A Day in ADC Mainshow Rehearsal: Chess
The Tab spent a day with the cast and crew for upcoming musical ‘Chess’
For someone who’s never entered the theatre scene after being traumatised from a Year 7 production of ‘Bugsy Malone’, I never thought I would be so amazed and inspired to re-enter.
After spending a day with the incredible cast and crew of the upcoming ADC Mainshow musical ‘Chess’, my love for musical theatre and all it had to offer had never been stronger.
10:30 – Dance rehearsal begin
Arriving at the rehearsal space with a trio of dancers running through a ballet piece, I first got to chat to the Producer of the show, Louis York, about his love for the production. “I am a big fan of ABBA, and the music of Tim Rice but also the concept of Chess is so off the wall.”
First performed on the West End in 1986, Chess tells the story of the politically driven Chess tournament between an American and a Soviet during the Cold War.
Both characters fight over the championship and a woman who manages one’s career and falls in love with the other. Louis added, “there are some really important themes being played with, the fact it is a period piece written in the 80s and has all the trappings of that.”
He explained his love for the show’s balance of being such a huge piece yet holding a lot of depth within its pages. “In terms of its characters, it’s actually quite a sympathetic show, it’s a show that is willing to let people who do bad things explain themselves.” It seems the performance holds everything a producer could want: dancers, a full choir, and a huge musical ensemble.
Louis explained the original performance had “about 90 seconds at a time of silent chess play, which is an interesting choice but also sounds quite boring, so, this is a ballet… a metaphorical evocation of the game of Chess, the emotions of Chess.”
As a piece written nearly 40 years ago, the views of society have drastically changed around such a political performance. “As a source from a historical aspect, it’s very interesting to see what the points of view were about race, gender and class at the time[…]the assumption that’s being made not just in the characters but the music and the production, how they treat the female characters especially.”
Louis described the production’s aim was to not hide the original opinions of the writers, “‘it has not been cut, it has not been interpreted, it is not hiding the positions of the original writers whilst at the same time saying we don’t necessarily support them. Just because you are repeating someone’s message doesn’t make you advocating for it… it is not something we are unaware of or hiding but also not something we are going to deny or try and push under the rug.”
11:00 – Double room booking?
Before the dancers could begin practicing their second piece, an unexpected group of visitors arrived ready for a yoga class in the same location.
After a few calls the situation was sorted, and the dance was able to resume. Louis leaned over, “you will be in situations like this. I think I looked at about 11 colleges.” Looking through that many spaces for a single rehearsal on a Sunday seemed unnecessarily extensive; yet for a production needing a large open space, close to town and with an in-tune piano, it made more sense.
“Managerial, organisational, I am both their boss and their secretary”, Louis described. Working on the scheduling of every component becomes a big task, Louis makes sure everyone is on the same page. However, the cooperation of the team seemed to make this a lot easier and as Louis put it, “it’s too big to fail.”
12:00 – Dance rehearsals finish
In the lunch break I was able to chat to Choreographer Gina Stock and Assistant Choreographer Hannah Filer.
“It’s amazing it’s great, it’s exactly how I felt when I first listened to the soundtrack” explained Gina, “how many different styles there are in it, every song sounds like it’s from a different show. That’s where the excitement comes from as every rehearsal you are doing something different. That could be overwhelming, but I feel like we are handling it well.”
The performance hosts an incredible range of dance styles including ballet, commercial, Russian folk and even disco. Both choreographers explained how their collective range of background experience worked very well together. “In a show that needs so many styles, it works out rather well” added Hannah.
To balance the combination of dance creation, teaching and performing takes a lot of time, especially with Gina starring in the main ensemble alongside the cast. The two agreed on their preference to be busy, “I knew the first thing I wanted to do was first something to occupy my time with” said Hannah, “I think for me rehearsal times are so useful to think about something else. There’s so much going on there’s no time to be anxious for an upcoming meeting with a supervisor or something. I find it very useful.”
Starting from a blank slate, no script, no sheet music, can be extremely difficult.
“You’re teaching something you had to invent…it’s all out of your brain.” However, this difficulty seemed to make the end product even more satisfying.
Gina described, “you’ve pictured it in your head. Let’s say you are choreographing for more than one person; you don’t see that until you have that physical number of people in front of you. When that comes together it’s wonderful.” Hannah added the amazing feeling she gets when “someone who hasn’t been vibing with dance then you finish something and overhear them saying oh I quite like that.”
12:30 – Actors arrive and take headshots
Actors arrived to rehearse and took the iconic headshots that pop up on Cambridge social media to advertise the production.
12:45 – Warm up and rehearsal begins
Whilst rehearsals for the song ‘Press Conference’ continued in the background, I got to talk to the Assistant Director on the show, Mia Grant.
“I love the team and I love the music. It brings a real energy to walk into rehearsal” she explained. As the ensemble practiced the fast-paced lines of the song Mia described how fantastically it had been going, “there are so many small sections, but when you see it coming together… you start to really build it, it just kind of all falls into place which has been really fun to see.”
Speaking more about her role in the production, it seems the teamwork of the crew was the key secret to success. Not only had the team behind the stage been working tirelessly but the actors too. To show their performances, the best, the staging would be kept quite minimalistic. “We have a small space and such a talented cast; we want everything to highlight them and not the other way around.”
13:30 – Director arrives to rehearsal
As the pieces of the rehearsal began to come together into a full song run through, Hayley Canham arrived to see the progress. Hayley explained her focus for the production, “there are so many moving parts. It’s a really complicated show, so a lot of the rehearsal process has really been just drilling that music in and making sure thats the star of the show.”
When talking to Hayley, I was curious to know why directing compared to the vast number of roles on and off stage.
“I spent most of my life doing acting” she replied, “even when I was a kid as an actor I had very set opinions about what I should do as an actor such as where to stand. So, it felt like a natural progression to do that as a director. I can understand how the actors are feeling and what they are thinking and how they are approaching their work. I use that insight to think how can I best accommodate you, how can I help you interpret the character how you want.”
Speaking more about the characters and actors behind them, Hayley was set on making the cast stand out, “our cast is just stunning…not only are our principles a dream come true, our ensemble as you can see are just fantastic and I couldn’t ask any more of them.”
Applying this to stage Hayley explained “sometimes I feel like there’s an urge that something always needs to be happening, the stage needs to be full, the audience is going to get bored, that fear drives you to do too much.” Instead, she knew the importance to sometimes let someone just be still.
14:00 – Complete song run through
It was amazing to sit and watch the movement of the production like pieces of a machine. Hayley directed the motion of the leads through the crowded ensemble to the beats of the music. The creativity and collaboration of the team was overflowing.
Finishing the day
To finish off the rehearsal, I was able to get some of the crew’s favourite productions. Louis was quick to choose Evita before explaining his love for the movie Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again. Mia’s dream production to direct switched from initial choice Heathers to Falsettos. And finally, Hannah’s love of choreography lay in the first 14 minutes of West Side Story with the dance feeling as natural as walking.
Chess will take the ADC stage starting this Tuesday 1st November till Saturday 5th
Featured Image Credit: Paul Ashley