Theatre rehearsals, particularly for musicals, can be funny things, especially in the early days. Usually the entire cast — or at least most of it — gets together for the table read and the initial blocking sessions, but after that it can be a while before everyone is back at the same time. Sometimes it’s because you’re not a part of the scenes being rehearsed on a given day; sometimes the demands of work or school or real life get in the way of attending.
With musicals there are separate singing rehearsals, of which only the singers are a part. The rest of us know that at a certain point two characters will sing a duet, or that the a capella chorus will come on and perform, but we haven’t seen or heard any of that. It’s as if we’re rehearsing for two different productions.
It makes for an electric rehearsal on Oct. 15, when those two productions come together for a full run-through of Shaken, Not Stirred: The James Bond Panto, and words and music are combined. It starts normally, with the A-Capellas — a chorus going by the names of Connery, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan, Craig, and Lazenby — addressing the audience. Then they break into the first musical number, an a capella version of the James Bond theme that slides into “For Your Eyes Only”, and the cast members sitting around the edges of the rehearsal room watch and listen in silence. At the end of it there is wild clapping, and cast member Nancy Duchaine speaks for us all when she exclaims “Oh my gosh, you guys are freaking awesome.”
There’s work to be done, obviously, but for a first run-through it’s impressive, and gives us all a sense of the bigger picture. It helps that almost the entire cast is there; no mean feat with more than two-dozen people, all juggling different commitments, taking part. If this was a professional production we would be rehearsing all day, every day, in the weeks before opening night, but that’s simply not possible with amateur theatre, where everyone is doing this on top of their regular lives. It makes it all the more amazing that WRAPS is consistently able to persuade so many people to add to their already busy schedules.
Wardrobe mistress Margaret Moreira has staggered in under the weight of two huge bags full of costumes, possible costumes, and bolts of material. Pantomimes are known for their sometimes crazy, often over-the-top costumes, particularly for the “dame” character, who is always played by a man in drag in a costume that could mildly be described as “outrageous”. Shaken, Not Stirred features not one but two dames, and while their costumes are under wraps (pun very much intended) for the moment, the tantalizing glimpses we’re getting — as Margaret pulls pieces from her bag — are enough to assure us that their outfits will be suitably OTT.
As the rehearsal progresses, it becomes obvious that there’s something we simply cannot plan for, and that’s audience reaction. In a straightforward production it’s fairly easy to identify places where the audience might react, and the instruction to actors is to “ride the laugh”. It means that if something provokes laughter, and you have the next line, wait until the laughter starts to die down before speaking. Pantomime, however, derives much of its energy and humour from audience interaction, whether it’s people booing the villain, cheering on the heroes, or yelling words of encouragement at different moments in the action. There are also times when actors will address someone in the audience directly, or go out and mingle with them, or invite people up on stage to take part.
Absolutely none of this can be “rehearsed” in any meaningful way. We can hope that the audience will react, and plan accordingly, but that is going to vary from show to show, and we realize we have to plan not only for the reactions we hope to get, but also for the ones we don’t get. If, like me, you’re accustomed to knowing pretty much exactly when and how there will be audience reaction, it can be daunting; even a bit scary.
We had hoped to get through the entire play on Oct. 15, but we’re still working out bits of business on stage, and there are fight and chase scenes that need choreography. And speaking of choreography, we’re reminded that dancing still has to be worked into more than one scene, which has at least one cast member (hello there!) devoutly grateful that none of her scenes involve dancing.
Then again, maybe they will. That’s one of the joys of live theatre in general, and pantomime in particular: you always have to expect the unexpected.
Shaken, Not Stirred: The James Bond Panto will be at the Ashcroft HUB for five performances starting on Thursday, Nov. 23.