Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Impertinence of Blogging Earnest: Week 2 of rehearsals -- final blocking and lots of repetition and lots of food.

Sunday’s rehearsal began with blocking Act III, which was straightforward. Act III is the shortest act - most final acts are shorter than their predecessors as actions speed up to reach the climax. The actors went through the act three times, and by the end I felt things were O.K.

Immediately after rehearsal, we went to Arni’s in Market Square to enjoy pizza, salad and one another’s company. This Sunday post-rehearsal option will continue throughout the rehearsal process so cast members can bond. It’s something I picked up from the Civic production of The Odd Couple, directed by Camilla Cripps. I think everyone enjoyed themselves.

Because I wasn’t completely pleased with the blocking for Act III - again, what looks good on paper doesn’t always work in three dimensions - I jettisoned the couch I had placed in the middle of the stage. It was rarely used, and the actors could cross the stage more easily without the physical barrier. The actors moved through Act III three more times, with Cameron Johnston and me stopping-and-starting to give them notes. They seemed happy the couch was gone.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were devoted to individual acts. Act I still has blocking flaws, but the last two acts are better. On Tuesday a new element was added: food props in the form of Ritz crackers to represent the cucumber sandwiches. Eating while on stage may not seem difficult to the audience, but an actor needs rehearsal time to understand a) when to eat, b) how to eat and c) how much to eat. Add that Algernon, who eats all the cucumber sandwiches, is constantly talking during Act I. I wanted Bryce Robinson to work as much as possible with the food props. The first time through the act he pocketed a few crackers that he hadn’t been able to eat, but he was committed to the attempt.

On Wednesday, two additional elements were added: blueberry muffins and Marcos Cisneros. The muffins were added for the same reason the crackers were added: to give Bryce an opportunity to work with props and timing the eating. The more comfortable an actor is with a costume or a prop, the better the performance will be. That’s why the girls in the cast have worn dresses at rehearsals: to get them acclimated to wearing them as quickly as possible. On his first attempt, Bryce ate all six (miniature) muffins by the time the act ended.

Marcos is the production photographer, and he took full reign of the stage. When the actors rehearsed Act II, Marcos moved about the stage, getting the best possible composition for several shots of the action. I saw one shot that he was particularly proud of: Cecily and Algernon’s kiss. Because Algernon’s head is resting on Cecily’s lap before the kiss, it took Bryce and Jessica Hoffmann a few moments to determine the best way to execute the kiss. We ended up having Bryce rise on his elbows as Jessica leaned down to kiss him. The blocking looks nice, and Marcos' photo looks very good.

On Wednesday, the second act was running too long. The actors were encouraged to pick up their cues and speak a bit more quickly. Although talking fast doesn't equal being comical -- usually it comes across as being frantic -- The Importance of Being Earnest is lighthearted and romantic. The actors kept things brisk and quick, and they cut six minutes off the running time. None of the important lines were tossed asunder, and no characterization was lost because of it. I felt good after Wednesday's rehearsal. We moved the pace from a funeral dirge to the overture for Leonard Berstein's Candide. If you don't know that particular piece of music, find it and listen to it.

On Thursday, we rehearsed Act III again. Because it is short -- less than half an hour now, and it'll be shorter as it's polished -- Stage Manager Brian Carless and I had the actors run Act II and Act III back-to-back. So during the first two weeks of rehearsal, the actors had run all the acts at least six times apiece, each time receiving notes from Brian, Cameron or me. I hope that when we reach next Wednesday's and Thursday's rehearsals and actors are expected to be off book -- not having their scripts with them on stage -- they'll have the majority of their lines memorized because of the repetition. When actors are off book, the fun part of rehearsals begins as they explore and expand their characters. When they are fully confident in their lines, they can explore more vigorously because they don't have to spend energy to think what the next line is.

Next Sunday the actors will perform Acts II and III again, followed by Act I and II on Monday. There is no rehearsal on Tuesday evening. Wednesday and Thursday will be devoted to running Act I and Act II without scripts.

Trooper of the Week: Bryce. It's a task to have two curveballs thrown at you in back-to-back rehearsals that require you to eat constantly while maintaining focus, building character and executing blocking. He pulled through admirably. He also passed his driving test Wednesday night.

Trooper of the Week II: Christine Furtner. On Thursday I asked her to rehearse fainting into Nate Denson's arms again and again, each time asking Nate to wait a little longer before catching her so the audience can tell that her character has fainted, not just lost her footing. Now that we've developed a few signals that she'll send him before she collapses, we have what I think is a rather realistic faint. The amount of trust Christine has in Nate is amazing.

I'm Old: Zach Nantz and Nate are making their Civic debuts with The Importance of Being Earnest. Although I've worked with them now for two weeks, I sometimes call them the other one's name. Jake Ott is also making his Civic Youth Theatre debut -- although he did appear in the staged reading of Spoon River Anthology in late 2008. I'll probably call him by the other guys' names soon, too.

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