Before I get into how to use trial and error effectively (and why it matters) in the first half of rehearsals, let me answer the questions that have probably flitted through your brain by now, if they haven’t taken up permanent residence:
“But I have to make choices eventually, don’t I? Ultimately, even if I’m choosing what is ‘best’ rather than what is ‘right’, I have to determine what is ‘best’, right? So how do I do that? And when do I do it? When is it safe to make choices without worrying that I am choosing the wrong ones?”
Truthfully, I’m not sure how many active decisions you need to make if you are working properly. Try enough different things often enough, and those decisions will start to make themselves.
Let’s say you’re working on Scene 1. You try it three or four different ways, and they each have their merits. Should you weigh their merits, debate the pros and cons, and make a choice to use Option C?
Not yet. No need to, yet. You’re still in the early days of rehearsal. There’s still a ton of things to learn about the character.
Characters don’t reveal themselves easily. If you think they do, then you’ve probably chosen a stereotype.
No, characters reveal themselves over time, over the course of weeks, as you read and reread the play. As you rehearse each scene again and again. The more you review the play, either through study or performance, the more it will open itself to you, in the same way that a chrysanthemum moves from a tight bud to a fully open blossom with a hundred petals revealed to you.
As you work on each scene, trying a variety of approaches, a pattern will start to emerge. You’ll start to see some consistencies in the character from scene to scene. You’ll start to see how a character trait in one scene is more fully developed in a second scene. How something that happens later in the play reveals something about your character in an early scene. That something which was confusing to you is suddenly explained by a line you never took much notice of before.
By remaining open to possibilities for longer than you may be comfortable with (thank you, John Cleese), you will discover that the possibilities that don’t work will simply fall by the wayside. It’s like letting the chaff blow away in the wind. Give the wind enough time, it will reveal the wheat to you. What you will be left with is a focused performance with both adequate consistency and surprise.
To read Can’t I Make Any Decisions?, go here.