Sunday 21 July 2019

'The Play's the thing' or, writers and actors, by Anne Booth

This year I am acting in a production of 'Mary Stuart' by Schiller, in a new version by Peter Oswald,  for The Canterbury Shakespeare Festival. I auditioned on an impulse - there were open auditions being held in a pub in Canterbury, and I hadn't acted for decades, but found myself wandering in off the street, doing an audition and getting a part!

I play the part of Hanna Kennedy, nurse of the Queen of Scotland. It is a good (but by no means the biggest) part, I am relieved to say (line learning has been enough of a challenge as it is!)  but I love her as a character, and I love my lines, and I am really enjoying being part of the production. I am in awe of all the work that is being put in for this festival, and the professional standard of the acting, directing, costume and prop sourcing etc. I have learnt so much about what goes into staging professional level drama.

Here we are in our first read through, months ago now.

We will be performing 'Mary Stuart' only three times - once on the evening of August the 9th, then a matinee and an evening performance on August 10th. We will be performing where we have been rehearsing several times a week (a typical rehearsal lasts from 6-9.30), in a lovely small circular outdoor theatre in a  courtyard in Eliot College , University of Kent in Canterbury. We are competing with the wind blowing through the leaves of a beautiful tree in the courtyard, and noisy seagulls flying overhead.

We have been rehearsing for months and the directors have worked so hard, blocking where we are on the stage and our exits and entrances (I believe that is the term!) Some of the actors have had so much to learn and so many speeches.

We have done so many voice warmups and laughed through so many games, we have  learnt to project our voices, we have learnt how to walk as our characters, how to interact, hug, argue, even, for some characters, to fight. We have learnt to speak our lines and inhabit our characters. And we still have many more rehearsals  before our three perfomances.

Here I am as Hannah looking rather worried as my charge Mary Stuart gets over excited about the prospect of getting out of prison!

Here you can see me revealed cheating and peeking at my lines, about to run on with Mary, as The Earl of Leicester and Mortimer plot in the previous  scene.

We are going to be wearing great costumes too - I have already seen some lovely swishy cloaks being tried on!

Behind the scenes so much work is going on stage managing and sourcing and making costumes and props, and advertising the festival itself. We had an opening gala for everyone involved where we each saw a scene from our respective plays, so I can say that all the other plays are going to be great.

So what has this got to do with writing?

I recognise, as a writer, the sheer hard work which has to go into staging a play. It is a more cooperative process than one writer writing a book alone at home, and I am really enjoying that aspect of it, but I recognise the necessity to work hard, not writing a book, but learning lines, going to rehearsals  and putting the effort in.

I think it is probably healthier than writing - there is much more running around  and being active and connected to my body, and I am grateful for this.

What is wonderful to me though, is that I have no doubt that this is worth every bit of effort, even though there will only be three performances.

And this really cheers me up. Because, as writers, we put so much work in, and cooperate with publishers and really try to produce a worthwhile piece of art, but then we let go of it, and we then can worry about sales and how long it will last in this highly competitive world. It is tempting to feel disheartened if our book doesn't become a bestseller, or if it is not reprinted, and we can wonder if it was worthwhile putting all that work in in the first place. If we focus on sales, we will never be satisfied. Most of us will see a book we have written go out of print, and that is always sad.

Being in 'Mary Stuart' has been so worthwhile because I am so immersed in the process for its own sake. I love acting with the others, and I love trying to become the best Hanna Kennedy I can be. I want lots of people to come and see it and enjoy it on the 9th and 10th August 2019, and I am terribly proud of being in it, and it doesn't matter that it will only last for two days.

So I am trying to look at my own work like this and to have more creative fun. My job is to write the best books I can, and to live in the present more and enjoy the process, and to try not to judge my work or myself just by any future sales.  Being in a play is helping me live in, and value the creative moment, and to enjoy it. It will be sad when the 9th and 10th August is over, and our cast disperses, but we will have done our best to create something beautiful and worthwhile, and we will give the experience to the audience and leave it with them to take away with them. It will be worth every hour of rehearsal, every late night and early morning learning of lines.  As writers our books may reach a big or a small audience, may stay in print or not, but just creating them in the first place IS worthwhile, and all we can hope is that they bring joy to readers we may never meet!

PS - come and see 'Mary Stuart'


Joan Lennon said...

Wow! And yes, it's true what you're saying. Thanks, Anne!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Enjoy your performances -I hope you get lovely mild days and evenings for them!

Anne Booth said...

Thank you both!