A cohorts take on directing by Joanna Grosodonia

cohorts-300x300“At our first meeting of the Cohort Club for the Book Club Play director Sean Daniels distributed a handout entitled “ How to Watch Directing” by John Jory.  As I watched rehearsals during tech and preview week, many of the components in Jory’s piece really hit home. And I also realized that Sean really put himself, the staff and the cast out there for this Cohort Club.  In fact, Geva is the only regional theater to ever attempt such a fusion of artist and audience for a project like the Cohort Club.

Some observations —

Does the director use the space in an interesting way?      Sean took the actors from a taped floor in the rehearsal room to a setting that had them placed on a seeming table top on the stage, and flanked them with 12 seats stage right and left, to enhance the feeling of being watched by  documentary cameras.  The opening and the ending that had been rehearsed for 3 weeks was tossed out, and Sean had the actors embrace the stage for their introductions.  Some of the antics took on a bigger proportion and really heightened the laughs and the intensity of the performances. The behavior on stage did seem to fit the circumstances of the text.

Is the directing intent on clarifying the story  and delivering the play’s message……Sean tweaked the way an actor sat on the pillows of the chaise, adjusted shoulders,  threw out a prop ( with some dialogue)  on the recommendation of the playwright and cut several words in key places to emphasis the message and heighten the laughter.  It was fascinating to watch how each actor was able to stop and pick up from the “page before” or three prior lines in order to rehearse the new delivery. Some could automatically recall where they should start again.  One actor looked as if he visibly had to rewind the tape or reload the disc in order to find his place again. The stage manager, sound and lighting designers all worked together to make adjustments for all the cues, and this process continued not only on tech weekend but throughout the preview week. The director has a lot to do with rhythm.

GevaCards-Batch3-8The playwright, Karen Zacarias took the unusual step of attending 4 of the 5 days of preview week to advise, change, and tighten dialogue. In a calm but persistent manner she insisted on that prop and dialogue change for one of the characters

Is the acting good?   What looked funny in the rehearsal room looked hysterical on the main stage, even when it had to be repeated to button down changes. The characters were quite believable which provoked deeper laughs.  The audience could connect with these people – they were real.

What is “theatrical” about this production? Does it have any visual, aural or acting surprises?   The scale of the “living room”, the furniture and last but not least a gorgeous hand painted golden backdrop immediately grab your attention. Some of the antics border on lunacy. As to the second question, in case you haven’t seen the play yet – yes, yes and yes.

Does the play come together in the end? Clarity is the director’s job. Has the director given closure and built its impact. …it shouldn’t end with a whimper.  Sean eliminated 2 pages of dialogue at the end of the play to sharpen the story. Every day we receive the tech notes from Frank, our stage manager.  In his cryptic way Frank relays the audience reaction for each performance.  Each night there is interplay among the actors and the audience. Each night is a new performance based on this interaction.  It is very exciting to read about each performance’s unfolding. Regardless of occasional bumps (spilled wine included) the standing ovations that have occurred at every performance speak to the communication skills and artistry of the entire ensemble.

20130216-110543.jpgThe performance

I was thrilled to sit in the audience on our “usual” night to see the play from start to finish. I had never seen the ending in rehearsal so it was very new to me.  And I must confess that in some of the scenes, I could recite the dialogue verbatim. Yet, the subtle changes that have taken place over preview week have created such a cohesive story. We are wrapped up in the story. And we leave with a big smile (especially because we watched the credits roll, then caught an extra scene at the end)

What an experience!” – Joanna Grosodonia

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