Friday, February 6, 2009

The Puzzle of Technical Rehearsals

Posted by Robert McLean of The Hypocrites

As of today, we have one rehearsal left in the Horn. Then we move on to the comparatively palatial (and toasty!) confines of the Owen Theatre. We are all understandably excited to move on to the next phase: Tech Rehearsals. But with tech rehearsals comes a new crop of frustrations.

Here’s how it always works: you get through the first read-through, you learn where and when to stand, you learn all the lines (hopefully in the right order), you start to understand how your character relates (or doesn’t relate) to the other characters and the world at large. You start to understand the flow of the play. You don’t get “comfortable,” because that kills tension, but you learn the framework of the story you’re telling. For me, at least, knowing that framework gives me the freedom to find the life behind the lines, the truth behind the artifice. You’re talking and relating to your scene partners, and every now and then, you may actually feel like you’re acting.

That feeling gets ripped away from you at the start of every tech rehearsal.

Because no matter how well things may be going, no matter how many discoveries you make, no matter how many moments start to really click, there are more elements to add to the framework. Lights, sound, music, set, costumes and props all exist only in the imagination during the rehearsal process. When these elements finally come to life, they can really play hell with the work you have been doing in rehearsal. For several rehearsals, you feel like you’ve lost the show you spent weeks creating. Acting goes right out the window as you realize that you now have to climb up an actual ladder. You suddenly realize that during the quick costume change you’ve known was coming, your boots take longer to take off and put on than you had imagined, and there are three more pieces to the costume that need to be buckled or tied or fastened. Suddenly that entrance or exit you’ve been making is 20 feet farther away than you thought and the timing you’ve developed is obsolete.

One might think that, as an actor in a tech rehearsal, when you find yourself in a panic about losing some element of your performance due to all of the new elements, you could go to the director and ask for help. One would be wrong.

I remember the first show I did with Sean Graney. It was his adaptation of Ajax. During our first tech rehearsal, Sean announced to the cast that he loved us all, and appreciated our work, but he was going to stop caring about our problems for awhile. Our questions about our characters or anything relating to acting should be tabled until after tech, and we should figure them out for ourselves. I suspect every director feels this way; Sean is just one of the few honest enough to say it up front. And after 10 shows with the man, I can see why.

Like the Rubik’s Cubes that Sean is so frighteningly good at, a production has a multitude of elements that need to be brought precisely into place. To extend the metaphor, the acting of the show is only one side of the cube and all the other tech elements make up the other sides. Once tech starts, Sean has to worry about the whole cube, not just the one side.

So while we may be frustrated for a little while, it’s going to be thrilling to see all the sides of this cube that is The Hairy Ape fall into place. I will put up with feeling lost for a few rehearsals because I am so excited to share this show with you. I believe it will be funny and heartbreaking and will leave you stunned.

See you all at the show, once we’ve come out the other side!

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