Step into rehearsals for The Maids with Assistant Director Hannah Calascione…
We are in week 4 of rehearsals for The Maids, a play in which two sisters, employed as live-in domestic servants, like to dress up and perform a ritual when they are alone. In the ritual, they play the characters “Mistress” and “Maid” to a climactic end, in which the Maid tears the Mistress down and symbolically kills her. The sisters, in this secret and erotic conspiracy with each other, enter a different fantasy realm, and brush with an alternative life.
We spent a lot of time in the first week asking – ‘what the hell is this game/ritual/ceremony thing?’. Why do they do it? We looked at other rituals across the world and in human history; exorcisms, purifications, sacrifices, transubstantiations, BDSM role-plays and so on. We brought in source material, discussed options and pooled our resources. We asked: what is the nature of these kinds of human activities? What makes them similar, or different? What are the rules of this particular ritual? By the end of the first week we were talking about the thing they all have in common: the ability to change your state, to transform. The characters in the play can use it to change their state of imprisonment by performing an act that breaks a taboo: to go from maid to Mistress, from criminal to saint — it is an act that feels good and is worth doing only for the sake of pleasure.
On a normal day in the rehearsal room we will often do a physical exercise led by our director Lily Sykes. This might allow the cast to build a sense of ensemble or find the gestures that feel right for their characters or for a particular moment. The environment, subtext and mechanics of a scene are built robustly before we add text, so that we have explored physically the world of meaning behind Crimp’s dialogue before it is spoken, in all its specificity and complexity. Each scene is approached by creating a situation with an atmosphere, assisted with music by Jan Schoewer, our sound designer and composer who is in the room with us.
As well as physical work we might discuss the text, or play competitive games of concentration and agility that create a sense of trust, concentration and clown-like mischief in the room. We have an amazing array of props and costumes to play with that the stage management team have patiently sourced and repeatedly fixed after they have been smashed about (we have managed to break 2 buckets somehow…). Sometimes, we might watch a film or read something that helps us understand a concept that feels colossal (like identity, fantasy or psychoanalytic imprisonment). We might look at paintings and photographs that we have brought in (the walls are plastered with paintings by the likes of Bacon, Schiele and Goya as well as photographs of an array of people from Bonnie and Clyde, Whitney Houston and Nigella Lawson). We might use them to play with the physicality of a character or work out how we can use a stage ‘element’ (e.g. a camera with a live feed to a projector).
Earlier on we had some brilliant input from people working outside of the theatre world, and were lucky enough to collaborate with academics from the University of Salford, as well as psychotherapist Duncan Craig from Survivors Manchester, who collectively gave us an insight into what prison life is like. As Genet wrote many of his works in prison and spent a lot of his life behind bars, this was creatively stimulating as well as a shockingly hard reality to face. On top of this, we had a visit from novelist Joe Stretch, who talked to us openly and candidly about what the process of writing really feels like, and how one grapples with one’s own identity when inventing characters. As our production has put a focus on the biography of Genet and its presence within the play, these visits helped our staging immensely… whether all this work will be visible or invisible in the show remains to be seen! Come and see for yourself.
The Maids runs here at HOME 16 November – 1 December. Find out more and book tickets here.
Hannah Calascione has joined us here at HOME as part of her MFA in Theatre Directing at Birkbeck, University of London. You can follow her on Twitter @hcalas1