In the Room: Theatrical Observations from Tommy C.
A couple weeks after my initial intrusion upon the artistic process, I stealthily tiptoed into the rehearsal room on Granby Street, trying, again, to remain as quiet as possible. There was no need, however, for the room was a flurry of movement. The actors were just coming off one of their required Actor’s Equity union breaks and were engaged with cellular devices, bookbags, coffee, or in conversation with one another. The room greeted me as magnanimously as they had weeks prior, and I gave hugs and smiles to those close enough to receive them.
“Alright, people,” the stage manager boomed. “Let’s pick it up from where we left off.”
Members of the cast went to their respective places in the room, or positioned themselves in the taped-off playing area that represented the stage. They gathered the necessary props, and some of them gathered their scripts, and they began the scene. I watched a young actress fumble through papers to find a book for her professor and discover more than just the book she was intending to find. The joy on her face transformed into curiosity, frustration, and finally melted into hurt. Her blocking (i.e movement) would send her in the direction of another lovely actress who entered the space to console her. The scene ended, and two more actors came into the space. Music underscored the transition, and suddenly, we’d changed time and location. The action was seamless.
For only being two weeks into the rehearsal process, I noticed that most of the actors were off-book or memorized. This is an advantage for many actors as it allows the performer to be freer with their bodies, thoughts, and character intentions while not relying on a “script-in-hand.” It is a goal many actors achieve early in their rehearsal process, and one that some do not achieve fully until later. Regardless, I can see that these actors are in a very good place when it comes to this show. They seem to be able to get through many moments without being stopped by the director, which means there is a level of comfort that has been reached.
When Chris Hanna does stop the action, it is to ask questions about possible musical underscoring, or to take a look at the projections that will inevitably be used for a scene. Does the image need to be seen for the duration of that monologue? Can this music be elongated or shortened? Will the actor be using a telephone or will he deliver the monologue as is, in spotlight? Does this blocking look clunky? Does that staging look good? All of the questions of the director reflect one major question: Is this story being told effectively? The actors' questions are in a similar vein, except their inquiries have a twofold purpose: Are their interpretations of characters and blocking in-line with the director’s vision? If they are, then they trust that they, also, are telling the story effectively.
I didn’t spend much time in the rehearsal room that day before I had to move on to another responsibility, but what I gleaned from the energy in the room was that this show could potentially change lives if handled properly. I am an actor of color, and it’s a rare gift to see stories about my heritage, based in my hometown, as well, on stage. It’s so easy to tell the story of the downtrodden person of color, prior to the Civil Right’s Movement, and turn it into a “kitchen sink” drama that is both heavy handed and preachy. It is a skill to show people of color advancing through life with integrity, grace, and vibrancy that makes you proud of how their individual stories end. So being allowed to be privy to this entire process is as essential to me, as it is inspirational and educational.
Side note: In my personal experience as an actor, I’ve never actually been in a play where one rehearses in the actual space in which they will eventually perform. Rehearsals in the actual theatre occur three to five days before a play opens and is usually called Technical Rehearsal or Tech for short. This was not that kind of rehearsal, and unfortunately, I would miss out on being able to witness part of those ten to twelve hour days. Those Tech days are when every element that has been discussed in production meetings is incorporated to create something cohesive. The sound is included, as well as the projections, lighting, costumes, set, and more elaborate props. Cast and crew begin to find their footing as they create what will be the final piece of the theatrical process: The show.