23
Mar
07

First Day

So we met on Tuesday for the first time. I’ve actually been looking forward to this day for quite a while — since getting the offer about a year ago. That’s right, plays are often cast that far in advance. Actors are pretty busy creatures, always bouncing around from one town to the next doing another play, so oftentimes, theatres will try to lock their cast down pretty early… in this case fully a year before the first rehearsal!

I always love the first day of rehearsal, especially at a theater where I’ve done shows before. There’s this great mix of folks, faces old and new; signs of where I’ve been, and where I’ve yet to go*.

But in the end, we’re all here to do this play, so after getting some business out of the way**, we got together for what’s called the show and tell. First, Steve Fried, our fearless leader, gave us a rundown of what we’ll be doing with the show, how we’ll be approaching it, and themes in the play that interest him as a director. With this play, it seems there are a number of dualities present***, and we’ll look to illuminate those through our performance.

Then it was time to look at the design elements. Then Jen Moeller, our costume designer, gave a little presentation where she told us what the look of the show would be, and showed us some renderings she had made of all the characters in costume. We’re keeping things pretty period, and it looks like a lot of leather and grime. And facial hair. Nice!

We got a rundown of the set design from Production manager Jessica Berlin. Since there are twenty-four actors (!) in a relatively small black-box space, I was glad to see that there will be minimal sets and props… A dirt floor, some wooden buttressed columns, and a couple of pieces of furniture when neccessary, and that’s it. As Steve said, “There will be very little on that stage other than you.” Both a blessing and a challenge.

We took a small break, and came back to read the play for the first time as a company.

The first read is always a bit fraught for me. I have found after many years that for me, the rehearsal process is almost always about trying to get back to the inspired choices found in the first read-thru, a task that is nearly impossible. The first read allows so much freedom, because nothing has been set, and there’s no baggage, so actors tend to let it fly for the read (or at least I do anyway) and sometimes come up with some great instinctual choices. And all your friends are in the room, and new actors too, whom you want to impress beyond all measure. Plus it’s the first time since the audition that the director has seen you, and you reeeealllly want to keep your job.

But it always goes swimmingly, and this one was no exception. The play was funny, touching, thought-provoking, and inspiring. Clearly we had done some homework. If we can continue to build on this foundation, man, we are gonna have a PLAY!

–SMITE–

*I was particularly glad to see old friends Todd Denning (who played my twin brother (!) in my first Milwaukee Shakespeare show, The Comedy of Errors), and Jeff Withers, who played my best beloved and approved friend Hortensio in Taming of the Shrew. Not to mention a host of other great friends I’ve worked with before: Bill Clifford, Nick Harazin, Patrick Lawlor, Timm Linn, Bryce Lord, Michael Pocaro, Jake Russo, Chase Stoeger! And a host of actors new to me as well, friends to be made.

**As members of Equity, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers, a few of us in the cast had to meet and vote on certain rules and regulations laid out in the Union guidebook. As it happens, I’ve been elected the Equity Deputy on the show, which means I need to make sure all the rules are being followed.

*** Here are few of the dualities we talked about:
Duty vs. Desire
Kings — Politics and Misrule
Fathers — Henry and Falstaff
Sons — Hal and Hotspur
Chaos vs. Order
Court vs. Eastcheap
Old World and New World

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