In my brief experience of writing plays, I’ve got quite used to small shows in big venues, or big shows in small ones; FML The Musical, my first musical show, was a tiny production but in the Arts Centre Studio. Importance Of Being Earnest, my first play I directed, was a large production in the comparatively tiny Helen Martin Creative Space.
This week is show week for my latest project; ‘Birds Fly Wild’ a musical that got the MTW Revue slot this year. Using classic musical numbers with mildly altered lyrics and a script all about failed superheroes, it’s a comedy but its also a tragedy. I wrote it over the summer, and although a mega 2 and a half hours, it’s a great show. Filled with comedy and tragedy that the cast have brought out excellently, I’ve enjoyed every second. This time, it’s another big show in another small space (the ensemble room.)
The process has been incredibly stressful. The cast and team are great but we’re all so busy and room bookings so difficult that the show needed more time. I would have really liked to delve in but we’ve done a lot of character work with who was available and the show tonight- the start of its run- was absolutely exceptional.
It fills me with fear that next show I do is not only a big show, but a big venue. It’s a massive spectacle of jazz and booze and deception and it’s going to be an incredible challenge. But after a day of breakdowns and five bottles of diet coke, today I’ve never been prouder of anybody in my life. Vile Bodies will be ten times this sensation.
So we’ve finally cast the play, and it’s an exceptional squad. Our cast is:
Adam Fenwick-Symes- Matt Bent
Nina Blount- Katie Caddick
Miles Malpractice- Euan Kitson
Agatha Runcible- Alice Whitehead
Simon Balcairn- Daniel Hutton
Archie Schwert- Harry Wilson
Lottie Crump/Melrose Ape/Mrs Brown- Zoe Lambrakis
Monomark/Customs Officer- Marek Horn
Ginger/Ambrose- Daniel Piper
Tiger/Rat/Doge- Alex Millen
Drunk Major/Colonel Blount/Prime Minister/Waiter- Will Francis
Mary/Lady Metroland- Lily Brewer
Martha/Chastity- Immi Calderwood
Fortitude/Nurse 1- Lottie Clitherow
Divine Discontent/Daughter/Journalist- Elly Parsons
Prudence/Daughter- Grace Holmes
Hope/Nurse 2- Lizzy Leech
It’s a great and talented team of people. But how did we come to this utterly impossible choice? Through the wonders of auditions.
The first round consisted of one-on-panel auditions, each auditionee preparing a monologue from the script (two for boys, two for girls; either Simon’s suicide note, Adam’s ‘vile bodies’ speech, Nina’s letter to Adam at the end, and Agatha’s dream.) Afterwards, the audition differed depending on person or day, but we did either one or two other scenes of other characters and also explored different intentions and contexts for previous readings. We offered people the chance to read any monologue for any gender and also do it in any way they fancied- dance, singing, cut, embellished, whatever they fancied.
The recall list was drawn up after three long days and a torturous final decision on our part. Heads were held in hands, difficult decisions were faced. As it always is people who deserved recalls just couldn’t be, and it is always a hard process. Studio shows are a big deal (even though up till then we hadn’t felt it) and it was upsetting for some people.
The recalls occurred that weekend, and were a really, really fun process. Split into three groups, the recalled 36 went through a 2 hour workshop with Henry (music director), Shubham (who stood in for Chloe, our movement director), and myself. After a quick introduction Shubs lead the cast through yoga, got their blood pumping with some running, and finally did some contact improv with the cast; a Frantic Assembly technique of creating sequences of movements that are then affected by emotions given to them by the director, who then also moves them around and commands different things of them (some people had to move to their partner across the room, some had to do it with their eyes closed, some had to keep changing tempo.) Segueing into my section, everyone lay on the floor, closed their eyes, and we played Moonlight Serenade, which they all had to move to in whichever way they deemed right.
I then took the group through the Laban movement combinations, and tried internalising and externalising them through application to the ‘get thee to a nunnery’ scene from Hamlet. Some people really threw themselves in and camped it up, some people were confused and restrained.
Next they were handed over to Henry, who lead them through soundscaping through the medium of an auditionee’s name, then soundscaping particular scenarios, then a basic test of people’s ability to harmonise and sing in a group with a classic warm up canon song. It worked brilliantly, and we got a great test of people’s singing without putting anybody on the spot.
Finally, I handed each group an extract from Joseph Moncure March’s ‘The Wild Party’, a 1920s epic poem about a debauched evening in New York. We chose three sections; ‘Dance they did and dance they could/Queenie was great and the boy was good’, ‘Some love is fire, some love is rust/but the coolest, cleanest love is rust’, and ‘The candles burned, the flames grew gay’ (can you tell I paraphrased all three?) Each group then performed these extracts in whatever way they fancied, as abstract or as literal as they liked. We saw orgasms, stripping, singing, typewriters and all types of things, it was really exceptional.
At long last came the toughest choice. Sat down with the team, we discussed our favourites, drew up mind maps for each character with all the potential actors and actresses (nobody wasn’t considered for something, that’s for sure) and finally we settled on the list above. It feels weird for one because so many of the cast are either my prior superiors in other shows or people I feared upon arrival at Warwick, but also because several cast members are also production team for the Revue, and several Revue cast members are production team for Vile Bodies.
The auditions were just the start however. Our first read through is Wednesday afternoon and, after that, we have Christmas to learn lines and explore character before coming back after New Years and delving right into the character and physicality of the thing. There are ideas. Crazy, crazy ideas.
I can’t wait to see what comes of the show next!