Tuesday, August 10, 2010

First Day of Rehearsal

Posted by Lauren Molina, Cunegonde in Candide

My first day at Goodman Theatre.
I couldn’t be more excited to step into the rehearsal space of the Goodman Theatre and begin my journey as Cunegonde. From the first time I heard Bernstein’s luscious score to CANDIDE as a child, I wanted to be a part of the show. Cunegonde is a dream role in and of itself, singing the most glorious music ever written. But to add the fact that Mary Zimmerman is directing and rewriting the book, Doug Peck is musical directing, and that we are in one of the most creatively conducive environments for smart, edgy theatre, here at the Goodman, I am truly feeling spoiled as an actor.

The first day we had a meet and greet with the incredibly talented cast, creatives, and many of the staff who work at the Goodman, from marketing to box office to education. I immediately felt a sense of strong community within this world.

Mary Zimmerman gave me a big hug upon arrival. Her warmth and quirky laugh is infectious. She always works with her old dog, Beary, by her side. I was pleased to see an animal in the rehearsal space. It provides a sense of calm and grounded-ness somehow. She said that when she worked at the MET the opera singers didn’t mind the dog around.

Mary gave a speech about her rehearsal process, in that she writes pages of the script as she goes, handing new pages to the actors each day. This makes each day exciting, but also can be overwhelming and stressful. After you read your scene through once or twice, Mary stages it. So, with script in hand you are forced to make strong and immediate character choices, sometimes falling on your face.

Mary recollected Racine’s quote, “I’ve just finished a new play, and all I have left to do is write the dialogue.” She feels this way about her process.

We were told to read the Voltaire novel CANDIDE as our only preparation. I also worked on the songs with my voice teacher, Candace Goetz, and two coaching sessions with Doug Peck, prior to our first rehearsal in Chicago.

I have seen and heard so many different versions of Cunegonde, from very operatic sounding, where even though they’re singing in English, you can’t understand the words, to the Lincoln Center Lonny Price production with the perky, pinging Kristin Chenoweth being…well, Kristin Chenoweth.

Because of the inconsistencies in character from varying previous productions, I didn’t have a strong identity or perception of who Cunegonde was as a person. I knew I had to use this rehearsal process to make some real, honest discoveries. This is difficult because my impulse is to always go for a joke, when I know that playing the truth is a better choice.

Mary continued her speech to make the following points:
  • CANDIDE has not typically been a critical success, yet it is a machine of delight.
  • The Voltaire novel is a difficult, episodic original text. Mary feels that CANDIDE has been done in ways that are too cartoonish/broad in a way, given the sophistication of the music and lyrics.
  • This inconsistency therefore propagates that we shouldn’t take the novel seriously, because of certain tonal things about the novel.
  • It is a hypocrisy in CANDIDE, in the end, when Candide finally says “life sucks,” “man cannot exist in harmony” then breaking into the most beautiful harmony of “Make Our Garden Grow.”
  • It is important to recognize that this novel, though written in the 1700s is strikingly contemporary. The American optimism gives an excuse for nothing to change. It is always contemporary to satirize power and corruption in politics and the clergy.
  • The text at its core is difficult. It is not joking about rape, but joking about people who in the face of anything insist on keeping their same point of view. What’s funny is not the tragedy, but the held optimism while tragedy constantly falls on these people.

We learned a dance to “Easily Assimilated” and then sang. I love how every voice in this production is unique and when we sing as an ensemble everyone’s voice is distinguishable.

I’m feeling like this show is going to be really awesome.

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