Monday, April 19, 2010

Hitting the Reset Button



As an actor, rehearsals are the only time in the run of a play that I can be both an actor and audience member in my own production.

Leiris/Picasso will make its premiere on June 12. Opening night will be the culmination of over a year of work in putting this show together -- from project's origins, through its writing and ensemble development, countless workshop sessions within the company, a public reading as part of the Blueprint Series, and rehearsals. Our ensemble has been reading/performing this show in table read-type sessions for months and yet we have just begun our rehearsal process just last week. So even though our audiences will be experiencing this production for the first time in June, as a cast, we have practically cemented much of the show for ourselves. And that is a bad thing and the focus of last night's rehearsal.

We have all grown accustomed to saying our lines with certain rhythms and hitting jokes with the same inflection. Because they worked and because we didn't have a director calling us out on it. Last night Dave worked with us to first recognize our habits with these lines and then to break us out of them. What followed was some really wonderful and exciting work.

When someone said a line in a way that sounded too familiar, Dave said, "Yes," which told the actor to repeat the line. "Yes." Say it again but in a new way. "Yes." Again. And so on. I noticed a pattern with how we responded to Dave's "Yes" exercise. First, comes surprise and being slightly thrown off by someone yelling "Yes!" in the middle of our rehearsal. So I repeat the line, thinking I mumbled or something. "Yes!" Now the problem-solving kicks in. "What was wrong with the way I said it?" I don't know. No time to think. "Yes!" I wasn't even paying attention when I said the line that time. "Yes!" Maybe I'm tired so I'll bring up the energy. "Yes!" Lower the energy. "Yes!" Shake my hands. "Yes!" And so on. What the hell does he want from me? I look at Mike, say the line, and --- nothing. That felt good. And no "yes" from Dave in the first row? Let's keep going!

The stuff that's fun to watch on stage is the stuff that's fun to do on stage -- discover, play, and connect. When an actor is having fun and really taking in what the other actor is giving them -- the give and take of the scene -- THAT is what's fun to watch and be a part of as an audience member. Seeing that give and take between two actors fighting for what they want right in front of you brings me a joy that is unique to live theatre.

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