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.