Dorian Gray R&D: Lessons from a rehearsal room
Hello, you. Yes, you! Welcome to the very first Curious Pheasant blog post! We hope you’re doing okay, whenever and wherever you find yourself reading this.
It’s a really weird time, isn’t it? It’s an especially odd time to be making theatre. So many venues are closed and government COVID guidelines keep changing so plans are hard to stick to.
But, it’s not all doom and gloom. Last month, just before England went back into lockdown, we were fortunate enough to spend a couple of days at The Point in Eastleigh, where we are an Associate company, working on our brand new adaption of Dorian Gray written by Troy Chessman. Given the extraordinary times we live in, we thought it might be useful to fellow theatre makers for us to share how we planned and executed the R&D, and a few of the challenges we had to work around.
The Point, in Eastleigh.
What did we need to do differently?
In the run up to the week, government guidelines kept changing and so we waited until right before the R&D to ask The Point about their guidelines so that we didn’t have to keep changing our plans! We were asked to prepare a COVID risk assessment by the venue which really helped us think about how we would operate safely in the space. We knew that The Point staff would mark out a 2 metre grid on the floor of the studio to help us socially distance easily. Some of the specific COVID measures we then made sure were in place for R&D included:
Continual ventilation in the room – even if that did mean competing against the road noise outside!
Cleaning down all surfaces before the cast arrived and cleaning any touch points* every hour (*door handles/tables/chairs etc)
Encouraging hand sanitising on entry to the space
Giving every person in the room their own table and chair which was clearly labelled with their names which they could use throughout and a section of the windowsill which was clearly labelled where they could put their belongings, so they were kept apart
Placing each script in a different coloured folder so that no one accidentally picked up someone else’s script
We also made that sure that masks and visors were made available to the group and if any scenes needed to break the 2m social distancing rule, actors would wear masks or visors, whichever they felt more comfortable with. During breaks, we all wore masks in any communal or public areas of the theatre.
As Director, Daniel encouraged side by side blocking to avoid as much face-to-face dialogue as possible, and particularly focused on space and how distance can be used as a dramatic tool. A real directorial challenge was the waltzing scene – how could we make it work with social distancing? By not pairing people up, each actor waltzed on their own and in some ways it felt that there were more people in the space for the scene - it actually worked pretty well!
Cut short by COVID
After the first day of the R&D, one of the actors was told that someone they came into contact with the weekend before the R&D had tested positive for COVID. We called 111 who told us we could still continue the R&D, but without this actor who started to self-isolate*. The role that this actor was playing was a key part of the R&D, and so after the second day we decided to finish the week early before the nationwide lockdown kicked in. We are now rearranging the second half of the week for the new year –being able to be flexible and always having a plan B are two of the huge takeaways for us!
*(the actor then ordered a test which came back negative. Better safe than sorry!)
The Dorian Gray R&D company at The Point
How did all this feel?
Good question. Here’s the thoughts of our director, Daniel.
“At the start, it felt a bit weird especially when working with people we know, you really just want to give people a hug! But after a while, you get used to it and you kind of adjust mindset. The group bonded as a cast, even though we couldn’t play icebreakers or be tactile in ways we might normally be. But we were all just really grateful to be in the room together. I don’t think it really affected the creative flow of the R+D at all, and it just became another hurdle to overcome which is all part and parcel of the development stage of any production.”
Daniel Harris, Director