Rehearsing The Bacchae during a pandemic

Back in March, when the world went into lockdown, our students found themselves in unfamiliar waters. They had packed up their instruments, equipment, costumes and props and headed home to begin producing, rehearsing and creating work from isolation. They swapped the bright lights of the stage for their living room and the audience for their housemates and family.

So, when the rules lifted slightly and our students were able to safely return to the campus, third-year Acting students Joséphine and Sylvie were excited to start rehearsing for The Bacchae but also a little apprehensive about how coronavirus would impact their learning. We asked Joséphine and Sylvie to tell us about what it was like to rehearse The Bacchae, an ancient Greek tragedy, during a pandemic.

We knew how hard it was going to be on a personal level with a pandemic ongoing outside the room, (worrying about family, not seeing a lot of people etc). So we tried our best to create a really caring and safe environment in the room.

The rehearsal process was the same as usual; read-throughs of the play, rehearsing in a room, goofing around at a two-metre distance, adding stage props, costume fittings…however, on top of all that we had to follow lots of safety rules!

The Challenges 

The first challenge was being back in a room with fifteen other people, after having been stuck in our homes for the past six months. Then, the rhythm of getting up early, a strict schedule, intense dance and movement workouts. Let me tell you, the first couple of weeks were extremely intense. So many rules to be mindful of, so much to take in and learn, process and adjust on a daily basis.

One of us came in one morning after having found out that one of their family members had Covid. Some of us went off to have Covid tests and isolate because they were feeling unwell.

Because of this, we suddenly had a digital audience. The people isolating were on Zoom on a big screen in our rehearsal rooms, as well as production and costume students.

We had to remember to stay two-metres apart, to wipe everything we had touched at the end of the day, open the windows regularly so the air could move. We could not hug or cuddle! Can you imagine? Things we actors can barely go without!


The Brightsides 

Every morning, before starting class, we would stand in a circle and our director would ask each and every one of us how we felt that morning. And for the next ten minutes, we could talk about anything.

We would tell each other what was causing us trouble and giving us anxiety; agents, missing family, worrying about someone being sick as well as what was making us happy; the dinner we had last night, having booked a train to see family on the weekend, a job we had just got. Every morning, we would open up so we could untangle and dismantle, so we could be free to play! There’s nothing that we couldn’t do. There was nothing that we could not share.

Holding this space for us was a precious gift that director Finn den Hertog gave to us. Apart from being an extremely compassionate and kind person, he is also immensely talented and competent as a director, a great friend, an actor/director with a clear vision and the patience of a saint.

We hope to work more in this way and we will certainly remember what he taught us for our own future, and, hopefully, we will be able to continue to bring this wisdom and work ethic into our work once we leave the school.

Working with him and Movement Director Vicki Manderson taught us a lot of things.

Stamina, honesty, resilience, kindness and openness.

Lessons we have learnt

We realised that no matter what, the show can and must go on. As long as we are honest, sincere and open to changes and learning new ways of working, nothing can stop us.

We all have a lot of problems at this strange time, the world out there doesn’t stop moving, problems don’t disappear but this experience taught us that we can do it. No matter what.

We can support, care for each other, and not compete with one another. We have the power to be the change that we want to see in this world.

The Bacchae tackles gender and feminism amongst other things – a theme that affects all of us and that traces back to ancient Greece. Working in this environment and putting on the first show after the pandemic makes us feel really lucky.

We can’t change the world, but we sure can claim back our voices.

Dionysos is back and so are we.

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