Actor Kate Skinner navigates us through the first weeks of Music rehearsals; revealing the wonder, joy and jitters as the cast starts to make the play their own.

It’s hard to believe we’re at the end of our 2nd week of rehearsals already.

The beauty of a Jane Bodie script is that you can feel like you have been excavating layer upon layer of text, subtext, jokes, crossed wires, hidden meanings and agendas, and right when you think you have got to the bottom of a moment, the truth at the heart of it, you realise you are only just scratching the surface. Welcome to Music.

Kate Skinner plays Sarah

By the time you read this we will have finished our first pass at working our way through the entire play. There is, of course, a huge sense of achievement and relief that accompanies this, it’s nice to know that you’ve at very least experienced a version of each of the moments that make up the play- had that first awkward meeting, hoped that you didn’t have toilet paper stuck to your shoe or your skirt hitched into the back of your undies and promised yourself, under your breath, that it can only get better from here.

However, there is also an excited curiosity at the thought of making another pass at the play as we now get to see whether the answers we came up with at the start, still hold true by the end. Or more importantly – to discover whether we were even asking the right questions in the first place!

In rehearsal: Tom Stokes

Lucky for me I am surrounded by some of the best people in the business to stumble through these awkward loo-paper-on-shoe, skirt-in-undies early days with.  And equally lucky we all seem to have our fair share of ‘chump’ moments (as Anthony Gee so eloquently coined it the other night) so it is a wonderfully safe place to try things out. But the magic of the last two weeks, for me, has been the countless opportunities I have had the joy of being surprised; by my fellow actors, by something in the text I had not previously noticed or understood, by an alternate point of view which not only changes a particular moment but then has a ripple affect for the rest of the play. That is what makes working on this play, with this team, so electric. That and the large amount of sugar they bring into the room.

Working on Music has also served as a timely reminder to me of how fine the line is between helping someone and harming them and I believe this to be particularly true when dealing with someone who is suffering from mental illness. In my experience, this can often come down to why we choose to connect with a person in the first place and what our expectation is of them, their illness and what is in their best interest.  The more I learn about mental illness (through both my own experiences with loved ones who are dealing with it and also through the exploration of the world of the play) the more I discover that the problem largely lies with us as a society (of which I absolutely include myself); our pre-conceptions of what it’s like to live with mental illness, our frustration when it all gets too hard, our desire to step back when we are confronted by it and our constant need to ‘fix it’ so that things can go back to the way they were. Worse than this is the common practice of sweeping the issue under the carpet as if it will just go away. That is what I love about Music – it shines the light not on the illness itself but on those surrounding it and the many, many ways in which we fall short despite, in our minds, our very best intentions.

As I was writing this blog a friend shared an idea with me about one of A.A Milne’s famous characters that she had seen on Suicide Prevention Australia’s Facebook page, and when I considered it on a larger scale, outside of the specificity of the illness, I thought it was rather fitting:

“One awesome thing about Eeyore is that even though he is basically clinically depressed, he still gets invited to participate in adventures and shenanigans with all of his friends. And they never expect him to pretend to feel happy, they just love him anyway, and they never leave him behind or ask him to change.”

I hope Music gets us talking about our approach to mental illness. I hope it surprises you as it continues to surprise me. I hope the lolly jar in rehearsals has been replenished.

Kate Skinner, March 2014

Music by Jane Bodie plays 2 – 26 April. For more info and to book tickets, click here.