Fresh Eyes on The Skin of Our Teeth: 2nd Installment
On Tuesday, April 26th, three of our Fresh Eyes crew joined us, along with about sixty other Guild members, theatre supporters and staff, for presentations from designers about how they will approach the all-encompassing time period of the play: although set entirely in Excelsior, New Jersey, The Skin of Our Teeth traverses geological, Biblical, and recorded history periods.This was followed by the first reading of the play with the entire cast, during which our intrepid Fresh Eyes crew took on the roles that will be played by community guest stars during the performance. Not only are they terrific observers and writers, they also did a bang up job playing the Hours of the Night!
The second Skin of Our Teeth rehearsal more resembled a traditional first reading of a play at ART. That is to say, this time, unlike last, ALL the cast members were in attendance. And I do mean ALL. This work uses lots of actors, and indeed extras, borrowed from the audience during Act III, when Mr. Antrobus explains that seven cast members have suddenly become ill, and there aren't enough understudies to fill all the necessary roles.
Rehearsal #2 began much in the same way the first did - we all briefly introduced ourselves, and then Dámaso talked about the play, adding some quotes of Wilder, and his thoughts about the work.
As a professional musician, I have spent my life in the rehearsal room, as well as on stage with various orchestras. In some ways, a music ensemble's first exposure to a new work is very similar to that of an acting company. In the music world, we generally begin by reading straight through a piece, full tempo, regardless of mistakes or wrong notes. It is a way to fully immerse the musicians in the music - to begin to learn the terrain of the work. We commonly say, “Start at the top left edge, and don’t stop.” In the theater world, there is room for some spontaneity, which I thoroughly enjoy. When actors miss a cue, or flub a line, they improvise. But the idea is the same. And repetition is the name of the game. For me, it is illuminating to watch the actors grow into their roles. Attending several rehearsals will allow my Fresh Eyes compatriots and me to observe the evolution of each of the characters as they become comfortable in their own Skin.
Having read but never seen a production of Skin, yesterday's rehearsal was a wonder for this "Fresh Eyes" volunteer. Damaso's definition of the play as essentially three one-acts was intriguing and did a lot to explain my confusion when reading the script. (Also the point that the audience is supposed to be confused was comforting!) Similarly, his reference to Wilder's appreciation of Finnegan's Wake explained a bit more about timelessness, the concept of the individual representing all humanity, one event substituting for all (or at least many) events, etc.
I had a question about the director's decision on how to represent the timelessness as well as the universality of the themes. Loved the updating of the play references (Miss Hennessy really was Blithe Spirit, and I think ART regulars will chuckle at that.) But how are decisions made as to what events are revealed as historical, which current, which imaginary? The costume design echoed this sense of timelessness yet time-contained, and it will be fascinating to see the production in full. How does time get determined in a play about timelessness? How is the cyclical aspect of the play to be interpreted? How does artifice become truth?
What startled me the most was the huge amount of humor the cast brought to the script. Linda Alper, as Mrs. Antrobus, was especially droll, making outlandish statements that had seemed flat to me on the page (Oh yeah, that's what acting does!)
Presentations on set design, costuming, lighting and sound were a glimpse into the thought that goes into each facet of the production. All in all, I enjoyed a magical day and look forward to next Tuesday. Thanks to all, especially Luan.