Saturday was a bonding day, a day when the acting company came together to work for the first time on the stage. The Director’s approach to this production has consistently been to point us towards the notion of the reality of the historical events surrounding this play, and the impact those events had upon the participants, willing or otherwise. By taking this approach he is focussing on the psychology of the characters … this is what makes them take the decisions they do and which will eventually leave the audience wondering, “What would I have done?”
So the first morning was about games playing, relaxing, getting to know one another and story telling. Simply getting up in the space and playing broke the ice for the company, gave everyone a voice and sense of the team. Oh yes, hugs were obligatory. Towards the end of the morning, we turned our attention to getting a sense of what it must have felt like to be part of a nation that was the hope of the future … Germany on the brink of 1930, and to find oneself as an individual on the inner and the outer of the power base. It was into workshop exercises designed to stir up the imaginative juices and get into what Stanislavski liked to call the ‘creative state.’
Along the way, the director used music to assist the cast to create an atmosphere … music as an emotional mainline trigger certainly works for me. As the improvisation developed, I got the tingles with Wagner (well no prizes for that I guess), as well as shudders and shocks at the atonality and abrupt rhythmic variations in some of the other tracks. Workshop games are meat and drink to the actor, and a good director knows this.
And so the day’s activities were designed around establishing a sense of complicité and trust, and also about setting the style for work … important this. Every production I’ve ever been in has a distinctive rehearsal room feel, and the creation of this atmosphere … the environment in which actors feel free to create … is the responsibility first and foremost of the director.
Sunday’s rehearsals swung into a first shuffle-through scene by scene. This was table talk about character, backstory, and relationships followed by a work through of a couple of scenes in which my character first appears. First appearances are critical for character revelation to an audience. For a start, an audience starts to make up its mind about how it relates to a character. First appearances are also where a play’s obligatory exposition is revealed. A good play will give out the information on who, what, were, why and so on via character interaction, dialogue that hopefully doesn’t beat you over the head, as well as other subtle clues in the script. These are things the actor needs to pick up and feed the character. I often find this part of the process, combing through the text, to be a bit like a forensic analysis of a crime scene. However, there is something you also need to bear in mind, and that is to balance what the character knows with what the actor knows … or as it’s often expressed, don’t play what’s on the ‘next page.’ I got a bit carried away myself today wondering how significant the first mention of Jewishness in the play would be to my character. Of course the audience is going to prick its collective ears at this point … ‘Uh oh, we’ve got an issue here that is going to come back later!!’ but the characters themselves are at this stage, blissfully ignorant of the fate in store.
This is what I like about these early turning over the text rehearsals … playing with possibilities and making choices and seeing where they lead. It’s good to have a director who allowed me to stumble my way around the set, getting its geography and furniture layout into my head, getting the feel of ownership that the character would have; it’s my house after all. Yes, this was one of the creative choices I’ve made, along with what has brought Schneider to where she is right now … New Year’s Eve 1929.
I’m really going to enjoy the next phase of rehearsals, and it’s going to include something I’m not all that familiar with … making the transition in and out of a musical number. I’m sure it’s going to be all about finding the right energy level and bridging from speech to song, though handily all of my songs tend to do this with quite a bit of ‘spoken in rhythm’ appearing on the score. Although we are not singing within scenes yet, this finding the right (heightened energy) was something the director worked on quite a bit during the final run-throughs of the scenes this afternoon. But more of that from next weekend.
And a little analogy to close … it feels as though we did a great first sketch for the final painting today. The outline of shapes, perspective, and composition have been laid in, erased a couple of times and reworked. In a couple of instances, there is already some detail beginning to emerge on the white canvas, and still a few places where the shape hasn’t made an appearance.