The audience is absolutely central to any work we do in theatre which is how I come to find myself sitting in rehearsals at London Bubble. If you want to discover how important an audience is visit a company where the audience and the actor are one and the same and that is very clearly the case at London Bubble.
I am an actor turned director fascinated by the relationship between the actor and the audience. My current work is looking at how to improve that relationship to keep performances alive and playful and keep the audience involved.
I have long known about London Bubble but having lived most of my time up North I’ve never been able to see their work. So I wanted to take this opportunity to see firsthand what they actually do and how.
Firstly, I was impressed by how relaxed the rehearsals are. I visited at the ‘cooking’ stage as Jonathan calls it, rehearsals proper. Obviously a lot of the preparation work has already been done, research carried out, information gathered and selected and a draft script made. It is clear Jonathan and his team have ideas and pictures that they want to explore, set pieces to throw out to the group, encouraging them play with, build on then put into the mix. The result of this relaxed working is an incredibly rapid coming together of the show. A pace I found impressive.
However, it is the participants themselves that strike me most. The group are incredibly focussed. They take each task and explore it, quickly, with imagination and playfulness. There is very little energy wasted, very few distractions, just a concentration on the job in hand. They demonstrate an impressive discipline. However, that doesn’t mean it is dull and serious, the group find the joy in the act of creating; the actual making of theatre is itself the social and pleasurable activity. They are doing it because they want too. A professional actor can have many agendas which can sometimes get in the way of the making work, that doesn’t feel the case here.
What makes for an exciting and productive rehearsal room is bravery, simply taking a task, committing to it, giving it a 100% and seeing what comes out. Only then can you get an idea if something has potential. That is happening with abundance at London Bubble. I have been in too many rehearsals that plod along half-heartedly with too few ideas being offered. However in just two sessions I see a steady stream of ideas being thrown into the mix and a constant collaborative building of the piece.
I spend a lot of time encouraging actors to offer something, anything, to go back and offer something else, play and play again, surprise and challenge themselves, not to get stuck on the first or second idea they have but to be brave and push further, the London Bubble actors did just that. A number of them will come up with another option each time it is played – it keeps it fresh and alive for them as well as for those watching.
It is impressive how some of the actors run a section once, then the next time do it without the script. They may only be small lines or sections, but they set themselves the challenge to play without the safety net of a script, to see what they can invent.
However, what is most notable is the generosity and support the group has for one another and for the project itself. It feels like a room devoid of ego and utterly focussed on developing a piece by themselves, for one another to be eventually given away to the wider London Bubble community.
And that is something very refreshing to see in a rehearsal room.
(Chris visited the #HDV rehearsals in January 2015.