First week of rehearsals is completed, and boy do I have a lot of rust!
The first week of rehearsals for any show is almost always the same. You read the script, you talk about a few core character choices and generally, you get on your feet and block the play. If you're working on Shakespeare, this routine varies a bit--you spend the first week going thru the script quite carefully and discuss the words to make sure everyone understands what every word means.
'Blocking' is the process by which you make stage pictures. Who stands where and when. It's a part mechanical, part organic process. Sometimes the director has the entire play blocked out in his or her mind and gives you the blocking. Sometimes they say "go where you feel like going and follow your impulses." And sometimes it's a combination of the two.
There are pros and cons of each method. When the director gives you the blocking, it can mean that they've thought a great deal about how to tell the story of the play visually. And it saves time in rehearsal. The job of the actor is to then find the justification (or 'motivation') for the movements.
In the hands of a great director, this is very good. It's very freeing, and most directors of this type will allow you to change the blocking to something more organic after trying it out for a few times.
It can also be the sign of a manipulative director who treats actors like they are live puppets, and that's no good. The problem is that you won't know the difference until 4 weeks into rehearsal when it's too late to do anything about it besides suffer and look forward to the end of the run.
The second option--finding the blocking on your own--is the most time consuming. It can be very instructive--you might have cast mates with an impeccable sense of movement and timing to play off of...or you might wind up with people who over-analyze everything and you are constantly subject to their 37 thoughts on what they could do at any given moment.
Multiply that by 4-10 actors in a play and you can spend a LOT of time talking, and not very much time doing. Not that talking isn't valuable, but almost every play I've ever been in has not had enough time allotted to adequately rehearse, so rehearsal time is *precious*.
The middle way is the most common. The director has an idea of what she wants to see AND is smart enough to honor the actor's contribution. There *might* be a perfectly good reason why I'm playing an intimate moment with someone who is 12 feet away from me, and it's up to me to find it.
But it's also up to me to contribute that while this picture might look pretty from the audience, I'm disconnected from my fellow actor in an intimate moment and therefore it's not going to *feel* intimate.
Actors convey feelings, so when you hear an actor say something like "what's my motivation", it's because they are trying to summon up the right feeling.
Our director likes to sketch in the rough blocking and then since its a comedy, leave some of the creativity to us. So I might have to go from my piano in the living room into the kitchen and stay in the kitchen for a couple of pages of dialogue. It's up to ME though, to figure out what I'm doing in the kitchen and how I do it.
We call those types of things 'bits'. So the blocking might be "cross to the kitchen on this line, stay there until that line, and come up with some bit while you're in the kitchen that isn't too distracting."
It's boring if I'm just standing there doing nothing (unless I'm part of the conversation), but at the same time, I don't want to 'upstage' the other actors by doing something that takes the audience attention away from where it should be.
It's a fine line. You need to be *interesting* because you're on stage and someone is ALWAYS looking at you, but you can't be SO interesting that you draw attention away from what is going on in the play.
Anyway...we got the blocking done for all of the scenes that I am in, which is roughly half the play. Now comes the laborious part--memorizing lines. It's a truism that an actor cannot really play and really explore the role until s/he is 'off book'. (has their lines memorized)
Until you've got everything memorized, you're really going thru the motions, so most actors like to have a detailed rehearsal schedule so they can memorize certain scenes in time for rehearsal.
Everyone ALWAYS asks "how do you memorize all the lines?". I'm afraid I don't really have a great answer for it--there are several different methods different actors use and you have to do what works for you.
Some people memorize both their lines and their scene partner's lines. Some people tape all their lines and cue lines and talk along with the tape. Some people play word association games.
In my younger days, I had a near-photographic memory and could visualize the words as they were printed on the page, and memorizing was always easy. As I've gotten older (and this is a problem common with actors as they age), it becomes more difficult to memorize things word-perfect, exactly as they are written.
Sheer repetition works for me, developing muscle memory in the lips and the tongue. If you say something exactly the same way several hundred (or thousand) times, the mouth remembers the order of the words and how they were shaped without having to think about what you're saying.
There are monologues that I memorized years ago that I can't write out, but if I start to speak them, it will suddenly just flow. It's not brain memory, it's muscle memory.
So now I'm in that boring phase of rehearsal where I know where I'm supposed to go and stand, and I'm repeating my lines (I take 1-2 hours per day right now, although I could use MORE time) until they become reflective.
It's important NOT to memorize your lines with inflection--you want to form the words as neutrally as possible and not 'practice' how you are going to say them. You want to *discover* the words every night--the new inflections, nuances, and meanings, because most of us don't practice speeches in our every day conversation.
The art of the stage is to mirror life, so the words must flow as if you are thinking them up for the very first time....as if the conversations you are having on stage have never happened before. So you want the words to flow...
....but the feeling behind them to be created brand new every night. You can't do that if you practice inflections--the words will always come out the same. If you learn the words neutrally, then you can be more 'in the moment' with your scene partners in performance and that adds an edge of excitement and makes for more interesting viewing.
First week of rehearsals is also like the first week of school. You meet everyone and start to get a sense of how you are going to play with each other. Generally, I form quick relationships and without being a psycho about it, I try to have the relationship with the actor that I have with their character.
In this show, my main relationships are with my wife, my mother and my father-in-law. So even though we barely know each other right now, when we're on breaks, I'll go sit with Vera (who plays my wife) so we establish a bond of always being around each other, so we develop that casual connection with an easy physicality.
When I'm with Marie, my mother in the show, we talk a lot about our past experiences so we have a shared history. When I chat with Ray, my father-in-law, we're a little more superficial and casual because that's our relationship in the play.
Now, like I said, I don't go psycho over this, and not every actor does it this way. And for some, it's not even necessary--they can just act however the script says they should act towards the other characters. I don't have to fall in love with a leading lady if I'm doing that kind of show...but for me, at least, I have to find *something* about her to fall in love with. There are some emotions you just can't fake.
For me, though, I find that I can have many different kinds of relationships with people and thru the course of rehearsal, we will all generally get to know each other pretty well. But you can usually spot when 'chemistry' exists between people on stage or not and as an audience member, you would say "I didn't believe that they were really married" or something like that.
Everyone has boundaries, of course, but if Vera and I are supposed to be married, then there is a way that she would react to a welcome kiss, or a way you sit when you're on a couch together that helps tell the story of that relationship.
I remember playing John Proctor in The Crucible a few years ago, with an actress that I couldn't connect with who was playing my wife. It was very difficult in rehearsals--she had a very jealous boyfriend and while she was very good at playing the emotionally cold and distant scenes with me, she never felt comfortable being vulnerable and intimate with me on stage.
Many of my fellow cast members had worked several times with me before and could all see me trying to get close to her, and encouraged her that it was safe and to open herself up too, but her relationship with her boyfriend was affecting her work--she could never make the distinction that what we did in the rehearsal hall and on stage STAYS in the rehearsal hall and on stage...and the production suffered for it.
(for the record, in a 20+ years of being involved in theater, I have had an affair with a leading lady twice, and both times when I was in my early 20's and still in school. I learned the lesson early that carrying the relationship too far is bad both for the people involved and the production.)
It's pretty obvious to an audience when one person in a scene is really going for it, and the other is faking it. In the end, several of the cast members got upset with her for shutting down--there were some *electric* moments we had during rehearsals, but she wasn't a good enough actress to turn it on and off like a light switch, and wasn't comfortable enough living in the relationship during rehearsal hours.
So in the end, the big poignant moment at the end of the play--the denoument--was lost because we had never established the feeling of intimacy. The audience didn't care about the sacrifice that was made for love, because they never felt that we were IN love. Two and a half hours worth of work by 15 people on stage failed to have the impact that it could have, because one person (the boyfriend) wasn't comfortable with intimacy.
I'm happy to report that we don't have any such barriers with this cast. My stage wife is comfortable being physical and treating me the way she treats her real-life fiance, and my stage mom and I are bonding. It helps that we're both new to this acting company and the director, so we feel a little bit like outsiders and seek each other for support.
Just like the characters in the play.
Trust me, there is plenty of time to develop normal, healthy relationships with everyone in the play, but when you're thrown together in an unnatural situation for a short period of time and MUST produce something that will be seen by an audience, you use everything you can.