The Rehearsal Room

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My rehearsal inspiration board for Nina Simone.

For the last couple of weeks, I haven’t be seeing any shows as I’m working on one myself. I’m dramaturging for Park Square’s Nina Simone: Four Women, which as been a phenomenal experience so far and a show I’m very excited about. I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about the rehearsal process a little bit and describe what my part of this looks like, for those who aren’t personally in this aspect of theater or those who might be curious what a dramaturg does.

Day 1 (5pm -10pm)

The actors, director, playwright, music director, costume designer, set designer, stage manager, and I all meet in the rehearsal room. Introductions are made and the most updated copy of the script is handed out (as this is a new work, we didn’t receive this until the first day – usually scripts are sent out at least a couple of weeks in advance). The artistic director and director of education at the theater come down to welcome us and inform the actors about certain aspects of this show, such as student matinees. I have a made an informational packet about Nina Simone’s life and the Civil Rights Movement, which has already been sent out to the actors to help them prepare. The set designer gives us an overview of what the space will look like, using a model to clarify any questions the actors and director have. The costume designer shows us sketches of what the attire is planned to look like for each character. We do a read-through of the script and I read stage directions. We discuss the script, suggest changes, and break for the day. Having met on a Monday – usually a day off due to equity regulations, our stage manager notes that we will have the following Sunday and Monday off.

Days 2-5 (roughly 11am-4pm)

Our rehearsals are during the day, as our stage manager has a show going on in the evenings at another theater. I work my day job several of these rehearsal days and arrive late. On day two, another read-through has taken place and some changes have been made. Day three, we receive and updated script and I read stage directions again for the new read-through. By day four, the actors are on their feet and begin blocking (or learning where they will stand and move throughout the space as the show progresses). A simple set with furniture is brought in and props begin to appear as they are found/requested. I begin to bring in photos to post on a board to inspire the actors, focusing on women involved in the Civil Rights Movement and 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL. Our music director begins to arrange songs and work on what musical interludes should appear and what they should sound like throughout the show. Our costume designer takes measurements and brings in accessories such as hand bags for the actors to use. Additional changes are made to the script and questions are asked to clarify interactions between the characters. In my evenings after rehearsal, I continue to do research, either looking up information I am asked to find during rehearsal or adding to the photos in the rehearsal room. I beginning planning a lobby display I hope to showcase, getting in contact with the marketing director at the theater to see what my options are. In between all of this, I manage to grab eat dinner (either brought from home or from Afro Deli), catch A Chorus Line at the Ordway, and also catch a cold.

Days 6-9 (3:30-9:30pm on days 6 and 7, 4pm-9pm on days 7-8)

After a two-day break, we’re back to blocking and pacing, getting a feel for how the show will unfold, what the major arcs are and what needs to be emphasized. I continue to research (having mostly recovered from my cold) and am now putting together a timeline of the events of 1963 to have displayed in the lobby. As far as the script goes, all major changes are done, minus a few word tweaks. Our music director is given specific time in the rehearsals to practice songs, assign harmonies, and work through a capella pieces and improv components. Our costume designer takes additional measurements and continues bringing in wardrobe pieces – especially shoes – to see if they will work for our cast. I’m bouncing back and forth between my day job and rehearsals and miss part of rehearsal on day 7 in order to see a performance at my theater for work. Rehearsal is cancelled on day 8 due to a cast member’s absence for a family obligation and I have the evening off to do some writing, finish the timeline, and do some errands.

Days 10 and 11 (12pm-8:30pm on day 10, 12pm – 6:30pm on day 11)

Our two longest days in rehearsal are in front of us and give us the opportunity to really dig into material. Songs are run and rerun, particular scenes are focused on to see what isn’t working, to bring out important emotional components, and to focus on what is giving the actors trouble. We begin to work a song that includes choreography and sound elements performed by the actors, getting help from another artists in the community to help work this scene. I’m given the task of researching accents, something that usually would be given to a dialect coach, but as there isn’t one for the production (and the Birmingham accent isn’t as difficult to learn as a South African accent, for instance) I’m happy to help. I scour internet resources and Youtube videos, trying to put together a guide for vowel and specific word pronunciation. Watching Spike Lee’s Four Little Girls documentary after rehearsal on day 10 becomes my most useful source of pinpointing the accent while also expanding my knowledge of the historical root of the show.

Day 12 (3:30pm-9:30pm)

After a day off, we review what we worked – focusing on accents, remembering new blocking, and tracking props. At the top of rehearsal, the actors are fitted for microphones and new underscoring ideas are tried for the musical elements of the show. We run certain portions and focus specifically on a difficult song.

Day 13 (4pm-10pm)

Our first day onstage. I’ve received the materials I need for my lobby display and I post it while the actors warm up and practice music while on mics. This rehearsal focuses on memorizing lines, exploring the space, and working on blocking to aid sight lines in the space. I wander about the theater, sitting in various locations where the view isn’t as good to see how the show looks from these spots.

From here on out Days 14-17 are tech days. This is when lighting and sound elements are worked into the show along with the actor’s lines and movements. Costumes are worn and refitted and certain make-up and wig elements are tested. This process is very slow going at first, going from cue to cue to make sure that each sound element and lighting effect properly sets the mood and tone. It feels a little bit like stop-motion, tweaking each moment to get it right. I stick around to help with sight lines in the theater as well as to stay on book and take line notes for the actors as they continue to memorize and practice their lines. These days are long and exhausting but it’s incredible to see all the pieces fall into place during this process.

That’s the process! Interested to know more or have a specific question? Feel free to ask. If you want a more specific look at dramaturgy, please check out my guest post on my friend Kendra’s blog – and check out the rest of her amazing blog while you’re at it!

And come see Nina Simone: Four Women at Park Square Theatre in St Paul. The show starts previews on March 8th, opens March 11th, and runs through the 26th. Ticket information and prices can be found on Park Square’s website.

Review: Lullaby

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Source: http://www.theaterlatteda.com

At the Ritz Theater in northeast Minneapolis, Theater Latte Da is presenting a world premiere new show, Lullaby. A play with music directed by Jeremy B. Cohen and written by Michael Elyanow, this show is a tour de force. With four actors, two guitars, and a world of emotions, Lullaby tells the story of a single mother, Cassie (Adeline Phelps) who is dealing with the loss of her husband Craig (David Darrow) to suicide. Afraid of what will happen now that her two-year-old son no longer has Craig to play him to sleep, she vows to learn the guitar, saying, “I can’t have my boy growing up thinking that when someone you love dies, they take the music with them.” Convincing bar owner and musician Thea (Annie Enneking) to teach her to play, she finds a new friend who helps her come to terms will her loss, understand her own illness, and better communicate with her father, Gabriel (James Eckhouse) about her strained relationship with her mother.

Lullaby is a refreshing new face in musicals that discuss emotional hardship. While some sugarcoat or romanticize mental illness or become a how-to on “how to love someone with mental illness,” this show takes a different path. Cassie’s insomnia and persistent visions of her dead husband are shown with stark understanding. There is no questioning of sanity – what she sees is real and it is understood as such. Though she struggles to understand her loss and Craig’s death as well as how she should love him, there is no questioning that he deserves her love. This is powerful enough on its own for those who battle their own mental illness and it is refreshing to see onstage a refusal to accept the ideas that pop psychology present to us.

Also revolutionary is the friendship between Cassie and Thea. Never on stage or in any medium have I seen a relationship between a straight woman and a lesbian presented where they actually remain good friends. With humor, honesty, and vulnerability, the two grow together in a way that speaks volumes about recovering from loss and learning to understand each others’ hardships.

Through it all is woven the music, balancing between lullabies, haunting acoustic melodies, and punk-style tunes that reminisce of The Replacements and other such 80s bands. Playwright Michael Elaynow describes in the program that in this show, “music is used in all different kinds of ways: as lullaby, as lament, as celebration, as anger.” Like Leonard Cohen’s famous “Hallelujah,” which means many different things to many people, the music in this show mean many different things in the moments they present. Likewise, this show presents many different ways to understand and relate to the events and the characters. Some may see this as a father-daughter story, as the struggles and repeated cycling through the grief process over the loss of a loved one, of being haunted by someone you love who is no longer present in your life, of better understanding friendship, psychology, sexuality… The opportunities are endless.

However you choose to see it, this show is a beautiful work that holds great promise. Like all new shows, there are moments that could be tweaked, but overall it is a powerful, masterful piece that captures the audience from the first guitar chord and doesn’t let go until the last one at the close. Whether you cry through most of the show as I did or are simply moved by the performances, it is a show not to be missed.

 

Lullaby is playing at the Ritz Theater from now through February 7th. Show information, show schedule, and ticket prices can all be found on Theater Latte Da’s website.