For the twelve of you following my blog with any regularity, you’ll know that last week we left off mid-way through tech-week of Half A Sixpence at, for me, the most exciting part of any new musical process…. Sitzprobe!
Sitzprobe literally translates as ‘seated rehearsal’ and is the name given to the first time orchestra and cast perform the score together. Up until this point we’ve only been singing the songs with a piano, and Charlie Stemp (Arthur Kipps) occasionally on the banjo, so to finally hear Bill Brohn’s lush orchestrations bringing the score to life is a REAL treat. Bill Brohn is one of the true legends of musical theatre and you are certain to know many of his incredibly famous orchestrations, probably without even realising it.
For Half A Sixpence we have an orchestra of 12, lead by the inimitable Graham Hurman, our musical director, conducting. Stepping into the Roddick rehearsal room at Chichester on a blisteringly hot day, the sense of excitement is palpable. There are chairs laid out for the cast on one side of the room, whilst the other is filled with our myriad of creatives and producers. And then, in the middle, sit the dozen musicians ready to join our merry company. They’ve been rehearsing in this room for the past week and we’ve only been able to hear snippets on the breeze as we walk past on our way in to the main building. As they strike up the Overture to start the sitzprobe, a hush descends upon the room and we are transported to early 1900’s Folkestone.
It. Is. Glorious. Utterly glorious. Rich, and intricate, and beautifully delicate to listen to, yet mesmerising to watch. Most of our musicians are playing more than one instrument, swapping and changing, sometimes after only a few bars at a time, making the score far more exciting and expansive than it might be otherwise. It’s amazing to see such talented musicians making effortless work of a score they’ve only been playing for a few days and for the few members of company who’ve never done a musical before, the look of pure delight on their faces is worth the ticket price alone!
For the next few hours we sing through the score, exploring newfound intricacies and going back over other sections to make sure we’re working in synchronicity. It’s a brilliant way to finish a long and tiring week and sends everyone into the weekend with a spring in their step, and an earworm raging through their brain!
The Half A Sixpence orchestra take their places for the Sitzprobe!
The second week of tech begins with aplomb and once we’ve finished teching the last few bits of the show we start again at the top with the orchestra joining us too. It’s almost as if the production steps up yet another notch. Tech is run in three chunks per day known as sessions. Each of these sessions will be about 4 hours long, making for a very long day if you’re called for all of them. Fortunately our creative team have mainly been dry teching in the morning sessions which allows the cast extra rest time, and the chance to start shifting our body clocks to a show schedule. Dry teching is when the show is teched with every department but the performers, and it’s a way of perfecting the fundamentals of scene changes before we get in there, thereby saving time. However, with no-one to say the lines which Deputy Stage Manager, Lou Bann’s cue calls are meticulously timed to, Associate Director Jean-Pierre Van Der Spuy, aka JP, has to step up to the plate and perform his sensational one-man version of Half A Sixpence. (I hear the Edinburgh Fringe are very interested…!) It’s somewhat disconcerting to hear someone imitate everyone in the cast quite so well but it gets the job done and allows the tech to progress as efficiently as possible, although quite clearly JP knows the script better than any of us!
We dress rehearse the show twice before allowing an audience in, aside from the wonderful Commissioning Circle who get to sit in on one dress rehearsal, giving us a hint of what we have to look forward to with a full audience, and them a sneak preview of what their generous support is helping to create. It’s brilliant to see such active support for theatre from the local community and it’s part of what makes Chichester such a special place to work.
During the second dress rehearsal our production photographers Michael Le Poer Trench and Manuel Harlan zoom around the auditorium taking photographs. They’ve had a chance to watch once and get a feel for the show, staging and lighting but this is the only oppportunity they’ll actually get to capture the images they want. It’s quite strange hearing shutters clicking away in the dark and, in a culture of selfie-takers, you have to fight hard not to look for the camera or even adjust your facial features to be more flattering! Staying in the moment is absolute paramount if your character is to be reflected truthfully in the pictures.
And then suddenly we’re taking our final dress rehearsal bows and rushing around to get ready for the first preview. There’s a frisson of nervous energy in the building. Wardrobe are busily stitching up anything we might have torn in the rehearsal, the wig department are redressing the multitude of wigs and facial furniture the company sport so they look fresh and inviting for our first proper audience, and the cast are sampling the delights of the ‘company menu’ over in the theatre restaurant, in a vain attempt to quell the nerves. A few short hours later it’s all over, the lines were all said (mostly in the right order) and no-one bumped into the furniture. A fairly successful first preview, all things considered, which can only mean one thing – it’s time to start tweaking so it’s perfect for Press Night!