Last week on 11th February Theatr Pena’s latest production, The Glass Menagerie, opened in The Riverfront and this week on 16th February the tour opened in the Torch Theatre. It’s up and it’s running and, to all intents and purposes, my work ended yesterday when I left Milford Haven.
There seems to be an unspoken understanding that the director’s work should end on press night after which the day-to-day running of the production is handed to stage management and the performances to the actors, although the directors I’ve worked with have always continued to attend and note performances, how often depending on time and inclination. Katie Mitchell is known to attend performances far more regularly than most directors giving detailed notes to ensure that the production discovered in the rehearsal room continues to shine through and Deborah Warner will call rehearsals after press night if necessary. Peter Brook continues to work with his actors until the very last performance and there is a part of me which would love to do this too. Instead I will make the occasional visit to see the production on tour and in between study the show reports for information as to how the performances are going.
Today, missing the camaraderie of the rehearsal room and the excitement of the creative process, I’m not quite sure what to do with myself. As I begin the process of adjusting to being without something that has been part of my life daily one way or another for so long, I can’t help ruminating on why I feel quite so bereft and I find myself revisiting the months between now and October 2014, when we decided on the play for our spring 2016 production.
In Theatr Pena the process of choosing the play for our annual production is very democratic in so much as suggestions are invited from our 16 Company Members and then those of us who are also Members of the Board of Directors draw up a shortlist, mindful of our selection criteria in particular whether or not the play offers memorable and dramatic roles for women and whether or not at least half the roles can be cast from our Company Members who are actors. From this shortlist I then choose the play that sparks my imagination and frightens me the most.
Tennessee Williams is widely considered to be one of the greatest playwrights in the history of American drama. The Glass Menagerie is famously autobiographical containing innumerable parallels with the author’s own life and is the play that launched his career and pushed American theatre into a new and less realistic direction. Containing rich poetry and dialogue, characters of depth and complexity – including two of the most memorable and dramatic roles for women – and timeless themes, Tennessee Williams’s masterpiece presented an irresistible and intimidating choice for me.
Play chosen, the production begins with me, the director, and over a period of months from October 2014 and August 2015 I spent a great deal of time alone with the play, reading it again and again and again, slowly, carefully, attentively, imagining every character, every moment, visualising the action, getting to grips with German Expressionism and its influence on Tennessee Williams’s original vision for the production, studying his detailed stage directions – essential to understanding the play – exploring the concept of memory, reaching for my interpretation for the play, the artistic concept for the production, its staging – my vision.
Last August I held a series of meetings with the creative team – Company Members Holly McCarthy (designer) and Kay Haynes (lighting designer) and, joining Theatr Pena for the first of what I hope will be many productions, Peter Knight (composer) – in which we explored and shared our ideas and kick-started a truly collaborative process involving the whole production team including Company Member Ian Buchanan (Production Manager), Brenda Knight (Stage Manager), Aly Holmes (Assistant Stage Manager), Dan Sawyer (Re-lighter and Technician) and Deryn Tudor (Costume Supervisor) and resulting in a quintessential Theatr Pena production.
Rehearsals began on 8th January. In his book, Being and Actor, Simon Callow describes the rehearsal process for the actor, how in the early stages the “appalling helplessness” of the actor “exactly parallels a baby’s first faltering steps. Slowly, as the work proceeds, childhood and adolescence follow” and how the end of rehearsal sees the actor “finally approaching adulthood able, as it were, to face the world. “
He describes the director’s job in all this process as parental. The whole object of the exercise to give the actors their freedom and independence, to hand over the reins unconditionally. So, as I phase myself out, maybe what I’m feeling is akin to empty nest syndrome?
I know that, having handed the performances to our cast of 4 wonderful actors – Rhys Meredith (Tom Wingfield), Eiry Thomas (Laura Wingfield), Rosamund Shelley (Amanda Winfield) and Gareth Pierce (our gentleman caller) – they will continue to explore and grow as they learn from each performance and adapt to accommodate the challenges which each new space will bring. I also know that, having handed the production to our immensely experienced and skilled Stage Manager and Assistant Director, Brenda will take good care of it and ensure that the production we found in the rehearsal room continues to shine as beautifully as a delicate piece of glass and between Ian, Brenda, Dan and Aly this fragile object couldn’t be in safer hands.
So they have all truly flown the nest of the rehearsal room and it’s back to the wipe down surfaces for me. But, like all loving mothers, I will keep in touch and continue to show them I care, but I won’t cramp their style – just “don’t make Mother nervous”!
Spring 2017’s proposed national touring production will be Blodeuwedd, Woman of Flowers, a supernatural story of wizards, lust, betrayal and revenge!
ERICA EIRIAN, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF THEATR PENA, DIRECTOR, THE GLASS MENAGERIE
The Glass Menagerie review: http://www.asiw.co.uk/reviews/glass-menagerie-theatre-pena
We have a pair of tickets for The Glass Menagerie on our crowd funder for the following venues. Visit the website, choose the venue of your choice and email firstname.lastname@example.org. We will arrange payment with you and your tickets.
Pwllheli / Neuadd Dwyfor
01758 704088 / gwynedd.gov.uk/neuadd-dwyfor
Mold /Yr Wyddgrug, Clwyd Theatr Cymru
23.02.16, 24.02.16 7.45pm
01352 701521 / theatrclwyd.com
Newtown / Y Drenewydd, Hafren
01686 614555 / thehafren.co.uk
March / Mawrth
Cardigan / Aberteifi, Theatr Mwldan
01239 621200 / mwldan.co.uk
01286 685222 / galericaernarfon.com
Dyffryn Aeron, Theatr Felinfach
01570 470697 / theatrfelinfach.com
Aberystwyth, Aberystwyth Arts Centre / Canolfan y Celfyddydau Aberystwyth
01970 623232 / aberystwythartscentre.co.uk