An evening at the Newberry Library

hpim0421.jpgCeCe and I visited Maren’s class at the Newberry Library the other night, and joined her students in a discussion of the theatrical process in general and Boy Gets Girl in particular. The course description explains the focus of the class like this:

We seek to break “the fourth wall” and establish discussion between those who see theater and those who create it, and the larger implications theater has as a lens for viewing the human condition.

We broke that fourth wall pretty well the other night – most students in the class had read and studied the script and watched a full run through at one of our rehearsals last weekend, and Maren led them and us through a fantastic discussion, some of which I’ll try to recap below the fold.

We began with a question about the rehearsal they sat in on – Maren asked us to explain where in the process we were on that day, and what our focus was, and goals were, for that run through. I wrote a few days ago that we weren’t ready for an “audience” at the time (which isn’t to say we didn’t like having the students there; everybody understood that they were there to see a rehearsal, and not a performance, and it was pretty cool as an actor to have the energy of a small group of very interested people in the room at that early point in the process.) – we’re still finding our way through the landscape of the play, and we’re okay with things not being “right.” For myself, these rehearsals are about trying new things and trying to clarify the things that seem to be working. This can take some time, so I’m consciously not worrying about the pace of scenes – we’ll connect things together and start picking up speed again soon, but for now I think it’s more important to take time and not rush the connections between actors that we need to find and explore.

We talked about a few specific characters – there was a great question about the characters of Linda and Sarah, who never appear on stage but are mentioned several times. One of the students in the class had formed some strong opinions about these characters, and she was curious to know how actors and directors treat offstage characters. We did have some interesting discussions about Linda and Sarah in the first few rehearsals – what they’re like, how onstage characters feel about them, etc. – and from those conversations we make choices that allow those characters to be real for all of us. The same goes for Mark (Theresa’s ex-boyfriend, who left her to go work in Kuala Lampur), Tony’s mom (who made him little pasties for his school lunch as a boy), and so on – anyone who’s mentioned in the script is a real person in the world of the play, and it’s important and fun to imagine those characters fully, even though the audience is never going to meet them. We saw in Spinning into Butter just how important an unseen character can be to a story.

Students were also curious about the process of revising scripts. They’re reading a version of Boy Gets Girl that’s slightly different from the one we’re producing, and they were interested in the changes that they noticed watching rehearsal. This is a script that’s gone through several revisions; we’re using what’s now the final and official version, revised during a production in London (the class is reading the version that was produced at the Goodman Theatre recently). It’s the same story, and most of the script is identical, but there are some cuts and changes which make this a stronger and more focused telling of this story, and we talked about some of those specific changes. One student noticed that CeCe and I both lost some of the backstory of our characters (Detective Madeleine Beck and Mercer Stevens, respectively) in this newer version – of course, we didn’t really lose that backstory, we just have to find a way to act it instead of having the opportunity to talk about it. In the earlier version, for example, Mercer explains that he doesn’t wear a wedding ring because he has contact dermatitis and wearing a ring gives him a rash. That explanation has now been cut, helping the scene move more quickly and keeping the focus on Theresa – but in my mind, I’ve still got dermatitis that prevents me from wearing my wedding ring.

Figuring out how all these choices become a part of the work we’re doing on stage takes time, and that’s the part of the process we were able to share with Maren’s class. It was fun to have them in the rehearsal space with us last weekend, and it was really fantastic to join them for a discussion the other night – I told Maren afterwards that I was kind of surprised to find myself disappointed when she stopped the conversation to tell us we had run out of time.

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One Response

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