Of all the elements of working with Actors’ Theatre that are completely unique to the company, the physical logistics of the rehearsal are some of the most unusual. We rehearse outdoors except in the case of extreme precipitation (only weaklings go inside when it’s drizzling, and I say “precipitation” because in Ohio you can’t ever truly rule out the possibility that it will snow in August). In a typical indoor rehearsal room, the action onstage is the only thing going on, which makes intense, unfettered focus easy. At Schiller Park, Pokemon go-ers meander through scenes; a car blaring Kanye strangely underscores the main character’s most anguished monologue; and both mosquitoes and ducks are disconcertingly unafraid of very close proximity with humans.
These interruptions can get annoying, but that is exactly the point: distractions don’t miraculously disappear when we switch from rehearsing to performing, so the actors must learn to focus despite them. I like to think that such a challenge builds character, or at the very least, builds the necessary vocal stamina to yell over-top of them until the extraneous sounds die down.
The reason such distractions are particularly conspicuous at this time is because we have moved into the scene work phase of the rehearsal, which means digging more deeply into the intricacies of what is happening onstage and therefore requires meticulous attention. I have found this part to be both the most challenging and the most educational of my experience so far. Put simply, the job of the director during scene work is to identify moments that can be improved and to figure out what to say to the actors in order to improve them. The more time I spend watching rehearsal, the better I am able to carry out the former, but I still find the latter very difficult. It is one thing to pick out moments that are not dramatically engaging; it is quite another to know how to fix them. Fortunately, Philip is very good about explaining his thought process to me as he solves these problems, which is enlightening. One of my favorite bits of direction he gave one of the actors was to play the scene as though he were trying to get the other actor to gossip with him. I know that the audience, when watching the play, will likely not pick up on any of this subtext, but the direction added an undercurrent of motivation that energized and propelled the scene forward.
It is exhilarating to watch the show take shape—even when we can’t quite hear it.