The rehearsal space features two incredible windows that take over two of the corners of the room. From where I'm sitting, I can enjoy a glorious view of the buildings, the streets, the people... Life going on outside, while I nervously await for the first rehearsal to begin. First day nerves: check.
Many directors dread this day; some consider that whatever's done or said in those first hours can have a definite impact in the production and the team. Thus, they act cautiously, making sure everybody knows who is who, and what is what. Ola is the opposite. She storms into the room, and we dive into playing some games, no caution needed. As a result, the atmosphere is relaxed, productive, and refreshing. My nerves jump out the window, into the streets, and run away, among the people. The rehearsals for Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 have officially started, and we are all engulfed in an aura of confidence, curiosity, and creative freedom.
I've been talking to Ola for weeks before today; we've been talking about her vision, and trying to find the best ways to make it a reality. She's made sure we're on the same page, listening to my suggestions, and making sure I know that I can talk to her without beating around the bushes. The bushes are safe, then; nobody's going to beat around them.
With us, we have the lovely people from the Gate, our crew and, of course, our lovely Nina Bowers: our star and muse. If there was any ice to be broken, Ola expertly destroys it with a sledgehammer: Cards Against Humanity, drawing, and doing a readthrough of the play, all together. Yes, we all read parts of the script, because we are all in this together!
The main task we've been tackling this week is establishing facts and understanding the political views of each of the characters in the play. The message of the play is hidden within these facts and views, and we're digging in with the precision of a brain surgeon, and the drive of a racing horse. Horse riding brain surgery?
The show is based on interviews with real people, about real events that took place during the 1992 riots in Los Angeles. It deals with issues such as race, power, government and police brutality. As such, there is a lot of research involved. Nina has been studying every character, and every event, and she has a very solid grasp on everything related to the riots. Ola sends us bibliography, documentaries, songs... there is a lot of info floating in the air, and learning more and more about this historic event is becoming increasingly fascinating.
Throughout the week we get to know each other, we get to know about the context of 1992, we start understanding the script, with its nuances and hidden gems, we get to learn more about the characters, we talk quite a lot about powerlessness, about violence, about grief... but also about music, TV, films... about life. Most of the characters in the show were involved in some life-changing events but, when we look past these events, we see people, like any of us, who were dragged into situations that put the very core of their beliefs and convictions under the spotlight.
Nina, our muse, is young, sweet, professional, and incredibly smart. She has gathered so much information about the characters and the events, we surprise ourselves all the time using her as our 1992 expert.
Anna, our stage manager, holds the keys to our castle and to our hearts, sending us carefully drafted emails, letting us know what will happen the next day. She is definitely the Queen of Time.
Ola is direct, straightforward, clear, precise... she doesn't mess around, but she is incredibly caring, funny, and confident. Thanks to her warmth and intelligence, everybody feels safe to work, to be creative, and to talk freely, knowing that there are no wrong answers or bad ideas, at this point. She is involved in every step of the process, and wants us to be involved as well. Even though this is a one woman show, it feels like we are a perfectly coordinated ensemble, pushing all in the same direction.
One day, after a particularly productive morning, Ola takes us to the Tate Britain Museum. Yay! We all go together, as if it were a school trip, but with a burning passion and curiosity searching for inspiration. We talk about ourselves, about our lives outside the theatre. In the museum, Ola is very clear: let's look for things that inspire us, and that link to our show. There's a painting by Chris Ofili, "No Woman, No Cry", from 1998. It's a tribute to Stephen Lawrence, a London teenager that was murdered in a racially motivated attack in 1993. The woman in the painting is crying and, in each of her tears, we see Stephen Lawrence's face. It is political, youthful, sad, energetic... it tells us that Stephen's story, just like the story we are telling, is one that is told everywhere, that leaps from 1993 to 2018 effortlessly, that affects us all, no matter who we are, and what we think. It makes us see how we are in this together.
Friday comes by surprise. It doesn't feel like we've been working for a whole week. For a second, I surprise myself staring at the windows in the rehearsal room, with the same ball of excitement in the pit of my stomach I had the first day, looking at the streets outside, wondering where my nerves went, how far they ran away, wishing them the best of luck, but knowing I won't be needing them while I'm here.