A little Facebook digest to share with you, looking back on 3 weeks of the rehearsal process of ANDY AND THE SHADOWS. In the comments section, we’ll be hearing from our student subscribers from UM, UC and ND. For interesting reference, click here to check out what an earlier semester’s group of students had to say about the November 2012 workshop reading of the play.
Gratifying first read of ANDY AND THE SHADOWS, some 26 years in the making. Cried a lot, early, often, and late in the read as well. A good sign. It meant something. It means a lot to have reached this day with a wonderful company, making art from life over time. And now our Crazy Weather Karma continues – as with our workshop reading on October 29 (which had to be canceled cuz ‘a “Sandy”), today’s we’ve got Snowquester shutting down the J. We’ll see if we’re meeting for rehearsals. Hope so. Work to do!!!
Day #2: 6 hours of table work – nothing canceled – actors present and accounted for – same for audience (mostly) – RACE goes on – the J is closed but the entire theater staff shows up to do what we do because that’s who we are and that’s how we roll – unbelievable dedication from everyone – that’s got to inspire, right? Onward! Cuts and restores, insights and clarifiers, progress and, every so often, a Stump The Playwright Moment – those are fun! What we can’t answer at night, reveals itself in the morning. Let’s see if that’s true! An early rise to tackle some tough stuff. Ready for revelation — And coffee.”
Day #3: More intensity – another straight six at the table – we go from working on relationships, one at a time, to eventually adding the whole company, finding strategic changes in Act I that must be folded into Act II – that stitching keeps me up too late – after taking students to see the 3 hour THE CONVERT @ Woolly. Guess what? They lied! For whatever reason, the 3 hour show came down at 11:15 and the parking lot closed at 11 and… the lot waited, thank God, but I regret bolting out during the 2nd part of the curtain call. Guess why that’s why I was up too late making changes. More to come. More coffee too.”
Day #4 – The ecstasy and the agony – Happiest days of table work ever; laughing uncontrollably every hour (and I’m not even alone in this); so much that the back seizes in spasm; lets go – truly painful laughter – as we fix and probe and contradict each other and agree – and press forward. Develop a mysterious rotator cuff pain after driving home from Woolly that’s still with me Saturday morning – can’t lift my arm higher than 80 degrees – with a chiropractor appointment at 9:30 and 2nd act rewrites before and after. Table work ends today with a new read of the whole play at 5. Then maybe I get to decompress as Daniella stages? (or not so much)”
An exuberant ‘Fanny and Alexander’ brings Bergman’s Ekdahls to the Kennedy Center
“Day #5 reflections: Remember laughing so hard that my arm fell off? Or crying early, late and often during the read through? Doesn’t happen quite the same way reading through the script again, after we’ve gotten all our laughs out; after we’ve gotten all our tears out. Funny thing about the theater, and the rhythms of rehearsal. As we get done with table work–and we spent longer than we intended at the table until we got up on our feet–and many more cuts now remain, and other new insights expose themselves–so there’s only more to do, with a next phase of the process breathing down. The chiropractor identifies rotator cuff and deltoid muscle strain–I’d call it shredding, but it may not be–the exercises I get only increase the pain–the Advil I take, on the other hand, doesn’t. Up till two working on producing stuff and cuts and watch the clocks spring forward. Back at it again at 8 and feeling focussed on losing some precious stuff that needs to go–And finding linking detail from bath-tub scene into Young Raya the Angel. Got a feeling it’s got something to do with yellow knee socks, lamb chops, and cutting the religious cards. (Those would be ‘notes to self.’ Aren’t these all?) Onward to morning coffee and reading yesterday’s review of “Fanny and Alexander,” so much the inspiration for the magic realism in “Andy…” Only sorry I couldn’t see it at the Ken Cen’s Nordic Cool Fest. Rehearsals…”
Day #6: Staging in the dance studio. Locking in the text for bedroom, bath and convent scenes. Sublime to finally see how a mother washing a son’s hair on stage is going to look and feel. Amazingly real day. Great culmination to a major week. Onward!
March 12 – Day off!
Week #2 rehearsals: I come three hours into the company’s work after a late afternoon panel at Georgetown on Grace and Politics featuring Anna Deavere Smith, EJ Dionne, Mike McCurry, and Imam Mohamed Majid, followed by reception, FOLLOWED by dinner for 60 hosted by GU president John J DeGioia. Which was pretty spectacular. Spent dinner talking with one extraordinary dynamo, civil rights attorney Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of Advancement Project (one extraordinary organization). Bottom line, couldn’t leave dinner until 9 pm! Got back in time for Daniella and company to show me first stagings of the dream and garage roof hopping sequences. This morning, cuts and restores on a piece of… the garage roof hopping sequence. And so it goes. No more fancy dinner parties for a while, Mr. Playwright!
March 14, 2013
Rehearsal Report #8: Spectacularly productive. Finished staging Act I, text in place (at least, shall we say through designer run next week when we hear it altogether once again – I think). Amazingly, this director wants her playwright in the room the whole time! It’s a new way of working – figuring stuff out – rewriting for action (as in changing “you’re dressed!” to “you’re not even ready” if you figure out that the action would be better served by the dude actually doing something after he’s gotten out of the bath). Lots of good little things everyday. Tomorrow we present 45 minutes from Act I and Congregation Tifereth Israel. They feed the entire company!
Notes from Rehearsal #9
Reverting to longer note form for this report, cause so much happens in a day. That’s the point really. A lotta peaks and valleys in the course of 6 hours of intense work. It begins with the recognition that second act changes will be due on Thursday and then again on Friday as Daniella stages all of Act II over the next 3 days before putting it all together on Sunday, so we see where we are, the whole show fully sketched out in its staging. And I know that I teach for three hours Thursday night and that all day Friday I’m busy, the entirety of the day and night (with our rehearsals at T.I., and then the dinner, service and presentation), plus morning chiropractor and a staff reading of a new musical at 10:15 am. If rewrites are going to happen, they’re going to have to happen late Wednesday night and as much of Thursday morn as I can muster before rehearsals.
Well, I decide to miss some rehearsal so I can get through the entirety of the Act. That’s what needs to be done. And I take my time upon completion of the revisions (which take hours and hours, but I’m up late and then again early, so I’m done before noon) and waltz into rehearsal, showered and shaved and confident and happy at 12:30, and the company’s been slogging away on the opening film-within-the- play sequence of the act and, while most of the ensemble is buoyant and full of energy as they work through the Pirandelian mischief, at the center there’s a bit of hang-dog unhappiness at how the opening monologue-work went in my absence at the top of the day. Dramaturg, lead actor, and director need to communicate with me that the opening paragraph is still confusing and that for all the nice writing, I still didn’t eliminate the challenge of opening with our Andy at 50 and then segueing into his being 25 once more, on location for his film shoot, talking to his actors. I’m invested in this reflexivity. It’s the framing device of the whole show. But there’s confusion as to why we need it at the top of Act II. Why not just have the framing at the beginning and the ending of the play? It’s confusing enough, with all the Pirandelian mischief I’m throwing at artists and audience! So my beloved collaborators are signaling quite clearly that they’re not thrilled that, in my vaunted rewrites, I didn’t remove the Older Andy moments at the top.
But I’m confident and zippy because I’ve finished all my homework and the stage manager has made copies of the new act two, and I know that the most difficult stuff has been, indeed, wrestled to the ground in this rewrite and that we’ve taken a significant step forward. “Don’t be taking me backwards, dudes, and raining on my parade,” I think to myself. I don’t say that, quite precisely, or even at all. But I’m wondering, as we go back to track through the entirety of the film-within-the-play sequence, and I witness now the actor once again struggling to make sense of how to show the transitioning from 50 to 25, and then asking WHY the transition from 50 to 25, it begins to frustrate. They’d like a clean opening; no confusion. I’m interested in the fluidity of the 50 year old artist struggling to say something which is difficult, and only working his way into his 25 year old persona as the personal wrestling takes us through the end of the first paragraph. At a tense break, I review my intentions with the director. The bracketing of the play. The doubleness that we’ve invested in at the opening and ending of the piece — it’s OF a piece with what this Act II opening section wants to be. As usual, my director hears me. She’s presented her case; her reading; her confusion and uncertainty as to how to stage what’s on the page, but she’s open to listening. We talk. I depart. I go up to my office to check in. I scribe some tart little comments on my computer journal. I’ll share them here, why not?
“Dangerous to walk into a room with confidence in this business. The second you enter with it, they’ll wanna rub it out of you with doubts; with skepticism; nothing rallies a group more than shooting down a little individual gumption and aggressiveness. Not until that assertive charge is codified externally and labeled “vision;” or “bravery;” given the mark of “Quality.” Only then do you receive permission to hurtle forth. And hurtle forward you all do, onto the next horizon and creative challenge. And all is good. But it was that confidence and clarity amid the fog that got you to the next landing. Remember that.”
So there I am. Stewing in my own juice. Back at a familar place with a chip on the shoulder. And I come back to the room, back from our 20 minute lunch (again, I’m a minute late; not good), and they’re just beginning to re-work and this time, as they run from the top of the act, the opening flows. It starts in that private creative clotted place and bursts forward to a wild and lunatic and very funny expression, all within that opening page, and the actors playing actors in the scene all assemble and perform their enthusiasm and sincerity with gusto, and it’s thrilling to see and hear Daniella embracing the intentions of the scene and figuring out the elaborate road-map to guide the entirety of the sequence toward its lunatic tour-de-force realization. It has a shape and a logic — even as — by the end of the day — I’ve been forced to discover a whole other component of the film scene that is an internal contradiction — as in, what kind of ending for the film did our protagonist envision? He seems to have wanted two different endings. A happy and a tragic one. A redemptive and a critical indictment. How can it be both!!? Or in wanting (unwittingly) for it to be both, is that why the film short-circuits, the actors turn into haunting Freudian ghost specters, and our protagonist winds up arrested for assembly without a permit? I’ve learned something totally new that we’ll address in some new moments. And that’s exciting and thrilling and humbling. Mr. Cocky and Confident who had all these notions of Intentions and Purposeful Fluidity, has just been shown and taught something he didn’t realize in his own play! And there are things to address. And he will. And he’s grateful to the company—and especially that smart director—for embracing the first intention to lead us forward only to discover something new we didn’t know that needs to be addressed as we move further down the road to realization.
So it’s a great day, as we gather near the end of rehearsal, to read through the critical big scenes later in the act that I’ve rewritten. And they pass muster. They aren’t perfect–there’s now some new tweaking to do but it’s finer, smaller, the big cuts and reshaping is in place–and we’ll be working on staging these scenes today (on Friday) and it’s good. We’re moving forward. There’s more to share on events from after rehearsal. Some exciting news. I’ll share them in a follow up. Onward.
Notes from Rehearsal #10: The reading at TI last night of the first 50 minutes of Act I went really well. So grateful for the laughter throughout. Really the most gratifying. Leaned a LOT. About needed restores in the bath tub scene and tweaks here and there, and plenty of nuance and rhythm issues for performance. But what we presented last night was a reading at music stands — going backwards, in a sense, from the staging with scripts in hand we’ve already been doing. Still it was a useful check-in for all of us as to how we’re doing as story-tellers. And where, o where dear playwright, will another 5 minutes of cuts come from? Or are you giving up on this fruitless search (I speak to myself a lot in the 3rd person these days)? No giving up!!!!
Rehearsal Report #11: We’ve finished blocking the whole play. Today at 2 we walk/run it altogether, from beginning to end; see what we have. The relief is that the rewrites came in and continued and resolved in fairly elegant fashion yesterday. Got a lot done on the car and hospital scene. I missed the wedding staging, out at a wonderful dinner party for Katie’s best-friend’s mother’s 80th b-day. A fun night. Left my bag at the theater. Came back at 10:45 to pick it up, and saw that we’d had another Sold Out performance of RACE. Yesterday was one of most lucrative days at the theater — and RACE has now brought in 5,600 patrons with TWO FINAL SHOWS TODAY (at 3 and 7:30). Our hit encore production of NEW JERUSALEM: THE INTERROGATION OF BARUCH DE SPINOZA brought in 5,700 last season. We’ll probably be breaking that today. Not too shabby.
March 18 – Day Off!
Update from ANDYLAND Week 3: Designer Run tonight. Because of a syllabus snafu, I’ve wound up needing to invite my entire “Theater of Politics and The Politics of Theater” class to attend the run-through together with the design team. CRAZY teacher/playwright/producer! But the students have been prepared for what they’re going to be seeing (and not seeing; no costumes no sets; some scenes off-book, mostly not). We’ll be like kids in a clown car, stuffed into a community hall. How’re we doing? We’ve cut 5 pages off the play in the last 8 days. A couple key consolidations in each act. Killed off a cute line or two (kinda like a kid or a puppy; something’s gotta get nipped). We’ll be stepping back from further tweaks for the next stretch as we move to commit the play to memory. Still 9 days before tech. Set’s getting loaded in. Working with real furniture pieces. It’s becoming REAL (but it’s still a fiction). Two interviews today (with TheatreWashington and The Forward). Two more next week. The real star of this show, however, is our director, so I’ll be sending every reporter over Daniella Topol’s way.
Last day of tweaks and cuts – script to freeze after today’s rehearsal through tech run 8 days from now. What a process ! There have been 30 batches of rewrite pages distributed over the last 3 weeks. 6 original pages from the 1st day of rehearsal remain in place, out of an original 106 pages; 100 pages have been revised. The current script is 7 pages shorter than it was 19 days ago. That’s what a Daniella Topol rehearsal process on a new play looks like: Lots of blood on the floor, and a happy company, and a better play. Onward toward our weekend run-through tomorrow, one week before tech!