I Am Thomas - a brutal comedy with songs Rehearsal Diary

Our Assistant Director Judith gives us a peek into the rehearsal room as I Am Thomas - a brutal comedy with songs develops...

 Monday 9th February: opening up the rehearsals!

My name is Seneer and I’m a Creative Access Admin Assistant for Told by an Idiot. I have been working with Told by an Idiot for the past 4 months, and recently I’ve been preparing for the live stream of  ‘I Am Thomas – a brutal comedy with songs’ which took place on the afternoon of February 3rd. I wanted to share my experiences with you, and so Judith kindly allowed me to write an entry for her diary!

As well as opening the rehearsal process up to audiences over the net via the YouTube live stream, we also invited two school groups into the rehearsal room to provide us with a physical audience. There was lots of prep with the technology in the weeks leading up to the stream, and I was lucky enough to be in the rehearsal room to help with the process and also sneak a peek at what’s been going on rehearsal wise!

The rehearsal began with an introduction from Pau Hunter, Told by an Idiot’s Artistic Director and Director of ‘I Am Thomas – a brutal comedy with songs’.  Setting the tone, in his words, “This is not a full rehearsal show; if you have come to see a full show then I’m afraid you’re 3 weeks too early!”  Told by an Idiot feel it’s important to open the rehearsal process up to our audiences, it’s one of the most exciting stages. The students who visited were all studying BTEC or A Level theatre, and were currently focussing on devising – which fits perfectly with the work we produce.

Throughout the rehearsal, there were rounds of applause and cheers and the actors were energetic and seemed to enjoy performing scenes in front of a captive audience, both in the rehearsal room and those who watched the stream and connected with us over social media! Paul continued to direct as if it was any other rehearsal and it was so exciting to see the piece we have been working on coming together.  

There was a lot of experimenting as expected; experimenting with songs, props, choreography...you get the jist! It was great to see the variety of material the company have created.

The rehearsal ran for almost an hour and left me wanting more! Can’t wait to see the finished show, it starts in 10 days!


Week three begins - eek! ‘A Message to you Rudy’

We'd a lovely morning yesterday in the company of Sian Williams (our movement director) in ska motion. There's often an eek point in rehearsals (which everyone who's ever been in a process will know full well) and it often arrives around about the moment when time is no longer loitering around in front of you and there's the first hint on the horizons of an opening night and an audience and oh holy heron we've work to do. Or in the words of 'A Message to you Rudy' a sense of:

Stop your fooling around 
Time you straighten right out 
Better think of your future

But fooling around - or rather laughter and ease - are such a crucial part of this play! And so we look to find the way of ease and trust that the future will take care of itself. And it will, as it always does! Keep skanking! 

Thursday 21st January:

Today's rehearsal avenue was in hot pursuit of a montage to this classic 70's tune by Tony Christie:

In the avenues and alleyways
Where a man's gotta work out which side he's on
Any way he chooses chances are he loses, no one gets to live too long.

Leading to - in a round about martini style fashion - a bit of an interrogation of the interrogation scene. Next pathway was a trip to the moon - that might have made it to the directors cut only - an exclusive alleyway if you will! 

Monday 18th January: "another opening another show" 

Rehearsal room life today: bodies were stretched, minds were focused, games were played, photo's were taken, songs were sung, balloons were burst, wigs were worn, tea was drunk, faces were painted. 

While last we touched on a multitude of songs, improvisations, followed a lot of hunches and a fair number of notions today we 'took it from the top!'. Dylan Thomas would be proud: we began at the beginning. And we begin with a joyous juxtaposition of the multifaceted worlds within this telling of Thomas Aikenhead's story. This involves: 8 actors, a clipboard, 4 accordions, a heron, water large and small, real and imagined and some harder-than-they-look rehearsal hay bails. So it begins. 

End of week one: 

The heron appears in I am Thomas and we've touched on some of the symbolism of this bird. In one version of events the heron is about making peace;

"The first peace, which is the most important, is that which

comes within the souls of the people when they realize their relationship,

their oneness with the Universe and all its powers,

and when they realize that at the center of the universe

dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere,

it is within each of us."

This seems, to me, to be what Thomas was feeling deeply and asking for a recognition of that is the majesty of all things; the magic of the stars and the universe, the wonder of nature. I reckon I'd have liked him - maybe I too, am Thomas! Maybe we all are...for every man and woman is made of the same stuff as stars!


Day 3:

The joys of singing in harmony. Today was a monster music call. There were a few choice quotes when learning a particularly tricky section of choral harmony - "This is the valley of death!", "Yeah that one note is easy - it's one note - but that fiddley diddley doo!? Ooh!"

I enjoy theatre conversations - sentences you don't expect to say or hear - some of them poetic! Today's favourites for me referring to a lyric in a chorus - 

"Sorry, what's our parody?"

"I keep losing my rhapsody."

"Take it from sanity." 

"so we scoop to the moon?"

"yeah, scoop to the moon!"

and when all went well and there was a break in the proverbial clouds...

"The sun shines for sure!" 

It sure does! Music is medicine and I am happy to be getting a proper dose of it! 



Day 2: 

One of the well practiced religions in Scotland is football. We spent the morning studying a very specific goal form Scottish football history (the costume rail image below will give a clue as to the era) - when "Scotland was in dreamland" (at least momentarily . . .)

In the afternoon, Iain Johnstone - Associate Idiot, composer and performer for I am Thomas - sang and played through the music - joy! He reflected "... religion doesn't have a monopoly on wonder ..." And his music certainly harmonises with that sentiment. 


Day 1:

Day one for a lot of us, but day umpteen for a number of the Told by an Idiot team. I am Thomas has been nearly two years in the dreaming, discussing and researching but it's day one for the majority of the acting company that will embody, sing and play this story together for the next 4 months! 

The first day of rehearsals can have a sense of the first day at school for all the fresh faces; a nervy excitement and joyous anticipation. We're here to  tell the story of Thomas Aikenhead. Who the **** is Thomas Aikenhead? The last man to be hung in Scotland for blasphemy. 

Paul Hunter -  the director of Told by an Idiot - opened the afternoon with a quote from Working the Room by Geoff Dyer:

"… it's not what you know that's important; it's what your passion gives you the potential to discover." 

We have begun our journey of discovery - we'll be guided by a sensational compass of hunches - here's to trusting the unfolding adventure!