Wednesday, November 17, 2010

“That was quite a risk you took,”

By Jeffrey Fauver, Publicity Manager

Martha whispered in a hushed tone, responding to a comment about Bob’s rehearsal process for The Seagull. The audience laughed. This was the basic premise of the Artists Talk discussion for The Seagull on November 7—with director Robert Falls and actors Mary Beth Fisher and Francis Guinan, moderated by Steppenwolf’s Artistic Director Martha Lavey—a moment of brilliance or hilarity, followed by a burst of laughter, gasp or other response. My job this unseasonably warm evening in November? Meet the panelists. Take photos. Make sure we start on time. Provide the obligatory support to audience response when necessary. Goodman Casting Director Adam Belcuore and I had worked diligently for several weeks in preparation for the discussion, and being that this was our second Artists Talk we figured it would go pretty smoothly.

It ran so much more than smoothly. This was a master class in acting, directing, the rehearsal process, season selection and artistic administration. When I wasn’t clicking away with the digital camera and listening intently to these giants of Chicago theater, I caught myself scanning the full house wondering: where are the budding actors and directors of the Midwest? They need to be hearing this.

It’s difficult to pick out only a few gems in a bucket full of diamonds, but here goes:

***A major topic of discussion was the length of the rehearsal process: eight weeks (unprecedented in Chicago; normal abroad). Bob was careful to point out at the top that although the eight weeks he had were invaluable, a brilliant show can certainly be produced in three (just as much as a terrible show can be produced in 10). The proof is in the pudding—none of this matters if it doesn’t work on stage.

***Mary Beth described performing The Seagull as a really specific kind of long-form improvisation (Bob added, “theatrical jazz”). If the company of actors can agree—and they did, according to Mary Beth—on the intentions of the characters, the events of the play and the given circumstances, the story will be told. Staging—not necessary.

***A new vocabulary! In another rehearsal process, Bob could have said to an actor “That moment was brilliant!” to acknowledge a particularly, well…beautiful moment. To truly find benefit in this process, however, a comment like that would negate the thousands of other moments that could have arisen in that scene.

*** Much of the word-of-mouth about the production has focused on this being a “departure” for Bob from his previous work. “This is nothing like Desire Under the Elms, Johnstown Flood or King Lear,” patrons might say. “There’s no floating house (where are the elms?).” Or, “Oh my gosh there’s water everywhere!” These are accurate—though cursory—physical descriptions of said productions. But did they not guide him to this place in his career? Just as Long Day’s Journey into Night and Death of a Salesman did before that? As I see it, and as I understood from last Sunday’s discussion, The Seagull is not a departure. It is, like every production for every director, actor and designer, a culmination.

Wanna see The Seagull? You only have until November 21. Get your act together and get your tix!

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