Monday, March 03, 2008

the critic and the professor rehearse

Brian Russo of Gonzaga's theater department (as Jerry the rebellious Albee-figure) and Bobo (as Peter the strait-laced conformist) are going to attempt Edward Albee's *The Zoo Story* at Empyrean (April 24-27).
Brian thought of it, reserved the space, got the rights, and is directing it. So basically the whole thing is his fault.

We had our third rehearsal yesterday. I thought it might be mildly interesting to record some in-progress thoughts.

A digression, already (aimed at the minds of local directors / stage managers and techies): In some future Inlander, Bobo would like to pitch the idea of 1. following a production from auditions to closing night. KPBX did a five-part (?) (audio) piece on a Studio show at the Civic (which one?) about four (?) years ago, but this would have the advantage of being fossilized in print and eventually used to line birdcages.
and 2. doing a "ride-along" inside sound booths / alongside stage managers during actual performances at a variety of local theaters (to give readers a sense of how all that theatrical magic is created).
So, artistic directors and designers out there ... when can Bobo invade your sound booths and your protected backstage environments?

If sports can have extensive pregame analysis and locker room interviews and long post-game blow-by-blows, why not the arts?
You can get national and international news way better online. But what the big boys can't do so well is local sports and local arts.
Bobo's always pushin' the coverage, especially when it involves shameless self-promotion.

At our first rehearsal, Russo and I simply recorded a read-through, mostly so I could listen to the recording and hammer the memorization. (The only answer L.A. actors ever gave during my recent trip to the [cringe-worthy] "How do you memorize all those lines?" question was: Just hammer them.)

Second rehearsal:
Brian likes actors to go through the script very slowly, thinking about all the ways any given line could be delivered.
We spent an hour and a half doing the first third of the script in slow-motion, pausing to savor every nuance and possible motivation, keeping eye contact, really considering both our own and the other guy's motivation.

As you may recall, *Zoo Story* is about a 50-minute show bifurcated by Jerry's 15(?)-minute speech in the middle about his landlady's dog.
Apparently rights are still OK for just this 1960 (American premiere) one-act. At the professional level, Albee may now be insisting that his new play *Peter and Jerry* (essentially a one-hour prequel to this one, in which we see Jerry's marital troubles) be performed as a unit, creating a full-length play by splicing two one-acts written four decades apart).

Third rehearsal:
Slow-motion, motivation-analysis again, this time of the play's last third (after the "Jerry and the Dog" speech).
Tomorrow, we're breaking the opening part of the script down into beats and devising a specific physical gesture for each character's motivation within each of those beats.

Memorizing the lines. How to stay fully present. How much I'm going to hate going without a mustache. Will I look stupid and motionless during long periods of onstage listening? I need to get this thing blocked, costumed, get comfortable with my props. There's a violent ending, and Bobo's better at easy cynicism than genuine emotion. (We all know he's just a talking robot.) Will my family be embarrassed? This is much more nerve-wracking than that damn spelling bee. What physical tics can I come up with for Peter? How can I find a way to divest myself of me and become, more fully, Peter?
In other words, all the usual suspects when it comes to pre-performance jitters. Not a bad thing for the Big Bad Critical Wolf to go through.

At the NEA thing in L.A., in an acting class taught by a little elf of a Pomona-Claremont professor, we had to enact a memory/monologue written by someone else. Bobo drew the when-I-met-my-wife recollection of the arts editor at Missoula's alt-weekly: Drinking and making out in a Myrtle Beach Days Inn over spring break.
First time, I rolled all over the bed, hands-and-knees, hubba-hubba with the future wifey. (Keep in mind, many in our group were terrified, stood stock-still and mumbled at their shoes.) The elfin professor sniffed and said something about how many beginning actors, when they are first learning a part, experiment with a physical gesture for each and every line.
Message received.
Second run-through, performing for the class, had to use props and overlap stage business with lines, off-kilter; deliver it TO the audience. I laid out a beach towel, fiddled with water bottle and paperback book, paused dramatically (I thought, at just the right moment) to take a reflective swig — a pause was also a requirement — then finished the speech and did some more stage biz.
The elf smiled.


At March 09, 2008 5:20 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding anxieties:

Forget the tics. Be present. The most important action an actor can do is listen. Active listening. Know your words so you can live in the subtext of the character. Do not think about your next line. Do we do that in life? Trust the work is done and the words will be there. Really, REALLY forget tics. Your job is to be trapped by Jerry on a bench in a park. How does that make you feel? Audiences watch feelings not tics.


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