Outdoor performance in Scotland. I know, I know don’t laugh. Sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it?
Well it’s not and at Bard in the Botanics it’s all part of the rehearsal process.
Now I will admit rehearsing in the middle of a public park in country where the average temperature for summer is only 15 degrees may sound a little unsettling.
Especially for the Australian in the room….. I raise my hand nervously.
You must understand though, to me 15 degrees conjures up images of sweaters, woolly socks and hot coco. No really, I’m serious. 15 degrees is the average temperature of winter back in my hometown.
Now before everyone starts asking me - “Oh hen, why did you choose to live here, aye?” - I should get back to the topic at hand.
Over the last week, Bard in Botanics company have faced most of Scotland’s varieties of weather; pouring rain, blazing heat, biting winds and several of those wonderfully undecided days that have all three at 10 minute intervals.
I go to work most mornings with a backpack that would rival most Scout troops; rain jacket, waterproof trousers, an oversized thermos of hot tea, sunscreen, sunglasses, t-shirt, shorts, umbrella, jumper, hat, scarf, the hope diamond and the kitchen sink.
Be prepared - as they say. They are right.
But as prepared as we all try to be, working outdoors comes with an array of challenges and advantages that I didn’t quite realise until this week.
Traditionally a rehearsal room is considered a private and almost sacred place. It’s a place that needs to feel supportive and welcoming for everyone involved - actors, directors and creatives alike. It’s a place where we share stories, experiment, play, be brave, create and reveal ourselves as artists. It’s a place where we work hard and push ourselves, where we ask questions and dig deep to find the answers.
Now take that concept and drop it smack dab in the middle of a public park, in the middle of Glasgow, where any Tom, Dick or Harry could walk their dog, or small child, or continue their extremely loud telephone conversation- yes I’m looking at you, the woman who’s boiler stopped working last night - right through the climax of our play.
It’s a challenge.
But our cast of extraordinary performers take it in their stride. Most of them have worked with Bard in the Botanics for a number of years and know this process well. It’s remarkable to watch their ability to shut out those loud boiler complainers and create a believable world, filled with real and endearing characters. The few performers who are new to the form seem to be embracing the opportunity of a more public rehearsal space and rolling with Jennifer Dick’s (Director) direction and advice. In fact it’s a credit to Jen. She possesses an incredible ability to create a safe and supportive space on such a public stage
Creatively, this new adaption also has many of connections to the earth and the weather.
Set in a rural farming community in Scotland, each character has a particular connection to the land and the weather that shapes it. Some are farmers, others weather-worshippers, and for Lear the weather becomes a symbol of her identity, and eventually her madness.
Janette Foggo (Queen Lear) summed it up beautifully during the last few days of rehearsing that iconic storm scene. For those of you unfamiliar with the play I’ll explain this scene in a doesn’t-give-too-much-away way. Lear, alone and purposeless finds herself and her small entourage in the middle of field under the clouds of a great thunderstorm. This great storm then acts as trigger. A rejection of domesticity. It’s a grounding force on Lear as she feels as though she can commune with it and control it. It’s her access to Gods and her desire and ability to affect all of those around her. It’s a representation of her madness but also her most primal desire; to be free, to be wild, to know the unbridled truth of herself. It’s also used it as a distraction from her declining mental state, as she proclaims loudly;
Prithee go in thyself; seek thine own ease.
This tempest will not give me leave to ponder
On things would hurt me more.
Or as Shakespeare for Dummies might put it;
“Oi, you lot, go in. You wimps! Facing this storm is a lot easier than facing the storm in my mind!”
Shakespeare says it much better don’t you think?
Whether it has us running for the safety of a hovel, real or fictional – no, really, there is a shed the cast often hide in when the weather suddenly turns bad- or roasting under the glaring hot sun, the elements play a vital and unpredictable role in the creation of the play, its world and its characters. It’s made for an interesting rehearsal room, an intriguing element of the play and, I’m sure, an exciting theatre space. But remember - dress in layers and bring an umbrella.