So what happens when you find out you have landed one of the title roles in this year’s Summer Show at Shaftesbury Arts Centre – playing Mack Sennett in Jerry Herman’s Mack and Mabel? I was the lucky person to do this, in early April, and here are a few words about how I have prepared to play this character, who was one of the biggest influences on the silent movie scene at the beginning of the twentieth century.
I found out I’d got the part a few days after the audition. I had already done a little research into Mack’s real life, as well as the story of the show as part of my preparation for the audition, and had seen it some years ago at Newbury, with David Soul in the leading role. I knew I was about the right age for the older Mack, looking back on his adventures in Movies with Mabel.
As soon as I had collected my script and score from Director Sophie, I met with Musical Director David, spent about 90 minutes getting familiar with every single piece of music that I am involved in, as solo singer or part of the chorus, and recorded a rough rehearsal version that David could email to me. These were on a CD in my car for three weeks prior to rehearsals starting, so I pretty much know everything I have to sing, although of course things may change, if only in a minor way, with harmonies changed, cuts made, or lines given to specific singers in any given song, but at least I went to the first rehearsal ready to sing anything needed from me. I also went to one of David’s pre-rehearsal gatherings, where I met Beth for the first time, and what a relief it was to find how good an actor and singer she is. At 18, Beth is about the age that Mabel first met Mack, and with Mack narrating from his later years, their story should come across well as the years pass through the action of the musical. Sophie also got Beth and I together to discuss our characters and how they develop, how we react to each other, and to run through all of our key scenes, so that when we rehearse them with the full cast we have already worked out the basics, saving time and helping create the chemistry needed.
My final big piece of preparation was spending four hours today recording every single word that I have to learn, spoken and sung, onto my computer, and then editing this into tracks of two to three minutes each, in scenes or half-scenes. I have found, over the past twenty years or so, that my favourite and most efficient way of learning words is to try and learn a short piece, 2 minutes or so, on my 25-minute drive to work, and then consolidate this on the way home from work in the evening. As more and more words and music are learned, the longer it takes to go through all the words, so I would expect this to take me three to four weeks to learn the 56 minutes of material for Mack and Mabel – 38 tracks in total – some just thirty seconds and others over two minutes long.
I will start learning my spoken words tomorrow, and my deadline is the end of May, as that is the official date for “Books Down”, and once I know my words I will spend every daily commute going through them with the CD, so that I stay accurate, and do not let a single syllable slip, or change the tense or pronoun in any sentence, as that is the sort of thing that can throw a whole speech, or distract one of my fellow performers. We’ve had a few rehearsals now, during which Sophie has set the moves for the first third of the show, and these moves will become part of this learning, adapting as we get our set built in mid to late June.
I have a reputation for learning lines well, something I intend to continue, and this daily routine is, I believe, the reason for my accuracy. I will still forget one or two lines in every performance, that is human, and normal, but every time I do I will correct it in the following show, usually forgetting something different instead!
There we are then, an insight into how I prepare for this role – come and see me as Mack Sennett in Mack and Mabel at Shaftesbury Arts Centre between 11th and 21st July, and if you want to know more, find us on Facebook, Twitter, and at the Centre in Bell Street, Shaftesbury.