Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Life and Times (but mainly just last week) of Paul Rekk, Idealist...Fool; Part Two

When we last left our tenacious hero, he was anxiously awaiting his entry to the world of the Chicago theatrical director. Did the evening meet with success? What of the rapturous applause? Will he be able to show his face again? Tenacious? Seriously?

Welp, it's said and done. The show went off relatively hitchless. My one music cue, trying to help button a scene searching hard for a button, proved to be one music cue too many and went AWOL, which made for some awkward silence. But all things considered (all things being one week between casting and curtain), I was proud to be there and to be partly responsible. I was also proud to have worked with a cast who were the acme of professionalism. It takes a lot of commitment and a lot of flexibility to do this sorta thing, and they were game (and excellent) the whole way.

I also ended up acting for one of the other pieces. This was a development I was made aware of about 24 hours before curtain. I really have to learn to say 'no' to these happy accidents. It turned out fine, though, as I (the tallest guy on stage, as per usual) was able to stand towards the back of a crowd of actors and use them to hide my (hush, hush!) script. Yeah, maybe I was yet again playing the semi-timid, awkwardly comedic role. And maybe impotence jokes were made at my expense ... again. But I didn't have to memorize shit, beetches. So there.

Like I started to mention last time, my Per Diem planning had been in the holding bin -- is that a real phrase? -- for a while last week, and as it was there the rest of me decided to go ahead and rediscover basic principles. Now, as I'm getting the blueprints out of hock, I'm discovering that there is some minor tweaking to be done in what I want and need to do artistically and what I had gotten all up in my head about a couple of weeks ago. Last week did a good job of grounding me. We'll see how long I can hold on to that.

Right now my brain is compartmentalizing what I want to get out here into two catagories: what I've learned and what concerns me at the moment. Just this once, I'll let the brain lead the blog.

What I've Learned

(Entirely extrinisic caveat: reading back over this section, it seems far too simplistic. Fully realizing that it's unjustified, I still can't help but feel that it reads like it was written from the kid's table. Then again, the best advice always seems to be the simplest. And besides, this is for me first and foremost. You come second, ya jerk. There, I feel better.)

For a week's worth of rehearsals on a 10-minute script, I took a lot out of last week. I was a little baffled on what to do with the piece when I first received it, and I started by looking at it conceptually, quickly getting some low-budget design ideas and broadened character strokes to bring out hints of the essential archetypes I was seeing. Then I got a cast and I watched them work shit out the first few times through the script ('Note to self' director rule 1: At least one full readthrough, another if feasible, before I indulge any of my own vision).

The best part about working with good actors is that they, consciously or not, are aware of the importance of a balance between what they are experiencing and what the director is soliciting. I had a good actors. They took my direction and they processed it and when they spat it out again, I could see what I had given them, but it had morphed into this new creature with a few more suppressed emotions than I had expected; or a tilt of the head or glimmer in the eye that betrayed a second line of thought; or a jumped line not out of unfamiliarity or discomfort or anything self-conscious but out of genuine urgency to make the other person aware of these thoughts boiling over. We avoided all of those (and I say this as an actor and out of love) painstaking actorly discussions about motivation and what their character would or would not do.say.think.feel. Instead, they showed me how the character was doing.saying.thinking.feeling what I had asked for. It was rarely exactly what I had envisioned, and that kicked ass, because, while I knew I could steer them to a different path if choices came about that didn't sit well, everything else created that sense of unpredictability that blurs the line between stage and life.

('Note to self' director rule 2: John Cassavetes knew his shit.) I also discovered that I can't do blocking. I don't know if it's an inability, a disinterest, or both, but I suspect the latter. I just can't sit down and give marks and create good stage pictures and place the actors into a transparent maze and let them bounce around like lab rats. I didn't give a lick of blocking to start out with. We had a very basic set, and I let the actors loose and watched them figure shit out on their own. They felt horribly out of place, they got trapped behind the sofa, they sat at awkward moments and seemed afraid to stand again, they avoided each other, but before long they also started to forget about the concept of stage movement. By the third time through, they had already started to form patterns of movement, places where they felt comfortable moving into or away from each other, times when they were completely self-involved or other times when they were invested with and moving in relation to the other. Once they got to this point we had a framework to work from. And we definitely did tweak, but the greater idea was always that the movement was based from and built upon what had been created by them instinctually. And because it was based in their natural choices, it seemed that much easier to deviate and still feel comfortable.

Para ejemple, there was a point in the script where one of my actors would consistently turn and retreat behind the sofa, only to get stuck in some upstage vortex not long after. It was during an strong point of conflict in a play all about (or that we made all about) a power struggle and she hadn't been in control at all at up to that point. I told her try stepping up to the other actor at that point rather than retreating. That's all the direction I gave, nothing to do afterward, nothing for the other actor, no 'motivation' crap. We did the scene again, she stepped into him and it was straight dominos: he (who had been in complete control seconds prior) immediately backed up, she kept moving into him, and suddenly the power status had 180'd until it hit a breaking point and she turned and walked away, leaving him out to hang. It looked brilliant. And it looked brilliant because it was real.

('Note to self' director rule 3: Characters first, concept second.) Like I mentioned, before I had a cast I was primarily looking at the play conceptually. I had pre- and post-show music inspiration. (Although those choices did stay -- the effective use of contemporary music in film, TV, and theatre has always been a big interest of mine.) I was also envisioning grand opposing character archetypes of a farcical nature. Basically, I was unable to initially connect to the script that had been handed to me and so I was forcing another angle upon it. Then I heard the first readthrough, and real people jumped out of these words. I didn't immediately drop my conceptualizations, but the week started to take a 'give some, get some' form between what I had seen in my head and what I was seeing with my eyes. And when it came down to it, more often than not I was paring down extraneous ideas in favor of relationship time.

I partially chalk this up to not initially lining up with the piece I was directing, but it does carry a parallel to some potential Per Diem work. A lot of my ideas deal with sweeping formal experimentation, which will draw a large amount of focus from the audience. As a result, I had started to give the formal aspects a lot of my focus as well. This is counter-productive. To truly get rid of an audience's addiction to the next moment, the rehearsal work will have to focus on the theatre that is happening in between the experimentation. What is there must be so compelling that it outweighs the shock of the unexpected. To gain that balance, in which truly anything could happen next and the audience is so engaged in the now that they don't care, that is the ultimate goal.

I'm sure I could go on and on about more little elementary tidbits I picked up, but I'll spare you this time. Maybe if I'm feeling frisky in the near future. Although, it looks like there will in fact be a Life and Times trilogy, so's I can share the what concerns me at the moment part of my brain as well.

Thrilling conclusion and all that jazz...


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