Sunday, January 08, 2006

"I Stumbled When I Saw"

If I had to pick the two words most feared by actors, it would be a close race between "off book" and "stumble through." Scariest of all is the fact that the two phrases often arrive at the same time. My cast were asked to be off-book last Monday, when we returned from the holidays. For the most part, they were; but Helen and I were willing to overlook the occasional script in the occasional hand. This afternoon, we had our first stumble through of the entire play, and it was also the day when Helen laid down the law and told the actors to leave their scripts behind.

It went very well. With some shows, it's like kicking baby birds out of the nest before their ready to fly, and it's an agonizing process, sitting helplessly in the house and watching them plummet. But this cast was ready. They called "line" a lot, but not so much that they got frustrated with themselves. The blocking was also fuzzy, mostly in the scenes which we were never able to work adequately before Christmas. But they stumbled along, which is what stumble throughs are all about. The important thing is not getting every bit of blocking; the important part is reaffirming within their frightened little baby-bird souls that they have a show, it has a beginning, a middle, and an end; and if they just put a few more weeks' worth of work into it, then it will be something spectacular.

Now for the less heartening news; our production meeting confirmed that set construction is about a week behind schedule. This is will also, by necessity, put painting behind schedule; and then we will have a very, very tight window of time in which to prevent lights, sound, and, ultimately, the actors behind schedule. For me, as director, it all comes down to the actors. I certainly want all the other components of the show to look and sound as good as possible, and they all take time, and it was foolish to expect that everything would end up finished right on schedule.

But there's a domino effect here. If the actors don't have the opportunity to work on the actual stage, with the actual lights, and sounds, and costumes, and props, then in their minds, they aren't really doing the show at all. When you drop a big, complex show onto the set one or two days before opening night, the actors will still be adjusting--and not just physically adjusting, but psychologically adjusting, still convincing themselves that they are really in the Lear World, so that they can turn around and convince the audience of the same thing.

In respect of which, I'm glad that outside circumstances helped to get us into the theatre for today's stumble through. Even though we're going back up to the rehearsal hall for the next week (or two ... or two and a half), they all got a chance to see the (half-completed) space, to move around in it, to create it for a few hours. Hopefully, they'll carry that memory inside them, and it will serve to help them adjust more rapidly when we get to move downstairs again.


Anonymous Blindly said...

It is ok to use my most poignant, revelatory line as your blog heading without seeking my permission. I don't mind, really I don't. Don't even think about it.

Did you catch me saying "Alack I have 'new' eyes" yesterday?

I am also humbled about sticking my nose into other people's blocking.

1:26 p.m.  
Blogger Scott Sharplin said...

One of my favourite Lear scholars, Stephen Booth, has written that his favourite line of Gloster's--and, indeed, the line which, for him, sums up the play most succinctly, is his response to Edgar's aphorism, "Men must endure their going hence / Even as their coming hither."

The line is "And that's true too."

Sorry I picked on you re: blocking. I know you were trying to help. But you will see me get more and more tyrannical as we get closer to opening night. I do this mostly so the cast can share the pleasure of having me disappear.

10:46 p.m.  

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