Director’s blog: When chairs become walls, and other things . . .

PictureThe rehearsal room. Where a chair is
sometimes a chair, and sometimes a wall.

Director’s blog: When chairs become walls, and other things . . .
Liam Castellan, Communicating Doors director

 Rehearsals have begun rather well. The first week has multiple goals on any director’s list, generally including:

~Reading the play out loud. An important first-rehearsal ritual, and the only “global” view we’ll have for two weeks. Designers and other staff attended. After months of reading the play silently, it was valuable and exciting to hear the starting points for each of the characters. I finally get to start building my show around the voices of my actors, and ignore the voices in my head (mostly).

~Blocking. If a script has a character enter from a particular door and answer the phone on a particular line, then once you know where the set designer has put that door and that phone, that moment is pretty much “blocked”. Plenty of that in a realistic play (especially a farce/thriller hybrid). But the bits in between, where nothing in particular is required by the script, are the real opportunity. What patterns of movement help tell this story? Could standing up on this line help show the character’s emotional state? Would a moment of stillness help this punchline land? 

~Establishing character and relationships. Too many directors launch right away into blocking the show, and forget to check with the actors about who these people are, and what they want from each other.  On some shows I let the actors move wherever they want at first, while I work through the whole show focusing on character and intention. Only then do I start blocking it from the beginning. But “Communicating Doors” has so much action dictated by the script that I’m working on character and movement concurrently. It seems to be working well enough; each process is informing the other.

~Building trust and camaraderie among the cast. This usually takes care of itself, no need to plan “icebreaker” games or anything, merely keep an eye out for the rare developing problem or disagreement (none anticipated here). Since Hedgerow places such value on the idea of “company”, there are several familiar faces in my cast. And I have either directed or acted alongside all six of my actors before. 

 But two are new to Hedgerow, so it’s pleasant to see them rapidly growing comfortable with the “veterans”. I’ve found that it’s rarely worth it to be a taskmaster and keep breaks to the minimum. Go ahead and let them finish sharing the weird dream they had last night, or chuckle over having the same phone and affinity for string cheese as their scene partner. It’ll pay off when I’m long gone, and these folks have to share this story (and a few small dressing rooms) for five weeks.