So, I thought maybe y’all might be interested in what actors do on a typical rehearsal day.
Here’s a day in the life:
Rehearsal is called at 10am.
Which is rare.
Nothing starts in the theatre before 10am.
We’re kind of vampires, us theatre folk…used to playing evening shows and socializing (read drinking) until bar closing…or later.
Okay, occasionally there’s an audition in the 10-11 o’clock hour, but even then, I usually end up sighing like a petulant schoolboy to my agent, “But it’s so EARLY.”
On this show, we haven’t usually started until 11:00 at the earliest, but today…today there’s some event in the theatre and we have to be out by 4. Now, this seems almost inhuman after late baseball playoff and working on the play into the night.
Oh, this makes today a “straight six.” We are allowed (per union rules) to work up to 8 hours plus an hour and a half meal break. If we unanimously agree to forgo the meal break, the longest we can rehearse is six hours with a 20 minute “tea break.” This is the schedule we’re going with, today. Okay, so that’s six days a week, with Monday’s off. So, yes, we can be in rehearsal working up to 48 hour weeks, depending on the contract. Although, we do call it a “play” for a reason, so rehearsal rarely feels like work. It is a great time of creative work and creative thinking.
So, up at 9:01am, bleary-eyed, shower, bagel w/cream cheese & cucumber, tea, to the theatre, change into boots, lace a knife around left boot and to the stage no later than 10am.
Disclaimer: Rehearsal is a safe zone. Actors have to have the freedom and comfort to allow any creative choice to be fully explored — no matter how crappy that choice may turn out to be. And, believe me, I’ve both seen and tried out some doozies. (I want to thank the artistic team at Pittsburgh Public Theatre for putting up with my singing “Livin’ La Vida Loca” as Sir Toby, in Twelfth Night rehearsals. And thank them for asking me for a different choice.) So, even though this particular rehearsal may contain sparks, anger, disagreements, and/or struggle, I won’t betray the trust in the room by reporting about anyone other than my own experience. Although the tantrum thrown by the guy playing…well…no…you get the idea.
So, right now, we’re in the third week of rehearsal. The play is blocked…for the most part. There will be tweaks to the blocking, possibly up until the final preview performance.
Now, I don’t know where the play is going to end up, but right now our fearless director is thinking about leaving the parents onstage throughout the performance. There is something about our culpability in the tragedy. So, we’re sitting upstage in an area we affectionately refer to as, “the cage.” We stay there, seated, unless we need to enter a scene, or if we have to get to another entrance. Today I rehearsed the first scene with Paris, who has come to ask for Juliet’s hand.
We’ve decided that, as Paris is royalty (after all, he’s related to the Prince) not only does Paris want Juliet, but I (Juliet’s father) very much want that match to happen. In this way, we have evened up the power a bit. It’s not just a potential son-in-law coming for that awkward meeting with his girlfriend’s father. Nor is it so out of balance that I’m desperate for this union. After all, I’m head of one of the two richest families in town. This is about Advancement!
So, why do I put off Paris? Why delay him?
Well, one choice has to do with me not being ready to see my little baby all grown up. We have found a real “Daddy’s Girl” relationship. With no other children and a strained relationship with her mother, Juliet is perfection in my eyes and I’m not yet prepared to walk her down the aisle. I want to know Paris is enamored enough that he is willing to work to win her love and not simply rely on some “Arrangement.” These kinds of choices are up to all the people in the room. And those choices may change by the time you see it in performance.
I have seen productions where Paris is simply bullied by Lord Capulet, or played kind of oafishly, or nerdy, or sweaty and awful but methinks this (although very clear) doesn’t help. Juliet doesn’t want to NOT marry Paris because of Paris. She doesn’t want to marry Paris, because he is not Romeo. Paris could be anyone from Attila The Hun to the hunkiest movie star of the day…he’s not getting the girl for the simple reason he is not Romeo.
Okay, after working that scene for about 40 minutes, it’s back to my chair in the cave.
This is the part of rehearsal where we sit and watch the “back” of the action for the next hour or so (exciting, huh? And glamorous, don’t get me started – I’m reminded of the joke about the guy who’s been shoveling shit for 40 years in the elephant tent in a travelling circus. When asked why he doesn’t quit, his answer comes quickly, “What, and give up show business?” This is not to suggest that sitting in a chair equates with shoveling elephant dung. It does mean that sometimes acting is something more like work.)
You may wonder why we’d actually have to sit there while other people are working on a scene, but the director needs to be able to see and feel what it’s like to have us there. (NOTE: The very next day he tells us that we don’t need to sit there during rehearsal, just for run-throughs.)
I slip out of my seat in order to make an entrance into the above (or second story) of the set. This is the party scene where Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time. But…before we get there…it’s the 20 minute tea break.
Cross street, toast bread, peanut butter, glass of milk, handful of chips, back to rehearsal and to my upstage chair in the cage.
Oh, hold on! There’s some debate about whether it’s called The Cage or The Cave. If The Cave, I plan on hibernating.
Anyway, okay, I slip out, head for the “upstairs” part of the set where I get to host the party.
We’re trying to find ways to engage Juliet, draw her out in public, make jokes, and host the perfect party. Heck, no tragedy here, everything is fun and wonderful…
…And then it’s not.
Tybalt, my hot-headed, sword wielding, young soldier of a kinsman, notices Romeo (that damn Montague) has crashed our party. Tybalt is itching to start a fight. I mean, why wouldn’t he? Our families HATE each other.
He wants to fight him Here?!?
There’s a party here.
The Prince (who warned us, in no uncertain terms, to stop fighting) is here. Paris is here! My business associates are here! My family is here!
We’ve even found a place for me to give tacit approval for Tybalt to kick that punk-ass Romeo’s butt On Another Day… But Tybalt doesn’t want to wait. He even disagrees with me.
Oh, Hell No!
Now we get into something called Super-Objective, which is an Actor-y thing that I’m not going into with too much detail, but for me, Lord Capulet’s super-objective is centered around maintaining the status quo. Now, for me, the most key element of the status quo is that I am unquestionably in charge. Who wouldn’t want to maintain a status quo where they were the benevolent dictator, adored (or feared) by all? Now, maintaining the status quo in a world were you have a 14 year-old daughter who is starting to notice boys, and where you’re in a feud that would make the Hatfields & McCoys scratch their heads, is it’s own challenge. But, when my authority is challenged…I go to a primal place.
I may shame Tybalt. I may even hurt him, physically, so that later, in the scene where he does confront Romeo, he’s got a lot for which to blame Romeo. It is not just the “disrespect” of crashing our party, but his being there directly leads to Tybalt’s shame and discomfort. Now it’s up to the actor playing Tybalt to build his character any way he and the director choose. But if he decides to build in that it is important for him to earn my respect, and it all goes wrong because that punk Romeo decides to show up, then this scene helps feed everything else that happens to him in the play.
So, that’s it for today. Rehearsal ends at 4pm. We cross the street to the actor housing, cook up some beans & rice with ham & andouille sausage, get a little writing done, more playoff baseball and prep for tomorrow’s rehearsal.
Addendum: A few days later, after a run-through, the parents are cut from sitting in The Cage. We found something the director likes much better.
Addendum #2: Oops, we’re back in The Cage, but for fewer scenes.
Addendum #3: Ooops, we cut from The Cage again.
So, you won’t see that.
Unless something changes.
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