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“Screw the tablework and let’s go home early!” or Directing a Symphony

September 6, 2011

Alright, this will be an odd post coming from Green Room’s resident Techie, but look at it as an “outside-looking-in” view of the early acting process:

I’ve been thrown into a very unique rehearsal situation as a Stage Manager: Off-Broadway, full length show (over 100 pages), 6 person cast, upper class family, prop heavy… and in the first 3 days: we have had our table read, blocked the entire show, and been released at least an hour early each day. We even canceled a future rehearsal because “we wont need it” (total hours rehearsed: 12). This amazing feat is based on this off-beat director’s philosophy, “screw the tablework and let’s go home early!”

The philosophy is that the script (the dialogue & specific stage direction) speaks for itself. Not just for a fluffy semi-farce comedy, but for complicated works like Pinter. “Don’t analyze!”the actors are told, “No acting this week!” They have been reprimanded when the director sensed someone emoting. The director is musical in her directions of the rhythm in each scene.  She emphasizes the rests, interjections, and melody of the words. We are rehearsing a symphony, but we still have the sheet music in front of us. We have done zero tablework and instead cluttered the actors’ minds with complicated blocking, endless props, and have demanded letter-perfect lines from day one.

And…the actors are being duped! We are moving so fast in rehearsal that they barely have time to write down new or changed blocking before we’re on to the next scene. And you know what? I never heard once “why am I crossing” or “I feel the impulse to stand instead of sit” or any such methody-type argument.  I can only wonder if this technique is to avoid the burning desire to answer such questions with “you cross because you would be blocking the person speaking if you don’t. Figure out your own *#&%*@% motivation!”

I occasionally feel like the conductor of this symphony by waving my pencil in a crude manner gesturing in a made up sign language (sit, stand, pick up wine glass, cross, etc). But, the actors come to me on each break to review blocking (typically im lucky if 1 or 2 even bother throughout the entire rehearsal process) and this is the most consistent I have ever seen actors in their blocking and their lines this early.

So, as an outside-in eye, this is the most efficient directing process I’ve yet encountered. The actors do their character work at home and apply their characterization to the symphony we compose in rehearsal. In this case the character is your instrument, and you must play the notes as they were composed and follow the beat of the conductor. Yet, as always, it is the way you play the instrument that makes it truly your own. The result resembles Mozart.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. California Triple-Threat permalink
    September 6, 2011 11:56 am

    I really want to be a fly on the wall in your rehearsals! Watching a truly great director work is always stunning.

  2. September 6, 2011 7:09 pm

    I’ll admit…this sounds truly terrifying to me as an actor. BUT I will say that I would be willing to try it with an open mind and be convinced otherwise 😉

  3. The Practical Artist permalink
    September 6, 2011 7:24 pm

    True story, Cali – One of my favorite aspects of the job is to watch the art come alive through the Director’s techniques! And now the actor’s previous anxiety have been replaced by extreme gratefulness that we have a solid week and a half of run-throughs before we start tech. Don’t know if the technique will work with everyone or with every script, but it’s always fun to see a new way of working. ^_^

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