This play I’m in? Maybe I mentioned it before? It’s called Hamlet, by this dude named William Shakespeare. Maybe you’ve heard of it. I play the Ghost of Hamlet’s Father, which is not to be confused with The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. My show has far fewer moments of unvarnished terror.
So, yeah, I’m in a production of Hamlet, which was one of my life’s ambitions. Actually, my ambition was to play the role of Hamlet, but you don’t see too many two-hundred-eighty-pound Danish princes treading the boards. I am cool with this, however, because the dude playing Hamlet is a friend of mine, and he is fucking awesome. As a bonus, this other guy I know, Kelly, is playing Claudius, and he is freakin’ brilliant.
Too bad this production totally blows.
Did I say that out loud?
I can’t really say it blows, per se. People who have seen it, whose opinions I trust, and whom I think will not bullshit me, have told me they enjoyed the show, or at least enough of it to make the whole experience of watching it worthwhile. I suppose that is something. No reviews have been published yet, so there is no official statement on our show’s quality, but I’ll be sure and let y’all know when that comes down.
The problem is that we are just not having fun. At the very beginning of this whole thing we, the cast, were led to believe that we would be embarking on a unique theater experience, with a different take on the rehearsal process. I expected to do a lot of work based in physical theater. Also, a buzz-phrase frequently used by our director is “actor-creator,” which led me to believe that I and the rest of the cast would have some say in the direction of the show, or at least be able to discuss what themes we felt our production should address.
But no. First off, there was no table-work. For those of you who don’t know, table-work means the cast gets together and combs through the script to make sure everybody agrees on pronunciations and definitions and that sort of thing. It is also the beginning of the character work, where the actors begin to feel each other out, and with the director’s guidance begin to get an idea of their characters’ relationships. We did none of that. Worse, we were forbidden to have any discussions of any kind relating to any of this. Whenever such a discussion would begin, the director would get all flustered and say, “Why are we discussing this? I don’t find this interesting.”
I will admit that certain aspects of table work can be tedious, but that doesn’t mean they are any less essential to the process. But alas, that essential step was left out. Instead, we went straight into the blocking. And we never left.
It took us almost two weeks to completely block every scene in the show. Unfortunately, scheduling issues made it necessary for us to work on the scenes out of order, so that on Day One we might work Scenes 3, 7 and 12, and on Day Two we might tackle Scenes 2, 5 and 14, depending on which actors were available. Normally this is a frustrating but not unexpected problem at the beginning of a rehearsal process. However, since our director came in with absolutely no pre-conceived plan for blocking, the process took longer than it normally should have, and, since there was no table work (or indeed, even a read-through of the script) we had no greater context in which to put any individual scene.
Finally we had worked on every scene in the script, and when we had all of the actors in the room at the same time we started going through the play in order. And everything plopped like a turd.
See, because of the way the stage is set up in this particular theater, where an actor exits after one scene determines where he must enter for his next. Alas, that was not taken into account even a little bit during those first two weeks of blocking rehearsals. So we had to start from scratch. The re-blocking took another week. By then most of us pretty much had our dialogue memorized, so we could start doing some real character work if only our director would allow it. But of course, he would not.
Scenes lasted an average of about three to four days. During that time the peformance of the scene would grow stale and uninteresting because we actors had nothing to back up what we were saying. We had little concept of our characters beyond what had elicited a vocal response from other people in the room during the running of scenes. We had no notion of our characters’ relationships to the other characters. Essentially, we were eight actors performing eight different one-man shows on the same stage. It soon became apparent that our director would have to take steps to move us back in a productive direction. Unfortunately, he really only seemed to know one solution:
We re-blocked it.
Last Sunday was opening night. Saturday? We re-blocked some stuff. During the last week or so of rehearsals our director did finally start giving us some actual character-based notes, but in some ways it was too little too late. It was like trying to write a short story, but instead of actually writing, you just made an outline, and every time you got a new idea you stuck a Post-It Note on there.
At any rate, the show has finally opened, and while I am not particularly thrilled with the end result, it still has some watchable moments. I can at least say I am proud of my own contributions, and those of my friends. So that’s something.