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, March 20, 2017

THE BIRDS AND THE BEES - The first steps climbing the mountain

Now blogging: Laura Lusser, Assistant to the Director
Laura Lussier here.  I’m a bilingual actor and director based here in Winnipeg. What an absolute pleasure to be assisting Ann Hodges on what will be a hilarious production of The Birds and the Bees by Mark Crawford. I must confess: I’ve been a delinquent guest blogger. I’ve been away intermittently for a little less than half of the first two weeks of rehearsal due to a TV gig. (But I promise I’ll make up for it in the coming weeks!) I was disappointed at the prospect of being away from rehearsal for so many days during such a short process, but my absence turned out to be quite useful. I’ll explain why a little later.

The rehearsal process for pretty much any play at a professional theatre in English Canada is three(ish) weeks, which is ridiculously short for such a monumental amount of work. I’m always amazed that we’re able to do it. In the first week, we usually start with introductions and presentations of the set and costume design (Carole Klemm) and then we dive into Table Work, which takes up at least a couple of days. We discuss the play in great detail: the context of the play, the timeline, the characters’ backgrounds, their journeys, their relationships, their motivations and intentions, etc.  For this play, the details of their everyday lives are important. Gail (Mariam Bernstein) is a beekeeper, Earl (Robb Patterson) is a farmer, Sarah (Paula Potosky) is a turkey farmer and Ben (Tristan Carlucci) is an aspiring entomologist. There was lots of research and discussion surrounding those professions to help flesh out details of the characters’ lives and to make sense of certain passages in the play.  I got to be the “Googler” during Table Work. I loved it -- so much learning!  (Yeah, I’m a bit of a nerd.)  ; ) 

After that, we start the process of blocking. This is essentially the process of putting a play “on its feet” in the rehearsal space. It’s the exploration and setting of the specific movements that will become the characters’ physical tracks. Stage management (Michael Duggan and Linsey Callaghan) tapes out the floor to represent the set and we start working with rehearsal furniture and props. This show is exceptionally prop-heavy. The movement and handling of props will look natural by the time we open, but at first, so much brain power has to go into the tracking and management of props.  Not only do the actors have to learn lines and movement and the inside of each scene, they also have tons of little prop and clothing details to deal with. It can be overwhelming.

Sometimes, in rehearsal, as an actor (and as a director), it feels like the mountain that is the play is barely climbable in the short time we have, and it feels like the progress that we make each day is minimal.  But I had the rare opportunity to step back during these first two weeks and return to rehearsal with fresh eyes. And I can tell you it’s astounding how much progress is possible in such a short time. We don’t see it when we’re in it.We’re frustrated that we’re forgetting lines. We get caught up in details. But the play is slowly taking shape and it’s a beautiful thing to witness. My absence turned out to be a useful reminder to trust the process and to have patience. It obviously helps that on this production, we have an incredibly talented and generous company with a brilliant director at the helm. I’m grateful to be a part of such a stellar team. 

I can’t wait for audiences to see this show. It’s well-written and sidesplittingly funny. Rehearsals are a series of guffaws, chuckles and giggles. By the end of this, we’re all going have the six pack abs, I swear.  ; ) 

Coming up later this week: Notes from Tech and Other Delights

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