From Page To Stage: The birth of Artless Charlie – Part 8

2/27/03

We are now entering the “first phase” of rehearsal wherein Dan and Evelyn are the main focus, and there are several reasons for doing so.  Firstly, since Dan is the show’s lead and in almost every scene of the play, it makes sense to start working on his character of Charlie first.  Secondly, since Evelyn is the less experienced actor I’ve known from the outset that I will need to spend some additional time with her. Thankfully, all of Evelyn’s scenes involve Dan almost exclusively. Thirdly, the rest of my cast in tied up in Henry V rehearsals and not available anyway.

I met with Royston yesterday and asked him about some rehearsal exercises that I’ve been interested in exploring. My goal with these exercises is to try and strip away some of my actors’ habits. Dan, in particular, tends to fall back on these crutches and I’d like to see if we could clear that away and allow him to be more open on stage.  His crutches are usually related to his heavy physical gesturing, especially with his hands. This is something that needs to be worked on if he’s going to play a character whose hands are essentially crippled.  He also had a tendency to overplay the dramatic pause and take too much time with a given moment or reaction.  That was one thing that I noticed a lot of while working with him on The Three Sisters.

A great deal of this is based on connection.  In order to get the desired result, we must focus on the connection between the two actors on stage (Dan and Evelyn) and get them to listen and react to one another “in the moment”.  Royston suggested that I have the two actors sit back to back in 2 chairs about 3-4 feet away from one another, and focus on a point of the wall in front of them. From there, they are to run the lines of that particular scene in the smallest, softest voice they possibly can, while still being audible to the other actor.  By doing this, they are forced to listen to one another, and the vocal and focusing elements of the exercise really help strip away any bad habits. I tried this exercise with them and it seemed beneficial, only their reliance on reading from the script made it impossible for them to maintain visual focus and kept the exercise from being as productive as it probably could have.  I even got up on stage with the actors and tried to create an intimate setting with low lights and speaking to them in that same soft tone. But, in the end, the scripts just made it impossible.  Perhaps we can try this again when we get off book.

During my meeting with Royston, I asked him what he thought about the script. He had some very positive things to say about it, but he made a comment about how he could tell that the scenes were written in a classroom setting.  He went on to say that he could tell this by the way that the scenes wrap up so cleanly each time, as if they were written as separate entities.  I told him that this was not the case, but took that observation to heart.  I, in turn, mentioned it to Adam and we talked about finding some possible ways to alter that.  Perhaps we could cut some of the scenes together and allow them to happen back and forth, almost simultaneously?

At our last rehearsal, we had Dan and Evelyn read through each of their scenes with one another.  This way, Adam and I could note any lines and/or moments that sounded funny or that we felt might not work.  Then we would discuss them with the actors and try to work through them before deciding on a cut.  This seems to be the process we will use before we actually mount any of the scenes in the play: Read through it and mark anything we might be concerned about, and then work the moment by itself or in the context of the scene before making any cuts.  So far, I feel that the cuts/consolidations we’ve made have been beneficial, but I’m glad we took our time with them because there moments working quite well now that we originally thought about cutting.

As we get these scenes up and on their feet, I’m starting to get a feel for how I think the set should work.  It seems to be emerging quite naturally from within the text. The attic will be placed around the outskirts of the stage with the apartment on a platform in the center.  The restaurant will be a table set DL, and the back of the piano will double as the doctor’s office.  I want to keep the space simple and flowing but still with a sense of division.  I think the platforms will be just the thing to accomplish that. Unfortunately, my plans for using them may be compromised due to a last-minute scheduling problem with a competing project in the same performance space ending directly before our run. My stage manager, Erin S., who has been absolutely excellent, has arranged a meeting with the head of the Drama Department next week so we can figure out the schedule.  I may now have less time to work in the space than I originally anticipated.  I shared the bill with another show when I did Sincerity Forever last semester, so I am no stranger to working around another show’s schedule, but I am concerned that because I will not be able to work with the rest of my cast members very much until after Henry V closes, that this could really impinge on the amount of effective rehearsal time I have in the space.

Working solely with Dan and Evelyn on so many consecutive rehearsals will be interesting. I am excited about getting a feel for how Evelyn works, as I have already worked with Dan on two prior shows. Thus far, she seems to take direction relatively well, and appears enthusiastic about the production.  However, her instincts seem to be somewhat stifled and she’s having trouble committing to any clear choices, but I’m sure that’s something that will work itself out over the coming weeks.  Interestingly enough, her physicality is coming off as very “big”, though apparently not rooted in any individual choices.  I’m trying to get her to slow down, focus and listen to the other actors on stage.  I spoke with her at our last rehearsal about her focus because I noticed that she was constantly looking around the space while she was speaking instead of delivering her lines to Dan.  This adjustment seemed to help both her and Dan, and should help better develop their relationship in the world of the play.

As for Dan, I’m still having trouble breaking some of his acting habits such as the stutter, wandering right hand and staring at the floor whenever his character has something important to say.  I feel that moving away from these habits will behoove both the production and Dan as an actor.  Having Dan on board has also been beneficial in the sense that he is an English major, and thereby very sensitive to the text and the writing/revision process.

Adam and I are working very well together and seem to have a very similar idea of who these characters are and exactly what is happening in this play.  I can imagine that such compatibility between a director and playwright is somewhat rare in the professional world, so for that, I will relish our process.  Though the minor changes we’ve made so far have been effective, I still feel like the overall length of the play needs to be shortened. So far, all we have done is cut and /or re-word a number of lines and condensed a few speeches, but soon, we will need to look at the bigger picture and address scenes as a whole in terms of textual alteration.  Adam has not gotten back to me yet about the major structural changes that need to take place near the end of the play.  We’ve talked about splicing some scenes together towards the end and dramatizing Charlie’s plight onstage more.  This is directed mostly around the play’s climax (Charlie’s breakdown/ fight scene) and the possible resolution (final scene w/Grace). This is an issue we must address next week and hopefully resolve in the very near future.

My stage manager has provided Royston with a copy of the rehearsal schedule, at his request, so that he can be present at some rehearsals.  I am very pleased that he will be attending more rehearsals for this show. On Sincerity Forever, he gave me a great deal of freedom, allowing me to do really whatever I wanted with the show. I’m sure that working on The Three Sisters with him had something to do with that, as well as the fact that I had that show mapped out from the beginning.  This show, however, is a completely different animal and a real learning opportunity for me.  I can’t wait to hear his feedback on not only the show, but my rehearsal work/habits/process as well.

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