Agnes of God – Director’s Blog

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(Please note that the earliest entries to this blog are at the top – as you read down you a going back in time).

4 July 2013 – My work here is done!

Last night was the dress rehearsal.  We had a small invited audience and we ran the evening as if it was a performance.  When I direct I always have very mixed emotions at the end of the final dress rehearsal.  None more so than with this production.

I am intensely proud of the cast and what they have achieved with this play.  Agnes of God is a very challenging play for the actors both in terms of the lines and moves they have to learn but perhaps even more so in terms of the emotions that it brings up.  Over the rehearsal I have seen those emotions many times, but none more intense than last night.  At the end of the play several members of our invited audience were either crying or choking back the tears.  Such is the effect of this play.

Like the audience I too was chocking back the tears.  Partly induced by the emotion of the play, and partly induced by the fact that this is where it ends for a director.  Yes, I will be there tonight and every night of the run, but tradition and practicality dictates that once all the rehearsals are over the director hands over his responsibility to the stage manager who then runs the show.  I am nothing more than a member of the audience from this point on.

It has been an amazing journey directing this play, but now my job is done.  It is time for me to step back and let my cast “fly the nest” and take this show to the next level.  If you don’t yet have tickets for this play PLEASE get them, you really don’t want to miss this.

Post Script: One the radio…
I have just been sent a link to the interview that we did for Pure Radio.  Please take a listen to us being interviewed about the play:

1 July 2013 – Soundscape

I want to open the play with a what I am calling a soundscape.  It is a mixture of atmospheric sounds and lines.  Some are taken directly from the play, others are things which are referred to in the play but never seen such as the baby and Father Marshal.  I could have asked the back stage crew to create this for me, but as I have some very specific ideas I decided to do it myself.

So if you want to hear the opening of the play before opening night just download/click on the link below:

agnes soundscape (on-line version)

[Choir singing audio from – licence CC Attribution
Baby cries sound from baby_birth_firstmoments_crywolfhope.mp3 by NoiseCollector | License: Attribution
Bells and Bird songs from Lezer via – licence: Public Domain
All other sounds and dialog by cast and director]

12 June 2013 – Prompt!

In my previous “Director’s Blog” entry I spoke about the bad rehearsal we had just had.
You get those…. and then things get better… and better… and better. I am fortunate to have
an amazing cast who are all dealling with some huge challenges to put this play on.

One of the decisions we took at the start of the rehearsal process was that we are working
towards not having a prompt for the performances. There are many reasons for this.

Firstly when you are performing in the round, as we are, you have no obvious place to put a prompt.

Secondly I believe it helps the cast not to have a prompt. Lines get forgotten, it is a fact of theatre. Traditionally that is where the prompt comes in they shout out the forgotten line and the cast pick it up and carry on. However, all actors hate taking prompts and once you have taken one your mind get caught up on that one moment, you feel bad that you had to take it and sometimes taking one can lead to taking another and then another. On the other hand if there is no prompt the cast have to get themselves out it. Find a line, make one up if necessary and carry on. If that happens as an actor you feel good – we had a problem but we overcame it. You continue the rest of the play with positive feelings not negative one.

Of couse there is also a third reason why we are working towards not having a prompt for the production. Hazel who is prompting for the rehearsals is not available for the performances. The cast are on there own…. and they will be fine.

30 May 2013 – When Rehearsals go bad

We’ve just had our first “books down” rehearsal.  Actors and directors all hate the first “books down” rehearsal.  It is the time when the cast first do the scenes we have been working on without holding the script.

Actors hate it because they suddenly realise that all those words they thought they knew just aren’t sticking in the mind, and there is a sudden realisation of how big the challenge is to learn the script.  And it is no understatement to say that Agnes of God is a HUGE challenge.  There are only three characters and the words flow quickly.  Not only that – on some occasions we have two (and even all three) characters speaking over each other.

From a director’s perspective all the pace and characterisation that was so wonderful in the previous rehearsals has gone… evaporated… and you start to wonder if you will ever see it again.  Where we once had voices filled with passion and anger, we now have a cast stumbling over words or making up lines.  The previous rehearsals were a joy to watch filled with highs and lows.  Now we have the acting equivalent of wading through treacle.

Tonight’s rehearsal was bad… really bad.  It was a reality check for all of us.  Three actors and one director went home knowing there is a lot to do.  The cast know they have their work cut out for them to learn the lines and rediscover the characters they have created.  As director I went home thinking about how I could help the cast… something Emma (Agnes) said to me as she was leaving I think is key… we were talking about the fact that I had continued to run the rehearsal as books down even when there were times when there were more lines being prompted than were being remembered.  She described it as “tough love”… it is hard to loose the script so early, but the pain we have now will reap benefits later.  Those benefits include more time to really polish the performances – something you really can’t do with a script in your hand.  And also long term it will lead to better security in the lines.  And that is going to be vital in this production because there will not be a prompt for the actual performances.  More about prompts next time I update this blog.

15 May 2013 – Creating a Character

One of the most common question asked of an actor is “how do you remember all those lines”?  When I am asked that question I usually reply “Learning the words is the easy bit… learning how to say them is the hard part.”  Anyone can learn words and repeat them, but the real skill of the actor is to create a character that is believable, and to say lines as though they are being spoken for the very first time.

To help the cast with this task I ask to cast to each find a line their character in the play speaks that sums up their character. Here’s what they found:

Emma who is playing Agnes chose:
“You want to talk about the baby, everybody wants to talk about the baby, but I never saw the baby, so I can’t talk about the baby, because I don’t believe in the baby!”

Catherine who is playing Doctor Livingstone chose:
“Oh, I was never a devout Catholic – my doubts about the faith began when I was six – but when Marie died I walked away from religion as fast as my mind would take me.  Mama never forgave me.  And I never forgave the Church.  But  I learned to live with my anger, forget it even… until she walked into my office, and every time I saw her after that first lovely moment, I became more and more…. entranced.”

Carol who is playing Mother Miriam Ruth chose… well I can’t tell you the entire line as it gives too much away but I can tell the very end of it:
“…I’m making up for past mistakes.”

4 May 2013 – Read Through

The first stage of directing a play is always “the read-through” this is where we get the cast together and as the name suggests read though the entire play.  Read-throughs are important.  It is the only time as a directors get to hear the cast do the whole play until we are very close to performance and we start putting the all the different scenes together.  If I was a cynic I might also add it is a chance to make sure that the cast have actually read the entire script… and not just the scenes they are in!

We had our read through last night.  Even at this stage there were a few spine tingling moments… those ‘wow factor’ points in the script and in the performances. When you come to see the play, look out for Agnes singing in the background when Doctor L and Mother Miriam first meet.  Also lookout for the first hypnosis scene and Emma’s performance as Agnes, and finally lookout for a perhaps slightly irreverent but heart-warming discussion between Doctor and Mother when they talk about Saints, Apostles and Tobacco.  It is always encouraging when you get those coming out at a read through – you know when it comes to the performance those will be just amazing.

I issued the cast with a challenge at the read through – to each identify one line from the play that sums up their character.  It’s a useful exercise to help actors develop the character they are portraying.  I am looking forward to what they identify.

1 May 2013 – Planning, planning, planning!

Yesterday evening I attended a Woodford Players Committee meeting to discus the requirements for Agnes of God.  This was a very productive time and we have identified people for roles and discussed ideas for how we are going to stage the play.

I am pleased to announce that we plan to perform the play in the round.  This is exciting for me as I am a big fan of theatre in the round, and while it does create some challenges for us (lighting and how best to present the monologue scenes) I believe it is the right choice for this play.  Theatre in the round brings the audience close to the action and gives the play a more intimate feel to it.

Next up is the rehearsal schedule – you would think this should be easy with just three in the cast!  I wish!  Sadly we have a situation that one member of the cast works two evenings a week and another has commitments to other productions.  It would have been nice if those commitments coincided – but the law of directing (also know as ‘sod’) states that will never be the case… and it isn’t.  So I’m sitting at my desk with calendar print outs looking mournfully at just a handful of dates when director, and all three cast are available at the same time.  Oh bother!

21 April 2013 – We have a cast!

We completed our auditions for Agnes this afternoon and now have a full cast:

Doctor Martha Livingstone – Catherine Young-Southward
Agnes – Emma Toms
Mother Miriam Ruth – Carol Sutcliffe

I am really looking forward to directing these three talented actresses (I am I still allowed to use the word actress or am supposed to use the now gender neutral term ‘actor’ ?).  I have had the pleasure of seeing all three of them act in other productions.

Catherine is playing my wife ‘Mim’ in Woodford Players current show ‘Outside Edge’.   She is giving a fantastic performance as the put up on Mim and I was equally impressed when she auditioned for Doctor Livingstone.

Emma is a very talented actress who is getting quite a name for herself in the area, and is involved in a lot of societies.  I recently photographed a production of “Be My Baby” at Stockport Garrick Theatre where Emma was playing the lead role of Mary.

Carol comes to Woodford Players from Manchester Athenæum Dramatic Society, but this is not where I have seen her act.  I saw Carol play/improvise the role of Mary Magdalene as part of an “Easter Experience” event at Heald Green United Reform Church.

Next challenge… the planning.

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