"You want an artichoke?"
More on that later.
We finished staging the play this week, and had the designer run.
Staging is where we discover how the characters live in the space. How and why they sit, stand, exit, enter, eat, drink and so on. This is all done, most of the time, with the actors still carrying their script. Everyone learns lines at a different pace and in different ways. I learn mine when I understand the physical story somewhat and connect the inner dots. So at this point the play has a sketched in feel to it. We're painting with big brushes now. Once the basic physical world is somewhat defined, we will start to paint with much finer brushes. That's when the real fun begins.
With the lines memorized, we get to play with all the various ways our characters interact. Keep in mind, that dialogue is only one way that we communicate. And with all due respect to playwrights, it's the least interesting. To me. I am fascinated by the ways that we talk with our bodies; the ways we choose to occupy a space. Whenever two or more human beings are in a space together there is communication. Even if one or both choose not to verbally interact, there is still communication. Now that we are slowly putting down the script, it allows us to do the most important work of the actor: listening. By "listening," I mean taking in the whole person with whom you are communicating. To me, listening is reading the other person, hearing their words, and then deciding what to say in response to what you see and feel.
For example, say you run into an old friend you haven't seen for months. The two of have always been very competitive, both keeping about even, with one or the other edging ahead, only to be caught and passed. Today it's your turn in the lead. The friend knows this too. As you approach, all seems to be warmth and smiles. But as the friend gets closer (switch to The Matrix slow motion here), you see the huge smile is just a little too big, the skin a tad tight; the eyes, instead of gleaming with the liquid of recognition of joyous and deeply felt friendship, are steely and tightly focused, right on you. Your breathing gets a just a little shallow; you start to recalibrate your greeting. You were ready to let loose with a hearty "Hey! Goooooood to see you bro!" But now, in a heartbeat you switch to a tentative; "Hey! How you doin' man"! This gives them the opportunity to offer up some small tidbit of inner life, allowing you the chance to figure out just what is going on. This is just one example of listening.
We also had the designer run-through this week. Ok, cards on the table time. Over the years, I have gotten better at being relaxed for this part of the process. But I fundamentally disagree with the need for it. I'd prefer to see the designers come at various times during rehearsals. Justin Thomas, our lighting designer, has been in several times during rehearsals. At the time the designer run is held, we are still script-in-hand, and only have a general idea of the play. It feels awkward and exposed to share your work at this point. This is just my response; some actors are fine with it. But as I said, I'm getting better with it.
At the end of week three, the power of this play is just starting to be realized in our work. You can feel the undercurrent of the text coming to life. It makes me eager to be back at rehearsal, but not enough to skip a needed day off.
The title of this entry is, "You want an artichoke?" It's a line in the play. Dan De Raey says it's one his favorite lines. I'm growing fond of it, too. See the production. You'll know why.