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, it is tradition for the first rehearsal of a new mainstage show to begin with a meet and greet with the cast of the show. This gives an opportunity for the staff and sponsors to connect with the cast as well as the creative team to share their involvement and process. We just began rehearsals for SKELETON CREW and I am particularly excited about this production. A part of my fellowship is learning what it’s like for the creative team to make tough decisions, including during the audition process. SKELETON CREW was the first production that I was a part of throughout the audition process. Casting typically lasts about three months with a combination of in-person auditions, live video auditions and recorded video submissions. Often, there are multiple rounds of auditions for each role. Actors receive and prepare specific excerpts from the script and give their best version of the characters from the show. Because I was able to follow the casting journey, the first rehearsal was a very special experience as I already felt so connected to the cast from this involvement.
After the meet and greet, cast and creative head into the rehearsal hall where all the magic begins! The cast sits together around a large table for the first part of the process: table work. Table work is when the cast does a full read-through of the script without any blocking or stage directions. I was happy to sit in and discover how director, L. Peter Callender takes a script and brings the characters to life with the cast. He said, “I believe rehearsal should be fun, that’s why it’s called a play!”
In the first read-through, I noticed how Peter created a comfortable environment that reflected a family dynamic that SKELTON CREW explores by making everyone feel welcome with humor. The actors responded by being friendly and attentive. I found that the humor resonated so well, as if to continue to support the celebration of the working class warriors represented through the characters in this play.
In the first read-through, the actors read with little to no interruption from the director. Peter closely observed the actors as if to find their natural instincts and rhythms without influencing them. I learned how the “tabling” process gives an opportunity for emotion and clarity while focusing on where the shifts are for each character. Things written in the script by Dominique Morisseau such as “–, shift, beat, cut off, long pause, pause” are given special attention and specific meaning. Here is an example from the script of how Dominique Morisseau uses diverse vocabulary when giving stage direction:
(Long pause. Breathlessness.)
REGGIE. I’m – I’m done.
FAYE. No. (Beat.) WHY? – No. What’d you – how? How’d
you attack him? You said somethin’ to him?
REGGIE. (Beat.) Didn’t say nothin’ I just… I went for him.
With each read-through, the director became more involved. Peter asked certain questions to encourage character development. The actors began to create a world for each character beyond the script, using information given to guide their creative choices. Questions such as “does this person have a relationship with their parents?” or “why do you think this person is afraid of this?” really made an impression on me because they demonstrated how theater can be a glimpse of real stories from real people in the real world. Immediately, I saw how the actors began to tap into their characters more fully and with bolder choices through their use of variance in tone intention and attitude.
I look forward to seeing what this evolves into in week two.
Stay tuned for the next blog in the series, where Wedeline will share the tech process.