Tech Rehearsal. Two words that will instantly strike fear into the hearts of anyone who’s ever been in, involved with, an observer of, or heard about a theatre show. Their very utterance recalls long-repressed memories of focusing lights, looping sound effects, set pieces and costumes going horribly wrong, and stage managers on the precipice of aneurysms. It’s the stage in a show’s production that is better left forgotten by the cast and crew, the days and nights that push the team to their limits and beyond, in pursuit of the magical rush that a successful piece of theatre can give. But Ormond College Drama Club have fully embraced the calamity of this crucial part of the creative process in their production of Anne Washburn’s 10 Out of 12.
The metatextual air is thick as soon as the audience enters the Guild Theatre – a stage-within-a-stage sits centrally, four painted backdrop panels suggesting a humble parlour. Either side, translucent curtains reveal another world…backstage. Full of prop tables, schedules, lists, costumes, power cables, computer monitors and headsets, it is this world in which the play unfolds, following the production team of an unnamed play as they struggle to get through a technical rehearsal fraught with a picky director, pretentious cast members and a technical crew so dysfunctional they can’t help but waste the precious 10 out of 12 hours they have with their actors. OCDC have their tongues firmly in their cheeks as they give more than a wink and a nod to any theatre makers in the audience, turning every element of the play-within-the-play, especially its shortcomings, up to 11.
Each performance here is suitably hammier than the last, with the cast seemingly in constant battle for comedic supremacy. Among the plethora of madcap antics, there are some especially stellar performances from Esther Cowen and Max Jelbart as a pair of ambitious and over-committed actors. Cowen’s hyper-physical, quasi-Shakespearean turn as Ben provides much of the physical energy of the first act and a great deal of reflection in the second. Meanwhile, Jelbart’s Paul is the ultimate ostentatious D-bag of an actor, trying to mould the show into his magnum opus while the playwright is absent. The complete dedication to the absurdity in these two performances maintains a fierce perpetual motion, and they bring the wild array of performances and situations on display into cohesion. Other standouts include Natan Skinner’s icy Director, Sarah Rocca’s scene-stealing Costume Designer and the kooky Electrician/Assistant Stage Manager double act of Hamish Litt and Georgie Currie. All relish their roles within a tight and passionate ensemble, and get their own moment to shine in the forever-changing chaos of the “rehearsal”.
Director Lauren Bennett fearlessly leads her cast into the world of the tech, letting them run wild and truly own the farcical insanity. Washburn’s script is meandering at times, perhaps-overlong and gloriously indulgent, but Ormond College’s company elevate its series of non-sequiturs and introspective monologues into a hilarious and genuinely moving examination of the artistic process. Bennett brilliantly undercuts the broad, stereotype-heavy humour of the script’s first half by digging deep with her talented performers to uncover genuine heart and pathos at the heart of the work. The cast do their best with a script rife with the awkward silences and flabby bits, unearthing the gems of moments hidden inside. They will only get pacier and tighter as the season progresses, which will serve to soar the show to new heights.
The real technical team are rendered almost invisible by the on-stage “techs”, which is a testament to their thorough and diligent work. Unsurprisingly, this is an insanely technical show, and the inventive design work by Harriet Wing, Jarinda Wilson, Alec Barber and Maddie Mills ties it all together. There is fantastic use of the Guild stage, complementing by blocking that sends our eyes everywhere, no space left unexplored by the end of the night. There is a certain excellence in doing controlled chaos well, and this team well and truly pull it off.
This kind of show is what student theatre is all about – an eclectic group of young artists coming together, not necessarily knowing what they are doing, but making something incredibly fun and collaborative together anyway. There’s always an especially intimate vibe in a college production; perhaps that’s what happens when the cast and crew all live together. Ormond Drama have assembled an insanely dexterous group of creatives/neighbours to illuminate the hidden interior of the theatre world, celebrating both the inherent ridiculousness of making art and the beauty that can be found in its flaws.
Ormond College Drama Club’s production of 10 Out of 12 runs from the 26-29th of July in the Guild Theatre.