Thursday, March 25, 2004

Lifting Up The Curtain: blocking begins!

In Honor of Harper’s Index:

Number of rehearsals (including previews) before opening: 28

Number of costume designers found: 0

Number of stage managers found: 0

Percentage of show blocked: 0

Level of panic on scale of 1-10: 6 (I’m not constipated but are often nervous for no reason)

Tonight we begin blocking the show. For those of you unfamiliar, blocking a show is when you begin to develop what the actors will be doing physically. In other words, where do they enter from? When? Where do they go? Do they sit? Stand up? When does that happen? Where (exactly) do they stand? Etc.

This is blocking. Tonight we begin it. A majority of a play’s rehearsal process is spent blocking a show and, this being the most important, high-profile show I’ve ever done, I’ve decided to change the way I do blocking. Due to my love of a challenge. Or masochism. Or something.

I’m trying to show a lot of restraint on my part in rehearsing the show. I try to ask the actors as many questions as possible, and not offer my opinion until I’ve heard theirs. I tried (with mixed results) to keep discussion of the script bound to the who-what-where-how and away from major discussions of character and emotion, which take time to develop and can’t be done in a vacuum.

Now, we begin staging the show. How I used to do it: go through the whole show with the actors, blocking the whole thing moment to moment. Run through the show. Fix some things. Repeat until tech week. The problem: the play begins to feel very unspontaneous after awhile, and lack of spontaneity will kill any play, but especially a farce.

So my new approach to things: I’m going to do the blocking in layers. Layer one (this week): everything the play needs. This means setting very little. The characters have to exit, they have to enter. Occasionally there are things for them to do embedded in the script (if one character says “sit down” the other character must be standing and they must either continue to stand or decide to sit down depending on the situation). Everything else, I’m going to just let the actors play around and give notes about what I like, keeping it positive for now, and offering very little in the sense of limiting or criticism.

Or, at least, that’s what I’m going to try. Level two will be starting to set more and more of the moment-to-moment stuff in order to tell us as much as possible about the subtext of the show and the characters. Level three will be guided by what else needs to happen after the second run-thru to make the show really shine.

Hopefully enough will change often enough that the actors will stay on their toes and I will stay out of their way enough that we can all continue to develop our understanding of the play.

(an extra special thanks to Noah Smith for listing Parabasis on his ever-entertaining "Baggy Pants and Bravado". Just so's you know, Noah, I posted anonymously for a little wile because I wasn't sure if I was going to reviewing plays on this site or not, and didn't want to get in trouble for it if I decided to at a later date. For everyone's benefit, my name is Isaac Butler, if you see Parabasis on the blogosphere, that's me)

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