Will Wollen, the artistic director of Margate’s Theatre Royal, invited me to come along and observe and draw during the rehearsals for this year’s Christmas play (I did a similar thing last year and made about two hundred drawings of the actors as they rehearsed and developed the play in a nearby church hall). This year, and frustratingly for me, I could only make it along for a few hours each day for just the final three days. I did about fifty sketchbook drawings of the actors as they rehearsed sections of the play and worked out the various technical details of the performance such as the lighting, sound, the use of the set and props and so on (the woods move and become the interior of a house and the house made of cake turns into an elaborate witch’s oven! …ooh, don’t be having nightmares now!).
The drawings of the actors had to be done with great speed because they were in constant movement. The drawings had to be done without looking at the paper. There wasn’t time to make fine adjustments or corrections. Whatever mark was made had to stand as the trace of that particular moment spent noticing certain aspects of the actors’ presence on the stage. A line might move across the page at a speed which follows the movement of the person being drawn (as they move across my field of vision). In the next moment I might hurriedly try to note the momentary positions of the hands, or the shape formed by an arm and so on. None of the actors’ movements were ever repeated in quite the same way and so the drawn lines are traces of time and movement as well as presence and appearance.
I’m amazed at the amount of skill, effort and care that is going into producing this play. In an ideal world, I would have had the time to make drawings of the whole process from start to finish. This wasn’t to be but it was a privilege to be allowed to haunt the auditorium with my sketchbook and observe, notice and draw.