“When we see any performance at Geva we are always aware that we are watching people with acting talent who work hard at delivering the same performance many times a week. What we are not so aware of is the difficult problem solving, hard work, and creative talent that goes into preparing the performance for the stage. Watching a staging rehearsal, a rehearsal in a room where the set is mocked up with odd pieces of furniture, tape on the floor, and imaginary doors and windows and walls, we see this other side of the actors’ work.
Watching the rehearsals of Informed Consent we saw them figuring out who would be where and why and when and then how they would all move and what they would be doing while delivering their lines. The same considerations apply for the staging rehearsal of Tinkers to Evers to Chance, the new play by Mat Smart to open soon, except that there is lots of furniture in a set of an apartment to contend with.
In rehearsing Informed Consent the director seemed to do most of the problem solving. For this play, Director Sean Daniels lets the actors figure out the bulk of what needs to be done before adding his observations to fine tune it. For example, There is a scene where Lauren (played by Emily Kitchens) puts on a jersey that once belonged to the Cubs player Johnny Evers and she is excited about the prospect of wearing it to the playoff game and has about 50 words to deliver expressing her optimism about the good luck that her wearing the jersey to the game will bring the Cubs. She must convey this enthusiasm and optimism to the audience, delivering those lines at the right cadence and with the right feeling while moving across the stage (skipping and dancing actually) to a point where the script calls for her to interrupt her “speech” as she discovers something in her mother’s handwriting. Pretty simple, right? Only 50 words to deliver! NOT! There is furniture in the way, there is an (imaginary) audience, and there is another actor on stage. Most importantly, she must arrive at the table and see the paper with her mother’s writing at exactly the correct point in the script. Everyone waits patiently while Emily tries it about 5 times until she works it out. She tries going in front of the couch, behind the couch, stopping at the table, passing by the table and doing a double take, etc. She must consider not only delivering the lines in a way that achieves the right effect but must keep from turning her back to the audience, time the motions and lines just right, maintain the proper relationship with R.J. (played by James Craven) to whom she is speaking all the while trying to make it look totally natural and not bump into the furniture AND get to the right place at precisely the right time. She finally nailed it and then Sean could then add some things he wanted to see (“maybe you should look out the window when you say…). One additional thing to note is that the next day Sean may decide to move the table or Mat may change the line (it is a new play, after all) and Emily and James will have to work it out again.
James Craven, playing R.J. who is Laurens mother’s caregiver, has just as many theatrical problems to solve. His character is much more laid back than Lauren and his dialog is comparatively reserved and sparse. But his character is deep and complex and we watched him put a lot of work into how to convey his character through means other than dialog. At one point R.J. is left alone in the apartment and turns on the TV and radio (of the Cubs game broadcast). Here is what the script’s stage directions call for: (With the remote, RJ turns the sound down on the TV and then turns on the radio. He opens the folder of Nessa’s play, walks away from it, walks to it, looks at it, closes the folder. He paces. He glances at the TV. He looks out the window up and down Sheffield. He opens the folder and considers one of the pages. Meanwhile, we hear from the radio). What James has to work out is what to convey about what he is thinking while not saying anything. Since this is not given in the script Sean literally asks “what do you think R.J. is thinking” and they talk it through and very soon James has us believing it and seeing exactly what R.J. is thinking all without words. It was amazing to watch.
It was apparent from watching these two actors that they enjoy this type of problem solving. They were totally focused, extremely productive, collaboratively creative, and obviously experts at what they do. It is fascinating to us, lovers of the theatre, to see how much talent, creativity, and hard work actors bring to the process of putting a play on stage.”