For those of you who know me, which I’m assuming is at least some of you because of the obscure title of my blog, you will know that I am currently experiencing the privilege of rehearsing an incredible new children’s opera, ‘My Mother Told Me Not To Stare’, by international children’s playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer and Oxford University Composer extraordinaire, Martyn Harry. This production is being produced by Miranda Thain and the team at Theatre Hullabaloo and directed by Action Transport’s Nina Hajiyanni.
I was fortunate enough to be cast in the role of ‘The Man’ last September. Which is great because I’ve always wanted to be a man and now not only am I living that dream, I’m ‘THE’ man. Sweet. I was informed about the auditions two days before the deadline by my friend and theatre collaborator Katie Boon, and on the off chance emailed my newly created headshot and CV into the Producer and the rest is history… although I do remember thinking (after having googled the other people on the audition list and thinking them rather intimidating, that maybe I shouldn’t have bothered). As it was, the person I was most intimidated by on google didn’t show up. So lucky me.
I remember calling my friend ‘The Bee’ shortly after I had been told the good news, that I would be going on tour and after a heartfelt ‘Congratulations!’ and then she promptly followed it with ‘I HATE you!’
At the following two short periods of rehearsal I met my fellow cast members, Andrew, Luci, Eva and John, all of whom play instruments, act and sing wonderfully. Together we enjoyed days filled with Martyn Harry’s music which has continued to become stuck in my head at the most inconvenient moments (just prior to bed, in the toilet and on the tube) and John’s sense of injustice at the fact that the vegetarian breakfast at the hotel we were staying at includes two eggs, whilst the normal breakfast only had one.
After having subjected my newly acquired girlfriend to numerous line learning sessions in London, in which she was forced to play the roles of Bobby, Emily, Mr and Mrs Rogers, The Fixing Kitchen Woman and numerous disappeared children, I arrived in Darlington to the beginning of the end… the final rehearsal period for My Mother Told Me Not to Stare…
This is where you find me now… five days into rehearsal and thoroughly enjoying every minute of it. The atmosphere in the rehearsal room is one of collaboration and playfulness, fostered by our excellent Director Nina. We had three children burst in on rehearsals yesterday thinking they had booked the studio, and the first thing they had said (after the mouths had dropped open) was ‘Woah!’. It is not often that the disillusioned youth of today are at a loss for words, but if anything is going to do it, it would have to be the sound of opera singing on a stunning set that looks like it could have been built out of a 10 year old’s favourite nightmare. All hail Bek Palmer, the set/costume designer who has created the world of Upper Crumble within which we have set about to tell this exceptional story.
It’s such a pleasure to be working with a script that is intelligent, quirky, funny and (as all of Fin’s work is so good at doing) doesn’t talk down to children but treats them with the respect any audience member deserves. The story is dark, twisted, subtle, horrifying and beautiful, and all packed into (at the moment!) seventy four minutes.
We managed a full sing-through of the show after two days of rehearsal and both John and I agreed that we’d been in shows in the past where the quality of what we had just done was akin to the dress rehearsal of previous shows. A promising start.
We have now begun working, in minute detail, on the individual scenes and it is wonderful to see them developing so well and so quickly. When people aren’t in scenes themselves they are invited by Nina to watch and offer suggestions, and with ideas flying about the room and bouncing off the walls it has been very exciting to see the show start to develop into the exciting thing that I know it will become, even if it’s not there yet.
On the first day of rehearsal Nina set the tone with the light hearted comment:
‘Any idea is a good idea.’
She promptly followed it with…
‘Unless it’s a bad one. If you have a bad idea, just keep quiet.’
Playing the role of Narrator in the show is proving challenging for me at the moment but I very much expected that. For me, I think it is important that ‘The Man’, knows and is aware of every detail of every scene, in order to tell the story. Consequently we have not worked very much on the character of the Narrator yet. Time is being spent on the scenes that the story is portraying, but this is definitely the right order of events, as there is no way that I can know how to tell a story until I know what story it is that I am telling. And the more I get to know the story by watching my fellow cast members act and sing and play, the more I am becoming aware of how their story might be told. It is still elusive but I think it will arrive soon.
I’ll leave it there for the moment as Eva is cooking us a lovely meal of salmon for dinner and I don’t want to miss out. I will write again in a few more days with more adventures of My Mother Told Me Not to Rehearse.
By Darren Clark, playing “The Man”