My first full day in my Minneapolis apartment began very shortly after the previous one finished – at 2am I was wide awake.  I read for a while (I am currently alternating between Andrew Lycett’s biography of Ian Fleming and Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side, and it was the latter that got the early morning nod). 

I hadn’t had a chance to get any provisions in yet, so as the clock ticked towards 5.45 I got dressed and walked to Lund’s and Byerly’s grocery store, which opens daily at 6am.  The City was deserted and quiet and as I passed the Wesley Centre a bright moon shone over the wooden cross which is mounted on the roof.

At Lunds I grabbed essentials for breakfast, and decided to take stock before returning later in the day for more provisions.  I returned to the apartment and unloaded coffee, filter papers, orange and mango juice, muesli and granola (with blueberries and raspberries to have with them), milk, eggs, bacon, bread and butter (or lo-cholesterol spread if truth be told), and two of the amazing sumo mandarins that Liz and I were introduced to here in 2015.

 

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Sumo Mandarins

 

First up: coffee.  Only to discover that I bought beans and not ground.  With no means of converting said beans into said grounds my coffee needs had to be put on hold for a while.  I had a large glass of the orange and mango juice, some of the cereal and then started to pace out a full run through of the show in my living room.

I have been working on the lines at home for many weeks now, and my black folded has been laying open in various rooms on various pieces of furniture, as I muttered the words to myself. 

Some came back easily, and some were more of a struggle and I developed little ways of remembering tricky phrases.  For instance ‘When at last comes the darkest, coldest night of the year….’ I could never remember was it darkest, coldest or coldest, darkest.  The way I sorted that out was David Copperfield – D followed by C – darkest, coldest.  Another similar passage features the words ‘It is Christianity to be gentle, merciful and forgiving…’ but is that gentle followed by merciful or the other way round?  General Motors (or genetically modified, it doesn’t matter which) and I have my prompt.  Little tricks like this may not work for all, but sometimes they are useful, so long as one doesn’t proclaim that ‘it is Christianity to be General Motors’.  That wouldn’t be good.

When I reached the end of my run through, I got showered and dressed before writing a list and returning to Lund’s for my second shopping spree.  This time I concentrated on things like washing detergent and sealable freezer bags, washing cloths and multi-surface cleaning spray.  Of course I remembered to pick up ground coffee too.

 

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The Old Wesley Center

 

The first rehearsal was called for 10am and when I arrived at the Church the team were assembled and it was wonderful to see so many familiar faces.  Ben, stage management, clutching his trusty Mac laptop.  Michael, lighting, with his wealth of theatrical knowledge.  John, sound, looking frail and thin after a major operation within the last few days, but not letting THAT get in the way of his work.  And then there were some new faces, Bob has taken over the design of the show, as our original designer was not available for this run, and another Michael in charge of creating some musical interludes to add atmosphere to the performance and illustrate the passing of time between the scenes.

Of course Dennis was there overseeing everything, and he was accompanied by Rosalie, who runs The Daniel Group Group with him. 

 

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The Team Assembles.  L-R: Bob (designer), Michael (lighting), Ben (stage manager), Michael (music), Dennis (executive producer), Jeffrey (writer and director), Rosalie (associate producer)

 

We started the rehearsal without great fanfare, and just made our way through the script, referring to old notes and dredging our memories as to how we had blocked the show (blocking being the process of making sure all of the movements are correct.  For example there is no point having Dickens gazing out of a window which is on the left hand side of the stage, when the next time he refers to it he is on the right.)

One of our biggest challenges this year is how to transition from one scene to another.  In our previous theatre we could create complete blackouts which told the audience that this was definitely a scene end, and gave me the chance to change a few aspects of costume, so that when the light returned it was obvious that a period of time had passed.  The Wesley Center boasts a remarkable collection of Tiffany windows, including a huge glass dome; they look wonderful but let in a lot of light, meaning that blackouts are impossible.  At the end of each scene Jeffrey, Bob and myself spent plenty of time working out how to change costume, how to move props around and how to be in the correct place for the following action.

 

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The Challenges

 

This process became particularly arduous between scene three and four, which is where there used to be an interval, during which I completely changed costume.  Now the show has been changed to a single act and there was a lot to ponder. 

So we had lunch instead.

The whole of our afternoon was spent gently piecing together the complicated scene four, during which Dickens is rehearsing his performance of The Life of our Lord – there are lots of separate little scenes going on, with Charles himself dropping in and out of a multitude of characters.  Our efforts were greatly helped by Ben, when he tracked down the video footage of the show from two years ago, so much of the afternoon was spent huddled around his laptop –‘ah, yes, I knelt down then’; ‘oh, I thought I moved in front of the chair, but it was behind it’; ‘of course, I had the robe on then, but when do I take it off?’  It was a fun process!

We finished our labours at around 4.30 and all went our separate ways, ready to re-group and to go through it all again in subsequent days.  It was a good first day and we got plenty done.  As rehearsals continue so props and costume will start to arrive, thereby making some of the logistical problems clearer, which will be useful.  Lighting effects will be introduced, and sound effects slipped in.  The tech team will shudder as Jeffrey says ‘Tell me if this is impossible, but could we just have……?’  Little by little we will fettle the show and by the first preview it will be ready.

I said my goodbyes, and returned to Lund’s for a third time, to buy my supper and then returned to the apartment for an evening of TV, before a very early night.

To Begin With has Begun.

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