Monday, August 16, 2010

The Second Rehearsal (a.k.a. Zeus Should Strike Me Down for my Hubris Anytime Now)

After a relaxing Sunday (slept in, went to Sacrament meeting in a cool old church, went to a movie, worked out for a while) (and in working out, I invented a new type of exercise - Hot Elliptical. The fitness room at the hotel doesn't have air conditioning, fans, or windows. I was a dripping mess after an hour, but I was cheered on by memories of friends who have been stupid brave enough to do Hot Yoga), I was at the theater ready to go at 8:30 this morning for rehearsal #2 of 4.

I mentioned this in my last post, but I want to reiterate it here - it's so incredibly nice to be working with a group of theater professionals.

I sit in the audience taking notes in my script, answering questions as they come up but mostly keeping my mouth shut; and the whole time I'm marveling at how simple it is, how smooth it is. Brian, the stage manager, sits in the row behind me taking copious notes on various notebooks, consulting his stopwatch, and telling Michael when it's time for breaks. Steve and Diane patiently watch from the back of the house, ready to run for anything anyone needs or might want, anticipating the requests like Radar. Michael bounces around the house, literally skipping down the aisles when a good idea hits him. He's a good director, trusts and loves his actors, and he really respects the script. The actors are so good, though they have a range of experience. They're all right there all the time, fully present, taking notes, offering ideas, and are so quick to start back up again after hearing what Michael tells them. Acting is instinctual for them - Michael doesn't have to tell them to be louder or gesture or experiment here or try something new this time - they just do it. And they're good at it.

They're all professionals, in other words.

I love my job, I do. I love being the one who introduces students to what theater is, who helps people begin to love or at least appreciate what it means to be on stage, telling a story. But the difference between the plays I direct and this rehearsal process here is the difference between swimming upstream and swimming with the current. This, this is easy. It's natural. And I miss it, even though I've never done it before.

I made a bunch of cuts after the first rehearsal Saturday, tightening up four of the pieces in the play and changing one piece around completely. Since I'm here as the only writer, I'm letting any personal inhibitions go and I'm cutting as the writer, not as a friend. I don't know how that'll go over, but I do know that the pieces are working better.

The "No Child Left Behind" piece is a struggle. I did cut it down a little on Chuck and Michael's suggestion, and I have a second tier of cuts ready if we need them. Michael discovered some really cool character things within it, and he's using them to stage it so one teacher is under attack during the piece. On one hand, I love the layers and the concept. However, I've seen the piece done twice - once was dry, quick, and without any frills whatsoever. And it killed - it got some of the biggest laughs of the entire show, and this show needs more laughs. The other time I saw it, they filled it with choreography and movement. And it bombed. It was tedious to watch and didn't make any sense.

In our post-rehearsal talk, I was frank, telling Michael about those two productions and telling him that I was worried the blocking they're doing in it will not work. He listened, but I don't know if he believed me. It's a hard thing for a director to do - to trust a script to work when all you have are words. No images, no characters, just words. I get his instinct to block it, and I encouraged him to fight against it. I don't know if he will change what he's got. If not, it'll be a good chance for me to hear and see again what works and what doesn't in that beastly bit of text that needs to be in there.

Michael is finding, though, the subtleties and throughlines I buried in the script. Ages ago, when Heidi and I had a good-sized stack of pieces from a variety of people, Teresa met us on East High School's stage (yes, that East High School) and we read through them all, making Yes, No, and Maybe piles. Then we started trying to figure out how to put the whole thing together. Teresa had to go, eventually, and then as I started laying the papers out across the stage and I stopped talking because I was thinking too fast to articulate it, Heidi just got out of my way. Have you musicians ever learned a piece of music that was tricky enough that you just have to shut off your brain and let yourself go to get through it? That's what it felt like. I couldn't explain what I was doing; I couldn't involve Heidi in the process. I shifted into a higher thinking gear and wordlessly sorted the pieces, finding connections and characters and a flow.

And it works. There's nuances in it that I couldn't articulate but Michael's discovering them and bringing them to light. He's taking the script seriously, reading it as literature, and he's discovering what I found and made and wove in years ago.

And I'm so glad I get to be here to see it and to be the playwright right now. Heidi is so very, very good at holding the vision for the play. She's always been the one with the goals in sight, and she's so very good at the political side of things - selling the play, making connections, and such. None of this would have happened without her or the pieces she wrote that are the heart of the play. My job, I think, has been the caretaker of the words. I know theater, I writing, and I can see what works. But because it's been a shared process, I couldn't fully do the job that needed to be done.

I'm alone down here now. That means taking on Heidi's role - I have a phone interview with a reporter from the Salt Lake Tribune tomorrow and a radio interview on Wednesday. And I'm kinda terrified. I'm not nearly as good at talking about the play as Heidi is, and I certainly don't know as much about teaching as she does. A part of being here without her means I have to be the one who talks, the one who promotes. On the other hand, I get full responsibility of the script. I get to be the writer. And that is a role I can do.

P.S. Interesting point: One concern that keeps coming up is the language in the play. Not the F-words of the B-words of the girl-fight piece, but the "GD" (as the actors keep saying it) of Taylor Mali's poem. Chuck is worried people will walk out. Michael's not sure what they'll do. For now, we're keeping it. But I'm curious to see what this older, conservative audience thinks. The question did prompt the actors to start talking, though, about how the language should be in there simply because those are all words you hear at school and parents/grandparents need to know that. Which is exactly why we kept it in the first place, so go us!
P.P.S. Can I brag just a little more (as if this entry hasn't been egotistical enough!) and say that there are some moments in pieces I wrote that I can't believe I actually wrote them? And that I still get chills at a lot of moments in the play?
P.P.P.S. I am worried about my "Celebrity" piece, though. The girl reading it is the least experienced actor in the bunch, and she's just not letting go and having fun with it. It's too serious and I'm sitting in the audience thinking, "Good grief, let go and get some laughs! This play desperately needs more laughs and you're making one of the few funny pieces totally serious!"
P.P.P.P.S. I'm being good, though, and keeping my non-director mouth shut.

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