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Difficult Subjects in Rehearsal: Keeping a Safe Space

March 25, 2011

It’s always hard to be in rehearsal with difficult subjects: illness, historic disaster, abuse, etc.  But, I believe the most difficult rehearsals I have ever been in deal with working on a Rape/Attempted Rape Scene.  The room is quiet, we double check the door is closed & windows are blocked, and there are serious eyes all around, maybe not making contact with one another and not quite looking at the action of the scene as it is worked.  But, it is a necessary moment in certain plays, and requires just as much scene work as the rest of the play.

This is an extremely trying time for the actor.  As uncomfortable as this scene is to watch, imagine being the one acting it out.  This is not a time in rehearsal to bury yourself in paperwork, Stage Managers, as the actors are counting on you to ensure their safety (both mentally and physically) as the scene is worked.  Directors: this is not the time to “leave it to the fight director,” this is not a scene you want to later re-block.  And actors: this, above all, is not a time to be unprofessional and forget the nature of your job.

I’ve seen the “attacker” apologize to the “victim” after every new step is taught in the Rape Scene, and continue to apologize after each rehearsal, each run, and each performance.  This is not the best idea.  You are actors playing a character, just like with every other scene in every other play.  You are not actually attacking your colleague.  When you take the time to personally apologize, out of character, it dissolves the illusion that the scene was just “pretend.”  It can make the “victim” actor self-conscious and could lead the “attacker” to hold back on stage, being unable to separate the play from real life and therefore damaging the dramatic impact of the scene.

Also, in rehearsals, the “attacker” should not be uncomfortable learning the step-by-step fight.  The second you say you “cannot” do the move, or show how uncomfortable you are, the “victim” will then have to take more upon their shoulders and try to hold the scene together, and no actor should have to hold it together for two people (especially in these sensitive scenes).  This is also true if the “victim” asks to “stop, stop, I’m not ready” ::deep breath:: “Okay, now I am – wait” ::deep breath:: “Can we mark it?”  This will, in turn, make the “attacker” self-conscious and take you both out of the scene.

I recently was in a rehearsal that dealt with such a scene.  It’s a new work, and the scene was not present in the first rehearsal draft of the script (therefore, the actors were not aware of the scene upon accepting the part).  The victim – in lingerie (and rehearsing in such), and the attacker – a blind character, carry a dramatic climax scene to an incestuous molestation/rape.   A fight director was brought in to choreograph this unique and difficult fight.  Not once was the room uncomfortable.  Even when the fight director had to step in for both characters while teaching the fight, both actors showed absolutely no sense of being uneasy.  Even after one minor injury caused us to stop while an actor was being iced, the return to the work was immediate, professional, and safe.

Because of the professionalism of the actors, the work was done more quickly and efficiently, and will only have to be re-visited as a scene for typical work.  The fight will not have to be “taken down a notch” because the actors are uncomfortable.  The scene plays the way it was meant to: shocking and uncomfortable to watch.  The Broadway-experienced Fight Director even commented and thanked the actors for being two of the most professional actors he’s worked with on such a scene.

In short, when dealing with a sensitive subject, prepare yourself mentally, remember you are playing a character and the attack is not actually happening, and remain professional for the benefit of everyone in the room and involved in the project (including yourself).

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 25, 2011 7:41 pm

    Such a great topic to bring up. I think we’ve all been in uncomfortable rehearsal situations that weren’t handled well, and everyone’s attitude and professionalism can make SUCH a difference. Glad it went well for you and your actors 🙂

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