(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 6/14; Photo: ‘It’s about the process, not the product’ … Lily Nichol as Joan la Pucelle. Photograph: Ellie Kurttz. Copyright @ Royal Shakespeare Company.)
The Royal Shakespeare Company is letting the public watch the usually secret processes towards performance – from clapping games to verse sessions
The creative process normally takes place behind closed doors. But the RSC has boldly upended that idea by streaming its Open Rehearsal Project for Henry VI Part One. What this means, in practice, is that cameras are admitted for three sessions each day. At 10am we watch a half-hour company warm-up. From noon, for 90 minutes, we get to see either a class (movement, combat, verse-speaking) or the rehearsal of a scene. Then at 6pm we eavesdrop on a green-room chat, in which company members mull over progress so far. After dipping in and out for the first fortnight – and there’s still more than a week to go before a streamed performance on 23 June – I’m intrigued by how much I’ve learned.
But are open rehearsals a good idea? There was a pivotal moment when Gregory Doran – who shares direction of the project with Owen Horsley – quoted a letter he’d received from an actor who said “the rehearsal room is sacrosanct – actors must not be exposed like this”. I spoke to a veteran actor who said she too was horrified by the idea of the public witnessing the trial and error that takes place in a rehearsal room.
I fully get that but there are extenuating circumstances that justify this experiment. As Jamie Wilkes, one of the company, pointed out: “It is about the process – not the product.” There is none of the pressure of an imminent press night or fully staged production. Mariah Gale also shrewdly observed that what works for an ensemble piece such as Henry VI Part One would be less suited to Hamlet or Macbeth, where individuals wrestle with intractable problems. But the ultimate vindication is that, for both participants and spectators, there is a peculiar joy about total immersion in Shakespeare after 15 barren, largely Bard-free months.