15 August 2011

When the Rain Stops Falling: "It is an absolute joy to work on this play"

drama on the waterfront chats with actor Jude Gibson about When the Rain Stops Falling, particularly what it is like to share a role with another actor, how it feels to return to a production with a different cast and crew (Jude starred in the Silo Theatre production in Auckland last year) and how theatre is the family business.

DOTW: What can you tell us about your character in When the Rain Stops Falling?

JG: I don’t want to give too much away, or it will spoil the audience’s pleasure in putting the puzzle of this play together. She is a 50 yr old woman called Gabrielle, who lives in Adelaide with her husband of 25 years Joe. If I say any more I will have to kill you!

DOTW: You share this character with Sophie Hambleton; how did the two of you work together in order to play different ages of the same character?

JG: At first we just worked through the processes of our own character (albeit the same person) and then we began watching each other closely for personal mannerisms, physicality and vocal patterning – much of which was already there in the script, or starting to happen in rehearsal– probably as a result of our shared “history”. Then, it was just a matter of refining it in an economical way.

Jude Gibson (back) and Sophie Hambleton. Photo by Stephen A'Court.
DOTW: You have performed this play before, at the Silo Theatre in Auckland; how does the Circa production differ? What is it like to return to the play with a whole new cast and creative team? 

JG: Well, for a start, the general shape of the auditorium at Circa is completely different.  It is very wide and open, and the set at Circa reflects this, with a very wide playing space.  The audience is straight out front, whereas the Herald Theatre where the Silo production was housed was much more compact – like a box. There, we played in the thrust, with audience on 3 sides. This of course helps it to feel like a whole new experience for me.  The music is different too – and composed specifically for this production - as is the A/V – although strangely, magically, they seem to me to tell the same story as the Silo production. My character is costumed differently as well – so I feel like a whole new person/character, which is great.

It is an absolute joy to work on this play – I love the script so much – and with a whole new team of creative people working on it, I was once more swept up in a wave of enthusiasm and curiosity about the depth of the piece.

As an actor, it is exciting to play with different actors on the same piece. Every actor is a unique being with unique qualities they bring to their role. Their voices are different, their bodies move in different ways, their inner rhythms are different. They help to create my character by the way they react to me, and vice versa – we don’t do it alone. So of course I will react – in the moment – to what is coming at me from them, and because they are different people my responses will be slightly different too. It’s an organic, spontaneous process resulting in the audience receiving exactly the same story night after night.

DOTW: What new challenges did you discover in the role or the play itself while working on this production?

JG: I guess in a way this question also relates to the one just asked.  When you have already played a role and then return to it with a different cast, you have to find a way to escape the rhythms of your previous performance – if they still linger – and come to the work as a blank canvass. Concentration is an essential ingredient of this task – I have to listen even more intensely to what my fellow actors are saying, doing and projecting to me. This helps to break any previous patterning in the work and find fresh responses to what is happening in front of me. As a consequence, I think my work in the role has grown, deepened and expanded.

This time around I was also responsible for the choreography of the piece – which was a whole new challenge. The script calls for certain choreographic work at times from the ensemble of actors – and while it is not dance that’s required, some of it is fairly complicated – my fault - and demands precision in order to achieve the desired effect.  Luckily, it is a very generous cast, and everyone committed wholeheartedly to the undertaking, helping to find solutions to problems for themselves and each other.

Christopher Brougham and Jude Gibson. Photo by Stephen A'Court.
DOTW: I understand that theatre, particularly at Circa, is a bit of a family business for you, with daughter Lauren Gibson having performed in Blackbird and August: Osage County and partner Iain Cooper doing the set construction for most Circa shows. How is it to have the whole family involved in the same industry and, sometimes, working in the same building?

JG: It’s brilliant actually – even though it probably sounds like a potential nightmare.  Dinnertime conversation has often involved the theatre and current projects.

My daughter Lauren has lived alongside – and in – my life in the theatre since she was born. I guess that was the norm for her – the same goes I suspect for families of lawyers and doctors etc – a genetic predisposition plus constant exposure – nature and nurture finally reconciled! Lauren does her thing – without any involvement from me – and I do mine – and we support each other and talk freely about our work when we get together – mother and daughter – friends and colleagues. I am proud of the work she’s done so far – as a parent and as a fellow actor – and look forward to seeing her future work – whatever that may be – she has her whole life ahead of her. I haven’t worked with her onstage yet myself – but would relish the opportunity should it arise.

My partner Iain was working as a tree surgeon when we met – and when we moved to Wellington he got work on The Lord Of The Rings in the Green’s Department – dismantling huge macrocarpas and putting them back together on set – creating swamps of glue, etc Along with various television jobs, ie. The Tribe, he worked on King Kong creating New York city out at Seaview, Avatar, and the ill-fated Kingdom Come.  By then he’d started to work on theatre sets in Wellington and really enjoyed the constant change of monthly theatre production. It was great to come home and discuss the day’s work over dinner – especially when we were both working on the same show and had sets in common – him building and me having to perform on them! 

I guess we all have a certain empathy for each other’s work and a kind of shorthand when talking about our own. We have yet to all three be working in the same building at the same time! But I certainly wouldn’t be averse to that should it arise.

The cast of When the Rain Stops Falling. Photo by Stephen A'Court. 
DOTW: Finally, how have audiences been reacting so far to When the Rain Stops Falling?

JG: The response has been amazing! It seems to touch people very deeply. They generally start out enjoying the setup of the “mystery” and the seemingly random humour, and as the play’s story and mystery deepens they become really absorbed – listening so carefully. Then as the pieces of the puzzle start to fall into place, I can hear them gasp or sigh, and by the time the end of the story approaches we can hear them sniffling. Some people are literally sobbing by the end, but also feeling really uplifted and hopeful. Afterwards, in the foyer, many people have approached me to say how much they enjoyed it and how satisfying it is as a piece of theatre to experience, how moved they were. I take this to mean that they have experienced a catharsis of some sort – which in my experience is the most satisfying experience one can have in the theatre – not just to have been taken on a journey, but to have experienced something so deeply that you feel changed in some way – or better for it.

The critics too have been unanimous in their very high praise of this production – as you can see on www.theatreview.org.nz. However, as always we are dependent on word-of-mouth as an important form of advertising for this production – which is of course the best form – so if you do come and enjoy it, please spread the word!

When the Rain Stops Falling runs in Circa Two until 27 August. to book, call the Circa Box Office at 801-7992 or go online at www.circa.co.nz

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