Hercules | Rehearsal Diary – Alyssa Thomas4 Jan 2019
With it landing next week, Young Company member and cast member of Hercules, Alyssa Thomas, give us a sneaky peak into the process of creating Thebes, mythical ping pong parlour, and the heroes within.
My favourite thing so far
The best thing in any show, for me, is the ensemble. All shows are fun and exhilarating to work on but having people around you that you really enjoy spending time with is what makes it something you really remember.
Being accepted to join a show is always an amazing feeling, but nerve-wracking. You now have to spend months with people you have (probably) never met before and spend hours together working, discussing and creating. It’s not always easy but the 17 in our cast are just amazing people; I don’t think I have ever been in a cast where everyone gets along this well. We can discuss, argue and disagree while we work but when breaks roll around we can just sit and chat together.
I have never been in a cast with such a range of ages, our youngest is 11 and oldest is 22! Handily, they play the younger and older version of the same characters in the show. It was interesting discussing ideas and themes around stereotypes and masculinity with such a variety of people. I would have thought my ideas were closer to a Year 7 than a Year 13 but I was wrong. The youngest Young Company members have grown up in a completely different world to me and there is a generation gap that sometimes feel massive, even if there’s only a few years in it. (Yes, I am aware I sound like a grandma).
Creating the story
I really enjoy our sessions, especially at the start of the process, when we were on our feet devising. Making a play like ours has meant a LOT of devising together and with so many ideas for the direction of the story I’m surprised we have developed such a solid storyline. Some ideas were good, some bad, some amazing (but had to be ditched anyways) but the rollercoaster to get where we are now was all worth it when we had our first run-through and watched the baby we’ve created come to life.
The hardest thing to do was to choose what to include and not to, and not just the scenes we devised. Greek Hercules did a lot of stuff that was, well, just a bit odd and Roman Heracles did some even weirder stuff. Some fables like the creation of the Milky Way, Hercules fed from Hera and she couldn't pull him off her, when she finally did, her milk sprayed everywhere, creating the Milky May. A hilarious scene, but for another show. Sifting through his side adventures and the main story, we realised that Hercules wasn’t exactly a great guy. When he got angry he killed, and he got away with it just because his father was Zeus. Initially, this was really annoying because we wanted Hercules to be our hero but he was a killer and most of the original stories about him highlight only his strength, not that he was a good guy.
No spoilers, I promise: but I will summarise that our Hercules isn't a bad guy but we’ve made him human, 3D and complex.
Most of the myths were about Hera tricking Hercules and him outfoxing the trick so we wanted her to be the antagonist but again, she we’ve made her more than just ‘the baddy’: we've made her human (well, a God, but 3D).
Didn’t think I was signing up to a musical
I love singing, that doesn’t mean I think I’m any good at it. So imagine my surprise (and worry) when we introduced a few songs to the play.
Luckly, we have great songs. So easy to catch the tune of and learn with a bit of help. To those who aren’t sure about musicals, including my family, have no worries – the show is still more spoken than sung. We just wanted live music to add atmosphere in a way recorded music can’t. I won’t name names but there are definitely a few in the cast that stand out as beautiful singers and push these songs up to the next level. Not only do we have great singers but also instrumentalists – you would be surprised how much they change the mood of any scene.
We have had a few intensives now: one week in October and more recently. What I said before about the ensemble changing the whole play, this is what I mean. Intensives with people you can’t hang out with are difficult but with this show, as we got closer to the end of the week, I felt I didn’t want them to end.
I hate early mornings, but these intensives distracted me from any desire to be in PJs. Devising almost constantly all week was fun and getting to have the input we do in this production was an amazing experience, especially for an aspiring director.
To say I enjoyed them more than I expected is an understatement.
At the moment we are polishing our play into a smooth-running narrative that captures audience attention and wows. We’re furiously practising songs, getting costumes and props, and learning lines.
With the end drawing near, I worry what I will do with all the free time I will now have back. It has been a rollercoaster so far, (with mock exams in the middle so I’m occasionally falling asleep during rehearsals), but it is amazing to be back in theatre and in this play.