The Sewing Group blog [part 2] by Grace Gummer

An insight into rehearsals w/c 24 Oct

This week we’ve been getting the play on its feet which has revealed so much about the form of the play and how engage with it. The Sewing Group is at times such a sparse play that every physical action is ten times as noticeable. Something about the silence and the geography of the space – a small room housing a sewing group – means focus is zoomed right in. We have found that to achieve the full clarity of the text in staging, the character’s actions need to be completely distinct from each other.

We noticed the urge to add more storytelling action particularly to the more still and silent scenes. But it’s crucial to resist this and let the action be simply what it is. I think its human nature to try and explain, we’re taught to try and make communication smooth. We’ve been using the word ‘naturalising’ to describe the moments when this creeps into our approach to the text.

So many of this also relates to how we look at the past, especially as we’ve now also begun to get stuck into the research. With this new knowledge, it’s easy to start making analogies such as relating the sparsity of the text to life in the 1700s. But it’s important to completely park all of that and to invest in the thing itself – the line, action or object – and not the space around it.

In fact that’s what happened with this first draft of this week’s blog (probably to make up for the fact it’s so difficult to describe what’s happening in rehearsals) – a LOT of historical context which when reeled off starts to try and just explain the play. This doesn’t represent the spirit of the rehearsal process described above or the play itself. The magic is in letting the audience make their own connections. A list of dates and facts reduces the play to what we can quantifiably know, whereas any historical allusions should just be catalysts for imagination and feeling.

These were the things that stood out for us in this way:

  • Rebelling against industrial progress by destroying the new machines, who faced and met the death penalty in response.
  • The Jacquard Loom. A machine which read and recreated the pattern from a card with holes punched in it. First ‘programmed’ machine.
  • The Calendar Act of 1750. To adopt the Gregorian calendar used by the rest of the trading world, the years 1751 and 1752 were shortened.
  • The Watch. Development in design and production met the new need to regulate working hours more efficiently. A machine could now count and measure smaller and smaller units of time effectively.

Grace Gummer
Trainee Director