WordPress, my website platform, affords me a number of interesting statistics about my blog posts, and I recently checked my “most popular” list.
Over time, this list has changed, but I’ve got to think that the posts that are most popular reflect something about the major concerns of my audience. So I thought I’d look deeper into their topics and see what I can find that might be helpful.
#1 on the list is “What Are Play Rehearsals For, Part III”. Yes, it’s a three-parter, but this post gets to the nitty-gritty and outpaces Part I and II considerably in terms of views.
I suspect that Part III doesn’t address the problem as much as readers might like — it makes the general theory clear, but really, we all want even more practical advice. This website is about giving you as clear an understanding as mere words can accomplish (which admittedly isn’t enough — my workshops are much more useful).
So let’s try to dig a little deeper into this and see if I can give a more detailed response. Which means, as you’ll understand if you’ve read much on this website, taking a bit of a circuitous route and more than this one post. The number of posts in this series is as yet unknown, even to me . . .
Maybe I should start by saying that the original posts on this topic are about simplifying the matter as much as possible. I have discovered that both acting and golf (remember, I’m a golf pro as well) can be looked at in the simplest of terms, or you can make them as complicated as you like. In fact, I’ve come to believe that we need to make things complicated, to understand them in their complexity to at least some degree, in order to really trust that the simple route is comprehensive.
Learning to do something well is, to a certain extent, about learning to strip away all the unnecessary things that we once thought were so important. In golf, this means (among other things) to learn to use only the muscles that you need to use to get the job done and to let the others take the day off. It means shutting down your brain from judging everything you do and learning to not overthink things.
There comes a moment when you say, “Oh! It’s that easy, isn’t it?”
Yes, it is. Or at least, it can be.
One of my jobs as an acting teacher and a golf instructor is to help my students focus on the most important elements and let go of the other hundred that they are worrying about. One of the purposes of this blog is to try to help you understand which are the important elements. Focus on them and most of the rest will naturally take care of themselves.
So if you look at the original post, the first half of rehearsals is about figuring out what to practice and the second half to practice it.
Of course, this is an 878 word post and can’t say much more than that. I hope that there is enough material scattered throughout this site that helps fill in how you figure out what to practice, although there is more that can be said about it. I’m not so sure, however, that I’ve really said much yet about the second half of rehearsals. That is one of the things I’ll attempt to do with this series.
All rehearsal periods will be a little bit different. How they go depends, in large part, on who the director is and what his style is. As an actor, you don’t have much control over that. You can ask the director for the things you need, but a director is not likely to change their stripes stylistically, even if they are willing to accommodate your requests as much as they can.
Who the other actors are is also going to have an impact on how the process unfolds. Some actors are into exploring everything in a group; some actors hold their cards close to their vest, but are attentive and receptive to what you give them and give in return; and some operate in their own little world and what you do has little impact on their own line readings and movements.
Nevertheless, we can make some generalities. Some directors start with table-readings. Table-readings can be a waste of time. Reading the script out loud once before starting blocking is generally a feel-good event for the actors, although it can give the director a sense of where the actors think they are going. It’s an opportunity for the director to note the red flags so they can be addressed early.
On the other hand, there are directors who do multiple table-readings. I know a director who spends a good week or two exploring the characters in depth through table-readings, and then sends the actors off to memorize their lines. Only once their lines are memorized do rehearsals begin again and then she put the show on its feet.
There are two arguments to be made for this unorthodox approach to community theater (or any theater. Some professional theater operates this way. And in some professional theater, you don’t even get to the table-reading without your lines memorized.)
One argument is that the better you understand your character, the more your emotions and motivations will drive your movement on stage, and so your blocking is apt to need less fixing than it does if you go into it cold with only the director’s best guess as to what you should be doing.
The other is that since you can’t do any decent acting without being off book, you don’t waste your rehearsal time with early run-throughs that don’t allow you to really connect with the other actors. You’re more likely to stay in the moment at an earlier part of rehearsals. Even in your table-readings, because you only have the words to worry about, and you aren’t distracted either by your need to cross to pour a drink without blocking Susan, or by the knowledge that there is a proscenium to which you need to be attentive.
After table-readings come blocking rehearsals, where we try to build a skeleton on which to hang the flesh of the characterizations. Who goes where and when? How can we use physical action to underline the important elements of the play, to support the emotional truth of the characters?
Then there is a period of letting the actors get comfortable with the blocking, while they are memorizing their lines. This is where early run-throughs tend to enter the picture. As I’ve said elsewhere, they are useful as a check-in every once in a while, but can be deadly if over-used this early in rehearsals, depending on the group of actors involved.
Once everyone is off book, the serious work of relating to each other, staying in the moment, and discovery enters the picture. Note that I said, “everyone is off book”, because if one of you isn’t, you’ll hold everyone else back until you are.
And then you’ve got tech week.
My argument throughout this website is that you need to do more of that serious work that typically occurs in the week or two prior to tech week earlier in the rehearsal period. Throughout the rehearsal period, really. If you aren’t already doing that, then I strongly suggest you explore it. Most of my posts tackle aspects of how and why you need to do that.
And you can do it, despite the director that you have or the actors you are working with. Even if everyone seems to be operating differently, you can still do the work properly yourself. Or at least, as correctly as the limitations of your circumstances allow you to.
Next time, I’ll take off my acting hat and put my directing hat on, and see if I can provide some enlightenment from a different direction.