Fresh Eyes on MAGELLANICA, 4th Installment

Elizabeth E. Tavares & Matthew Minicucci

Elizabeth E. Tavares and Matthew Minicucci, Fresh Eyes on MAGELLANICA

A rehearsal process always moves from broad strokes to detail work. It begins with figuring out where actors can stand or sit -- that takes the first couple of weeks -- and then enters the phase of fine tuning, deepening and clarifying the play on a moment to moment basis. After this sound and lighting will be layered in, and finally an audience will be added.  Magellanica has been rehearsing for four weeks now, and our first preview performance in coming in a little over two weeks. Here are Fresh Eyes Matthew Minicucci's observations of rehearsals:


The Catalog of the Mugs

I’m starting to think that everyone has a bear story.

Last week, Elizabeth wrote about blocking for Part IV, including the Midwinter Follies and its myriad bear stories. Everyone’s got a bear story, it seems, and this week, I got to hear those stories again and again, some of which were so familiar to the cast and crew by this point in the rehearsal process, it was like stumbling into a family dinner. In all fairness, the first 15 minutes felt like I was surrounded by someone else’s family, and after settling back in with my notebook and pen, the last 4 hours felt like I was surrounded by my own.

Hearing Vin Shambry’s Adam Burrell give his speech opening part IV, a first for me, was an act of not insignificant light. Each cast member, sitting cross-legged on the floor, shines their 80s brick flashlight on the Captain; a brief and impromptu series of spotlights for the soft-spoken soldier. If I’m not mistaken, Joshua Weinstein, breaking from character for a moment, exclaimed “Oh Captain! My Captain!” with a smile that would have, no doubt, made Walt Whitman happy. Strange, in some ways, to see rehearsal of the Midwinter Follies in the mid-winter rehearsal of Magellanica. It started to smack, just for a moment, of the play within a play; the mousetrap; the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe.

Shambry’s Burrell tells us we’re at the tipping point: in the long winter-over, in the play, in rehearsal process, in pretty much everything. He talks about Midwinter as a thing older than countries; older than time. Something written about “on the walls of caves.” It’s all bear stories, again, or bird songs, or endless drawings of impossible deer. It’s Lascaux he’s reminding us of, and it’s also celebration; that there was a time before time was a word that people felt a need to remind themselves, like our wayward explorers, that the dark might just be that brief caesura of the sun.

And it was the emphasis on caesura, a pause in the middle of any line of verse, that got me thinking about other poetic devices in a play. Specifically, the second half of morning rehearsal seemed filled with the inevitable line breaks in everyone’s bear story. On the page, of course, there’s no such tool employed. But in speech, and in practice, those long stories of who our characters once were started to find distance in their breath: where to pause, when to wait, how long before the next long-awaited assonance. I was surrounded by the line breaks of practical speeches; poems found in the long process of deciding the distance between things.

In book 2 of the Iliad, we’re given a long catalog of the ships present at Troy. For most classics students (in my experience), it’s the least interesting day of discussion. During Saturday’s rehearsal, in an effort to make sure each actor was ferrying the correct gear from one place to the next, we heard the catalog of the mugs, the flashlights, and the bottles. Just who was in charge of each black ship. It was “The Things They Carried,” and this does not seem an inappropriate connection given the service of our long-suffering Captain Burrell. I was left thinking about this one line he hurls at Sara Hennessy’s Dr. Morgan Halsted, in quick argument, right before the 2pm rehearsal meal break: “we are in the world, so we are responsible to and for the world.” Perhaps, said another way: we’re all responsible for creating the world around us, whether that creation is for good or ill. There’s so much of that in this rehearsal process, not just in content, but in context and connection: that each breath taken can create or destroy the intonation of a speech, or can be as metered as a metronome, the voices and sounds now expected, an expectation that will be missed, eventually, after these long winter months.