Our series of posts from behind-the-scenes continues. Here again, is Alex Wiles. Down at Richmond Shakes, we think you'll soon see why she's won us all over.
|Alex Wiles as Thomasina Coverly|
Over the course of the last four days, the 1809 cast spent 14 hours together. When you spend that much time with a group of people, it’s either going to result in disaster or the best 14 hours of your week.
I can’t speak for the rest of the cast, but my opinion falls in line with the latter possibility.
Since Arcadia shuttles between two time periods--1809-1812 and 1993--the rehearsals--and thus the cast--naturally break into two groups. While the focus of last week’s rehearsals were 1993 (as our own Jonathan Conyers--playing Septimus, my tutor--performed in the opening week of the Firehouse Theater Project’s phenomenal Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), we 1809ers got our own chance to dig into the play over the past few days.
Fourteen out of 96 hours may not seem like a lot, but it’s surprising how quickly one gets to know one’s cast mates when the emphasis is on play. As we develop our characters and relationships even as we flesh out the blocking (where we move and when), you pick up on bits and piece of personalities--even of people you thought you already knew well.
Take Julie Phillips, Richmond Shakespeare’s Education Manager. I’ve had the pleasure of working with her through my work as an intern and a stage manager over the past couple of years, and my impression of her was that she is one of the sweetest, gentlest people I know. Then I watch her play Lady Croom (my mother) in rehearsal and get to meet a whole new side of Julie: still sweet, but with an imperiousness, power, and sensuality that is absolutely Lady Croom--but also still very Julie. It’s an absolute delight.
Then somebody flubs a line, and you can’t help but smile or laugh. Tom Stoppard has endowed Arcadia with beautiful language, but it’s not all easy to get through in early readings. For example: someone else (who we won’t name) accidentally says “guinea pig” when the script says “guinea,” as in the piece of currency. (My claim to fame is running into stationary objects.) Rehearsal has to be a safe place where it’s okay for actors to make mistakes--because we all do. A lot! That’s part of what rehearsal is for - trying things out to see if they work or not. Sometimes they don’t, but sometimes you try something on the fly and it sticks.
You know the “family ties” of the cast are beginning to take hold when the prop letter that’s being passed to you is covered in doodles of everything from explorations of Fermat’s last theorem (which figures prominently in the first scene) to tic-tac-toe boards to be filled out during the next break, to quick sketches of particularly vivid descriptions in the script--like Mrs. Chater’s drawers (and no, we’re not talking an armoire!), waltzing, geometrical solids...you name it, it’s somewhere on those prop pages.
In a way, it’s quite fitting for this play. So much of the interplay between the 1993 and 1809 action is the 1993 characters’ discovery and wrestling with letters, drawings, and diagrams written and left behind by the 1809 characters. As rehearsals shift to focus on the 1993 cast for the next few days, they’ll have more than a few surprises waiting for them in those hundreds of sheets of paper that we spread across the table during rehearsals.
As Septimus so eloquently states in one of his lectures to Thomasina, “we shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind...”
It’s not that rehearsals aren’t productive, or that they don’t involve hard work; they do. Time constraints increase the pressure to move efficiently, to take direction and “get it right” the first or second time, not the fifth or sixth.
My accounting professor, Dr. Hoyle, jokingly remarked that he hoped I would say that everything I learned in accounting came in use in working on this production. I don’t know about everything, but here’s a metaphoric connection: the ideal balance sheet in a financial statement is one that, well, balances--assets, liabilities, and stockholder’s equity, that is. To me, that’s not so different from a good rehearsal: it’s a balance of task and relational behaviors--between getting through the work at hand and building relationships with your cast members. (Are you impressed yet, Dr. Hoyle?)
Maybe this is my amateur status showing through, but I’ve always loved rehearsals for this reason. I’ve been blessed to work with a lot of wonderful people in theater, and I love this incubation period every bit as much as I love performing. Not only are we creating a wonderful story to share with audiences, we’re in many ways creating a family. Perhaps that sounds corny, but it’s how I honestly feel. After all, what else is a group of people with whom you’re comfortable enough to open yourself up to being vulnerable, to spending a lot of time together, to creating something bigger than the sum of its parts? Sounds like family to me.