Seizing the magic of the moment
Something magical happened at rehearsal the other day.
I have a tried and trusted methodology in ‘the room’. With a new play, the first week is given over to making all the changes and edits in the text that become obvious once you start to stand the play on its feet. In this first week I also do a rough blocking of the staging without getting bogged down in the detail. I’m fond of saying that I only know what to do with the beginning when I get to the end. This sounds suitably mercurial but often only means something as simple as making sure that due emphasis is given to a line or a speech early in the play when we become aware of its consequences later on. In week two the blocking is refined and all the details are attended to. Fully fledged characters start to emerge, motivations are laid bare, and the arc or trajectory of the story becomes clearer. Week three is where blocks of scenes are run together and we begin to see the cumulative effect or what happens when you carry the knowledge and feeling from one scene to the next. This week I talk less and listen more and let the actors begin to take ownership. Week four is for run through, notes, layering in technical elements, nipping and tucking, polishing the production. And then you take it to the theatre for tech week and it all falls apart before it comes together again and all that hard work pays off. Or not.
Anyway, this process is a scaffolding from which to build the play and while it is not overly rigid or set in stone it does dictate the rhythm of these weeks. Imagine my surprise, then, in the middle of week two of working on The Last Stand, when, just as I had begun the detailing work on a scene at the beginning of the play, a strange kind of energy took hold in the room and I found myself holding back and letting the action continue. As the actors sensed they were not going to be stopped at any moment they took over and just played the play through to its conclusion. They still had scripts in hand and it was rough and ready but it had an unmistakable rhythm and integrity to it which excited us all.
While we will go back to the painstaking stuff next week, and need to, I think we all know about two weeks earlier than normal, that we have a play.
Morgan, Dylan and Fiona are doing great work and Dominic (the writer) is good to have in the room. He defends his play when he needs to but he is very open to the changes that become necessary when we hit a roadblock. Morgan brings an extraordinary, even demonic, energy to Tom Hooks. He’s laying it all out there and while he knows that it will have to be reined in as we go it’s fantastic to see the bag of tricks that the seasoned comedian can bring to the stage.
I knew from the get go that we needed a comedian actor for this role and I’m grateful to have Morgan in the room especially during sessions when I’m reeling from the sheer chutzpah of what is unfolding. I’m tempted to use that famous line Fellini had for one of his more demonstrative actors – “I’ll pay you twice the money for half the work”.
Roll on week three!
(Ben Barnes, director, The Last Stand by Dominic Palmer, at Wexford Arts Centre, June 8-17)