The Quick Pace of Time

The last few months flew by and my schedule was unbelievably hectic. This is why it would be so nice to not have a day-job when rehearsing a show. I likely had the easiest job on the production, and miraculously could turn it off at night (as opposed to taking a couple hours to wind down after a rehearsal), and yet still there was no extra time or spare brain space. We opened over a week ago and I’ve perhaps just now caught up with myself.

A few of the things I wish I had written about here include:

  • I love watching actors work
  • I’m constantly amazed at the limber imagination of some artists
  • Directing a play is sometimes like making a clay sculpture – push a little here, pull a bit there, and see what you have.

All that work is being followed by a relatively short run. It’ll all be over before we even realize it.

Another Opening

How is it that one day you say things such as, “There’s plenty of time yet…” and the next thing you know it’s opening night? How does this happen? And why is it that most often when we get to opening I always think, “If we only had one more week….”?

And while I’m asking questions, let me ask this: Why is it that when we move in to the space, doing full-run after full-run, a whole new type of opportunities and options and choices make themselves visible to me and others?

The last few days of rehearsals have been, for me, full of new thoughts, ideas….things I’d like to explore further, avenues I’d like to go down for a while.

bbBut suddenly it’s opening night, and while I’m not afraid to try something new in front of an audience or during a run, it’s doing so at a much greater risk it seems. Even last night as we tried a new idea that had been brought up on the previous evening, it totally threw everyone on stage and in the room. Perhaps it was in a good way, because it was funny and meant to be humorous, unfortunately, most of us broke character.

We’re doing it again tonight, but I suspect adrenaline will be high enough, especially that early in the play, that we’ll keep it together.

Opening is always a little bit exciting, and a little bit scary. This production has had no previews, so we have no real idea how an audience will respond. And while it’s a drama (a rather intense one at that, which includes violence and torture) there are points of broad humor to break the tension.

But does it work? Will an audience take to it? Will they take from it, what we think it’s all about?

I can’t be sure. But, one the other hand, can’t these questions be asked of most any play’s opening night?

Don’t Stop Working

We’re almost to tech. There’s so much work that’s happened in the past two weeks it feels like both a sprint and a marathon.

There’s an actor in the cast who I’ve admired for longer than I’ve known him. The first time I worked with him I secretly hoped to learn something about his process, because he’s so talented and so interesting on stage. I watched him work, I watched him try different things, and then one day—BOOM. He seemed to be there, miles from where he had just been. I didn’t know how it happened. I didn’t learned a thing, and he makes it look so easy.

At last night’s run-through there was a flash of a moment where I realized he just did that again.

As for me, I was feeling fairly good a couple days ago. I had found new tiny details of discovery in many places, and felt I had fleshed out my work. But between last night and tonight I think I’ve discovered that once it becomes comfortable—read as: I know what I’m doing here, I can stop working—I suddenly feel very two dimension. I find myself making easy choices, obvious thoughts, occasionally getting distracted, and then….I realize I’m thinking about that, so clearly I’m not listening to the others on stage and my work has become crap.

This is not good. This, however, is fixable.

Goals. Risks. Reaction. Listening.

I just need to put it back together. It’s all there.

In other news – the boots the costumer has given me are awesome!

Next up is tech.

Listening and Discovery in the Rehearsal Room

At this afternoon’s rehearsal I discovered we’re at one of my favorite points in the process, a point where we know some things but not everything. A point where we truly start discovering.

Today was a stumble-through: the first full run of the show after blocking and some basic scene work. Everyone is still carrying their script, no one is certain of much of what they’re doing. And, perhaps the real key, we’re getting to the point where we know some of the lines.

And that’s where the fun comes in.

I no longer have my face buried in the script, following along with everyone’s lines. Instead I’m watching the other actors, whether they’re talking to me or not, so I’m starting to be actively involved in the scene. This is a play we almost never leave the stage, and can go several pages before we have any lines or specific action to attend to, so there are stretches of just listening. I could peek ahead, and know what I was doing next, making a mental note of my cues, and I could be ready for them. But during those stretches I was able to explore, investigate the listening aspect, and try to discover how I might need to respond to what’s happening or what it is that causes me to finally say or do something. I love this stuff.

This is the part of the process where reaction and purpose are truly defined, and the more specific the better. It can never be rushed. Every reaction and beat needs to be justified and filled, and it needs to lead to the next beat.

Eventually when the right choices are made, we’ll move on to the refining and polishing, but this—this part right here—is where the real core work is done. The start and stop work throughs over the next several days are going to be a blast.

Take Note

Every idea started from a blank piece of paper.

Every idea started from a blank piece of paper.

As I write this, I’m making a cup of coffee. Not something I typically do at 5 pm, but today’s different. Today I get to start rehearsals for my next play.

(Hurray!)

I’m kind of stuck in my ways when it comes to rehearsing a play, and one of those ways is coffee. Maybe not every night, but several during the week, getting a jolt of caffeine an hour or so before rehearsals is crucial.

Also important are several other quirks that I “must” follow:

  • I will carry my script with me everywhere I go, from today through closing night. Even if I never look at it.
  • I will always bring a large bottle of water to rehearsal. (And snacks, ‘cuz, you know…..acting works up an appetite.)
  • I will choose the color, or colors, of my highlighter very carefully for highlighting my lines.
  • I will score my scenes with great detail, using a system combined from various sources and developed over many years.
  • I will only score my script in pencil.
  • I will take notes from the director in a shorthand no one else could likely decipher

But this time, for this play, I’m going to break one of my patterns. 

While some actors don’t really write down their notes (don’t ask me why) I write notes each day. In a notebook, not the script. Typically for every new play I start with a new small notebook. Only on a few rare instances have I ripped everything out of a previously used notebook, and used the remainder. Choosing the size and look of the notebook is often done with great consideration of the play and role at hand.

Yes, I know this sounds odd, but I’m a bit of a tactile person—so weight, look, feel, etc. are all important to me. The practicality and feel of the notebook, the pen, the script in my hand—whether it’s bound or loose-leafed—these are all players in the experience. And while there may not be a right or wrong way these choices are always made.

This time I’m going to experiment and it could be risky. While I’ll still use a small notebook for taking notes from the director, I’m also going to use my iPad (and the Moleskine app) to write down all my other notes, thoughts, doodling, scratching ideas, etc., throughout rehearsal. I can pull in pictures and links and tie things together more easily. 

I’m not sure how this is going to impact my work, and I can’t be sure I won’t abandon the idea after the first week, but I’m hoping it’s going to shake things up for me in my process in some way. Help to learn, grow and expand my process.

Isn’t that what it’s really about anyway? 

 

Refreshing my Core

This blog has been a bit quiet lately because I’ve been busy with other things, life things. My mind has been full of task lists and schedules. My mind and soul have not been relaxed or exercised in creativity. The other day my agent called and said “Who are some of your actor friends about the same age as you?” My mind went blank. Oy.

Superior HorizonOne lesson learned: planning your own wedding is lot like producing your own play, and sadly you only get one performance and no real rehearsals. That was my show this summer. After the ceremony I had mental notes as to what we could do differently and then realized it didn’t matter – that moment was never going to happen again.

This week is the Minnesota Fringe Festival. I’m not done seeing shows yet, but a part of me wishes I were because the last thing I saw last night was the kind of uplifting, funny, touching show on which I always like to end my festival. (More about that at another time.)

Finishing that big summer project (which was memorable for the whole family) and seeing some inspirational theater the past few days, along with the fact that I now have my rehearsal schedule—which begins in only a few weeks for a fall play—has all been refreshing.

I feel lighter. More open. More relaxed.

Opening Night, and the Morning After

I haven’t written much lately – I’ve been a bit more than busy. My schedule has been full getting to another opening night, which occurred a little more than twelve hours ago. Here it is, Saturday morning, and I’m in a daze, unsure what to do with myself. I’ve got the day free, but am still reeling from last night’s performance and am anticipating tonight’s.

This play, Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, is a big play. There are dozens of characters played by nine actors, using numerous actual sources to tell the story of Wilde’s love and trials. There are a lot of words. And a lot of interjections with little scenes and asides, often in seemingly non-sequiterian ways. Just memorizing lines became a challenge.

Theatre GarageLast night we opened to a huge crowd, who laughed at all the right places (and a few we didn’t know would be funny at all) and got very quiet, just the way the rehearsal room would, when we got to those other, more difficult and tender moments. The challenge of last night was to not let all the extra energy and stimulus in the Theatre Garage—a small, intimate space where almost every audience member can be looked at in the eye by every actor on stage—to not let it throw us off our game, not distract us, not put some new random thought in our head and take us off our the path of our previously discovered objective and strategy.

Add to that challenge that the construct of the play includes that our characters constantly talk to the audience. So it’s like getting a new scene partner after five weeks of rehearsal. Things are bound to get wobbly.

Thankfully, of course, nothing went awry. A few stumbled words here or there by a few people, but nothing really. This was immediately followed by some drinks and snacks and long conversations in the lobby. Somehow, strangely, almost the entire cast ended up back down in the green room with a few guests, chatting along before someone said “Why are we down here?!” (Anyone who has been in the green room of that theater would understand.)

And now here I sit. The morning after opening. It’s a bit like the first day after the semester when all that’s left is finals’ week. There’s a sense of relaxation, a sense of freedom of time, but there’s the continual presence of being ready to go back, muster the concentration and connection, and do it all over again with another new scene partner, made up of another hundred strangers, and see what happens this time around.

In the meantime, perhaps I’ll do some laundry and finish my taxes.