In the Rehearsal Room with Paperfinch (04 Dec 2017)
Natalie Ann Hillman
In the last couple of weeks, I have gone down twice to a place in North Wales called Mold where Theatre Clwyd resides. Here Paperfinch, a Sheffield based theatre company, have been creating their Christmas show ‘The Snow Queen’. I went down for a few days in a rehearsal week and again in tech/dress week to shadow rehearsals and learn more about immersive theatre, directing and the various elements of how a show like this comes together.
The show is an adaptation of the original Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson. From this the director, Joe Bunce, picked out the different characters, events, and settings in the story in order to create different immersive worlds and journeys for the audience to follow. What interested me about this show before going down was how it was described as creating an adventure through riddles and illusions. I was also interested in learning about how they would create worlds and journeys in this show and the director’s perspective on exploring the use the space and the role of the audience within the show and from my time in Wales these are things I certainly felt I achieved. I’ve written a lot about the things I learnt through this experience in my project diary however this post aims to provide a little insight into what I’ve been doing and learnt.
Week 1 – Rehearsal Week (4th-6th Dec)
The first week I went down was on a rehearsal week. This generally meant there were rehearsals of individual scenes in the day time or stage management/set things to do and then in the evening there were community cast rehearsals where they rehearsed a different character route each night. Here I was predominantly observing rehearsals and ‘audiencing’ to allow those in the scene to practise interaction with audience members which also gave me a perspective of the audience’s experience. For me, this was really useful as it allowed me to gain more understanding of immersive theatre and how to rehearse and direct this style of theatre.
One of the main things I learnt from shadowing in this week was thinking about different levels of immersivity/interactivity in the show and how the audience are managed. For example, sometimes the audience’s interaction with the show could be as collaborators and here a sense of togetherness and shared experience with the audience in the ‘adventure’ was really felt however at points when it was important to control the level of chaos this was scaled back. The audience also were allowed a journey in this way throughout the show where they begin as guests/observers however gradually become more involved in the action and feel like they contribute to how the show ends. Other things also became clear in the rehearsals such as a need of clarity and confidence in the instructions for the audience and at quite chaotic or ‘scary’ moments like a storm or meeting outlaws the way the actors framed this was important in making the audience feel safe. I also enjoyed observing the different atmospheres created, both in different routes and rooms for example the flower room in one area felt tranquil and soothing which was then juxtaposed by the next riddle in the river room which felt adventurous and epic which overall made the show dynamic and vibrant. It was nice as well to see how the journeys followed allowed the audience to connect and bond with the character along their route and see the character arch e.g. from scared and vulnerable to a determined leader.
Week 2 – Tech/Dress Week (13th-15th Dec)
The next week was tech week and preparing for the public dress rehearsal Thursday/opening Friday. In this week, I observed tech rehearsals and how they were run and tried to lend a hand where I could with set dressing etc. Tech rehearsals where rather different to observe than the rehearsals in the week before and allowed me to see the things that needed to be done in these such as working out sound levels, lighting states, projection mapping and rehearsing cues. I also observed useful ways of ensuring the cast was prepared for the dress run, where it would be the first time all the routes ran at once and used all the spaces, such as walking through of the paths taken during the show, where these cross over and how they travelled from space to space.
Furthermore, I observed and took some notes during the dress rehearsal on Thursday evening and therefore was finally able to experience the show all together. From this we did realise areas where the show needed to have more momentum or clarity about the tasks, but we also found from experiencing it just how fun a show it is, from the Little Clwyd immersive market place to the Snow Queens ice palace to the tasks we were set. The show really is an adventure full of fun riddles to interact with all supported by a great narrative, fun music and exciting movement allowing the audience to have a truly special experience throughout the show. What completes the show is the set and the way the theatre has been transformed into the different worlds by the set designers with a colourful market place and then areas such as a lava room, mirror room and an ice palace with its impressive kaleidoscope and geometric face/throne. Ultimately, it was a pleasure to gain experience with this company and the show.