A unique behind the scenes look at the preparation leading up to the opening of a major musical, The Woman in White, by Pam Skinner, Production Co-Ordinator.
Monday 23rd August
The band has been rehearsing all week which culminated on Saturday (21st August) with what’s known in the industry as a “sitzprobe”. This is when the company join the orchestra in the orchestra rehearsal room and sing through the entire show with the full orchestra for the first time. This takes place in real time and it effectively resembles a concert version of the show. The ensemble sit at the back like a chorus and everyone is miked. Everyone is seated, standing when it comes to their turn to sing.
The result was one of the most moving and fantastic sounding rehearsals I have ever been involved with. Several members of the cast said the same thing – that they had never heard a sitzprobe like it – beautiful orchestrations which do the score absolute justice.
Back at the theatre the company raced through the entire show once in the technical form, all to piano but in full costume and fully miked. It was the first time all thye elements – the costumes, wigs, props, set, scenery and lighting – have been brought together. We are now in the process of going back and doing the whole thing again in much more detail, much more slowly. As I write this we have just reached Act 2 for the second time.
We need to finish the technical by Wednesday afternoon because we are then joined in the theatre by the full orchestra for orchestral rehearsals leading up to dress rehearsals by the end of the week, ready for the first preview on Saturday.
The rodents and birds are currently installed in the stalls corridor while their dressing room is being prepared for them….otherwise everyone else continues to make themselves fully at home and all furniture items that have been requested are now in situ in the appropriate dressing rooms.
Everyone involved in this show keeps referring to the unique “buzz” that is surrounding The Woman in White. These are electrifying times and I have no hesitation in saying that this feels very special and is without doubt one of the most exhilarating projects I have ever been involved with – when you come along to see the show I am sure you will know exactly what I mean!
Tuesday 17th August
We have now reached a very, very intense period of activity – this stage in the build up to first previews involve incredibly long hours with everyone involved in the show working all day and most of the evening. It really is very hard work – tiring, hot, but so exciting! It is fantastic to see what the show is going to become and what we have all been working towards for all this time.
Last week saw the final run-throughs in the rehearsal room. It was thrilling to see the results of the five weeks hard work the company have put in and an absolute joy to see the hard-bitten technical team in tears at the end of Saturday’s run through. The show really is so moving and this was the first time the company have performed in front of such a large audience. The rehearsal space was packed with everyone from the theatre who needed to see it and there was such an emotional atmosphere. We celebrated with a glass of champagne to say both well done and to raise a toast to the next phase.
And so to this week. Another landmark week as we move from the rehearsal space into the Palace Theatre. Within two hours yesterday morning the company had made themselves completely at home in the dressing rooms. It looked as though they had been there for years as they transformed the rooms with posters, photographs, cuddly toys and pictures – from framed oil paintings to painted good luck messages from younger members of the family.
The company are now on stage in full costume and wigs and look absolutely stunning. I think people will be in for a few surprises when they come to see the show!
Simultaneously in another rehearsal space the full orchestra are rehearsing ready to join the company in the theatre next week. This involves the whole music department, obviously including Andrew, who now gets to “play with his band” for the first time. Hard work for the musicians too at this stage as they spend all day rehearsing the orchestra then come down to the theatre and rehearse with the company in the evenings.
Less than two weeks now to the first preview night!
Monday 9th August
We have now moved into our second – larger – rehearsal space and the cast are able to get a true sense of the set and the revolve as it is represented to full scale in the new venue.
This also enables us to monitor the actual timings for the scenery changes and the transitions between scenes. These are being logged and fed directly back to the theatre for the dry tech so that when the Director goes into the theatre each evening he can view a realistic representation of how the show will run.
Despite the fact that the auditorium of the theatre resembles mission control – I have never seen so many monitors in an auditorium before – we are now one week into the dry tech and have already made headway into Act 2 which is really good news. And I can report that it looks truly spectacular…….and unlike anything I have ever seen before in musical theatre!
We had two orchestra rehearsals last week to try out the orchestrations which, as everyone anticipated, are lush and gorgeous. The entire company sang through Act 2 in its entirety to Andrew on Saturday morning so he could hear it altogether for the first time which was extremely successful.
Back in the rehearsal rooms the incredible humidity is getting to everybody – portable air conditioning units are installed all around!
Michael (Count Fosco) was able to start “bonding” with his animals for the first time in rehearsals this week – they have been in training until now. All the animals have understudies – three are being trained for each role to ensure we are fully covered and Count Fosco is never rodentless!
And this week a croupier will be coming into rehearsals to teach a cast member how to roll a roulette wheel like a true professional for the casino scene.
This is the final week in the rehearsal room before we move into the theatre itself for the first technical rehearsals. Hopefully by the end of the week we’ll be running through the whole show and everyone is looking forward to experiencing how the whole show hangs together.
Thursday 30th July
This week has seen a lot of progress on all fronts. In the rehearsal rooms the Movement Director Wayne McGregor attended rehearsals for the first time. The Woman in White is not a huge dance show so his presence wasn’t essential for the initial two weeks. Similarly the Fight Director – Malcolm Ranson – came along to rehearsals to take the first fight calls between the heroes and villains.
The little girls who will be playing the part of the corn dolly child also joined the cast rehearsals this week. This is one role, but child licensing laws require the part to be covered so that each girl plays only two consecutive shows, up to a maximum of three to four performances a week. All three girls will perform for a period of three months, after which another three will be recruited to take over the role.
This was our last week in the current rehearsal space. We will be moving to a new larger rehearsal venue next week and have been building the rehearsal set there. More space was needed to build the full revolve and the moving parts of the set which we can now incorporate into rehearsals so that the cast have an opportunity to become familiar with the set before moving to the theatre itself. Hopefully this will allow us to spend less time on the technical rehearsals later.
Whilst at the Palace Theatre this afternoon (spent with representatives from the Princes Trust – discussing the logistics of the Gala evening which will be held on Monday 13th September) I noted that remarkable progress has been made on the set in the theatre. It is nearing completion, ready to start what we call the “dry tech” on Monday – i.e. going through the show cue to cue without actors just to check timings and synchronisation of all elements of the set, lighting and sound.
So – another very busy time lined up for next week. We are all very much looking forward to the initial orchestration sessions which are scheduled for this coming week when we will all hear the orchestrations for the first time – that is always a very exciting moment for everyone involved in the production.
Weeks One and Two – commencing 12th and 19th July
A gentle start to the rehearsal period last week. For the first week the rehearsals concentrated on the principals, with the ensemble coming in to our initial rehearsal space, south of the river, for a few music calls only.
However, this Monday (19th July) rehearsals moved into full swing with a really exciting day. Following a brief chat from Sonia Friedman and Andrew Lloyd Webber, and a slightly less brief chat from Trevor Nunn, the full cast and members of the production team involved in the show were treated to a design and model presentation by Bill Dudley. Almost everyone in the room had never seen these thrilling and innovative designs before and the room broke out with spontaneous applause.
Meanwhile at the Palace Theatre, the fit up is well under way. The walls are up, the floors are down and installation of the sound and lighting rig has begun.
The floor for the show is two inches lower than the Les Miserables floor – which was placed on top of a false floor installed for a production of Cabaret many years ago. This false floor has now been removed and the Woman in White floor placed directly on top of the original Palace floor.
Back at the rehearsal rooms the company are having lots of costume fittings and wardrobe are starting to make the clothes. The publicity machine for the show has also kicked in now, with two photo shoots having taken place and more in the pipe-line.
There is a real hive of activity on all fronts now, with only another three weeks scheduled in the rehearsal rooms before moving into the theatre. Only five weeks to the first preview, and seven weeks from opening night. A very scary statistic for a Production Co-ordinator!
Pam Skinner, Production Co-ordinator, The Woman in White
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