They Stumble That Run Fast

It’s been a very busy week dear readers but your faithful reporter has emerged to share a few more thoughts with you about our 2 Henry IV odyssey.  Thanks for your patience. 

At the end of our second week of rehearsal we were ready to put the play up on it’s still wobbly but intrepid legs and run through the show.  Monday was the day, and I think it was the first time that the entire cast had been in the same room at the same time since the initial day of reading through the play.  The rehearsal hall was full of camaraderie and bonhommie but also with an underlying sense of nervous excitement.  There’s a sort of tingling sensation in the air, no doubt fueled by actors pacing about in the space quietly running lines, other actors strapping on shoes, swords, and cloaks, all the while stage managers scurry about setting props and designers hunker down behind their laptops.

We started the day with our Fight Director Jamie as we continued to hone some of the combat moments in the play.  We visited the arrest scene as well as the scene in the Boar’s Head.  This fight rehearsal served as our fight call* for the Stumble Through** that afternoon.

We started Act I, including the Prologue that we continue to refine.  We broke for dinner and when we returned we tackled Act II.  We got through the whole play relatively unscathed and the only people who died were the ones who were supposd to anyway. 

Now don’t get me wrong, there were some rough patches.  Scripts were strewn about the tables with actors  consulting to see exactly when they were supposed to make an entrance or to double check a line one more time.  There were more than a few lines called and even a few pages still clutched in uncertain hands.  There was lots of unsure blocking and once or twice there was a missed entrance.  The fights were ponderous and the stage managers were providing the sound cues by making trumpeting noises or banging on a table to imitate a knocked door.  In other words, the Stumble Through was exactly what it’s supposed to be and ultimately a great success.

I love a good Stumble Through.  Really, I’m a big fan.  It’s often the first time we get to see the hard work each of us has been putting into the play over the weeks since we first met.  Except for the Prologue and the last scene the whole cast is never on stage at the same time which means there are many scenes in the play that I had yet to see, having not been involved in those rehearsals.  It is a delight to see some of the scenes for the first time.  We also just get a sense of the play in it’s entirety; the flow, the arc of the story, the stakes all become much more clear.  The need to drive certain scenes and the leisure to linger in other scenes becomes apparent.  It’s also just a great chance to really listen to the words being spoken and the story being told without the trappings of productions values that we’ll place on the work*** as the next layer.  We learned a great deal from the Stumble Through.  We’ve used it in the days since to inform the rehearsals for this week, now that we have a gauge of what scenes could use a little more work.

 Susan congratulated me on having a breakthrough during Monday’s run.  I knew instantly to what she was referring as I’d felt it in the scene at the time.  It happened during the pivotal Forest of Gaultree scene.  The best way I can describe the breakthrough is that Stacy wasn’t there but the Earl of Westmoreland showed up, moved in, and unpacked for a good long stay.  Fear not, devoted readers, lest you think I’m the sort of actor that refers to my part in the third person or imagines that some sort of Thespian spirit takes over.  I do, however,  believe that there comes a point when the character really shows up and an actor begins to physically embody all of the hard work and thought that has gone into the rehearsal process.  There comes a point when an actor is comfortable in the lines and can really listen and respond to his scene partners without worrying about what to say next.  The blocking, intentions, motivations, and all of the other great stuff is really just settled into the body memory so the actor is able to live in the scene.  I learned at the Stumble Through what that feels like, at least for Westmoreland, and it’s a heady drug indeed.

*SideBard: In every play that involves any sort of combat, be it hand to hand fighting, a physical scuffle, or a full-blown Roman war, there’s a fight call before every performance.  The actors involved in the conflict gather on the stage and run through their fight choreography, usually at half the speed then again at the actual speed of the action.  This insures that everyone is warmed up, consistent, making eye contact with their opponent, in synch with the light and sound cues, and everything else that’s necessary to keep the actors safe performance after performance.

**SideBard: Stumble Through is what we call our first go at running through the entire play.  We usually do this in the rehearsal hall with no lights or sound and just basic costumes and props.  The architecture of the set is taped out on the floor.  It’s the first time the director and designers get to look at the whole play and get a sense of how it all goes together.  The actors are often still stumbling through our blocking and our lines, but the point is to get the whole piece accomplished for the first time.

 ***SideBard:  “The work” is the reverential, almost iconic word that we actors use to describe what we do.  It’s used much like one might use “the profession”,”the business”, or “the craft” to describe, with an almost zealous devotion, the task at which any other professional or enthusiast labors.


1 Response to “They Stumble That Run Fast”

  1. 1 debbert
    August 26, 2007 at 7:09 pm

    Ah, The Percy. I miss him so, and you, and your countless other personalities.
    I think it is CRITICAL that we allow ourselves access to all the nuances of character available to us. And often, the only time we actually provide ourselves a permission slip to tap into the extraordinary wellspring of personality, vivaciousness, passion, and quixotic nature is when we “put on another hat”.
    Especially if it a ridiculous little bit of bombast.

    We NEED to see you!

    Love Deena (and Christopher)

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