Fresh Eyes on TEENAGE DICK, 5th Installation
Tech week is upon us! TEENAGE DICK has moved from the rehearsal hall to the stage, and all of the technical aspects -- lights, sounds, costumes and set -- are being integrated into the play. For several days, the actors' primary job is to deliver the cues for some technical event, wait while adjustments are made, then repeat. Again and again, until the timing is worked out and the effect appears seamless. There's a lot of waiting around, so patience and good spirits are required. Our Fresh Eyes volunteers, Elizabeth Tavares and Mary Schmidt, spent time watching, and here are their observations:
A Night at the Mirror Globe
EDWARD IV. Dazzle mine eyes, or do I see three suns?
RICHARD III. Three glorious suns, each one a perfect sun;
Not separated with the racking clouds,
But sever’d in a pale clear-shining sky.
See, see! they join, embrace, and seem to kiss,
As if they vow’d some league inviolable:
Now are they but one lamp, one light, one sun.
In this the heaven figures some event.
EDWARD IV. ‘Tis wondrous strange, the like yet never heard of.
— William Shakespeare, 3 Henry VI
Play, find, experiment, explore: these are the most common words used by actors and directors when talking about their process. In a day like today, when the ideas bounce off the concrete, the reality looks more like mend, fix, solve. That seems to me to be very much in the spirit of Richard III, a technologically complex play in its day. It brought to a close four plays William Shakespeare revised into a coherent set for the newly upgraded open-air playhouses of London. It also included a special mechanism to show three rotating suns descending as if from heaven.
The sun metaphor crucially prophesizes that while the three sons of York (Edward, George, and Richard) work together, they can keep the English throne. According to the first two lines of Shakespeare’s play, it seems to work: “Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sun of York.” The York boys’ discontents are abetted in this time of success. But it is in “this weak piping time of peace” in which Richard cannot participate, “not shaped for sportive tricks, / Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass,” nor amble in, say, a high school dance. Where the sun was a sign of success, now, should he “spy my shadow in the sun,” Richard needs a distraction from it, lest he “descant (read: think too hard) on mine own deformity.”
The three suns descending down from the ceiling of the Globe theatre would have made a miraculous sight. In TEENAGE DICK, the descent of a mirror ball above a basketball hoop produces equal delight. In this first week of the new year, the disco tech seems fresh from Auld Lang duty and provides a quick sense of double nostalgia for recent parties as well as the dances of our adolescence.
All of the visual spectacles are quickly coming together for the production, which was exciting to see as actors Kailey Rhodes and Chris Imbrosciano (Anne and Richard) moved through their paces to get the design to serve the needs of the story. While no characters are doubled, as would have been typical of the sixteenth century, major stage elements are. The dance studio in which characters reflect on themselves and refract on one another is also the halls of an urban Portland secondary school and, later, its cafetorium. Simple black curtains cover butter-colored tiles to become a dance studio, and the gymnasium risers rotate to become full-length mirrors against which to measure a pirouette. These create spaces of both literal discovery for the audience and metaphorical discovery for the characters.
The calm, quiet sleepiness of a Friday morning after a holiday week was broken when one of the many design folks, all nestled in the NASA-styled bay of desks set into seats, called out “sound!” The theatre was split open by breathy R&B laced with deep pulses of Dubstep. When the lights went down, the “fun-o-meter just went up” exclaimed director Josh Hecht.
It was the kind of beat perfect for a wood floor like a basketball court, making the same pleasurable wobble and lift of a show at the Crystal Ballroom and sending just the right speed of vibration up the spine as if you’re humming with the spheres. The treacly throw-away monotony of song-of-summer lyrics like “Tonight is the night is the night” are intended to cultivate a sense of YOLO desperation to fuel conspicuous consumption (“poppin’ bottles in the club”) when hyperbolically escalating the significance of an otherwise ordinary Saturday at the bar. Yet these lyrics are utterly perfect for this play matching the desperation of its truly daring catharsis comprised of a sequence of decisions after which none of the characters are the same again.
All the spectacular elements of this play, including sound, light, and design, are now working together, starting to reveal one of the crucial questions the production hopes to ask. They suggest there is more at stake during a Sadie Hawkins dance than the platitudes about high school—“teenagers think they are invincible” or “graduating high school isn’t an accomplishment”—try to otherwise allay. We live in hope that no high school moment was, in fact, “the time of our life.” What happens when it is?
After missing what seemed like a crucial week of rehearsals during Christmas week, I made it in to see some of the last-minute rehearsal work in the theater on Sunday afternoon, with the play to preview that evening. After reading fellow Fresh Eyes folks' write-ups about the week I missed, I realized my perspective here is still very limited, since I had never (and have yet) to witness any rehearsals of the "fight scene," which sounds quite intense; I'm a little worried about how I will feel watching that violent scene live, to be honest. Again, I am coming in with very little sympathy for Richard because I have not seen demonstrations showing his vulnerability or weaknesses. (Furthermore, I think I said I had never read RICHARD III, but I also meant that I am not familiar with this historical story or these characters; no idea what characters I am "supposed" to root for or sympathize with. I also purposely only re-read the TEENAGE DICK script once since the initial read-through, figuring I could give more valuable feedback as someone who might see the play without any prior familiarity with it.)
When I walked in, multiple people were behind desks attached to theater chair backs. They were fine tuning lighting during the dance at the gym (first time I've seen this set on the stage!) and also finalizing sound effects. Stage Manager Karen Hill had a desk set up, but was moving around the theater for most of the time I was there. At first, it was a lot of silence with lighting people trying out different brightnesses and features, and then periodically Director Hecht piping up, "sound" and someone playing a sound clip (background murmuring, laughing, boos, etc). I have no idea how the sound people knew what sound Hecht was asking for each time, as some seemed intended for the debate scene and some seemed intended for the dance scene, but their screens had long lists of files and they referred to sound clips just by number when they referred to them. A brief discussion about one person lacking sound file 666 on their computer occurred, so it seems like there had been several iterations of sound effect files and people were making sure they had the final, decided-upon, files. I couldn't tell if the clips of students laughing or murmuring were recorded from this play's actors or not. In one "crowd noise" clip, I thought I recognized "Eddie's" voice, but that didn't make sense because it seemed to be a clip from the debate scene. So, for a while there, I was just confused and trying to take things in.
The lighting person I sat next to (I'm sorry, I don't know who it was; I probably wouldn't have otherwise, but the dark theater made it even more uncertain) worked on creating collages of tweets in the "tweet storm," as people casually referred to it. He was making a collage of how the tweets would show up in quick succession and eventually end up like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle completely covering the backdrop screen. I guess the direction here is that the tweets will show up both on the backdrop as well as on the stage. I'm not sure if actors will be on the stage when the projected tweets are projected on the stage floor, with them bathed in the tweet mob's lighted words (which would then be quite illegible, but probably still distinguishable as lights shaped as words). That could be intriguing or confusing; either could work, I guess. I feel like at this point, people were doing fine tuning of specific details I don't know about that happened in previous discussions. So, I would say, I still was not able to see what the final vision is going to look like come show time. I am in for plenty of surprises on Tuesday night, both stage/set-wise and also I will finally see something that might make me feel sympathy toward Richard, with the fight scene.
The bits of actor-involved rehearsal I saw were during the debate, which was one of the same scenes I saw on my last observation. One thing that was fun to see was that the female actors seemed to be having a more lively time during and between scenes. I was right in the back row, and Ramirez (Clarissa) all of a sudden was there ready to come in for her part during the debate. She struck me as full of energy. Later between takes, I could hear Ramirez and Rhodes (Anne) sharing a quiet laugh together just outside the theater. Berkshire (Elizabeth) did some clowning around on stage during discussions between takes while lighting people were doing what looked like calibrations of projection placements, and they reminded her jovially that it wasn't exactly helping; her clowning wasn't so much a distraction, but more a reminder of the energy change in the room; they would perform in just a few hours. I don't know if the other actors had a similar elevation in energy level since they were near the stage. Ferrucci (Eddie) looked completely different than he had in rehearsals I had seen him in, where he had a beard (which I figured out was for a role in Third Rail's production of Annie Baker's John - which I saw on its last performance night I think during Week 2 of TD rehearsals). Clean shaven, he looked much younger and like the stereotypical "jock" in high school. He actually looked a lot like a particular "jock" guy I went to high school with (who was not a very nice person :D).
I was surprised that, on the first night with an audience, such significant details as to how Imbrosciano should posture himself at certain points in the debate, whether directing his speech to Eddie/Elizabeth or facing and directing the statements toward the audience, were still being worked out. I'm not sure if this production is somewhat more compressed than usual due to the development occurring during "the holidays," which tend to mess up everyone's schedule/equilibrium regardless of how little they choose to participate in this weird collective "mess up everyone's schedule/equilibrium" period of time at the end of the year, or whether these types of details may still be lingering on first preview night for other productions also.
Even seeing some of the behind the scenes work, I still will have plenty of surprises awaiting me when I see the play on Tuesday night. I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of the sets and lighting plans as well as to see how the whole play comes together and whether my initial impressions of characters and themes are reinforced or whether I will have a different take seeing the play as one continuous, finalized piece. Thanks again to ART for the opportunity to see how a play evolves from table to stage.