Monday, February 15, 2010

Open rehearsals?

A couple of years ago I read an article by DD Kugler called "Educating the Audience: sharing the process" which talked about inviting your audience and community into the rehearsal process. I loved the idea at the time. I love theatre mostly for the process. I enjoy watching the creative process and collaboration in action through rehearsals and production meetings almost more than I love the finished product. The idea of showing part of that process to the community made sense to me. How can I expect people to appreciate theatre if they are missing out on my favorite part of it? Or to quote Kugler:
 "Theatre isn't just 'live' it's alive, dynamic, variable- a nightly process of re-creation in communion with the audience. If we find the audience an inadequate participant in that live re-creation, then I fear it's because we haven't trained the audience how to enter that process with us. In fact, we exclude them from our central process- the rehearsal- and we stridently promote the public performance as if it were product, rather than an extension and fulfillment of a collaborative process."
In just my props work I find that people often have very little concept of the thought and work that goes into the details. I was talking to my mom the other day and was describing my frustration at a last minute prop change. At the first production meeting, I told her, we discussed and debated the type of beer two of the characters would be drinking for ten minutes. We finally came to an agreement, I went out and bought the beers, some friends helped me empty the bottles, I cleaned them, delivered them to rehearsal and now the director wanted to change the brand. My mom's reaction, "You spent ten minutes with five people just debating the brand of beer?" She couldn't understand that in my world details like that are everything. We weren't just sitting around listing brand names for ten minutes, we were discussing the characters. How much money do they have to spend on beer? Where did they grow up? How important is image to them? Why are they drinking in this scene? What kind of beer do I drink when I am feeling like that? I have a feeling that if my mom were allowed to be a fly on the wall for a discussion like that she would be as fascinated as I am.
And I bet she would be equally fascinated watching a rehearsal where the actors spend two hours working a ten minute scene. Going back to try things again and again with slightly different blocking or different inflection on the words. I love the moments in a rehearsal when the director will say "What happens to the tension if instead of crossing to her there, you stay put and stare her down from across the room?" and then you get the instant gratification of seeing exactly how that effects the scene.
People wouldn't have to come to rehearsals regularly, but I would think that anyone who sat through a rehearsal or a production meeting and saw how much thought and work went into details, and how much a small change can make a big difference, would come out with a greater appreciation for the art and more respect for the artists.
After saying all of this about how much I love the idea, I have to say that I was in a rehearsal that was open for the first time last week and I hated it. It was a first rehearsal and while there were moments where everything seemed normal, there were also moments when the rehearsal seemed far too performative, as if it were being staged for the subscribers who were invited. The director stopped numerous times throughout the rehearsal to explain what was going on to the audience, the first read through was almost put on as a staged reading, with all of the actors on the same side of a long table, facing out to the audience, and then after the reading the actors were asked to talk about the script in a way that seemed more like a post show talk back than a discussion between artists beginning to explore a piece together. I am saying this not as a criticism of the director and the company, I think the heart was in the right place, but as a warning of the place that this idea can easily slip to. In order for the audience to see the magic, the artists have to treat them the same way they treat me. When I come into a rehearsal as a technician and quietly sit down in the back of the room for a minute, the actors don't pay any attention to me. They don't try to entertain me, they don't worry if I'm judging them and they don't worry if I understand what exactly they are working on and because of this I get to see the magic. I wonder how much more people would appreciate theatre if more people got a chance to catch those magic moments that I do.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your initial thoughts about it and want to share another tale of failed open rehearsal.

    Here at Phoenix we allowed season subscribers to sit in during our Tech week, more specifically during Sound Check so instead of it looking to rehearsed it wa far t boring. We tested room tone and band levels and wireless mic levels. Anyone who has seen a Sitz Pro can attest to it being (alongside cue to cue) really dam boring.