This week was the first week of rehearsals for the staged reading of my play Books & Bridges. As you can see from the photo above, it's very staged, which makes me insanely happy.
I'm going to start this post with a (seemingly) unrelated story. In college, I asked this girl out to dinner and to see a production of Little Shop of Horrors (Which I had great issues with. They added 3 men that interacted with the 3 women chorus. STUPID!). Anyway, the girl I asked out was pretty cool, so to make the date not seem like a date to help her say "yes," I said that my friend Miriam and I were going to see the show. Okay, here's the important part of the story: I tend to ramble. At dinner, I found myself spouting an unending stream of nervous chatter. My friend Miriam bet me that I couldn't stop talking for fifteen minutes. I took the bet and spoke not a single word for 25 minutes! (However, I did pretend to cut my throat with a butter knife and smear sweet and sour sauce on my neck as blood. BUT I didn't say a word.) At the 25 minute mark, Miriam said, "I suppose the time is almost up." I shouted, "I've been able to talk for 10 minutes!" I won.
What does this have to do with rehearsals? I made the promise to myself, and to Joe, my director, that I would be a silent observer in the rehearsal room. This is not because I didn't want to participate or be a collaborator; I didn't want to be a crutch or the keeper of all the answers. I wanted to actors to puzzle things out, such as the timelines that defined their relationships. When did Dane and Julia meet? Did they date? If so, how long did they date? How long has it been since they've seen each other? What was the last time they saw each other before the play begins? I had the answers, but I wasn't telling. I wanted to leave room for Joe and Erin and Andrew to make their choices, which would define the ways they would play the scene.
Collaboration in a rehearsal room, especially being a playwright is an interesting beast. In a lot of ways my role as collaborator became less active. I wrote the play, the script is "locked" for the readings (no changes!), and now it's Joe and the actors who get to wrestle and wrangle and wriggle their way into the play that I've provided. Collaboration is not about a lot of cooks in the kitchen; it's about everyone having a role, a perspective, and space to add. For example, Erin's portrayal of Julia is based on the script, her aesthetics as an actor, the ways that Nikki and Andrew make their decisions about their characters, and Joe's understanding about Julia that he brings to the table.
I want their ideas to have full reign, which is why I don't give the actors notes or thoughts; if I have an idea, it goes through Joe. I haven't had any thoughts I've had to bring up, but I know that Joe would be open to it. During the rehearsals, the only time I talk to the actors is during breaks or to include a joke with a hashtag. We're starting to have those inside jokes that evolve from a group of theatre people being in the same room for too long. #theatrenerds #octothorpe #hashtagsarefun #IGuessYouHadtoBeThere
I've take lots and lots of notes during rehearsal as I notice tiny moments here and there that I might want to investigate when I return to the play after the process. There are moments to expand or reword or use a scalpel to trim a slight bit of fat, but I'm very happy with the play. I'm happy that after a couple of years of toying with the play in the privacy of my office at home, at a Starbucks, or in the lunchroom of my day job, I get to be in a room with collaborators and my characters. I've heard my characters speak in new ways. I love watching Joe work and his respect and enjoyment of my play. I'm going to miss his long, flowing locks as we move into the next week of rehearsals (he had to get a well-planned haircut for the various weddings of which he is a part). I'm enjoying every single moment in rehearsals. My friend and wonderful photographer Elise Falk of Falktography took some pics at rehearsal this past Friday and in them I look bored and tired, when in fact, I am the complete opposite: energized and riveted. I've bounced and skipped my way through my day job the past week. I'm on vacation this week, so I'll bounce and skip (mostly metaphorically) through the chores and new play work that I've promised to do. A week from today will be the first reading, then another on the 15th. I'm using this momentum and joy to keep myself going through the upcoming play submission season. I want more.
For all my fellow theatre-makers who are currently in rehearsals, enjoy and be excellent to each other.