Monday, July 17, 2017

Roadblocks and Silver Linings

There's just no way around the fact that blocking out a play can take a while. While I don't rehearse tonight, I go back tomorrow, and that will be the first time my final, (and frankly, best) scene is blocked out. It happens to be the final scene in the play, which means, in theory, we will be able to start rehearsing and creating the character stuff.

We didn't have access to the theatre on Thursday, so we were forced to use a building next door in which I've never been before. I've never rehearsed a scene in a smaller space in my life, and that includes rooms in people's homes.

Yet I didn't mind so much. The play is a bit claustrophobic in a sense, just a collection of men all at odds with one another over goals and styles, scraping to get what they need or want out of each other within the myopic scope of 1980's real estate selling. Though we won't be performing in the aforementioned tiny space, being there for one night heightening this sense of myopia. (Block was basically out of the question, so we worked on a scene that requires almost no blocking; the first one, which take places at a table.)

You have that sometimes in volunteer theatre. Small road blocks exist, or will be thrown up in front of you and the rest of the cast at last minute. It isn't probably to cancel rehearsal every time this happens, so you do what you can. Often, the result of the challenge, (aside from initial worry) is a new emotion, a new take, a new line read that shine a different line on the scene, the play, or the character. Even when the roadblock itself is removed and rehearsal resumes as normal, that which arises from the added pressure of the roadblock often remains in the remaining rehearsals and on to the performance.

An actor must be in control, know what he is doing, and leave very little to chance...eventually. But there are times, often earlier in the process, when chance does play a large role in shaping what we do with our performances. The windows that are opened during trying times sometimes more than make up for the doors that are shut.

For me, rehearsal for the next three nights. Who knows what roadblocks and silver linings await the process in those evenings.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Glengarry Glen Cross

So we have been working on blocking this week. The stupid pun of a title for this post was not at all avoidable.

As with so much of theatre, there are about 100 different ways to conduct a blocking rehearsal. Some are less headache-inducing than others, but to me just about all of them are tedious. This is a minority opinion in the theatre world, but I don't think blocking a play should come early in the process. That's just a general perception on my part, not particular to this production.

In this type of theatre production, generally you have a table reading, a little discussion, and then move right into the blocking rehearsal, wherein of course the movements of the characters on stage, and the timing of said movements are given to the actors. This is not unimportant. But, (and here is the minority opinion part), they are to me a waste of fertile creative time.

To me character and line delivery should come first in a show. Yes, the actors have to be somewhere, but when two thirds of one's brain power is dedicated to writing down "cross left, take two steps toward desk, stop on Roma's line, 'XYZ,' then cross your arms,"  the exploration of the text is stunted. It's usually stopped completely. In fact, often a director will not consider line delivery an interpretation and such during these times, and will say so to the cast. (Our director for this show said as much the other day at one point, wanting to just "get it down," and not worry about subtext just yet. This is not an uncommon approach for directors.)

In my view as an actor of many productions, this presents several problems.

To begin with, all interpretation must take place privately, at home for the first few weeks. This is not a problem in and of itself, but an actor invests in this take, and when blocking is over, and the director now turns their attention to working on such matters, it becomes more difficult for the actor to rewire what he has spent so much time constructing. Naturally, actors sometimes have to change what they are doing, and I don't deny this. But when short rehearsal calendars are front loaded with blocking, the actor must either invest nothing at all in the character, and provide no interpretations of same until blocking is completed, or they must face the possibility or said rewiring that I mentioned above, which is more than just a bit of tweaking.

When one is a unionized professional actor, the show is what one does. The danger I have described is not as present, because in most cases each actor is currently making their living by means of the production. In short, it means more time to wrestle with these sort of entanglements. But for the volunteer actor, who has a large portion of non-theatre experience to which he must dedicate his time and thought, it can be more of a challenge to change course on a path one has taken for several weeks. It can happen, sometimes it is necessary. Yet I wonder why it is made so much more difficult than it has to be.

The solution? At this level, I prefer to allow the actors to delve into their roles, get to know one another, establish chemistry with the actors in the play. As Olivier said, "its not how long you've had the lines memorized, but how long it's been in your heart." It's much more difficult to let a character into your heart when you have to stop every line to be told where your shoulders should be facing, and how to form the oft sought out triangle of actors on stage.

For me, and for others with whom I have worked, it is much easier, not to mention much less frustrating, to know who I am playing, his motivations, his relationships, his quirks, and then be told that I am entering too early, or that it would be better if I don't sit down yet. When the character is in your heart, you can find more ways to follow the blocking. If you are in your third rehearsal, and only walking down left because the director told you to, in order to make a nice frame, it keeps the character out of your heart longer. One gets closer to opening night before the real magic begins to happen.

I'd love blocking to come latter in the volunteer theatre process.

Again, the minority opinion, as many of my opinion expressed here on the blog have been over the years. I don't mind having the minority opinion, if I feel it better serves the creative art of the individual actor on the stage, regardless of their level of experience.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Glenngary Glen Ross

I am still around, loyal blog readers, and I am in the aforementioned play.

But of a crazy trip for this one. It was supposed to go on in February, not long after I took part in the 24 theatre festival, about which I wrote in the previous post. But community theatre being what it is, schedules fell apart at the last minute and it was postponed until August, with rehearsals having started last month, to a degree.

Schedules are still not great, and for that reason rehearsals have taken a somewhat usual format. Thus far I (playing Williamson) have only officially rehearsed one scene-the very first of the play. Because rehearsal times are split between groups of actors at the moment, I've only had one-hour rehearsal slots.

This is unusual for me, and carries its own difficulties, especially since until this week, I had only one such session a week. Even with reviewing at home, it is not the best way to get into a role or a scene. But that is what we have, so one works with it.

Next week we begin to at least rehearse Act II, because at last all of the actors needed for those sessions will be present at the same time. I think (and hope) I will get a bit more out of those rehearsals because longer pieces of the script will be performed at once. (All of Act II) and further, I will be present for two hours instead of just one. That will be, I think a big help for me.

We don't have much time to get this show ready, since we open on the third week of August. I have no reason to believe we can't do so, but it will require some extra effort. (And in fact, "Shelly Levene" and myself have already made plans to stay after rehearsals a bit next week to work some of our scenes a few more times.

One other aspect of being in, and blogging about this show involved the playwright himself, David Mamet.

He is, to be honest, a litigious writer. He has no problem suing productions of his plays for the smallest of infractions. Theaters are not even allowed to have discussions of his plays with an audience after a performance. He doesn't like people changing or adapting the slightest thing. That is his legal right, though I find it artistically weak-minded. Nevertheless it makes me reluctant to share as much detail about the process and work in this production than I normally share here on the blog.

The odds of Mamet finding out about this blog, or our production are probably somewhere around a million-to-one. I realize that. But I don't exactly want to tempt fate by sharing something with my readers, innocently enough, with which Mamet or his people would find fault. For all I know, he may mandate a certain thing we do not have in our production, (the color of the pencils perhaps) and I'm not willing to be the reason our theatre gets a cease and desist.

I'm even a bit wary of sharing my thoughts on my character and how I am developing him, as Mamet in general seems to think the actor is the least important person in conveying the message of a play.

Truth be told, I am not that fond of Mamet's attitude in a number of areas. I've not read every play of his, though I have read portions of a few, and Glengarry, one of his earliest, seems to me also one of his best. And it too has flaws. But it's strong enough to be worth appearing in. Even those with whom we disagree strike oil once in a while, I suppose.

Despite all of this, I will still post regular, if somewhat more broad and conceptual updates on how this play is going. (There is not much to report on at this time, despite the several truncated rehearsals. So do look back regularly; I'm back for a while.