There is something magical about sitting in an audience as the house lights dim.

The buzz in the room settles into quiet anticipation as we wait to be transported into someone else's world, someone else's story. But what we see on the stage is just the culmination of weeks, sometimes months of work behind the scenes by artists of all description: actors, directors, designers, wardrobe people, carpenters, painters, sound and light experts and others.

This blog will give you a fly-on-the-wall glimpse into that unknown world, following the rehearsal process.
This will be your guide to the hard work, fun and weirdness of putting together a play
for a professional theatre company.

You'll never watch a play in the same way again!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Now blogging: Ellen Peterson, who plays the role of Birdy in the world premiere of Daniel MacIvor's new play, Small Things, running at PTE from October 16 - November 2, 2014.

By the end of the first week of rehearsal I feel like I've been hit by a truck. (Okay, no, I don't know how that actually feels since I have never been hit by a truck. To my knowledge.)

If you are an actor, you go for long periods of time without working. Sometimes you are years between jobs, and you forget how very, very tiring it is. Not that I'm complaining! But even if it's the good kind of tired that comes from working hard doing what you love, it's still tired. And everybody in the company has their daily lives still to lead, families to care for, phone calls to make regarding whether or not Equity members are covered for massages when they are not on contract, bicycles to repair, houses to buy, laundry to do. 

The Stage Manager's "bible"
Rehearsals are eight hours a day, six days a week, and you usually get about three weeks from the first day 'til dress rehearsal. It is not nearly enough time. The first couple of days are spent doing "table work," which means you all sit at a table (I know, you'd never have guessed) and read the script a few times and talk about it a lot. It's not as complicated as it sounds. But it's important that the creative team start rehearsals with a shared understanding of the major themes, the characters' actions, the director's vision. I love table work. For one thing, it is a way to begin the work without immediately facing the pressure of performing a role you don't yet know. It is how the team begins to find its shared language and the necessary rapport. A fairly strong bond of trust and openness needs to be formed quickly in a rehearsal process, and table work is our first chance to find out who we are as a group.

I am always interested to see the collective expertise that reveals itself during table work. We showfolk sometimes think we live somewhat sheltered lives, limited in terms of life experience, and no doubt we do in some ways. But because the successful performance of a play relies on our ability to understand the world of the play and relate to the characters, I think we develop an enhanced awareness, a magnified sense of the life around us. It is like a muscle, this ability to make our own lives, and the lives we watch going on around us, usefully analogous to the lives of the people we play. During table work, we throw all this knowledge and awareness into the room and find all the parts that will help with the job at hand. It's rather like the scene in Apollo 13 where they put all the junk on the table and figure out how to use it to make an air purifier or whatever it is.
The scale model of the set by Brian Perchaluk

At any given table of 3 actors, two stage managers and a director, it is astonishing how much people know, and how varied our experience is. If the play is set in a match factory, someone at the table used to work at one. If the play has anything about tortoises in it, by god, one of the stage managers volunteers for a sea turtle rescue organization (our stage manager really does that). A hurricane? Someone just lived through one. If a character drives an Audi, chances are so does one of the actors. But of course, it's quite an old Audi. During table work I have met a guy who spent a summer hopping freights and riding the rails, a former champion Ultimate player, schoolteachers who've given it up, lapsed Vancouver hippies, Jets fans, people who make guitars in their spare time. Sharing our own lives around the table is what creates our collective consciousness. No other creative team will perform this play exactly as we do, because what they bring to the table will be different. 

In discussing the themes of this particular play, we were not surprised to discover that we have some expertise in these areas. We have all known loss, and we have all found ourselves at a point in our lives when we feel stuck. We have all been in some kind of need, we've all needed a kind of support we can't define, let alone find. Judging by the text, Daniel MacIvor's been there too, and when the audience comes to the table, we will have done our best to reflect these common human experiences in a way they can recognize.

Table work only lasts for a day or two. Then you get up on your feet and the whole game changes and becomes much, much more difficult. But that's another story. 

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