Fresh Eyes on The Skin of Our Teeth: 3rd Installment
This past Tuesday, our Fresh Eyed gang came to rehearsals anticipating a run through of at least a part of the show. But there was a change of plans. It's not uncommon for rehearsal schedules to change: people get sick, something takes longer than expected, something gets discovered, needs shift and shift again. So when they came into the rehearsal room on Tuesday, they were greeted with cries of "Fight! Fight!" Instead of running a part of the play, the afternoon would be dedicated to working on the fight choreography and gun work required in the play.
Today we got to experience the closest to what being in a play is. A lot of sitting around, starting and stopping, joking, discoveries, playing and laughing. A lot of people have this perception of the theater as a glamorous art form. And in some ways it is. But 95% of what actors do up to the actual performance is less than fabulous. But it is fun! I tend to forget that adults can be just as silly and entertaining as teens. Actors were beat boxing and dancing around on their breaks which was fun to see. The rehearsal was also exclusively for people who got to hold a gun. The fight choreographer was very careful with the fake guns, and explained to the actors that they would treat them exactly as they would if they were real. I though this was smart, because it helped the actors believe in the power of these instruments. Every physical conflict, even if it was just a push, was practiced and worked with the fight choreographer. This rehearsal was definitely slower, but I understand why and found the breaks to be as fun as observing the rehearsal!
Fresh Eyes rehearsal #3 is in the history books. I would liken attending these rehearsals a week apart, to starting a jigsaw puzzle one day, knowing that other people were going to work on it until I returned the following week. Pieces get filled in - the picture begins to get fleshed out - but in my absence.
Yesterday was all about blocking. Jon Cole, who is not on the ART staff, but who has been hired for the last ten years as a “Fight Choreographer/Director”, was there to teach the pertinent cast members about gun safety and how to make their fight scenes appear realistic.
I will admit that even though I knew, intellectually, that the guns used in the play are props, they made me nervous. And Jon addressed that notion - that audience members might feel uneasy having weapons aimed in their direction. He showed the actors how to aim slightly off, e.g., rather than at someone’s chest, over the shoulder, or down toward the stage floor as opposed to out into the theater.
We were all assured that the guns cannot fire. The chambers are always empty.
Next came the fight scene portion of the rehearsal. This process can appear a bit tedious to the onlooker, because even the smallest detail is planned. But it is essential for the safety of everyone involved, and though there is precious little spontaneity, these fights *look* very true to life. Interestingly, every fight is rehearsed before each performance, supervised by an appointed “Fight Captain”, again, to insure the security of the actors, and leaving nothing to chance.
The schedule change from a run-through of Acts I & II was made more unusual when Jon Cole, fight choreographer, came on scene at today's rehearsal. Not being familiar with guns (nor especially wanting to become so), I was impressed with the careful professionalism of his tutorial. While the guns are not loaded nor actually capable of being fired, he was extremely careful to go into every detail of correct handling and even etiquette.
During the actual productions, a fight captain (Val Lundrum) will run through every fight scene prior to the performance to ensure accuracy and safety. Such precautions are very reassuring, as was Jon's description of how "sweeping" the audience Is to be avoided. This information was received attentively and seriously, the one tongue-in-cheek comment being that perhaps the stage manager should have a loaded weapon!
After the armaments came the physical hand-to-hand (or so it seemed) combat in several scenes. Mr. Antrobus, Henry, and Sabina all worked through handling the weapons as well as pretend fighting (which looked very real by the final repetition.)
Since Luan had explained some of the many responsibilities of the stage manager (and reflected on the role as presented in The Understudy), I better understood the depth and breadth of Michelle's position. She also answered some questions about hours, pay, role of Resident Artists and Actors Equity issues relating to health insurance, etc. Again, another afternoon filled with new learnings and insights into the very complicated process that results in a finished production.