Director Faye Merralls gives us a peek behind the scenes on the making of Hot Dog.
Week Two: Staging
After lots of chatter about the script in the first week, this week was the time to get the scenes onto their feet and start working with the movement; mapping the visuals onto the spoken word and securing the sense behind each line spoken.
Hot Dog is set in Butler, Pennsylvania (as already mentioned in rehearsal diary #1), but more specifically in the houses of 2 generations of the same family – we have the The Dog’s House (this is Grandma’s house) and we have the Gould’s family home just across the road (this house belongs to the Dog’s youngest daughter and her husband). All the action takes place in the two kitchens of the respective houses, which are almost identical in layout, and each family member has their appointed chair around the kitchen table – to emphasise the cyclical, claustrophobic nature of small town American, family life.
A meeting with Emma Bailey, Hot Dog’s designer, kickstarted week 2 of rehearsals with a bang and allowed me to visualise more easily the place into which we’d be getting the scenes onto their feet. The challenge in producing in a flexible studio space comes, however, in deciding exactly where to put the audience. With the two family homes, Hot Dog was never going to be a traditional end-on proscenium arch performance.
Another challenge, supposedly, comes with the personification of Grandma’s character as a dog. I say supposedly as this has been a lot of people’s primary question to me about the play: how do you cope with the absurdity of the piece; of having a human-shaped dog onstage. In fact, this theatrical device is a lot more straightforward than you would think and really does not detract from the naturlism of the piece; which I actually believe is the trick to approaching absurdism in the first place. If the cast think acting to a person who from time to time walks on all fours, growls and pants now and again and eats from a dog bowl is completely normal then it will be a powerful rather than jarring device for the audience. I hope. Of course, it helps enormously that Tessa Hatts, who is playing the role of The Dog has met each challenge presented by the script head on. And of course, the ease of intergrating The Dog into the naturalistic elements of the script relies on the cooperation of the whole cast.
Overall, week 2 has been an entirely enjoyable and fruitful experience and this is mainly due to the brilliance of Sarah Kosar’s writing which on closer and closer inspection just keeps getting better and better. Tomorrow, we have our first stagger through of the play: as this week has seen us approaching the play episodically scene by scene, we now get to see how all the work fits together. We’ll also be adding some crucial props in for the first time so that the cast can get used to all the business of the play. And there is a lot of business in the action of the play: meal-cooking; meal-eating; laundry-folding; dog-walking; dish-washing – and the actors are eager to get stuck in with these activities as soon as possible.
Rehearsal challenge from week 2 still to be resolved: how to make it look like a dog is weeing onstage when said dog is actually a woman, who is being treated like a dog by her daughters and therefore acts like a dog and decides to wee on one of said daughters. Watch this space.
Hot Dog is at The Last Refuge from 12-17 March. More info