Wedeline Casimir is the Emerging Arts Leader Fellow at American Stage for the 2019-2020 season. As a part of her development, she will be observing our next mainstage production, SKELETON CREW, and sharing the experience of getting it from the rehearsal hall to the stage through this blog series.
At American Stage, actors have about three and a half weeks from the day they first arrive and begin rehearsing until the opening night. These fast-paced weeks are packed with learning and collaborating.
One of the main transitions that happen between the first week of rehearsals and the second is that actors move from focusing on table work, where the cast sits at a table and reads-through the script discussing their characters without any blocking or stage directions, to working “on their feet” in the rehearsal space. Usually, the turnover time between the closing night of one show and the opening of the next show is a considerably short amount of time so the actors work in a rehearsal room while the production team is busy breaking down the previous set and constructing the new one. They rehearse in the rehearsal hall with what is called a “taped stage.” Taping is the process of reproducing the details and layout of the anticipated set design on the floor of the rehearsal hall with the addition of props and furniture. This simulation of the final product allows the director to begin the process of “blocking,” which is when the director tells the actors where they should move for the proper dramatic and lighting effect, and ensures that the audience can see everything at different angles. Blocking is very similar to what choreography is for a dancer.
Last week, I had the opportunity to talk with the cast of SKELETON CREW and to ask how they were feeling about the rehearsal process from week 1 to week 2. Here are their responses:
Question: How has transitioning from table work to being on your feet affect your character and the rehearsal process this far?
Enoch Armando King (Reggie): It feels good. I love table work, I think it’s very important. It’s real easy to just want to automatically jump into things as actors we’re always like, “I want to move. I gotta start moving to connect to the lines,” but I think there’s something about sitting down and having a conversation, getting a deeper understanding of the words and the work. I think it helps with the connection and to pose questions. We sometimes can get in our heads and think ‘it’s a dumb question.’ Luckily we don’t have a team around us who would make us feel bad for asking questions. So table work is very important.
Camille Upshaw (Shanita): It’s been a great transition for me from the table to the floor now that I have a belly [Camille’s character is pregnant in the play]. That adds a lot from us just working at the table because I looked up what it was like to be pregnant but never had the actual physicality so it affects how I move around the room. Now that I have the actual feeling, it affects how I deliver some of my lines because it’s not just about me. It’s about a whole other life force that I have going on. It’s kind of weird because I feel like when I take off [the pregnancy belly] that I still have it on. Getting up from the table and seeing how this space is like a second home for Shanita and other characters and how we relate to it and how well we know this space and what it makes us feel, how sometimes it gives us comfort, how sometimes it gives us worry but we still have sort of this family that we can lean on – It makes it more real on the feet.
Question: How does the rehearsal hall taping with the addition of props change or influence choices from the table?
Rasell Holt (Dez): I think it gives us little steps closer to what the reality of what the performance is going to be. I know I see these tapes and they all just look like strong suggestions to me right now because I know the orientation of everything, though this is stimulated, it’s going to feel a little bit different once we’re actually in the space. I think we’re all excited to know what that actually feels like too but this is helping us get our foundation together.
Question: From the first week of rehearsal I noticed that Peter drives direction based on your natural instincts and rhythms. Can you speak on how this translates into Peter’s direction for blocking?
Rasell (Dez): Peter gives us the room to breathe and operate freely in the space. Essentially it’s like he’s coming around to finesse it to make sure things can actually be seen and that choices are getting out to the house. I know from my standpoint I appreciate being able to figure out things first before getting beat over the head with notes.
Enoch (Reggie): I think really good directors give you the ability to move. One of the things Peter does is kind of read us. If we may not be feeling it [he would say] ‘You good?’ or ‘Tell me how you feel about that.’ What I try to do from working with him and other directors is take a moment and instead of immediately being like ‘I don’t feel like my character would do that,’ I would take the opportunity to at least try it and see where it goes. If it doesn’t feel right after that, then we’ll have a conversation. But Peter is really good at letting us flow into it.
Dee Selmore (Faye): He allows us to live in our characters. We got into so much with the table work, that it makes it that much easier to come into the space to be able to move and breathe as these characters. He guides us. It’s a beautiful thing to have, when you have somebody who allows you to try to test things out and see what’s what. Someone who can be honest.
I am very intrigued to observe the cast’s growth thus far and to hear their feedback about the process. They are also almost completely “off book,” meaning their lines are mostly memorized, which is a great place to be at this point in the rehearsal process. I am excited to see how the production develops through tech in week three!
Stay tuned for the next blog in the series, where Wedeline will share the tech process.