Fresh Eyes on EARNEST, 2nd Installment
This week, rehearsals for The Importance of Being Earnest moved from working around the table to staging. Now the actors are walking and talking, and absorbing a myriad of details. Brennan's Fresh Eyes were taking it all in on Wednesday, and shares his thoughts below.
On Wednesday of this week I attended a blocking rehearsal for The Importance of Being Earnest, and I feel like I’ve gained a new insight into the collaboration and huge amounts of work-hours that are required to put on a large scale production. I've never been in a practice room with tape on the floor to define play spaces. I thought the build teams would start dressing the practice spaces with their completed projects as soon as they possibly could, so I was understandably flummoxed when I overheard tell that table measurements needed to be sent to the builders. Do actors really blindly imagine their paths through practices and blocking? With only small pieces of the physical world in the space how do actors note things like entrances and exits, or 'where' rooms begin and end. One other thing I noticed in the raw environment was the beginning choreography of costume flourishes and transition movements. As one actor goes to walk away with another the instructions of 'give a turn to flourish your gown' were given, and even out of costume I could see the difference in carriage that the actor presented when she started these newly prescribed movements.
I think I am perceiving some additional challenges that this team is taking on by performing on a thrust style stage instead of a proscenium with its 'definable' fourth wall. The director is having to imagine sight lines from at least three angles rather than the standard face on view for which the play was originally written. This leads to interesting flashes of insight like "Can the handle on this cart be bent down if for nothing else than the audience's view."
Every detail matters. No, really! Every detail matters… from the positioning of a tea cup’s handle, to who pours milk and who pours tea, to how it is passed from host to guest. Every movement, every gesture, and every facial expression plays its own part in making a world, from which most of the audience has no frame of reference, a believable environment. Watching Michael [director] stop, and restart, and alter and try a scene again reminded me of a Symphony Conductor in practice with his orchestra; especially when notes on tonality and phrasing were also being given. Today, in particular, I am beginning to understand the thought process behind the all female cast. Two lines, from two actors, each delivered a dozen times or more in re-runs allowed me to listen to the tonality of female (who usually goes up that end of a statement), to male (who usually goes down), to impassioned courtier (who's steadily punctuated monotone actually made the simple statements more impactful), and in this repetition, I heard defining traits of the characters being actively developed. Costumes and lighting will be very important layers of their own in the final production, but I think the greatest gift that can be given to these characters is that of listening. Listen to inflections and phrases as a character defines their role; listen as a character goes from wounded to warrior in a single breath, and listen to the voice of Oscar Wilde asking, "What in your life is worth Bunburying about?"