We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
As I get ready to work on a new show, it’s not unusual for me to start having quite intense dreams that mix up ideas and images that I’m pondering and mulling and processing – some of them consciously, others in the back brain (where I reckon most of the work gets done.)
Any piece of theatre is a collaborative exercise, and the preparations that go into a production start long before the rehearsal process begins. For the better part of a year, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the “dream world” of A Victorian Eye, attempting to embrace the reality of William Blake Richmond as a son, a father, a husband, and as an artist. With my director Maureen Payne-Hahner, I have explored ways to express the urgency of a artist trying to reconcile the intimations of his own mortality with the primal urge to create a lasting reflection of what he calls “the Ideal”. And in discussions with the playwright, I have been attempting to find the authentic voice of the artist in whom he is so passionately fascinated (thanks Rory Fellowes, for being such a willingly collaborative partner in your own creative journey!)
As we work together to give form to the inchoate world of WBR, it’s hardly surprising that ideas and epiphanies find expression in the subconscious. And these are far more than the run-of-the-mill anxiety dreams. I’m very familiar with those nightmares that come from pre-performance angst: with me, it’s usually that I’ve just discovered four pages of script that I haven’t learned five minutes before curtain up, or I don’t have time to get to the theatre, or the audience can see me getting dressed. But these other dreams occur as much when I’m awake as when I’m asleep – often when my attention has been directed elsewhere, and often in images or symbols that don’t immediately make obvious sense.
Quite often, at the start of a production, a director will call for one or more sessions of “table work”. I always look forward to getting this stage over with as soon as possible, and confess a curious aversion to intellectualizing – or even articulating – aspects of a play which reveal themselves to me much more fully when I’m on my feet. These moments of inspiration may be quickly forgotten as they are absorbed into the detail of the work. But whether in the rehearsal room, standing at a bus stop, or during REM sleep, they are for me an essential component of building a character.