Rehearsals week two – Rifle drills, obstacle courses and an ever evolving show

Alex Rathgeber takes us through the the ins and outs of rehearsals – week 2 – for the World Premiere production of An Officer and a Gentleman. 

An Officer and a Gentleman - Alex Rathgeber and Kate Kendall
Alex Rathgeber and Kate Kendall

After a day of rest and recoup – in which I saw a terrific Sunday evening reading of James Millar’s Acclaim at Belvoir – it was awesome to hit the floor again to continuing the blocking of what’s shaping up to be a very busy Act One.

While most of the cast spent a lot more time working on the opening number, I had a chance to work with Kate, who’s playing Lynette, the love-interest of my character in the show, Sid. Kate and I, together with Ben and Amanda, had some great sessions with Simon and Dean on the initial set-up scenes of our respective couples. Kate and I also touched on some of our later scenes, which I can’t wait to spend more time working through in more detail.

The nature of this show being brand new means practically everything is a moveable feast. As we’re moving further into the story, there’s a lot of combing through the essential details, sense, character motivations, beats, tones etc in each of the scenes, and accordingly continuous rewrites are happening as we go. Every day we’re given new coloured pages which are to replace older pages in our scripts, so all of our scripts are quickly becoming very colourful with all the changes the creatives are implementing around the clock. Everyone is kept on their toes, as nothing is set in concrete. It’s a very exciting atmosphere to work in.

Rifle Drill - An Officer and a Gentleman
Cast members are taught a navy Rifle Drill at An Officer and a Gentleman rehearsals week 2

In our show there’s going to be a rifle drill executed by the graduates, so most of the cast have had to obtain a fire-arm licence and be trained in the actual rifle positions, calls and sequences used in the navy. I participated in one session where Tony, an expert brought in from the navy to teach us, coached us through the correct ways to stand, salute, march, and respond to orders. Andy and Simon will be incorporating these authentic details with a certain amount of artistic licence in the show. I just can’t wait to see the final outcome of all the rifle drill training – from the little I saw at this early stage, it’s going to be incredible.

In rehearsal room two next door to our main rehearsal room, the all-important ‘wall’ in the story stood imposingly more than 4-metres tall for a few days, waiting for final safety checks before we could climb it. Suspense and anticipation had been building through week one about the wall.

Like in the film, there is a wall which features as the final pinnacle of the obstacle course the candidates must conquer in the 12-week naval training program. The wall has two ropes hanging down and we must scale it unassisted….at least twice every show.

[pull_right]Most of the cast have had to obtain a fire-arm licence and be trained in the actual rifle positions, calls and sequences used in the navy[/pull_right]

We had a professional climbing team orientate us through the process, outlining safety notes and technique tips. It’s a completely legitimate challenge that all of us who are playing officer candidates must actually be able to complete. It requires a lot of back, arm and core strength, so we’ll be hauling ourselves up those ropes as often as we can to develop strength and ease. I asked Douglas [Day Stewart, writer of the original screenplay] how true our stage version is compared to the real-life situation he experienced in his navy training – he just had a huge smile on his face and said, ‘it’s so exciting….it’s pretty much exactly the same’. The idea is that it’s placed at the end of the obstacle course and is the final physical challenge, pushing the trainees to their limits. Initially in rehearsals we’ll have a mat to drop down onto if we don’t make it to the top, but not for long.

The model set for An Officer and a Gentleman

Hats off to our stage management team…you see, in the set design there is a big central staircase on a revolve which will have a second ring-revolve turning around it. The staircase will connect with upper walkways when it hits various positions, which means we’ll have two stage entrance/exit points above stage level.

However, in the rehearsal room we’ve got a substitute staircase on wheels which our stage management team are very diligently pushing around from one position to the next, and making sure peoples’ achilles aren’t being collected by it as it revolves! It’s big and it’s heavy and their management of it, including remembering all the sequences, is quite amazing. Of course, when we’re on stage all of this will be mechanised and controlled electronically, and subsequently a whole lot smoother, safer and easier to negotiate.

But in the meantime, since every picture in the show is being created for the first time, each scene change position is decided upon after turning the stairs this way, then that way, back and forth, in a process of trial and elimination. Adding to the picture all of us actors to each moment, it’s a mammoth task coordinating all the elements with the precision accuracy required. Timing, as they say, is everything.

[pull_right]Our scripts are quickly becoming very colourful with all the changes the creatives are implementing around the clock. Everyone is kept on their toes, as nothing is set in concrete. It’s a very exciting atmosphere to work in[/pull_right]

As for outside the rehearsal room… well, because I’m Melbourne-based, I’m staying in company accommodation. A bunch of us from out of town have gotten together to cook dinner and have a drink a bit in the week, which has been awesome. The only thing is, we quite possibly made the tastiest spaghetti bolognese sauce IN THE WORLD one night, and I just pray we’re able to repeat it! There’s a bit of a lunchtime ritual happening, which I love – while the creative team stay in the rehearsal room nutting out bits of business with the production team, we cast-members will invariably join a row of tables together in the ABC cafeteria to chew the fat.

(Also quite popular are the $4.00 pork rolls from the Vietnamese place over the road, and MadMex on Saturdays is a winner.)

What makes me happy is that there are a lot of food-lovers in the cast – I love food for being such an excellent conduit for bonding – we’ve had some good discussions about personal food preferences and tastes… among other things!

A few of us went to see the cast of Love Never Dies do a workshop performance of Vernon God Little on their night off on Monday, which was great too. We’ll be making the most of our free nights to have more dinners, drinks, barbecues and to see more Sydney theatre etc in these next couple of weeks before we shift over into our evening schedule.

We had a stumble through of the entire Act One on Saturday afternoon. It was frantic, but exilharating. I’m so proud to be a part of such an awesome cast and show.

So now, let’s make a start on Act Two…!!

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