We’re nearing the end of week two of rehearsal for a production of Elmer Rice’s Street Scene. It’s a monster of a show, mostly due to the variety of the variables: 20+ actors, 3 children, a dog, 60+ characters and over a half dozen dialects.
We open in three weeks.
This undertaking could be a setting for disaster were it not for the wealth of talent involved. The creative team—director and designers—have a track record of great successes, a few particularly noted for making art out of massive productions. The cast is chock full of quick witted, creative, playful and eager actors ready to take on the challenge of creating this world.
And not just creating it, but making it come to life with its broad, sometimes stereotyped characters. Make it come to life with deep roots, accessible people, and relative to an audience 80 years after its debut.
Many of these people (onstage and off) I have had the pleasure of working with in the past, in some form or another and every one of them I looked forward to working with again. And many of the others I’ve wanted to work with because of what I’ve seen from them onstage at other times. Frankly, I’m honored to be in amongst these people.
Much of what was focused on in the first week were dialect choices and blocking. Seriously, it’s like blocking rush hour traffic at times. I’m very well acquainted with the director and his work so I was confident it would all work out. Meticulous is how I would describe it. We spent about an hour blocking approximately three pages. (To be fair, just those three pages needed that.)
I’d never witnessed a blocking rehearsal get a round of applause until then.
Blocking is one thing though. As long as I make the right notes, and can read my writing when we next come to that scene, I should be OK. Dialects aren’t quite the challenge for me that they can be for some actors, and fortunately I’m doing a couple in this show that I’ve done before. Still, it takes reviewing and reminding, and a detailed look at my lines.
Then you have to say it out loud, so there’s that. Here’s what I’ve learned:
- I can’t speak with an Irish accent if I’m reading dialogue written phonetically in another dialect. (Thank you Mr. Rice, but I’ve made a character choice, the director supports it and I need to help distinguish my two characters.)
- I’m once again appreciating some of the classroom acting exercises of a college teacher where I learned not to be distracted by an actor speaking a different accent than me. Thank you Jean.
- I still haven’t completely lost my Chicago “A” sound and it slips in too easily. I’m becoming paranoid it’s following me.
Next up: Fleshing it all out.