Twelfth Night Blog: Introduction

Originally posted on BOAT’s blog.

Back after a two-year hiatus, while the world dealt with masks, social-distancing and closed theatres, BOAT now returns to shores to whisk you away to the land of Illyria, and meet the merry and mad folk in Twelfth Night. If you haven’t met us before, we are Brownsea Open Air Theatre – BOAT for short. We perform an annual Shakespeare production in the beautiful setting of Brownsea Island, sitting in Poole Harbour. This summer we invite you to join us to revel in madness, confusion and music! Over the next few months, this will be your one-stop-shop for all things Twelfth Night: introductions to the play’s cast of characters, we’ll give you some behind-the-scenes peeks at the rehearsal process and keep you up-to-date with the show’s progress.

While the actors may have only just begun rehearsing – our read-through was last Sunday – the off-stage creative team have already been hard at work getting our costumes, props, set-design and music sorted before we even picked up a script! In February, the cast and crew managed to find a spare evening to meet, greet and get to know each other (of course with snacks and drinks!). This officially and excitingly marked the start of the show process. Then, back in early March, our cast had the chance to pick the brains of Andrew Jarvis, a seasoned RSC veteran and proud lover of all things Shakespeare, for a masterclass on the verse. It was also a great opportunity for the cast to bond and begin to create the ensemble that is so important for a play like this to work.

Twelfth Night Read Through.

And so, the time ticked by from our casting in January, to the 24th April. Slowly, the read through crept up behind us until, last Sunday, it arrived. We packed ourselves into the hall and over three short hours, the black ink on our pages of script grew a voice, and filled the space. And what a read it was (if I do say so myself!). It was delightful to get a first taste of the diverse voices of Illyria: drunkards, madmen, lovers, fighters and everyone in between inhabit our little island. Even after our Director – the brilliant Brian Woolton – assured us performance was not necessary at the read through, we actors could not help ourselves and began to find our characters’ voices and make them heard.

And now here we are, almost at the end of our first week of rehearsals. We start the process by blocking the play. This involves going through the entire play scene-by-scene and deciding on and making note of all of our entrances and exits. It’s the rough sketch on the canvas before we start painting the picture, if you will. What we all do on the stage once we’re on is what the next twelve-or-so weeks of rehearsals are for. While the blocking process may not have the nuance and energy of the rest of the process, it is a lovely chance to begin to get a feel for the shape of the play, as well as joining together and revelling in the excitement of the start of rehearsals. It is also a chance for Brian, our director, to talk with us about the style and vision he has in mind. The wonderful thing about Shakespeare is that his plays are so versatile, but with such a multitude of subtly different interpretations comes the added challenge of creating our play with a cohesive and consistent vision, so it does not feel confused or self-contradictory (except where that’s the intention!). The blocking process is a quick one, taking only two rehearsals, but is of paramount importance. The sound of pencil leads furiously scribbling exits and positions stops, and we can sit back – for a moment – and know that this will make the coming weeks easier, and more enjoyable.

Twelfth Night Read Through, Black & White

Phew! Well that brings us up-to-date with our goings-on for now. Finally: tickets! Tickets are on sale and selling fast, so grab them soon if you don’t want to miss out. We look forward to seeing you on the island this summer and showing you all of our hard work!

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