The Devil is in the Details My Life as a Cohort Leslie Locketz February 24, 25, 26
Monday, February 24 I am back to work after a week off, and the cast and crew who are producing Informed Consent have their first day off since they began working in Rochester last Tuesday.
Tuesday, February 25 I am back to visit after being away for two rehearsal days, Saturday and Sunday. One other cohort is present when I arrive at 3:30 PM. I learn her name is Maggie. She has been here for a couple of hours and tells me that the actors have watched a New York Times video about the real life court case that the Havasupai brought against the Arizona Board of Regents. Maggie thinks there is a link to this video in the 85 page packet that the Dramaturg, Jenni, has sent us. For the first time, I see a wall poster with photos of the Havasupai. There is now a child’s drawing that will be lost and found in the play.
It seems that there is now More of almost everything than on my last visit, though the More is subtle. There is more drumming, more attitude, more accents, more lines memorized, more movement, more music and more props. Where the three audio speakers stood, there is now a table with sets of stairs adjacent to each side so that Gilbert, the actor, can walk up and down. We are Less one person, though. Deb Laufer, the playwright is gone.
The stories have changed. Interspersed into the script now are the real life stories of these actors. We hear about a journey in a barrel, a barrel in a truck in Baghdad, driving to the border of Kuwait. We hear about the Lakota Sioux, who came through the surface of the earth through a wind cave, a wind cave in the Black Hills. And we hear about a man whose name was changed to Joe Ross at Ellis Island, after coming from 30 generations of Rusakovsky’s. I am sure these are real stories.
Sean tells the actors, “We can all be aware of which stories are people’s real stories. We can all pay more attention when people say their real stories.” And later, ”As an audience member, I have to be listening to whatever comes next.” (But the actors will know when and where to attend with greater interest.)
Each day, the actors get about a 20 minute break during a six hour stretch of rehearsal time. I notice they need to move. It is hard on the body to stand for so many hours. Larissa does cartwheels; Fajer jumps up and down; Gilbert talks about going to the gym; Gilbert and Tina talk about going out salsa dancing; Larissa mentions a ballet class she might take. Outside, following last week’s great melt and hint of spring, we have experienced the return of the “Arctic Blast”, so these actors are not going to get their exercise in with a walk in the park across the street.
I start to notice the props accumulating around the room and photograph them. (Sean has told me I may photograph anything except the actors.) There is a rack of lab coats (the main character, Gillian, is a scientist), a grocery cart with a guitar, a recorder, maracas; children’s books and toys; a pendent, a red flannel blanket. I have brought in a rose quartz bear, carved with a kokopelli. The bear in Southwest Native American cultures symbolizes “comfort and strength”. I see these contrasting images in the themes of the play and hope this bear by its silent presence will provide those qualities to the production.
“Does the lab coat go on first, or first the pendent and then the lab coat?” asks Jessie aka Jillian. We have learned that Gilbert plays a mean harmonica, and that is now part of the play in addition to Tina’s drum beats.
Will the guitar, the recorder and the maracas later be incorporated, too?
I have finally learned the actors’ names, and at least one actor knows mine. (It was a big help that upon my request, Frank sent me a list of the names of all involved). I now know three cohorts: Maeve, Lauren, and Maggie. I have seen the Barclays, and read their posts as well as those of a few others. The big picture and the small picture are becoming more clear.
February 26 I make it over to Geva after work at around 4:00 PM. They are scheduled to work until 6:00 PM. I enter the room quietly in the middle of the infamous kissing scene that I have read about in the “Cohort Club” on the Geva Theatre website. Jessie/Jillian has her legs wrapped around Fajer/Graham and practically falls off the bench, which is none too steady. Many of the lines are now memorized. Part of the script is in Fajer’s back pocket. The actors will ask for a “line” when they forget.
Four people sit at the side table and offer cues. I know only Sean, the director, and Frank, the stage manager, but I have seen these same folks every day.
Scenes are practiced over and over, and actions become more and more nuanced. After Larissa gives them a cue, Jessie and Fajer must, in unison, put their heads down, look at each other, stand up together, cross over each other and then sit down together. (How does Sean know who to move when? These are not all stage directions in the play. Do they teach this in theater school? Is it intuitive? Practice?)
“Can we go back and try this whole scene and the scene within a scene? “ The box of props comes out: maracas, magazines and papers, Natalie’s drawing. “This is where we learn to root for you as a couple.” “have a thing (i.e. a repeated loving gesture) that you guys do”.
I can see this process becoming more and more like my dance class when we are getting ready for a performance. We learn the whole piece. Then we practice and perfect the components until they are second nature, until our moves are precise enough, big enough, passionate enough, free enough.
After 40 minutes or so, it is time for that welcome 20 minute break. I go for a cup of coffee, and the actors, who have not had lunch bring out the Tupperware and bento boxes. Now is my chance to mingle and ask questions.
I learn that Tina was in Queenie Pie, which I saw at the Kennedy Center in 1986, so she knows Garth Fagan and his dance company because he was the choreographer. We have a “me too” moment. I learn that Larissa is a playwright in addition to being an actress. She tells us the media always includes her age when covering her plays. They never do that with actresses, the others comment. I learn that Deb Laufer has left because another one of her plays, one about the Gaming industry, is opening in Chicago and another city. She will return to Rochester.
I learn who those other two Geva staff I see every day are: Jenni, the dramaturg, and Stephie, the assistant stage manager. I learn what a dramaturg and an assistant stage manager do. I learn that four of the five actors live in NYC, but Jessie , who has lived in NYC nine years, is “not from NY”. She’s from Kentucky. Larissa lives in Santa Monica. I learn that the Cleveland Playhouse, where this play will go next, is the oldest regional theater in the country. By the time I leave today, at least two of the actors know my name. I am beginning to acquire a little more of the “co” in cohort.