Fresh Eyes on MAGELLANICA, 2nd Installment
This week, the actors in Magellanica have begun to talk and walk. After the first few days of sitting around the table and digging into the script, it is time now to stage the play. Matthew Minicucci joined us on Wednesday, and here is his Fresh Eyes report:
Under | Water
Today was a day about invisible walls.
It begins with me walking into an empty rehearsal room. There’s a coat rack, with eight perfectly ordinary red jackets, each complete with a fur-lined hood. A small plastic model of a penguin, in the same pose as the penguin on my Munsingwear shirt, stands on the table. As I sit down on one of the couches in the corner, the room suddenly fills with a voice I recognize; the unmistakable boom of Michael Mendelson’s Vadik Chapayev and his perfect Russian accent, seated at a quadrant of tables. There’s a nearly frozen bottle of Muscle Milk at his right (overactive fridge, I find out), and he repeats lines I distantly remember from last week’s full-readthrough -- like remembering a dream -- over and over, every telltale labial and consonant cluster bounding.
Director Dámaso Rodríguez, along with cast and crew, are blocking Part II of the play today, and all I can think of are maps. This makes sense, of course, as Allen Nause’s kindly Bulgarian cartographer, Todor Kozlek, spends much of this section of the playtext reminding us just how complicated it is to create a map of the world; just how many dimensions you have to consider. Indeed, everything I saw today reminded me that every actor -- with the help of their director, playwright, stage manager, and designers -- has to map out the world they’re building: every entanglement appearing like an oxbow.
When I was younger, my father bought me a raised relief globe, the sort that let you feel, like an odd sort of braille, every mountain range. That was the first time I began to think about maps as three dimensional. Years later, the brilliant work of the American statistician Edward Tufte led me to think about them in four dimensions. And today, in the rehearsal room of Artists Repertory Theatre, was the first time I managed to apply all of those cartographic dimensions to a dramatic text.
Today was the day I learned what actors do when they’re not speaking. Of course, like most playgoers, all I can think of are the lines: every famous one. Each time I hear “now is the winter of our” I, like Joshua Weinstein’s William Huffington, must exclaim “discontent.” But as Josh, a mug of tea in hand, kindly explains to me during break: unlike a film, the camera on stage is everywhere. Our eyes are focused to one part of the stage -- via many methods, some of which I discussed in my last Fresh Eyes post -- but since there’s nothing more distracting than actors “freezing” on stage when not speaking, an act that almost forces an audience to watch them in anticipation of their “un-freezing,” everyone must be given direction and action even away from the scene.
He, along with everyone else, calls this “underwater;” that place on stage outside of the light and the sound of action.
Today, I saw our cast play Scrabble underwater. I saw them read books, study charted data, and descend into long and muted arguments. I even saw, in particularly notable moment, Eric Pargac’s Lars Brotten stand for what seemed like an hour with a large wooden spoon in his hands. And they walked into walls that weren’t there, over and over, as Dámaso called for a stop, moved either person or thing to a new stop, and, like magic, began again and again.
I think, perhaps, that blocking a play is the Groundhog Day of rehearsal activities: repetitive on the surface, but beneath, entire unconsidered dimensions. It seems an actor, like a cartographer, must adjust to new topography and changing landscapes.
As the actors left for lunch, and me for home to an ever-mounting pile of grading, Dámaso left me with a word about the best of what blocking can be: opportunity. Or, as he says after, the chance for happy accidents. Perhaps the collaboration and repetition of the scene will lead to a way to understand a moment, or a character, never before considered.
And it’s true, no? How could you ever know the shape of the world if you never even considered wandering off its edge?