Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"The Sea is Mine"

Good, brisk work on two short scenes. The introduction of Octavian and Lepidus is important, because it brings Rome onto the stage for the first time. And the scene with Pompey, Menas and Menecrates introduces the first major sub-plot, and the antagonists of Act One. In a way, the scenes are both about Antony (all the other characters refer back to him constantly), but it's also nice to make them clear and distinct introductions of all these other rich characters.

And rich they are. Even though I spent most of the rehearsal fussing over Roman marching and other blocking minutiae, all the actors were clearly making leaps and strides in characterization and delivery -- thanks in large part to Sarah's work downstairs, but also to the actors themselves, for taking me at my word and using the repetition of the scene work to explore, take chances, and go further. My private ambition is to not get bored with any of these scenes. So far, so good!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

All Together Now

A lot has happened this week, and it's only Tuesday.

Last night we moved into the space. After a tour of the theatre by Leland, the building manager, we launched into a line run. The first day off-book is always nerve-wracking, but I was impressed -- amazed, in fact -- at how far along the cast is with their lines. Even the heavy lifters were at least 80% off-book. Kudos, everybody. It makes my job -- and yours -- a whole lot easier from here on in.

Monday also saw visits from Theresa, our production manager; Melissa, our costume designer; and Sue, our hair & makeup lady. Plus the cast met Helen, our new Soothsayer. A busy day, but spirits were high as we wrapped things up at 10.

Tonight, we launched back into scene work. I started with a Soothsayer scene, to get Helen acquainted to the layout of the stage. I also wanted to revisit Cleopatra's coterie of ladies, to observe how they interact -- and this turned out to be not so easy, as two of them weren't there. But we managed to get a lot done anyway.

What really seemed to work well tonight was sending actors off to work in pairs. Kieran and Denny worked out a petty rivalry between Enobarbus and Ventidius that really clarified the opening of the play. And Monica and Vanessa worked together to give Eros his hands full when delivering messages to Cleopatra. It's great to see the cast supporting one another, taking risks, and making discoveries -- and much of it without any prodding from me! If this keeps up, I'll be able to slack my way through the next month and a half; this show will direct itself!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Lady with Snake

I hate poster photos. With a show, you have months and months of rehearsal to get things right -- or else, lots of time to reconcile yourself to not getting them the way you pictured in your head. But poster photos, and other elements of publicity, never seem to work out the way I imagine them, and since they're often practically an afterthought, they fly past me so quickly I don't really have a chance to wake up, smell the coffee, and acknowledge that my brilliant ideas might not have been so brilliant after all.

Case in point: the A&C poster. Randy, our designer, asked me for a dramatic, pre-climactic image from the show that we could recreate. "Cleopatra with a snake in her hands," seemed the obvious answer, even though the actual show will be snake-free. And so, last night, Monica and I found ourselves trying to get a dramatically posed shot with a snake that (surprise surprise) would not stay still.

You know the old film rule about never working with children or animals? It goes double in the theatre...and quadruple for snakes.

Monica was a trooper, but my photography skills are questionable at best, and the snake didn't feel like posing. I'm hoping that Randy can trim and Photoshop my shoddy work into something a bit more striking. In the meantime, here's a candid shot of Monica making friends with Smaug. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

"Eternity was in our lips and eyes"

A rare treat today. Instead of fretting over blocking, or barking orders to phalanxes of Romans, it was just me an' Antony an' Cleopatra.

That's not to say I don't enjoy working with everybody else in the cast, because I surely do. It is a daily delight to see what everyone is bringing to the table, and already I feel like a grain of sand on a vast beach (a very talented beach...hmm, no, my metaphor has stalled). But it's also nice to work closely with just a couple of actors now and then, to eke out of them more intimate performances when they don't feel as though all eyes are watching them. Which is an odd thing to say, because of course acting is all about all eyes watching you...and so is being Antony or Cleopatra, for that matter. But it's a funny thing about actors -- they tend to be very shy right up until they're primed to hog the limelight.

Anyway, John and Monica did some lovely physical work, distinguishing the different "modes" of their characters (Antony in command, Antony furens, Antony discandying; Cleopatra performing, Cleopatra stalking, Cleopatra stripped). They figured out how to manipulate or steer each other into different modes. They got really silly, like lovers do, making animal sounds and gestures (I fully intend to hang on to some of that stuff for the show -- it's simply too precious). They also looked at some of the later, harsher scenes, to figure out how they can really hurt each other. So, to the moon and back, essentially.

A lot of good stuff happened. Good, exciting stuff. Both actors are concerned that their physical and vocal choices are too big, too broad -- at one point John cracked a joke about William Shatner -- but I have every confidence that, if and when the time should come, they can rein it back. But until then, the second Golden Rule of Shakespeare rules the roost: Go Big or Go Home.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Roman Drill!

I wasn't sure quite what to expect tonight, as Sam the drill instructor visited to put the Romans through their paces. No need to worry, as it turned out. Sam has trained in the Canadian military, so she was able to show our Roman actors how a real soldier moves. We went through all the basics: standing at attention, standing at ease, turning, marching in straight lines, marching in curves. The actors cheerfully forgot everything I'd tried to develop with them and embraced the new form of movement.

Afterwards, Sam said to me that she'd never taught drill to a more enthusiastic group. "Actors," I told her, "are like sponges. Give them something that might help their characters, and they'll soak it right up."

The trick, now, is retaining all of that soaked material. I will try to be rigorous about having them do drill as part of their warm-ups. By April, they'll be ready to ship off to war -- or, at the very least, to go on parade. Dismissed!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Into the Valley

Things are moving quickly, as usual. This week, we managed (just barely) to finish blocking the second act. When we got to the run-through on Sunday, there were many empty spaces: people who hadn't been able to attend rehearsals, or else actors that I hadn't called for scenes in which they appeared. We spent the first 90 minutes filling in the gaps, and then ran the second act (at about 52 minutes, a very nice length).

It looks good. There are definitely some rough patches, most particularly the battle scenes. These roughnesses are no one else's fault -- everyone did a great job remembering their blocking, and following my (sometimes contradictory) instructions. It's only that I can't necessarily tell how things will look until they're up and running. This is especially true of large-cast scenes like the battles. Sails are up, swords are flashing, characters are shouting their lines out into the audience ... it's chaos, just like war is chaos. But we have a story to tell, too, and into each of those battle scenes, Shakespeare has inserted important plot points. How do I make sure the audience gets the message?

Other challenges and anxieties at this stage of the game: movement work is moving forward slower than I'd like. We have spent a few rehearsals doing Egyptian movement work, and we're doing a Roman marching session on Tuesday. But it feels like, the moment a run-through begins, all that historical/cultural physicality melts away, to be replaced by modern-day Canadians walking like themselves. I expect this will improve once the scripts are out of actors' hands, though. But that raises the next big question:

February 26 is our off-book date. It never happens exactly when it's supposed to, and I've become accustomed to sacrificing the week or so following off-book date to the usual ferrago of stumbles and frustrated shouts of "Line!" It's part of the process. But if we don't get off-book soon, then, I feel, we really can't move forward: connecting the words with the movements, connecting with other actors onstage, and starting to bring the larger-than-lifeness of the play out in the open -- all these things depend on the cast's confidence in themselves.

It would also help them, I know, to have some sense of what they're going to be wearing. Melissa, our designer, has been busy with other shows; and then she got very sick. I hope and pray that she will resurface this week, to start the design process. Only after blocking did I realize how many scenes revolve around costume items -- the process of arming or unarming, or the gender play of Antony and Cleopatra in the first act -- even the "Romanness" and "Egyptianness" which I'm constantly shoving down actors' throats will become so much clearer for them once they have costumes.

This is, in many ways, the most frustrating point in the process for me. Tech week, I can handle. Opening night, no problem. But I hate the valley of uncertainty when you know you have a cast, a script, and a series of scenes...but you don't yet have a play.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Set Maquette

I've had this now for awhile, but I didn't get around to posting it until now. It's a miniature model of Alli's set.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Crown o'th' Earth does Melt

We're into difficult territory, faster than I'd expected or prepared for. Last night we worked Antony's death scene -- and, yes, in the original play, he dies at the end of Act Four, leaving the final act for Cleopatra. But no matter how you slice it, it's approaching the zero hour of the tragedy.

At this point, lots of practical considerations come into play. Death onstage is always difficult; plus, I've decided to use the stage in some new ways, opening up a discovery space upstage to represent Cleopatra's monument -- but since I'm not 100% sure how that part of the stage will be configured, there are a lot of physical uncertainties for the actors to contend with.

In spite of these obstacles, the cast has been really strong. It's a juggling act: remembering blocking, trying to get off-book (hence struggling with scripts), and trying to plumb the tragic depths of Shakespeare's majestic poetry. I'm awed by their devotion to the task, and it buoys me up as we move even further into tragedy -- ie. Act Five.

Meanwhile, good news on the design front: our last designer is in place. Please welcome Daniel Koyata, our props master. He's a MacEwan theatre production grad, and he seems very keen to join the adventure. Welcome aboard!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Enobarbus in the Ditch

Far less prepared than I should have been this evening. The scene in which Enobarbus dies (of a broken heart?) snuck up on me, and I didn't get a chance to look it over this afternoon. Likewise two scenes leading up to it -- bad show, Mr. Director. Fortunately, everyone else is on the ball: Cody had strong suggestions for his Octavian scene, Kieran knew exactly what he wanted to do with Enobarbus, and everyone else was on task and energetic. We blocked all 3 scenes in about an hour.

Things are going so well, I'm starting to get worried. I'm going to miss tomorrow's rehearsal (Sarah's filling in), and then back for Thursday...and could that be the end of the play already? Surely not. I really must set aside some extra time soon.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Act One, Under Wraps

A long rehearsal this afternoon. A number of cast members were sick, and I've seen far better days myself; but we pressed onwards, and managed to get through the entirety of Act One -- twice! I'm impressed by how quickly the cast has internalized blocking, especially in some scenes which were never very specific to begin with. A few gaps remain, but then we've blocked a bit of Act Two, also, so it kind of balances out. It's a nice benchmark.

The cast is becoming more comfortable physically, and the language also feels more natural. Status is generally clear, although I think bigger choices could reinforce it more often. I'd like to keep reinforcing these things, but I also want to have time to dive deeper into the language and into characterization -- to make the rhythms, movements, and images translate into profound character moments for everyone.

Luckily, we do have time -- over two months, still. But I know it will fly by.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Slink, Whip, Limp

Steady progress this week through a whole bunch of scenes. We did most of the Act One Egypt scenes on Tuesday, skipping over a fight scene but managing to insert a lot of great physical comedy (Eros's pelvic thrust, on "For the best turn, i'th'bed", was a stroke of genius). Then into Act Two yesterday and tonight, focusing on Antony and Cleopatra back together again, sliding inevitably into tragedy. Tonight Antony got to meet his "sad captains," Silius and Philo, who turned out to be the least inspiring soldiers one could ever imagine. Nice work, fellows.

Sunday, we stumble through Act One! There are large blocking gaps, I realize, but it will be good to fit these pieces together, and to remind ourselves of the basic rules of the play's world: Egyptians slink, Romans march (except when they limp).

P.S. We got our swords this week, too! They're fantastic! I can't wait to show them off on Sunday.

P.P.S. Wouldn't the title of this entry make an excellent tongue twister?