Having declared in the New Year (in a slightly terrifying, public way) that I wanted to get properly involved with theatre again, I auditioned for Dark Stuff Production's Moby Dick and by February I had the part as Queequeg. Setting goals, putting yourself out there and going for it; scary as all hell but it seems to work!
I totally loved the rehearsal process. We rehearsed in a few different spaces, working with both Anna Girvan and Nancy Medina. Queequeg is rather a taciturn type and doesn't have many lines. Which is great in terms of line-learning as I suspect I would be incredibly rusty at that. But I was a bit worried about how to give character to him. But we worked on finding his dynamic, playing with movement types (percussive, lyrical, swinging...) and where his core was. I worked with Nancy to develop the rituals that are so integral to his presence in the play We improvised some background scenes that aren't in the script to round the characters and gelled quickly as a group. We even got to rehearse on a boat thanks to the Bristol Ferry Boat Company!
Something helpful that happened is that when I get nervous my way of dealing with it is to shut down and centre a lot, becoming very slow, very aware of my internal world and a spectator of the external one. In real life conflict this probably makes me come across as sullen and difficult, but in performance it's pretty useful! Especially as Queequeg is such a quiet, watchful character. He also has strength (he is a harpooner and a hunter, after all) and a lot of lightness in humour, looking on at the Christian world with bemusement. In the book Ishmael says:
With much interest I sat watching him. Savage though he was, and hideously marred about the face- at least to my taste- his countenance yet had a something in it which was by no means disagreeable. You cannot hide the soul. Through all his unearthly tattooings, I thought I saw the traces of a simple honest heart; and in his large, deep eyes, fiery black and bold, there seemed tokens of a spirit that would dare a thousand devils. And besides all this, there was a certain lofty bearing about the Pagan, which even his uncouthness could not altogether maim. He looked like a man who had never cringed and never had had a creditor.
I'm really pleased with the way the character has been received in reviews:
Zuleika Gregory’s Polynesian harpooner Queequeg, is steeped in stillness and strength while effectively capturing his good-natured laugh and spiritual core. Alison Farina Theatre Bath
Queequeg provides balance, poise and mystery.
Bristol Evening Post
I was away on tour with the band during the last week of rehearsals in the space (the Bierkeller Theatre) and slightly nervous about fitting in to the blocking, especially as it is a promenade show. However, when I returned the space was transformed into The Pequod and after a couple of runs we opened and there were no silly scenes of a confused Queequeg running about looking lost!
The promenade aspect of the show has meant every night is different and the audience responds in very different ways. We've just about managed to keep the pace of the scenes whilst herding the audience about, mostly thanks to Stubb (played by John Winchester) ordering the audience about as crew. Thinking back on the Ockham's Razor Summer School last year it could have been easier with a full lighting rig (the lighting desk only covers the theatre space in the centre of the venue and our wonderful stage management duo have been dashing between the various domestic switches that light up the side spaces) and some more test runs with dummy audiences. Happily, it's worked that Stubb as a character can boss every one about and generally the audience have ended up where they should be. A reviewer from Theatre Bath writes ' I can honestly say this was the most effective and successful promenade performance I have ever had the pleasure to attend'.
We've had some quiet nights but as word got round and the reviews rolled in we've had some lovely full houses. It's our last show tonight, advance booking recommended!
Here are the reviews:
The Public Reviews
All the actors have had great write ups and it's been a real pleasure working with them. It's been lovely working with such a great team (and in a team at all, after so much solo work) and with live music. In fact Raarg who created the live music saw my theatre-yearning post and told me about the audition, so special thanks to him!