|Alli Glenzer, Dan Kennedy, and Ben Curns; photo by Jay McClure|
10-10:45 - Morning MeetingSo that was the first half of the play, shot through in eight hours. The morning meeting was longer on the first day than any other, simply because it was the beginning of the season. The entire production team -- including Artistic Director Jim Warren, Associate Artistic Director Jay McClure, Costume Shop Manager Erin West, Properties Manager Chris Moneymaker, and dramaturg yours truly -- had some notes to give to start things out. They also started throwing together a music list on the whiteboard, knowing that music rehearsals during the Ren Season can often be catch-as-catch-can, and that the earlier they had some ideas to start on, the more prepared they could get by Friday.
10:45-12 - violence - suicides, Caesar kill, Cinna the Poet, Act 5 skirmishes
12-12:30 - 1.1
12:30-1 - 1.2 A and C
1-2 - 1.2 B and D (stage) - music (Tyson)
2-3 - lunch break
3-3:30 - 2.1 C and D (stage) - 1.3 A and C (Tyson)
3:30-4:15 - 2.1 A and B
4:15-5 - 2.2 A (stage) - 4.2 B (Tyson)- 2.4 (lobby)
5-5:15 - 2.2 B
5:20-7 - 3.1 A-D
This schedule also points to what the issues of largest and most pressing concern often are: the most complex scenes, with the most bodies on stage and with more elaborate blocking needs. Anything involving combat takes additional time to choreograph so that it will be both safe and entertaining. Ben Curns took responsibility for fights for this show and had already blocked some things out in his head, but they still needed to set aside a lot of time for the actors involved to learn the movements -- and for adjustments to occur.
|Sarah Fallon, Ben Curns, Rene Thornton Jr.; photo by Jay McClure|
Often, more time goes into rehearsing entrances and exits than into the meat of the scene itself. (This only works, of course, because ASC actors are already well-trained in textual matters, and it's part of the reason all members of ARS troupes are veterans of the Blackfriars Playhouse). Julius Caesar features a lot of group entrances and a lot of scenes with between 6 and 12 bodies on stage. Looking at that schedule for the first day shows that: 1.1 only has four characters on stage, but the audience is involved as well, one actor had to change into a costume from the pre-show, another had to get downstairs after playing music, and the actors had to negotiate props on top of it. 1.2 involves a ceremonial entrance and exit Caesar and his train, off-stage shouting, a flurried re-entry of all the characters who just went off, and their final exit. It also involves a long conversation between Brutus and Cassius, but, while René and Sarah Fallon worked that on their own, the most stage rehearsal time went to choreographing those group entrances and exits. 2.1 involves all of the conspirators coming to Brutus's house -- another mass entrance, with specific costume and prop needs -- as does 2.2, and 3.1 is the largest scene in the play, with the most characters entering simultaneously, several exits and re-entrances, and, of course, the assassination of Caesar. (1.3 through 2.3 also involve a storm, but more on that in another blog post). And that's just Day One -- the second half of the play features the famous plebeian mob and a whole lot of combat.
It takes a lot of work and communication to make all of that run smoothly -- and actors won't always nail it on the first try. Some of those entrances they re-worked Friday afternoon, after the dress rehearsal, and some they tweaked along the way. The flow on-stage isn't the only problem, after all, and some issues only became apparent during the dress. Grant Davis and Ronald Peet, for example, realized that they needed more time after their exit in 1.1, so on Friday afternoon, they worked with Alli Glenzer and Dan Kennedy to figure out a way to hustle them off-stage faster, giving them more time to change. Other problems are architectural in nature, examples of the space itself influencing the work. Greg Phelps, as Antony in 3.2, only has about two lines to get from the balcony down to the stage, and he has to be there in time for the plebs to notice him and crowd around him. The plebeians had to test out a few different ways of delivering their lines in a way that gave Greg enough time to get down the stairs. Altogether, they probably spent more time on 3.2 than on any other scene in the play. The timing of the plebeians' responses and movements has to be so precise in order to work the way they were hoping for, and as a further complication, many of the lines sound so similar or provide repeated cues. "Wow. That's a lot of 'will's," Greg observed in the middle of one sequence where he heard the word "will" from the plebs eight times, correctly cuing him only twice out of the eight. Finding the right rhythm for the scene took quite a bit of time, effort, and reiteration, but the resulting shape drives the audience along an exhilarating path.
|Greg Phelps, Tracie Thomason, Abbi Hawk, and Grant Davis;|
photo by Jay McClure
Throughout the rehearsal process, what struck me most was the blend of communication and organization that makes the Ren Season run. These actors work well together and share a common language, making them a well-oiled machine -- even though this precise troupe has never worked together before. Sarah and Dan are returning after seasons away from the ASC, and Ronald, Grant, Abbi Hawk, and Tracie Thomason were all here in 2012 but are new to the Ren Season. The ASC embraces the ensemble nature of theatre and performs in repertory year-round, but the Ren Season brings all of the necessary components into sharper focus. The result is a season unlike any other, full of its own special (and sometimes frenetic) energy.