We are now three weeks into rehearsals and our process is alternately blissful and excruciating. We work subtle nuances of one scene until all seems to click, and then go on to a scene we think already perfected and discover we’ve lost the rhythm or the refinements…or the lines.
Each of my actors is a veteran theater professional, but each with very different experience, skills, and strengths. Some learned the lines almost immediately but struggle to remember blocking. Others get the blocking, but stutter step through the words—which have been changing as we refine this wonderful new play.
Some with a strong vocal instrument and ready access to the ‘psychology’ of the character came in strong, but now begin the torturous journey to dig deeper than their usual comfort level. One actress informed me that I was terrifying, but then admitted that I was only demanding her best. I try never to yell or throw tantrums, but my expectations of these women are very high. And sometimes my frustration has to show. I suppose that can be terrifying if you are used to relying on technique or the usual bag of tricks and I insist on more.
It is a constant ebb and flow. One day five or six of the seven are working at high energy. Another day, someone who has been struggling makes a breakthrough. We discover a ‘moment’ in the play that wasn’t previously defined, and it’s all worth it. Painstakingly, we carve the emotional terrain of this play and hope our audience will find us and recognize the labor and the love that has brought us to the stage.
As we define the action and perfect the emotional pitch, the next struggle will be as we begin to integrate the technical aspects, stop miming the actions and begin working with food and liquids and prop phones. How to master the swing of a kitchen door, time the sound of a chair scraping the floor, or a spoon clinking on a cup? These are the millions of details that go into making the perfect arc of the play. Mastery of one thing only leads to larger challenges and obstacles.
Oh, but the joy of finding the right note, the perfect laugh, the synchronous movement and line. There is the satisfaction that keeps us working for low wages at a craft we are passionate about. At the service of the words, and hopefully the playwright.
Our own dear playwright, Gwen Flager has brought her own energy and focus to this process. She is learning much from this shared experience. For a play may be born of a writer’s mind, but it is birthed by the collaborative effort into a living and breathing thing.
For Gwen’s notes, pictures and musings on this process, go to her website: http://gwenflager.com/blog/.
Above photo by Julye Newlin.
Hope everyone will come share the bounty with us when we open on July 12, 2018.