Archive for the 'rehearsal report' Category

Dress Rehearsals

June 28, 2006

Here’s how our three days of dress rehearsals generally go:

mid-afternoon: drive down to San Pedro (leaving before 3 means beating most of the traffic)

late afternoon: frisbee in the park with the other actors who don’t have day jobs or can get off early

5 or so: sweep up the weird fig-like seed pods that drop from the big tree onto the stage

5:30 or so: start pulling out all the platforms and legs and sound equipment and lights from their storage space inside the bandshell.
6: actors called.  Set-building begins in earnest.  Legs onto platforms, platforms placed and bolted, facing and stairs attached, poles attached, lights hung and focused, speakers and mics placed, sound booth set up, etc etc etc.

7: fight call.  We run the duel at least three times.  We’ve also been spending significant time on the Polonius kill and a bit where Hamlet draws Marcellus’ sword on the battlements, because they involve new props and set pieces.

up until 8: actors into costume, work any other bits that need attention

8: start the run-thru

10: finish run-thru.  Sound system must be turned off (for the neighborhood around the park).  Work any bits that need attention (putting Ophelia into the grave, etc)

10:30: break down the set

11: quick meeting in which we go over any business and I give a couple of general notes, then release actors

11:05 tech notes

whenever I get home: type up all my notes for the actors and email them out

then: drink a beer, go to bed.


rehearsal photos

June 28, 2006

A bunch of photos from Monday night’s partial-dress rehearsal are up on flickr.

We should have good quality full-costume press photos after tomorrow night.


June 27, 2006

I suspect that most if not all directors have a bit of the control freak in them. I know I do. We get involved in theatre in one way or another — I started as an actor — and sooner or later we realize that we wouldn’t have to second-guess everything all the time if only we were in charge.

The wonderful irony of becoming a stage director to satisfy your control-freak urges is that, of course, at the end of the process you have no control at all.

Having a week off right before going into the last three rehearsals messed with my head. Once I took care of my sound design notes, there wasn’t a lot of work I could do on the show. So I thought and thought and thought about all the little things that we haven’t yet had time to work or fix. I planned out a whole sequence for last night that would allow us to fix everything and still do a full run. And of course, we weren’t really able to do any of it — getting the set up took too long, various pieces weren’t ready, etc etc etc.

It was frustrating, and I let my frustration show more than was really necessary. Sometimes, it’s important for a director to show some frustration — you need to let the whole cast and crew know that you care about the project, and that you expect everyone to bring their best game. But it’s also important to pick your battles; one of my teachers said that directors get one temper tantrum per project, and have to pick very carefully when to throw it so as to get the best results. That makes sense. I didn’t quite throw a tantrum last night, but I did get more upset than events really warranted. It wasn’t the right time to play the tantrum card — it was the control freak in me panicking over how little I could do to make things happen.

Ultimately, this is why theatre is a good profession for control freaks. At first, we get to make a bunch of big decisions; we collaborate with everyone, but we do have the final say. And then we have to let it go. On every show, we’re faced with our greatest fear. What could be more exciting than that?

hats and skulls

June 22, 2006

Final dress for Comedy was tonight (Wednesday). Come on down to San Pedro on Thursday (or Friday or Saturday) and see it!

Hamlet and Laertes did a long fight call on the grass in the park — they're getting very comfortable with the duel. It's looking good.

Laertes had a fitting. His olive-green plaid suit is looking great, and very right for the character. The forest-green derby isn't working well with the olive green of the suit. I'm not sure how that happened, because I remember looking at the swatches with the costume designer before we ordered the (expensive) hat. Not sure what's going to happen there — the three possibilities at this point are to somehow paint or dull down the hat, to add forest green trim to the suit to make it match the hat, or to cut the hat entirely.

The most fun tonight for me was finally working with Hamlet and the skull. I wasn't thrilled when I first saw the prop skull that we're using — it's from a Halloween shop. It's much better now that one of the actors took it home and gave it a very nice paint job. But at least we now finally have the real prop to work with, and time with Hamlet where we're not doing a run-thru.

My idea from the beginning has been for the Gravedigger to stick the skull on the end of his shovel, handing it to Hamlet like that. As Hamlet describes Yorick and plays at speaking to him, the skull becomes a puppet. I stole this basic idea from Peter Brook and Adrian Lester's Hamlet (they didn't use the shovel, but they did something similar in the stage production; it's not in the video, though). We waited to really work that bit until we had the actual skull.

I love the way it's turning out. Hamlet really brings Yorick to life, and the lines in the scene make so much sense when played this way. We blocked the skull as another character in the scene much the same way we blocked everything else — the actor tried things out, I offered suggestions, and through trial and error we built a whole little sequence of looks and bounces and nods and head-shakes and takes to the audience.

At the bar after rehearsal, I was crowing about how cool that bit is going to be, and I said something about how it's such an important scene. One of the actors asked me why I think that scene is so central to the play. The play (for me, for this production) is about change — it's about Hamlet learning to accept change. Death is the ultimate change, and in that scene Hamlet literally comes face to face with death. He sees it for what it is, and it's not all that terrible. In Hamlet's following scene, he has the "fall of a sparrow… the readiness is all" speech, demonstrating an acceptance that I don't think he had in him before the encounter with Yorick.

No rehearsals at all, not even on the side, until Monday. I can't wait.

Come see Comedy this weekend. Here's the link for directions and whatnot. It's free.

The King’s first speech, inside-out and outside-in

June 21, 2006

Comedy of Errors opens Thursday, so I can only work this week with the actors not cast in both shows. But I did manage to schedule an early rehearsal with the actor playing Claudius, to work on his first speech. Something was missing from it — it felt static and low-energy. The actor told me he wanted to find more fun it in. We talked at the beginning of rehearsals about Claudius as the party King, but we hadn't built any of that into the play.

We met an hour or so before he was called for Comedy, working on the bandshell stage before putting up the set. His ideas were good; more than anything else, he seemed to need to be given permission to make bigger choices. I haven't figured out yet whether this particular actor responds best to notes that work outside-in or inside-out — so I gave him a bunch of each to see what would stick.

What I'm calling "outside-in" notes are about external choices — what he's doing physically, which words to emphasize, whether to use an upward or a downward inflection at the end of a particular line. "Inside-out" notes are about the internal life of the character — what the character wants, the circumstances of the scene, what the character is expecting and what's making it difficult. Some actors respond better to inside-out notes, finding the externals on their own by extrapolating from the internal notes: if saying this line isn't enough for my character to get what he wants, then I should use an upward inflection to show that I still have more to say. Other actors take the external notes and apply them inward: if I play an upward inflection here, it must mean I have more to say because I haven't yet achieved my objective.

Now the speech is much more fun. The King is telling the court that even though they're supposed to be in mourning, they're going to celebrate regardless — and he's now playing a lot of the lines about mourning as jokes. Being in a position of such power allows you to make jokes that would be inappropriate for anyone else. Old King Hamlet didn't joke like that, and Claudius is gently mocking him and establishing himself as a new kind of King. All of this, of course, will only make Prince Hamlet all the more miserable.

We also did a fight call (on the grass) with Hamlet and Laertes, worked some Polonius stuff, and did a run-thru of the whole play with just Hamlet, Laertes, Polonius, and Horatio. The other roles we divvied up between those actors and the stage manager and myself. It was fun, and no doubt very good for the actor playing Hamlet to get a chance to run the whole show on his feet in the middle of this crazy week. The costume designer was there, doing final fittings with various actors. I'm heading down to the park early today to set up the sound system and set levels with the stage manager, and then we'll work more Hamlet and Laertes during Comedy's final dress tonight.

the nunnery scene, Part One

June 19, 2006

“The nunnery scene” is Ophelia’s confrontation with Hamlet, in which he tells her “get thee to a nunnery.” Polonius and Claudius are listening in — they’re using her in an attempt to determine whether love for Ophelia is the true cause of Hamlet’s madness.

This has been the toughest scene in the play. This morning, we finally nailed down the blocking. In this post, I’m going to attempt to break the whole thing down.

What makes this particular scene so difficult is the sheer number of possible choices it presents to the actors and director. Here are some of the questions that Shakespeare leaves open to interpretation:

-Does Hamlet know that Polonius is spying? Does he figure it out within the scene? How much of what he says is intended to be overheard?

-Why does Ophelia try to return Hamlet’s gifts? Is this part of Polonius’s plotting, or is she doing this on her own accord?

-What is the nature of Hamlet and Ophelia’s previous relationship?

-What are Hamlet and Ophelia actually trying to get from each other over the course of this scene?

Every production of Hamlet can find answers to these questions that are both completely legitimate and vastly different. Here’s a list of the circumstances that we decided on.

-Hamlet and Ophelia knew each other since childhood; Hamlet is several years older.

-They had no romantic entanglements before he first left for school.

-When Hamlet returned for his father’s funeral, he and Ophelia both visited Old Hamlet’s grave at the same time, a day or so after the formal funeral. They got to talking, and kept talking, and began to fall in love.

-Over the next few days, their relationship began. He gave her presents (including a medal that belonged to his father) and wrote her a couple of love letters.

-The night before the beginning of the play (which in our production is Claudius’ first formal address to the court after the coronation), Hamlet and Ophelia had sex. It was late at night, on the spur of the moment, and they did not use any protection.

-They haven’t had a chance to talk since then — the next day (the first day of the play), Polonius commands Ophelia to repel Hamlet’s advances. When he tries to visit her, her servants do not allow him in. His letters are returned. He doesn’t know why, and probably guesses that it is either because they had sex or because her father got wind of it.

-After two months, during which time he has established his act of madness, they finally come face to face again when he confronts her in her chambers. This happens more or less as she describes it to Polonius — he doesn’t say anything, but gives her a couple of very meaningful looks as if to say goodbye. That’s the only contact they’ve had (other than seeing each other across a crowded room at one or two court events) since they had sex.

-Polonius has more or less convinced Ophelia that her rejection is what has driven Hamlet mad.

-Hamlet sees Ophelia’s rejection of him (and her attempt to return his letters during the scene) as the same kind of change that Gertrude has demonstrated in marrying Claudius — a betrayal of love and loyalty. This holds true regardless of the reason for Ophelia’s rejection (even if it was on orders from Polonius).

Polonius hears Hamlet approaching, and the two old men hide just offstage (with Osric as well, in this production). Ophelia is left on one side of the stage as Hamlet enters on the other. He delivers the “to be or not to be” soliloquy — we’ve decided that Hamlet doesn’t yet notice Ophelia, but that she does hear this entire speech. At the end, she makes a noise (a footstep as she moves down a level) and Hamlet notices her.

Again, please forgive the funky formatting necessitated by WordPress.


And lose the name of action. Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia!

That last is to the audience. He’s standing stage left, she’s several platforms away and a couple of levels lower, all the way down stage right. They look at each other and can’t help but smile; it’s a moment of reconnection. They are still, despite everything, in love. He turns their shared smile into a little friendly joke.

……………………..Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember’d.

“Orisons” means prayers, so he’s asking her not to forget to pray for him as well. In the full text, Polonius has given her a book to pretend to read as Hamlet happens upon her, and many productions make this a prayer-book. Sometimes she’s holding it upside-down, and Hamlet turns it around for her as he says this line. I’ve cut that line and the book — in this production, she’s just holding a packet of letters and trinkets he’s given her. She smiles in response to his line, and says

…………………………………Good my lord,
How does your honor for this many a day?

…as an honest question. It has been many days since they last spoke, and this becomes a reference to all that has passed between them. At this point, both of them are caught up in the moment of really talking to the person they love at last, and they’ve each temporarily forgotten all the plots and politics of the court. He makes the long cross towards her as he says

I humbly thank you, well, well, well.

The repeated “well,” which could be used as part of the act of madness, or to mock Ophelia in one way or another, we’re playing as another reference to all the time that has passed and how complicated everything has become — as if he’s saying, “There’s so much to talk about, but all in all I can’t complain, especially now that I’m talking to you again.” Their happiness to be together builds as he moves towards her, but at the last second she remembers her father and the King. As he reaches for her, she holds his letters and gifts up towards him, warding him off, keeping him at arms’ length, and says

My lord, I have remembrances of yours
That I have longed long to redeliver.

I believe that this is a lie. She has not “longed long” to return his gifts, nor does she want to now. Returning the gifts is a ploy devised by Polonius to get a reaction out of Hamlet. If he freaks out, Polonius will have proof that Ophelia’s rejection caused Hamlet’s madness. Also, though, Ophelia is upset with Hamlet for his behavior towards her in her chambers just the day before, so there may be some desire in her to punish him for that, or at least to make him understand that he can’t treat her that way. She continues

I pray you now receive them.

I love that line because the “now” can work either with “I pray you” or with “receive them.” Either it’s “I’m now asking you to do this,” or it’s “I’m asking you to do this now.”

……………………………………No, not I.
I never gave you aught.

This is also a lie, though it can’t be intended to deceive — they both know he did give her the letters and presents. (Unless she has fabricated the whole remembrances thing as a way to pass him a secret note without Polonius knowing what’s really going on — an idea I like for the strength it implies in Ophelia, but that is ultimately too obscure and complicated).

Why would Hamlet say this? It could be part of his act of madness, but I like the idea that he’s more just playing off of what he’s getting from her. “Oh, you longed long to redeliver these? Well then, I never even gave them to you. Top that!” It could be playful, gently teasing her for her lie. Or he could be trying to hurt her feelings in return for hurting his. With all of this, I think his intent is to get her to reveal what she’s really thinking and feeling here.

My honour’d lord, you know right well you did,

It may be that she takes literally what Hamlet intended as a joke. More interesting, to my mind, is that she is calling him out, telling him that she wasn’t joking and that she wants him to take her as seriously as she is now taking him. Her language then gets a little lofty, with a little alliteration and a bit of imagery:

And with them words of so sweet breath compos’d
As made the things more rich. Their perfume lost,
Take these again; for to the noble mind
Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind.

In other words, these gifts really meant something to me, but your recent behavior (the perfume that was the sweet breath of his words having dissipated) has made me re-evaluate everything that has happened between us. The rhymed couplet reinforces the formality of her poetic language here; she’s using it as a wall to keep him out.

She holds the remembrances out; he looks at her, trying to see what she’s really up to. He’s not buying this.

There, my lord.

That’s a partial line, or a shift into prose from very formal verse. She again holds the packet out at arms’ length. He grabs her arm instead, though, and pulls her close, looking into her eyes.

Ha, ha! Are you honest?

Lines like “Ha, ha!” can be fantastic opportunities or big stumbling blocks for actors. I usually find that they should be read as indicating a non-verbal grunt or vocalization of some kind, not necessarily directly pronouncing the letters spelled out on the page. Regardless, it’s a sign of some kind of shift or realization on Hamlet’s part, and we’re playing “Are you honest?” as meaning, “Am I really talking to the Ophelia I know and trust or are you acting on Polonius’ orders right now?”

Continued in Part Two.


June 16, 2006

Here are some examples of notes I emailed to the actors today. I took the notes during the run last night, and typed them in this afternoon. It's time consuming, but a live note session with everyone there just isn't feasible with the schedule we have.

A few of my notes for Hamlet:

-"drink deep" is sounding like Hamlet and Marcellus really like getting drunk together — I think it wants to be more of a dig at the King's drinking, similar to "coldly furnish forth the marriage tables"

-exit DL after getting Marcellus and Horatio to swear

-"It is not very strange" should be a much bigger turn, a more significant change in tactics.

-when you go back into the soliloquy with "The spirit I have seen," try seeing something in the audience that makes you have to say this — you sense that we are skeptical about your plan, and you have to defend it, and that's why you start soliloquizing again. It's a discovery.

-"take arms against a sea of troubles" — the word "sea" might need a little more emphasis than you've been giving it. Be sure you're really creating the image of trying to fight against the ocean. "troubles" isn't as operative as "sea" in that line — the point is that troubles are so vast as to be unbeatable.

-I noticed this in "to be or not to be", but it probably applies elsewhere. Be sure to use the whole audience, not just the people directly in front of you.

-you'll have to twist the skull to get it cleanly off the shovel.

For others:

-find Ophelia's strength on "you know right well you did" — get him to see that you're no fool, and that he can't just fuck with you.

-"my brother shall know of it" — try making this mean "…and he's going to fucking kill someone when he finds out, you bastards"

-can you stay facing downstage for an extra line or two in that first moment with the ghost talking to Hamlet?

-be sure there's room for Hamlet to squeeze through between the King and Queen on that last freeze in Hamlet's opening soliloquy

-look over your lines in the first scene to be sure you've memorized them correctly

-you told me you had some ideas for the King's first speech. I'd love to try them out. Is there any chance you could come in early one day next week before a Comedy dress, maybe at 5?

-before your exit from the first scene, wait for the cannon before you say, "Come, away."

-in your soliloquy at the top of the second act, keep the turns clear but get it moving faster.

-help Hamlet keep his head up more on his dying lines

last run before tech

June 16, 2006

Tonight was the last run-thru before tech week — which doesn’t start until a week from Monday, because Comedy of Errors opens in a week. In other words, we had a run tonight, then we don’t get the whole cast for ten days, then we open three days after that. It’s a little scary. In some ways, though, it’s the same drill as always: the show has to be there before tech begins.

And the show is there. I was talking to the actress playing Ophelia at the bar after rehearsal tonight (always the best place for casual notes), and she said she felt off in the run. I told her that the good news is that now she’s at a point where even when she feels off, she’s still hitting her marks and the story is getting told. That’s the best you can ask for before tech — anything better than that is gravy.

Here are some photos from the park. So beautiful.

in the space

June 13, 2006

We rehearsed at the park for the first time tonight (though Comedy of Errors, with mostly the same cast, rehearsed there last night as well). After working on the sound cues in the morning and burning a disc, I drove down to San Pedro early to beat the rush hour traffic (my teaching gigs have all ended, so I'm unemployed other than Hamlet right now). I talked to two newspapers on my cell phone despite the spotty reception all the way at the end of the peninsula down there; I think I did a little better this time with just saying the kinds of things I want to see in the article, regardless of what questions I was asked. A couple of actors showed up early and we were able to get some frisbee in. This cast is big on frisbee. And I think games like that can make a difference to the show; it helps create that ensemble feeling. Plus, you know, it's fun.

At five, I worked with Hamlet and Gertrude on the closet scene. This one isn't as tough as the nunnery, but it's taken us a while to get a hold on it anyway. I think it's because it's late in the play, and we haven't been able to give the actors enough time with it. Tonight they were much more solid on their lines, and so much more able to really talk to each other and listen to each other. The blocking hasn't really changed much since we first staged it, but the rhythm and pacing have gotten much more specific. There's a big turning point after the ghost comes through — Hamlet hears Gertrude telling him that he's mad, and realizes that his act of madness is preventing her from really listening to him. We've created an energy build up to that moment, peaking on Gertrude's line. Hamlet pauses, then turns back to her and tells her he's not mad and that she can't use that as an excuse to avoid facing her own crimes. It worked for the first time today.

At six we built the set. The platforms and legs and so forth are all stored in the bandshell now (when we tour to other parks it will all live in a big truck). Setting up takes a lot of time (over an hour tonight, though that will get better), and this was the first time in the space — which meant all kinds of little changes. Frustrating, but necessary. After setting up, we did a long fight call (which included adjustments to the new space). And then we went right into a run-thru. After the run, we just had time to break down the set, put it all away, and have a quick meeting in which I told the actors that they're doing great and that I'll be emailing them notes.

The park is beautiful, and the set is going to be gorgeous. There's something very exciting about being in the park like this. Families with little kids stop and watch a bit, big smiles on their faces. The drunk guys who apparently live in the park stop by as well — they loved the slapstick bits in C of E. The sunsets are gorgeous, and a big moon rises out of the ocean each night towards the end of act two. I'm nervous about the lack of time and especially the lack of repititions for the actors, but I'm also feeling a real kind of magic starting to happen.


June 13, 2006

Got home very late tonight; time for a brief post. 

On Sunday we worked a whole bunch of scenes — another long day. We're bringing back the frozen-time convention on the "rogue and peasant slave" soliloquy (moving most of it earlier in the script, before everyone exits), and again right when Hamlet kills the King.  He's moving upstage towards the King with his sword poised to strike, then everyone freezes.  Hamlet turns 180 degrees to face the audience, holding his sword.  He looks at the audience, takes a breath, and turns back around — everyone unfreezes, and he stabs the King.  This is set up in the Player's speech, during which the Third Player acts out the part about Pyrrhus and Priam, complete with the sword pausing in the act of striking.  I'm worried that it's too obvious or "on-the-nose," but it seems to work — Hamlet realizes he doesn't have anything more to say, and he completes his arc.  I had a good talk on Saturday night with Oanh Nguyen, and he helped me figure this out (he's good for that — it's good to have another director to bat these things around with).

Monday night I just had an hour with Hamlet and Ophelia; Comedy of Errors had a run-thu.  The nunnery scene is a monster.  They now have the lines down and that's helping a lot.  There are so many ways the scene could play, and the actors are getting caught trying to play too many choices at once.  We ended up doing a rehearsal exercise designed to get actors to truly connect, and I think it helped loosen everything up and let them just talk to each other. 

It goes like this.  Hamlet tries to make eye contact with Ophelia, Ophelia avoids eye contact with Hamlet, with no talking and no touching.  They move around the stage, mostly laughing at first as they play.  Then I tell them to hold eye contact for a moment, and then Ophelia tries to make eye contact, and Hamlet avoids.  Then they switch back, but now Hamlet can say "Ophelia" and Ophelia can say "Hamlet" or "my lord."  That changes things a bit.  They do that each way, then we add that they can touch and play that each way.  By this point, they were deep into each other — most actors will have fairly intense experiences with this game.  The last phase allows them to say lines from the scene, not necessarily in order or making any kind of sense.

After playing this game back and forth for maybe ten minutes, I told them to go right into the scene without any discussion, not worrying about any particular blocking.  The difference was immediately palpable.  Ophelia was much more physical.  They found themselves trying to make or avoid eye contact just like in the game, naturally switching on the beat changes.

We ran out of time before we could go back through and stage the scene again.  But we made some important discoveries.  The next time I have a chance to write a big long post I'll break down that whole scene.