December 14, 2009

Rehearsal Update

I call this: On the Road Again,theatre — Posted by KP @ 12:13 am

I know I haven’t blogged much this week. Believe me, with the Guthrie’s most famous blogger sitting next to me 8 hours a day, I get reminded when I’m slacking.

The Meet & Greet

This week we began with our Meet & Greet. Traditionally this would be done on the first day, but it was postponed to allow for a date when the artistic directors of the Guthrie and The Acting Company — Joe Dowling and Margot Harley — could both be present to speak at the ceremonial beginning of the rehearsal process. They both spoke of the great collaboration between the two companies that was started with last year’s Henry V, and how they were looking forward to keeping up the partnership with this production and others to come. Joe introduced our actors individually, who stood for applause from those Guthrie staff members gathered. They then introduced our director, Penny Metropulos, who introduced the production team (myself, Nick, our choreographer Marcela Lorca, and our voice and text consultants, Andrew Wade and Sara Phillips). Penny gave a basic overview of the concept for the show, the set and costume design, and the period the show is set in (roughly 1912), and why these choices were made. She gave a very moving talk about why the show is important and timeless to audiences.

Week Sort-Of-1 (Staging)

Once these festivities were done, we took a five, and crossed the doorway back into our usual rehearsal room, where we began staging from the top of the show. Now that the week is over, we are staged up to the first part of Act V, Scene 1 (Benvolio comes to tell Romeo that Juliet is “dead”). I think it would be safe to say we are about 4/5ths of the way through the show. We also spent the end of today’s rehearsal doing a stumble-through of Part I (i.e. the part of the show before intermission). We have also run other large chunks of the show, which provides a good perspective on how the whole thing fits together. There is still much that needs to be worked in more detail, so we are far from done, but we have a solid structure after little more than a week. Our cast is off book for a surprising amount of the show, and I think we’re all pretty pleased with how much we’ve accomplished so far.

Outside of Rehearsal Room 2, we have had costume measurements, some costume fittings, and a consultation for facial hair provided by the Guthrie’s hair department. Next week we have more fittings, and we begin sessions with our actors and voice/text consultants, where they will get one-on-one work on the text.

Outside of rehearsal hours, we had two conference calls this week. Navigating the schedules of about 20 people in three time zones, and trying to get all of them in the presence of a telephone at the same time has had my head close to exploding for much of the week, but we managed to get a lot hashed out. We had a small call on Wednesday between our set designer, lighting designer, director, staff director, and stage management team. Our designers (one in New York, one in San Francisco) only had 15 minutes each before they had to go to appointments for other shows they’re doing, so we very quickly went through the most pressing questions — new dimensions for our infamous platform (named Fred), and clarification of how the masking allows traffic on and off stage, and access behind the set. Our real production meeting involved a larger selection of Guthrie and Acting Company staff, where we checked in on a number of issues, and I accomplished my main goal of getting everyone to agree to a schedule for the actors’ call times for tech/preview week.

The Database

In technology news, our stage management database has really come into its own this week. I know I always talk about it and never actually explain it in depth. It’s still very much in development so the idea of stopping to blog in depth about it always seems premature. Features get added to it sometimes in the middle of rehearsal when the need for them is discovered.

With Nick and I on the same network, I open the FileMaker file on my computer, and create a local server. Nick opens FileMaker and loads the file that my computer is serving, so we’re both working on the same copy of the database. As long as we’re not trying to work on the same record simultaneously, we can each make independent changes at the same time, which has proven to be very helpful.

The database has a lot of different parts, but the one we’re using most in the context of blocking rehearsals is what I call “tracking.” It’s a chronological log of basically everything that happens in the show: entrances, exits, prop moves, sound cues, costume changes, etc. Initially, it was just filled with entrances and exits based on what is indicated in the script. As we have been rehearsing, that gets filled out and altered to reflect the actual staging, as well as provided with details like where a character enters from. Nick, like most ASMs, is in charge of props, so he primarily deals with adding props to the tracking sheet, as well as to a related sheet which is more for the purposes of prop shopping — it notes whether we have the prop (a rehearsal version, the final show version, something that might become the show version, or none at all), and if we have it, where it came from (so we know who it belongs to when we’re done with it), as well as any design notes, and the date the prop was added to the show (that part came from my good friend Josh, who likes recording dates, and helped me develop and test this part of the database while working on Inventing Avi Off-Broadway this fall).

So since I’m taking blocking, and Nick is tracking props, a lot of the time I fill in the entries related to entrances and exits, and he fills in the props. But sometimes one of us is busy working on something else, so we cross over a lot. And sometimes we neglect to whisper to each other “I got that,” and then we both create a record for the same thing, or both try to edit the same record. But it’s really cool to see the tracking table get filled out by both of us at once.

My favorite part of the database right now is a new one, that didn’t exist at all during Avi: the daily schedule and rehearsal report. The daily schedule has some fun features that inform you of conflicts for the date in question, does some basic math to stop you from breaking the basic Equity rules, and allows for the construction of a work list for the day that then automatically is added to the rehearsal report. The report is basically a bunch of text boxes, but it tells me with color if I’ve left something blank that can’t be left blank, or if I’ve marked it with my customary “(?)” sign, indicating that I need to come back and review something.

The true beauty of the report is what happens after it’s done: I press one button, labled “email,” and it creates a PDF of the rehearsal report, attached to an email addressed to the distribution list (determined by a checkbox on each person’s contact file). It also includes in the body of the email a plain text version of the report — not an exact copy of what’s in the PDF, but a bunch of code that includes exactly what I want, in the format I want. At the same time it creates a PDF of the daily schedule, and a plain text version, addressed to the cast. Filemaker could send these emails with no interaction if I wanted it to, but I prefer to use this opportunity to proof them before hitting “send.” The new little trick I added a few days ago reminds me to update the company Google calendar with the upcoming day’s schedule. It doesn’t do anything automatically, it just prevents me from forgetting by opening Safari to the calendar address. So far I’ve had that step in the script for two days, and both times I would have otherwise forgotten, so I’m very excited about that feature!

Moving On

The rehearsal process is interesting, but I also can’t wait to get to tech. I find rehearsal far more stressful, especially in this coast-to-coast environment. With the parties all spread out, I have to be the switchboard for everyone else on the production, making sure that everyone is in possession of all the knowledge they should have. That’s true in any production, but it’s easier when everyone is in one building, one city, or one time zone. Once we get to tech, we start to have more of the people we need on the scene in real time. We won’t have everyone in Minneapolis with us at once, but the collaboration becomes more and more in-person, until finally the show is frozen and we, the traveling company, will have everything and everyone we need to make the show happen each night, wherever we go. I am excited for all aspects of the process, but I’m trying not to get too much ahead of myself. First we still have a bit of staging and a couple more weeks of exploration to get through!

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