With more changes than the curtained off cubicles of Debenhams and House Of Fraser combined, the preview periods of London shows can be a confusing time for the theatergoer. The show you see on the first preview will rarely be the same as the one the press sees on opening night.
The bulk of the work might have been done while tucked away in a secret rehearsal location known only to those with knowledge of a special handshake, but when an audience sees a show for the first time everything a company thinks it knows about the production can change. Previews give them a chance to discover what actually works and to rethink the areas that leave audiences scratching their heads or fumbling for a mint at a point that should be pivotal.
The team at From Here To Eternity, the new musical featuring lyrics by London theatre icon Sir Tim Rice, aware that some audiences might not know what’s been happening while they’ve been previewing the tale of love and honour set in the shadow of Pearl Harbor, have taken to their keyboards to rectify the situation.
Official London Theatre has been given the exclusive opportunity to print selected highlights of the From Here To Eternity preview blogs below to throw some light on work taking place in the weeks before opening night:
2 October. Tamara Harvey (Director) Second preview syndrome:
Second previews are always a slightly curious experience. The terror of the opening preview has subsided to be replaced by a quiet panic that in fact it was all a fluke and the show will fall apart if you try to do it a second time. It didn’t of course, because our company are amazing (actors, musicians, stage management, sound, lighting, the list goes on).
So, our task this morning was to work on different possible versions of one of the final moments in the show, which has the potential to be extraordinary but hasn’t quite landed in performance yet. If it’s to work, it has to be a perfect marriage of story, song, lighting, sound and set.
We just had a very exciting moment at the lighting desk when Bruno (lighting designer), Javier (choreographer) and I had an additional idea that we’re going to try and rehearse in this afternoon in the hope we can see it in the show this evening. Complicated by the fact that we have the orchestra with us from 14:30 so we have to balance the onstage needs with the musical needs but we might just manage it…
4 October. Marc Antolin (Private Clark) Another day, another change:
I love previews of a new show. You get the excitement of rehearsing in the afternoon, making changes and then sometimes putting those changes into the show that night having rehearsed them only once… twice if you’re really lucky.
On Wednesday night we had a new ending of the opening number and during the show it didn’t quite go as rehearsed as we were all so nervous about it. We re-rehearsed it yesterday and in last night’s preview we managed to put the new choreography to the new orchestration to the new timing of the ending for G Company Blues. It was only a slight adjustment but when you’re thinking of all your other notes and changes that slight adjustment can feel very challenging indeed.
7 October. Javier De Frutos (Choreographer) The audience becomes part of the creative team:
When we started the process of previews, I told the cast after the many weeks of rehearsals and preparation that the truly un-rehearsed part of a show is the audience. Added to that, this is a world premiere of a brand new musical and I assure you that nothing prepares you for the anticipation of hearing responses night after night and change after change. I will say that when the show arrives onstage, the audience becomes part of the creative team.
For every movement, transition or sometimes a full new number comes quite a hectic amount of very pragmatic hours, and this week, for instance, exchanging one number for another – the current one is fun, but the next one is better! Simple as that – means that the cast is in tech and rehearsal for the new one during the day and performing the old one in the evenings!
It is going to be a serious rollercoaster this week and I know we are heading in the right direction, but movement is much harder to learn than text… I remind that to our team and producers day after day, but sometimes they can’t help themselves and become children in the back seat of a car repeatedly asking: are we there yet?! ALMOST!
11 October. Kate Waters (Fight Director) The Fight Call:
Previews can be a frantic period – changes are happening on a daily basis and the cast has to absorb a huge amount of information.
I take the fight call, which happens at 18:30 every day. This is an official call, during which the actors run through all the fights on stage before the show. It is sometimes my only chance to see and work with the actors during previews, unless there are any major changes. It is an important 20 minutes. I have to ascertain the morale of the group, try not to overload them with too many notes, give them plenty of encouragement, but most importantly try to adjust things that did not quite work the previous evening so that I do not see the same mistakes. I am lucky in that the cast do respond quickly to my notes and adjustments, and are very willing to give anything a go.
One problem I have been having is to create a knap which can be heard over a 15 piece orchestra. A knap is a sound that is made to give the illusion that contact has been made, for example, when there is a punch to the face. Usually the actor makes the sound himself as he executes the move, by clapping or hitting parts of his body. The importance of a knap cannot be overestimated; the audience really reacts to the sound. I have tried everything, knaps onstage, knaps off stage into a mic and an offstage slapstick, which although it was the loudest sound was too thin. Tamara was not happy with it and I was running out of ideas. So I asked our sound designer Mick if he could help. I think we may have come up with a solution – I do not want to give it away – but fingers crossed for tonight’s show!
12 October. Bill Oakes (Book Writer) Handing Over ‘Our Baby’:
My duty, every night, is to check out what’s happening in between, the sometimes tiny shifts of tone and nuance, in the words themselves and their delivery, that can make a difference to the telling of our tale. It’s gratifying to witness our audiences getting drawn into the drama and illuminating to see where we still have some tweaks to make. Four years ago I turned in my first draft of the script to the producers and six months later Tamara came on board to direct. She and I have been working together ever since and now, one week from today, our show will be ‘locked’, something that has always seemed so far off and is now just around the corner. The next seven days will be pivotal. And provocative. And pressurised. And many more p words besides. Perhaps, most of all, poignant.
To read more of the preview blogs visit the From Here To Eternity website.