Rehearsals are odd: Cowpats, jugs and potential RSI


It occurred to me, while rehearsing for Titanic this week, that companies in rehearsal develop their own language to one extent or other, whether verbal or visual, such that strange sayings or actions go completely unremarked by all concerned, when an outsides would find them seriously bizarre.  Dance steps acquire strange names which surely aren’t in the standard choreographic dictionary, scenes get named after a small piece of business which happens in them, characters have their names shortened in quite disturbing ways and certain phrases will inspire fits of giggles for no easily discernible reason.  Just as a group of professionals will share their jargon and close friends will adopt the vocal tics of others in their circles, so the cast and crew of a show, who spend a lot of time in close proximity with a clear focus, develop their own forms of expression.

The reason this occurred to me was due to Titanic‘s cowpat.  Not, perhaps, as famous as the iceberg or the grand staircase, but a key element in our production nonetheless.  Readers will be relieved to learn that there are no animals in the show (unless one of the dogs that have occasionally turned up to rehearsals decides to play Kitty, Mr Astor’s airedale), and the cowpat is simply a piece of the set.  It is a ‘truck’ (movable bit of set on wheels) consisting of a raised platform shaped like half an octagon, but none of us have actually seen it yet, for the set doesn’t arrive until tomorrow.  This piece of set is right in the middle of the stage and gets used for all sorts of interesting things – the captain’s table in the first class dining saloon, the radio room, the place where the lifeboat will be lowered from and so forth – but at one point, the director found it to be frustrating and oddly-shaped, so it gained its name, which promptly stuck.  Anyone told that they are ‘up on the cowpat’ for a particular scene knows exactly what is meant.  It will be quite a letdown if it doesn’t actually resemble a cowpat in any way.

Another oddity is the use of a jug on stage.  Not as a jug, but as a megaphone, used when boarding the passengers and declaring the ship lost.  It goes utterly unremarked, and the shared visual language of the cast equates jug with megaphone.  I’m hoping that when we start the show proper, there will be a megaphone – audiences are less willing to enter into the shared world of the cast to quite that extent.

Finally, for me, the potential for repetitive strain injury is a little worrying.  During the second act, there is an extended musical scene between the Captain, the owner and the architect of the ship, which takes place in the radioman, with Harold Bride as a mostly silent witness to the proceedings.  During their arguments, the radioman is continually sending the distress call, alternating between the old CQD and the new SOS.  This is a lot of rapid wrist movement which quickly becomes tiring and painful – and this after just five or so minutes.  It is no wonder that typists and telegraphists frequently suffered from RSI.  In context, the least of Bride’s worries, but it is somewhat frustrating not to be able to stop and shake the joint out, as this would apparently be rather distracting!

  1. I’m not going to be able to quite look at raised pieces of set or megaphones in the same way again. It’s your fault if I fall about laughing at the next play I visit when someone leaps up onto the raised thingy to declaim.

  2. Oops! Sorry, Reed.

    An update – the cowpat looks nothing like a cowpat, luckily, but it referred to by the whole cast and the whole backstage crew as well. Hee hee hee.

  1. April 14th, 2012

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