheer energy of the cast always makes for a good time, but their dedication to their roles and to their director creates powerful stretches of rehearsals which often leave us having to physically shake out the intensity/ lie down on the ground for a while/ go for a crisis-amble round market square in the fresh air for a while to come back to reality.
Rehearsals themselves have been a mix of workshopping, blocking, running and then refining. Because of the intensity, and the naturalistic demands of the script, it’s been incredibly important for us to find ways of building up relationships around and beyond Pintauro’s gorgeous words; to find the undeniable love and familiarity that forms the immutable background hum to all the passion, fire and tension that dominates the dialogue. This is why workshopping and character work has been so integral to the rehearsal process.
We’ve played around with exercises involving intense eye contact, encouraging actors to read the smallest movements and details of each other’s faces; with exercises allowing actors to let loose, and shout their lines when the emotion brims over; and with improvisational exercises, where we’re challenged to actually confront conjectured moments in the pasts of these characters, and explore some of the feelings ‘they have had’ before the play even begins. It’s been an absolute joy to see the actors excel in their emotional understanding of the characters within these workshops, and to see the effects of them weave their way into their performances.
Along with this, the rehearsal room has been a place for a more analytical kind of exploration. Each rehearsal has been packed full of fascinating discussions. Pintauro’s script is always begging to be unpicked, so there is a constant playing with and challenging of our understandings of motives, intentions and meanings within the rehearsal process. As a so professed ‘Gay Play’, the process of exploring the pasts, particular feelings and experiences of queer characters has been informative and hugely important for both putting on the play, and for thinking about LGBTQ+ theatre in general. Sophie is hugely skilled at interrogating the script for all it contains in a thorough, meticulous way - stitching together phrases and tones from all parts of the play, and bringing them together into particular, personal gems of feedback for the actor to carry into the next run. I often find myself in the wake of recovering from a stunning performance by one of our actors, only to become completely bowled over again by Sophie’s emotive, perceptive elucidations of Pintauro’s words.
A throwing back of questions to actors creates a collaborative atmosphere in a rehearsal space. Our group of brilliant, highly capable actors are quick to engage with feedback and queries, meaning our ideas of Filumena, Rocco, Sebbie, Blaise and Doogan are born not just out of our own personal interpretations of the script, but out of the living, ever moving mind of the rehearsal room. As rehearsals have progressed, its easy to see the increase in them bouncing off of each other, enriching, adding dimensions to their characters and others through this collective mindset.
It’s been a delight to see the cast gel together inside and outside of the rehearsal room (my adoration of them all probably quite evident in my new habit of broadcasting a multitude of rehearsal snippets daily onto my Instagram stories) (sorry). Aside from times within rehearsals, there has been a great deal of bonding outside of the walls of the Lazarra household, including a wonderfully wholesome evening involving pasta, candlelight and passionately belting out Beyoncé at the end of a brilliant night at glitterbomb. This aptly snow-draped weekend brings about the beginning of our dress rehearsal and get-in period, and I just can’t wait to watch how things come together. There have been tears, big, important conversations, and certainly a lot of laughs. What more can you ask from student theatre?
Snow Orchid runs from the 13th - 17th March. Tickets are available here.