Also in this series:
Offbeat Directing 1: The Vision Quest
Offbeat Directing 2: Understanding the Script
Offbeat Directing 3: Dreaming and Planning
Offbeat Directing 4: What Does the Director Do?
Offbeat Directing 5: Trial by Audition
Offbeat Directing 6: The First Awkward Read Through
Offbeat Directing 7a: Who Does What?
You have a cast, crew and a whole host of people waiting to hear what it is you want and need in order to get the production underway (hopefully). Time to unleash the cunning plan – which consists of what you’re going to do in rehearsals and when. In Post number 7c we’ll look at Design Meetings and in 7d the Infrastructure you’ll need in place to allow the magic (or pay for it) to happen. By the way, all the ‘7’ posts are together because they all need to happen around the same time. But for this post, it’s just you and your cast. They arrive, they look at you … do you break into a cold sweat or deploy your plan? Well, let’s do both.
It’s always a bit difficult to start – you’re not familiar with each other, slighty awkward and there’s no rhythm to the proceedings. So start with a few games, lets get relaxed and moving. Play whatever game strikes you as useful. I like games that involve introductions as well as creative movement and vocal work. You can browse the theatre games on this blog if you like, but you probably know a few. Don’t assume playing games is a waste of time – the difference between a cast walking in and starting to rehearse straight away and a cast that walks in spends 5 or 10 minutes on a few well chosen games is huge. I don’t always do it, but early days in particular I do like to. The only down side to this is that actors who are reluctant to play games (fear of being taken by surprise/not being able to prepare) will always be 5 or 10 minutes late. You’ll need to work on this! Perhaps you could explain exactly what the warm-up game is and why it’s important. You could also start working on a scene and wait for the full cast to be present and THEN play a game. Pretty sneaky, but serves them right.
PLAN YOUR REHEARSALS
Now you need to start to actually rehearse the play. Great! Cunning plan time …
Your plan will depend on the type of play, how many cast you have etc. A big musical will require music rehearsals, dance rehearsals and acting rehearsals. A small cast play may just require the full cast twice a week. Plan it ahead though.
So before you get to this first rehearsal you must spend time working out your rehearsal schedule (an important part of the plan). Take into consideration frequency and length of rehearsal (2-3 hours is fine for a few scenes, but 4-5 is great when you want to run scenes/acts later on). It may be a loose plan, but try and work backwards from performance – tech/dress – books down etc and make a start at planning the scenes you want to work on and when. You should be rehearsing twice a week – maybe more, but at least twice a week. Plan it so you don’t have cast that aren’t rehearsing for a few weeks – keep everyone on board and coming in at least once a week if you can. It is a loose plan and it will change, but you must be sure you have everything covered (ever heard the cry ‘but we haven’t even looked at scene 12’ – or worse ‘there’s a scene 12?’ 2 weeks before the first night – eeek! It happens so beware). Don’t spend the first half of your rehearsal period on Act I and do Act II later – work everything up to a certain level and then get the next layer on the whole play.
MARK OUT THE SET
Even if you haven’t finalised the set you need to have an idea of the basic layout. Use whatever you have lying around to populate the stage or rehearsal space. Take your cast on a tour. Don’t expect them to remember everything you say, do impress upon them that for this rehearsal it doesn’t matter if they walk through a ‘wall’. You might have different levels and many scene changes or a bare stage, just get your cast familiar with their acting space. Alternatively, you might want to start without using any kind of set at all and just work on character.
WORK IN LAYERS
I like to think in layers. Each time you revisit a scene add more detail, expect your actors to understand their part more and to relate to other characters better. Share your vision with them in small chunks. Don’t forget, you’ve spent ages thinking about this but your actors haven’t. Don’t overwhelm them with all your ideas. Work on it together and you will find that they also have ideas and yours may change because of that (that is an excellent outcome in fact). Together you all start to create the show. If you do know exactly how you would like a particular scene to be played or how you want characters to be portrayed, just remember it doesn’t have to happen on day 1. Don’t expect it, just allow the play to grow organically and guide that scene/actors slowly to the place you want it/them to be. Directing actors is not about telling them on day 1 what the finished product looks like and expecting them to find their way there asap. So along with planning your schedule, plan your first layer and start to think about the next.
FIRST LAYER: WHAT TO DO (AND NOT TO DO) THE FIRST TIME YOU RUN A SCENE
- Don’t block. First on the list because I have a particular ‘thing’ about blocking early on! It’s tempting because it makes you look busy and knowledgable. You can fill an entire evening pointing and saying important things like ‘I think Margery should be stage left for this bit’ , ‘walk over to John in that speech’ and people that don’t know any better might be impressed. But while you’re doing all that you’re not really tuning in to your actors – and you should be (and your actors cannot concentrate on anything if they’re desperately trying to remember where the sideboard is).
- Listen and watch! Allow your actors to explore their characters and explore with them. How do they talk, walk and relate to others? What are they like? Why? What’s going on? In other words – explore the play, the premise and the characters within it. Margery is still Margery whether she’s stage left or right – the blocking can wait.
- Get your actors to try things out. Often they will say, ‘how shall I do this?’, be honest in your reply. You might say ‘I don’t know, what do you think?’ and that’s fine! Or ‘How about trying it this way?’ Encourage experiment. This is the right time to do it!
- Gather information. All the time you are watching you are gathering information about your actors. How do they work? What do they need from you? Do they have ideas or are they expecting you to provide ALL the information they need? What are their strengths and weaknesses. Can they try things out spontaneously or do they need to go away and think about it, or practise the strange walk you suggested at home? Everyone is different. If you’re going to work intelligently with your cast you need to get to know them.
- Allow yourself to be surprised. You might have a fantastic vision but your actors will also bring loads of wonderful things to the rehearsal that you hadn’t thought of if you allow yourself to be open to it. Allow your actors to do their job. Don’t squash their creativity with an unmovable vision. Be flexible, but stay on track.
- Plan the blocking. (see, I don’t really hate it). As you watch start to get an idea of the blocking that you will need to put in place soon. Some plays require very precise blocking, others less so. Start to get a feel for what needs to happen
THE END OF THE REHEARSAL
By the end of the evening you should all have a lot more information about each other and the play than you had when you arrived! You should be starting to see the potential in your actors and your own ideas may change as this dynamic process unfolds. Allow it to happen. Don’t cling to every aspect of your vision, but do keep hold of the big picture and make sure everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet!
Thank your actors and crew and give everyone honest but postive feedback! Never let your cast go away without telling them something about how you perceive the play to be going and their performance to be developing. They really need this feedback, don’t miss it out. Never say anything negative in front of others – if you need to do that make it a one-to-one and offer a positive solution. How would you feel if you worked on a few scenes for 2-3 hours and the only feedback you received was ‘see you on Tuesday’?
When you next rehearse this scene you need to start from where you left off. So make sure your cast are aware that during the interim they must work on all the aspects you have touched on in this rehearsal. Practise the silly walk, start to learn lines, think about character. Come back to rehearsal with more ideas. Going backwards to remind actors of what they did last time is a dreadful waste of time, so make sure they know what you expect from them.
Now you do it all over again with the next scenes on your schedule!
Meanwhile the next posts are:
7c: Offbeat Directing 7c: Your Design Team