Fresh Eyes on THE HUMANS, 1st Installment
THE HUMANS are on the way! On Tuesday, October 24th, about sixty people gathered for the first rehearsal. After a tasty lunch provided by Artists Rep’s volunteer Guild, Dámaso (director) launched the day by describing his connection to and vision for the play, followed by each designer sharing their processes and ideas. The afternoon culminated in with the cast reading the play together for the first time, in front of an audience of about 40 people.
Our two new Fresh Eyes observers, Scott Dunn and Garrett Brown, were also there. As always, we ask our Fresh Eyes volunteers to record their thoughts and observations about the process of bringing a play to life onstage, and we share those with you below.
The question of where members of the cast, design team and Artists Rep staff spent their individual Thanksgiving holidays quickly evolved also into how and with whom. Some stories more detailed than others. Many stories of detail shortened for the sake of brevity. But all of them rooted in family.
It was a privilege to glimpse within the design process for THE HUMANS, and to hear the designers discuss their inspirations and methodologies in the ongoing design of the play. The set designer presented several images of interiors and exteriors of New York City apartments that helped her shape the design of the set. She highlighted that the culture of apartments like these in New York City is one of a low turnover in people who live there.
The costume designer told us that he would be approaching THE HUMANS a little differently than other plays. He would be treating this play as more of a devised piece, working with each actor individually, watching the character work during rehearsals and creating a design that will be as individual as the nuances the actors bring to their characters.
I didn’t know the difference between Diegetic and Nondiegetic sound, but I know it now courtesy of the sound designer, who will use both elements of house in his design to draw the audience into the world of the play. The world of the play – the age and story of the building, the music of New York City – is full of sound.
The Voice and Text Director shared a fascinating historical account of the anthropology of accents from Pennsylvania. “We will listen to the song of the dialect,” she said.
The words of the play are indeed a song. A song of family. A song of the modern anxieties that we all share and live with, as the director of play articulated in his introduction. This is what makes the play so impactful and memorable, because there are details within each of these characters’ lives that any of us can relate to and find resonance.
Now that I know what the play will look and sound like, I can’t wait to see how all the elements of design and characterization integrate over the course of the next several weeks.
Now I have a copy of the play, so I can read it before the next rehearsal!
1. While I had heard of THE HUMANS being an exciting, award winning, and hit smash on Broadway, I hadn’t really considered the tone of the piece. I assumed it would be deathly serious. I didn’t consider how funny it would be. During today’s read through, there were moments when I was hunched over, feeling like my gut was clenched. And the humor will only get better and more practiced with rehearsal.
2. All elements of this play (and production) contribute to voyeurism. We sit closely in on a family, observing their Thanksgiving, seeing their faults, their joys, their sorrows. But I’m excited to see the production elements contribute too: using an audience right next to the stage, diegetic sounds (cell phones ringing on stage as opposed to through a monitor) and a combination of locally sourced light and stage lights. Instead of seeing a play about a family, we have an opportunity to dine with the family, to observe them, to experience their fights and soothing words. One could almost expect them to turn and face us, to have them realize that they have a theatre full of unexpected guests.
3. During the meeting, the play was compared to Harold Pinter, what with its subtle depth and “meanings within meanings.” Characters often talk about mundane topics, only to be revealed later to have been referring to world changing events, or whatnot. This is reflected in the literal “two levels” of the stage (upstairs and downstairs) that the audience has to work to observe at both times. Instead of making it easier, by blacking it out when characters go upstairs or downstairs, the playwright makes the whole house the stage and has multiple conversations going at once. This is also a lot like Caryl Churchill.
4. From an anthropology point of view, the family is tied together much by ritual. Whether it is singing the traditional song, toasting, eating dinner, or the peppermint pig, the family stays together when they have a ritual, a tradition, something that gives them meaning. Otherwise, family members leave, go to the bathroom, go to the alley, etc.
5. Without spoiling the characters or action, THE HUMANS seems to ask what makes us human? There are some debates among characters about trauma, science, religion, morality, and money. In the end, the family is a family because of common denominators, like traditions, love, trauma, and other shared experiences.