On Our Feet

There comes a time in every rehearsal process when the table goes away, the floor gets taped,* and we get on our feet.  That time came on Sunday, after a final read, putting a button on the tablework.  Since I happen to be in act one, scene one (in this case, preceeded by a prologue, culled from two scenes in Richard II) I got to be there for the very first bit of staging.

The set will be constructed in such a way so that the audience will be seated on two sides of the action, across from one another, as if viewing a tennis match.  This slightly unorthodox configuration leads to an interesting challenge for us as actors.  Nowadays, we generally work in one of two or three configurations: proscenium — behind a picture frame with a very clear “fourth wall,” (The Wilson Center); thrust — with a stage that is surrounded on three sides by audience (UWM’s Mainstage); black box — a more intimate, more flexible configuration, generally played in a proscenium style (Broadway Theatre Center Studio.) Playing to essentially two audiences at once demands a new vocabulary of blocking and movement.  We have four entrances into the space, each numbered with large white placards on the walls, since “upstage” and “downstage” are now totally relative.  In the playing space we’ve taped lines out for sightlines, which help us to know what the audience will be able to see, and what will, for some, be obstructed.  This comes in handy for actors, we ALWAYS want to be seen.  ALWAYS.

But, as I say, the sightlines are different than most of us are used to, which is both difficult, and exciting. Today was Brian Gill’s first day staging, and during a quick lull, he turned to me, and said “This is going to be a hot space to play,” and he’s exactly right.  When we’re really working the space, it gets really exciting — really evoking the sporting event metaphor.

I’m sitting off to the side of the rehearsal hall now, watching them stage the big robbery at Gad’s Hill… a much more animated, whirling scene than the staid political confines of King Henry’s Court, where I’ve been spending most of my time these past couple of days.  And what’s great is how the space allows — inspires! –so many styles of staging.

All of this said, it’s really early days yet.  And every actor works at a different pace.  Some actors are already off book for their scenes, some like to learn lines as they block, setting lines and movement together.  Until we’re all in the same place, it’s difficult to make anything more than a rough pass at a scene.  Which is fine.  We have plenty of time.***


*Stage management will always tape out a facsimile of set elements on the floor, so we have a sense of where we’ll eventually be when we move from the rehearsal space into the theater.

** In any of the more traditional configurations, staging vocabulary and direction are standard — the back of the stage is called upstage (due to the angle of the rake that many stages used to employ), the front of the stage, closest to the audience, is called downstage, stage right and stage left are areas of the stage to the actor’s right and left, respectively.  Thus, when Snagglepuss used to shout, “Exit, stage left, even!” he would go to the right of the TV screen — his left.

*** I assume so, anyway.  There’s always been plenty of time.  No matter how close we seem to cut it, it’s always enough time.  Even when it seems like there’s no way on God’s green earth we’ll be able to do it.


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