One thing that I love about the rehearsal process is that it is just that: a process. When you are cast in a show you have time to get to know your fellow actors, as well as the script. There is time to find your character and time to try out different choices for that character on stage before the curtain goes up.
The first part of this process is the read-through. Actors gather round a table (or in our case, form a circle on the floor), open up their scripts, and read the play for the first time. Not only is this a chance for one actor to acquaint himself with the lines written for his character, but it is also a chance to learn about all the characters and the actors that will be joining him onstage for this wonderful experience.
A funny thing happened this Saturday during our read-though: one actor used a “western” accent and it spread like wildfire until a good portion of our actors all sounded western! All of our actors observed a choice that one actor made and used that to inform their own readings. Like I said – it’s a process.
The read-through, however, is just the beginning of that process. At NDW the next step is character work. When you add the blocking, choreography, and music to that you have a show. It’s a lot of work to find ways to incorporate your character into all of these aspects, but that’s what the rehearsal process is for.
First, make a choice. Come up with a backstory. Figure out who your character is. We will be doing this with many of you on Saturday, but it doesn’t hurt to think about it on your own time. It is tempting to come up with a silly backstory, but try to come up with something that makes sense for your character within the context of this show. Many professional actors actually do research to help with this. (Yes, they hit the books and give themselves homework!)
Take our last show for example: If I’m playing Captain Bree I want to think about how and why I became a pirate. Pretend for a moment that I, Debbi, am going to be playing this character. My version will be completely different than Alexa’s version. I’m making the choice and deciding that my Captain Bree is from England. She was born Brianna Smith and her father was a blacksmith. She learned all about swords from watching him work. Sometimes, her father would even let her hold the swords and when he wasn’t looking, she would practice fighting. Then, her father got sick and his apprentice took over the blacksmithing business, leaving her and her family destitute. Her mother moved in with her older sister and her husband and Brianna was left with a decision: marry for money and security or try to make it on her own. She was all set to marry when she overheard two pirates fighting over money. She offered her services to them as an accountant – a skill she had learned from watching her mother take care of the household and from her father as he took care of his business. Since she could read and do math, the pirates took her on. After a while at sea she realized two things: she really liked being a pirate, and the men she worked with enjoyed the fight too much. When she had saved enough money she decided to set out on her own, finding her own ship was easy once she found her crew. As she was a natural leader she was able to convince some women to join her on her voyage. Together they captured a ship and set sail. I could go on. But this backstory is just the tip of the iceberg. How did Jane become her second in command (something I might want to discuss with the actress playing Jane or keep to myself)? How does she feel about the other pirates? Who does she tell her secrets to? Who does she admire? If she could only save one of her pirates who would it be? And this is all before she meets Captain Jennings.
Coming up with this backstory was easy. I know the show, I know enough about the time period, and there are certain things that I, Debbi, believe about the character. You might disagree with my backstory for Bree and that’s okay, but you can’t dispute that it fits with the script I was given, as that is the starting point.
So, now that you’ve created a backstory for your character what do you do with it? This is the hard part. As you go through the script you use the backstory to think about why your character does and says certain things. How does the backstory inform your character’s actions and reactions? (Hopefully your character’s actions informed your backstory, which makes this a little easier.) As your character sings and dances, how can you infect each step with your character? These are the things that take some time, but the good news is, we have time. We have several rehearsals for you to try and feel that out.
What to do now? Make a choice. Decide that your character walks a certain way or talks a certain way or something. Try it. If it doesn’t feel right, fine, try something else. The worst thing that can happen is that one of your directors tells you not to do it. If you disagree and you really, truly believe it is necessary, find a time before or after rehearsal to discuss with Cindy or myself, or Lisa or Chris, why you believe that. Just be open to hearing why we think the opposite.
As you are developing your character remember that your fellow actors are doing the same for themselves. Is there a way for the two of you to work better together? What are you noticing about the other person and their character that can help you? Maybe you want to try having a conversation with the other actor. Remember in the last show when Fergus was continually tapping Jennings on the shoulder? We had to stop rehearsal to make it work better (which is part of the process). The two actors took that time to take from the script what they had to and make it work as a team.
T = Together
E = Everyone
A = Achieves
M = More
True for theater, sports, and life.
I look forward to helping you discover your characters and bring them to life. See you Saturday,