Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Impertinence of Blogging Earnest: Week 3 of rehearsals – splitting up and working off book.

"In the spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love." – from the poem "Locksley Hall" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Spring also is the time when a young person's immune system is bombarded by all manner of germs, bacteria and other microscopic maladies. During last week's rehearsals it seemed almost all the actors suffered from coughs and sneezes, and three actors missed rehearsals due to illness. Fortunately, those were temporary setbacks and rehearsals for The Importance of Being Earnest reached a higher level of intensity.

Sunday's and Monday's rehearsals were split. While Cameron Johnston and Brian Carless worked Acts II and III on Sunday afternoon with most of the performers, I worked with pairs of actors a short distance away to target specific scenes. One of the targeted scenes was the beginning of Act II, located in the garden at Jack's country estate. Miss Prism and Cecily are joined outdoors by Reverend Chasuble. Through subtext, a reader can tell that Prism likes Chasuble very much, and vice versa, but audiences need more than just words to understand character relationships. Christine Furtner and Nate Denson, who play the characters, worked line by line through the scene, determining what emotions their characters were feeling and how they could physically express it to the audience. Also during that rehearsal, Jessica Hoffmann, who plays Cecily, worked on more firmly establishing her relationship with Prism. After Sunday's rehearsal, it was off to Arni's where much of the discussion centered on movies and television shows.

On Monday, while Cameron and Brian worked Act I and II, I worked with Kevin Barlow and Madeleine Bien on the scene in which Jack is interrogated by Lady Bracknell. Both actors are quite natural on stage, but through discussion and direction they found several emotional levels to reach throughout the scene. All the actors in this production may be tired of hearing it, but they need to express what their characters are feeling not only vocally, but physically. Being able to say the lines is important, but putting something behind those lines is too; if it weren't, lines could be recorded in a monotone voice and played back in a theatre, rather than having actors appear on stage. I think with the detail work the actors have gone through, these scenes have become much more interesting to an audience because of its variety.

No rehearsal was scheduled for Tuesday. Instead, I watched Cameron in the staged reading of In the Weeds by Steve Gooch. Jessica was also there, along with Margaret Duvall, who plays Gwendolen. After 12 rehearsals, during which the actors went over each act at least eight or nine times, it was nice to have a break during the week.

Wednesday's rehearsal was the first in which actors were required to be off book; this means they do not have their scripts in hand when they're performing. This is normally one of the roughest rehearsals during the entire process. No matter how much preparation time an actor has with the lines, a script can still be a good crutch to lean upon while on stage. When it's taken away, there are bound to be some stumbles.

We rehearsed Act I on Wednesday. The entire rehearsal started with an Italian line through: actors read from their scripts, but have to pick up their cues so quickly that they almost step on one another's lines. Also, all the lines must be delivered with an Italian accent. It's an exercise that forces actors to focus only on the words in front of them, which I believe helps memorization. After listening to Bryce Robinson's accent, however, we may have to rename it Brooklyn line through. There were a lot of giggles, but the actors did a nice job being on stage with their scripts for the last time. They ran through the entire act twice, one time with Brian feeding them their lines if they asked; the second time Cameron actively corrected them whenever they misspoke. With those two in charge of rehearsal, I was free to work with actors one-on-one with lines.

On Thursday, we worked on Act III in order to accommodate one of the actor's schedules. Rehearsal began with some stretches as a physical warm-up, followed by a mirror exercise in which two actors stand face-to-face and perform the same physical actions simultaneously. I was probably a bit heavy handed when I told the actors the obvious – the mirror exercise is all about concentration and responding to another person. They have to do that on stage as well.

The second part of the rehearsal was the Italian line through, which Cameron led as Brian and I spoke with Laurie Russell about the set. Laurie has completely bought in to the concept of the production and knows how much I want to contrast the elegant, upper-crust, slick feel of Algernon's apartment with the relaxed, comfortable atmosphere of Jack's home. She and I will be working with the prop crew and costume crew Saturday morning to find specific items for the show.

As with Wednesday, the actors ran through Act III twice. The first time, Cameron gave them their lines when they asked for them. The second time, Brian corrected them as they moved forward. Again, actors split up into smaller groups to work on lines one-on-one while Brian ran the rehearsal. Because Act III is comparatively short, we started a fourth run, with the actors getting notes on character from me, Cameron and Brian.

Now that we're almost done going through all three acts for the first time off-book – we'll go over Act II next Sunday – actors are going to face an intense two weeks in which they'll get a lot of feedback over every aspect of their performance: their posture, their tone of voice, the speed of their delivery, their reactions to what they see and hear onstage, and a lot more. There will also be a lot of individual sessions in which actors will work with me and Cameron in order to strengthen the show. After those two weeks are through, Tech Week begins and my focus becomes split as the crew joins in. These next two weeks are when the actors are pretty much going to find their performance level. I'm certain they'll aim high.

Unsung Heroes of the Week: Everyone in the cast, Cameron and Brian. People have to adjust to the change of weather from freezing winter temperatures to n0t-quite-freezing-but-not-quite-warm-on-a-consistent-basis spring. The term "people" includes actors and young people. Everyone continued to work hard, even if they needed some time off to recover from illness.

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