Tonight seemed to be one of the most beneficial rehearsals we’ve had for everyone, including myself. We were scheduled to work in the Calkins Dance studio, and instead of trying to adapt the space to a mock layout of the Spiegel and run scenes, I thought it would be a good opportunity to do some much-needed focus and character exercises. To start, I decided to do a little work with Dan and Evelyn. The idea behind this exercise was to try and get Evelyn to develop a sense of urgency for her first scene objective. My first attempt at this was to have her use speed as a means of showing urgency, so I had her and Dan run the scene at a very fast pace. As not to confuse the issue for her and liken the concept of urgency too much to the concept of speed, I had them try another exercise to obtain the same result. In the second exercise, I had Chris, Andrew and Kirsten try to act, literally, as obstacles by surrounding Evelyn at points throughout the scene. Evelyn was not allowed to interact with the other cast members but was to try and maintain eye contact and an emotional connection with Dan as they were both being surrounded/distracted by the other bodies. This set of exercises seemed to work very well for both Evelyn and Dan. We ran the scene normally after the exercises and the improvement was immediately evident. The first half of that first scene now seemed to exist for an actual purpose other than just expository filler.
The next exercise that we tried out was with Chris and Kirsten. I wanted to further develop the relationship between Walter and Grace and try to uncover the emotional scope of their scenes together. In order to do this, I had them play scene 2.1 on their feet instead of seated at the chairs of the restaurant as it is scripted. In addition, they were to try and keep moving whenever they felt that they could or should and use the entire space throughout the scene. The general idea was to have them cross and counter each other across the whole space in accordance with the flow of that scene. So, essentially, whenever Walter was trying to ensnare Grace or going in for the proverbial “kill” by trying to win her away from Charlie, Chris would chase after Kirsten and try to pin her into a corner without actually touching her. Not actually touching made this exercise more difficult, but also more beneficial, I think, because the actors were forced to use the idea of personal space as a weapon and react in a realistic manner to being cornered or having their personal space invaded. Again, when we ran the scene in its normal form after the exercise, everyone could really see the improvements. I especially liked this exercise because of how different it is from the real scene. Having the actors running around the dance studio gets them into a different mindset for a scene where they are forced to stay seated at a table.
After this exercise, I talked with Chris about trying to tap into the realistic qualities that exist in the character of Walter and bring them to the forefront in his performance. As funny as it is to see Walter as a completely heartless woman-stealing asshole, I think it is more beneficial for the whole play if we tap into exactly what Walter is feeling and exactly why he wants Grace so badly. Obviously, Walter has some insecurities and he is exercising them in his relentless pursuit of Grace.
During one of our breaks, Kirsten mentioned to me that she felt like it was too easy for Grace to leave the apartment at the end of the fight scene between her and Charlie. I asked her to think about some possible reasons why and/or remedies for this and that I would do the same. Because I already had some things I wanted to finish up that night, I told her that we would work on it tomorrow.
It’s important to note that even though these exercises were focused on individual scenes and/or actors, I chose to have the whole cast active and present when we worked on them. It would have been very easy chop up the rehearsal and spend an hour or so with each group, but I chose not to do that for a reason. I wanted all of the actors to see what was going on with the rest of the characters in the play, because a lot of the discoveries we made with one pairing was directly applicable to another actor or scene. This allowed for the observing actors to make discoveries for themselves and their characters while watching another actor work on their scene. I feel that this tactic works best when doing these types of exercises, and not necessarily when simply running scenes. For those types of rehearsals, I do like to divide up the rehearsal time whenever possible.
One good example of this aforementioned “simultaneous discovery” came from Harriss. After I had finished working with Chris, Andrew came up to me and asked if we could try and find some ways to bring the realistic emotional make-up of Joe to the forefront in the way that we had done that for Walter. I thought this was a great idea, and the fact that he elected to come up and ask me about this gave me a great amount of encouragement that I was on the right path with these specific exercises. We spent some time working on Joe’s first major monologue in 1.1 and trying to find the beats in it. Additionally, we wanted to find the exact reasons that Joe says some of the strange things that he says. We both felt that Joe didn’t simply spout non-sequiturs for no reason; Joe has a method to his madness. We agreed that many of these things stem from the fact that Joe is an intelligent guy, but aware of the fact that his quirkiness is amusing to others, especially Charlie, and Joe uses his ability to amuse Charlie to temporarily relieve his melancholy friend. Also, even though Joe appears to be quite a cocky guy, he is also aware of how he presents himself, so he exaggerates certain things intentionally and always remembers to mention that his drinks at the bar were “on the house, of course”. This is also just a part of Joe’s highly verbose nature; a very important and funny element to his personality.
Finally, we worked on Charlie’s big breakdown monologue. We ran the scene once and positioned the actors around him like they would be staged, as projections of Charlie’s imagination. Running the scene under the harsh fluorescents of the Calkins Dance studio did not seem to be helping anyone, especially Dan. So, without telling anyone, I slipped over to the light switch and told them to run the scene again. After Dan had gotten through the section wherein all of the “projections” disappear and he is left alone asking where everybody went, I cut out all of the lights. Though I could not visually see if this was helping Dan, I did not need to. His improvement was immediately apparent through his vocal quality. It was instantly clear that this direct and sudden altering of the rehearsal space activated him in the scene and ultimately served to benefit that whole section of the play each time we worked it.
After our rehearsal, I took a few minutes to talk with the cast about how this rehearsal may or may not have helped them. I was extremely pleased to hear how enthusiastic they all were about having this type of rehearsal where they could focus inwardly and try some things out. It worked well, I learned, not only because of the exercises themselves, but because it was a nice break away from the normal drudgery of straight rehearsals night after night. Though these types of exercises are normally used in beginning rehearsals to make initial discoveries about scenes or characters, I feel that they can also be very effective when applied “mid-process“.
Later that night, Adam and I talked with Donna about the music she was going to work out for us and I gave her some very specific ideas on what I wanted. I tried to stress the point that the song/theme had to be extremely simple and stripped of all ornate ornamentations. She showed me some ideas of hers but I told her that they were too complicated for our purposes. The tune had to be simple enough and devoid of any emotionality in itself, so that different emotions could be projected upon the same tune in various situations. If it’s simple enough, it can appear happy, sad, hopeful and frightening at different moments throughout the play.