The Foo variety show! - Rehearsal blog day 10

Maison Foo Production Journal - Day 10 - by Séana Maggs Cook

I arrive to find Beth and Kate talking to ‘Magic Man’ Oz about important lighting decisions. From what I can gather, they’ve opted to use torches in the piece due to their suitability, and effectiveness of creating the moods and styles which The Foo wishes to establish- but most importantly they don’t strain budget! I over hear Beth stating that this play is, “the next Foo Fairytale for Grown Ups.” What I find most interesting about this whole concept is how Maison Foo uses devices such as; puppetry and mime (conventions which usually have a childlike connotation,) and they put them in the context of a play for adults... It is something I highly commend this theatre company for being able to achieve... I don’t have much of an idea about these behind the scenes aspects of theatre, but as they say, it is indeed ‘ where the magic happens.’ It is also fascinating conference to walk in on and start the day.

For a while, (and then later for practically the rest of the day...) I am placed on door duty: opening the door for Matt, Morgan and finally, designer Kate. Tina, The Foo’s lovely other designer, and their knowledgeable mentor, Michael are not joining the team today, but the plan is to “crack on” from ‘Desperate Woman’- the song worked on rather vigorously yesterday. There is a much more serious working persona adopted by the team today; especially whilst analysing the choreography in depth- which seems to be the overriding plan of action. The ‘desperate woman’ sequence isn’t as free for ad-lib and play; instead, it requires much more focus and scrutiny. A lot of tweaking of music and changing of lyrics takes place to help the coexistence of the new rhythms against the pace of the music. In a way, this morning feels like it has been a less impelling environment for the company to rehearse in; in comparison to the previous couple of day’s worth of lively antics. This solid blocking of choreography feels like a mile stone for the play, and It means they now have the security of a completed scene to move on from- which is certainly impressive.

Two discussions begin to take place at once: Matt and Oz begin an in-depth consultation about sound, and a whole matter of technical discourse is used: ‘synching’ is probably the only word I recognise. Experts in their field, clearly! Kate and Beth discuss design ideas with other Kate- and worryingly I hear the word ‘hacksaw’ mentioned more than a few times... Rather Interestingly the idea of creating a ‘curtain of shoes’ is brought up; I am bewildered to see how this invention is conjured up, but, from seeing the resourcefulness and practicality of the creative team, from having had a sneak peak at the templates of their brilliant shadow puppets the other day, I am sure it won’t be a problem!

Next, follows the ever amusing but professional warm-up session. Matt, begins a game of saying the alphabet all as one word- have a go at home... Beth displays a truly graceful sequence of stretches; making yoga look like Mickey Mouse business, and rather eloquently, Morgan showcases the Alexander technique and gives a few hearty ’hums’ (a bit of theatrical terminology for you there.) This is then followed by my now proclaimed favourite vocal warm-up, and I am serenaded by some quite bizarre “na na na’s” to unclog the nasal passages. When Kate turns off the heaters for the start of the rehearsal I can’t help but feel that I wish I’d joined in on the warm up session...

Rather disappointingly, Oz, the real technician and production manager is here to take up his position at the mac book and to learn his cues- but luckily he nips out and I jump at the chance at being the re-appointed sound girl. I am boggled the amount of technology contained in Matt’s Mac book pro, he uses it as a specialist tool and explains that is allows a composer to edit music as they go; which is something Matt tends to do with every spare moment he has in a day. 

 The Foo begins by fine-combing the all important ‘Desperation Tango’ choreography that began yesterday. “We are not dancers”, Beth exclaims- but this does not deter team Foo from attempting some intricate routines. I have to laugh, and pity Matt in some way; dancing is not his strong point (nor, I profess, is it mine.) He is thrown into the deep end by the other 3 Fooers and gives a good, sporting attempt at learning to Tango. The problem is that this scene is so stylized it requires Matt to do 3 things at once: singing and playing the accordion, which he does marvellously; but the new element of Tango clearly needs some practice... On the other hand, Beth too is demonstrating multi-tasking of a different kind; In this scene, the mannequin’s head is used as a catalyst and she is merely the puppeteer.  The way this head is manipulated to become the other protagonist of the play is extraordinary. 

This is a testing scene; every flick of the foot, and turn of the mannequin’s head is coordinated to a micro precision, and on an aesthetic level, watching the mannequins’ head being brought to life by the actors is mesmerizing. It’s also extremely difficult to choreograph, which is why I can see it requires delicacy and time. I sit in silence for the main duration of the morning; every now and then I find myself nodding to ideas with enthusiasm- I feel like by sitting here, observing the process over the past few days, I have involved myself in this rehearsal week on a certain level. I get excited by watching scenes come together, and have discovered that it is impossible to sit here and stay passive towards a piece of theatre that (without sounding cheesy) that moves you in some way- which is definitely what The Foos latest piece does.

When Matt returns to the sanctuary of his keyboard and escapes the tango, Morgan replaces him in the performing area with Kate and Beth. They trial a highly complex routine which requires all three of them walking around in an imaginary figure of 8 whilst “chucking” and “grabbing” a stick with the mannequin’s head on- thus I name it: “chuck and grab”. This manoeuvre proves unmistakably difficult to grasp for a while and unexpectedly, on his return, Oz steps up to offer some words of wisdom to correct the sequence... He really is ‘The Magic Man’. Part time production manager-full time dance expert. 

Before lunch, Team Foo congregates around ‘idea wall’ for some heavy conversations about ordering the scenes and yet more important notes are jotted down from the morning’s session. The company visually tick off what they have done on their post-it note check list and prioritise what needs running over next. When I look at the wall again, I realise it isn’t just a thought shower of yellow-sticky notes, it is, in fact a chronological notation of the whole show-so far- A splendid find, and one which I take time to study.

After lunch the atmosphere of the room and the team seems to shift dramatically- a caffeine boost sets me up for yet more typing, door opening and sound teching; but more important than me- of course, are Maison Foo; and the frivolity present during the previous days has returned with full force! I look up from my laptop to find Morgan trimming an outline of a box to fit on his face; this marks the start of the exploration for the next scene, and the window-headed-boxes have returned. 

I might add: I have been singing the songs I first heard two days ago almost constantly in my head since, and if not in my head than at home or quietly around the street... My head continues to bob even as I type this...

The hilarity of this next scene is spectacular! Beth describes it as ‘Musical Theatre- gone South Park’ and that seems to be the perfect analogy of this next song and dance. There seems to be something remarkably inspiring and inventive about choreographing a scene whilst wearing a box on your head. Nothing more can be said about this scene- I laughed at it almost continually since lunch! It is a marvellously light-hearted way to round off the day!

I have thoroughly enjoyed today’s rehearsal. It has been what can only be described as: a variety show of conventions and styles! What tomorrow brings for The Foo and I, no one knows!