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.

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