Week 1: First Read Through & Table Work.
Tonight is the first read-through. This encompasses the first read-through of the play; the directors concept discussion; the showing of the designs; and the meeting of all the different members of the production team: designers, cast, director, assistant director's, stage managers, assistant stage managers, and understudies. All are gathered in the same room for the first time. The play has been cast for months at this point, and the set and costume designs have been finalized.
It's an exciting time, and there is just a whiff of anxiety in the air. As actor's, we are cast knowing very little, if anything, about the directors idea, or concept of the play. It's at the first read-through where all is revealed. True story: several years ago while working at a major theatre in the area, it was at the first read- through where we learned that many of us would wear plastic wrap and tin foil... in the summer. I think the cast didnt breath for a good five minutes when this idea was revealed. Design equals environment to the actor. So it's at the first read through where we literally learn where we will live for the next eight weeks.
My personal response to seeing the designs for Curse of the Starving Class at first read was "thrilled". The design accomplishes everything one would hope; inform location in an exciting, vital, theatrical way, define space, and support the story. The designers are Justin Thomas/lights, Kristina Lucka/costumes, Tanna Peters/set, and Roni Lancaster/sound. They're all part of our accomplished MFA in design program.
After looking at the designs and hearing each designer discuss their process in achieving it, it's time to read the play. The first read-through of the play is strange ritual in the theatre. By this time, the cast has had these roles in their hands for several months now. Lots of gestation has occurred, but much, much more needs to happen. The urge is to just let go and play. But the very script you are holding limits how much you can connect with anyone else. You don't own these words yet. Your character's life is a vague idea at this point. In CSC we will spend the first week just sitting around the table reading, asking questions, and connecting the textual dots. Once this is week is over, we will have a better sense of the givens of the text. It's like building a foundation one idea, one image at a time.
On the second evening, Dan De Raey urged us to take small bites of the play and let the words of the playwright come through as opposed to feeling an obligation to perform, which can be a byproduct of the first read-through of the play. This is one of the things I love about working with Dan. He empowers you to be brave enough to let the work be simple, to give the text a chance to breathe.
As I write this, it's the end of the first week for me and I'm done for the day. Some of the cast are back at rehearsal, "getting on their feet" or staging the first scene. Earlier today we read the play again. The contrast to the read of Monday night was huge. There was now some depth, a deeper sense of each character's journey. I am slowly coming to understand Weston. He's a man who has lost is way in pursuit of the American Dream. He's severely depressed and sometimes violent. Playing him will definitely cause me some discomfort. We all have our demons, and most of us go years, maybe decades never disturbing them. As an actor, I have to poke them with a stick all too often. I continue to work to make these inner devils my friends. I have to use them in service of the characters I play, so there is no sense hating their existence. Weston also has a very up, bright side that is in play in Act III. So I get to explore with that side of myself as well. He's a very compelling, complex man. I am privileged to be able to explore what makes him tick.
My conclusion at the end of the week...what a play!