After a brief respite from our first read-through in January, we gathered together again as a cast on Monday, February 22 for our second read-through (complete with snacks). Hearing the voices of the actors is extremely helpful to me as a director. Before casting, I must visualize the play on the page in order to develop a concept and make choices about characters completely based upon the text. After the casting decisions are made, however, hearing actors breathe life into the words helps me further shape the show and draw out the nuance because their voices inspire new and clearer choices. A couple of times during the first read-through I thought, "Ah-ha! That's what that character means" or "that's something I didn't realize about the character before." This is one of the most exciting parts about being involved in a collaborative process.
Ideally, I like to have space between the first and second read-throughs. During this time, things can marinate in my brain as I approach blocking rehearsals. I had that delightful luxury this time around. I made more discoveries during this reading and hearing the actors helped me solidify some of my directorial choices. One of the challenges of this play is striking the right balance between the "theatrical" or "Brechtian" elements that privilege social thesis and action above character and narrative and presenting a compelling story. Kushner writes what he calls "interruptions" into his text in order to break up the narrative. In many ways, Kushner's style and plays pay homage to the work of Bertolt Brecht. Within this context, the interruptions can remind the audience that the narrative is just a fictional story, but the issues it presents are real and require action. Brecht does not want his audience to respond emotionally, but intellectually to his work; for him theatre is about inspiring action, not enabling catharsis.
After this first week, Act I was blocked. The cast has been wonderfully focused on the work. This first photo is from the "Prologue" scene where the group of friends celebrates New Years' Eve in Agnes' apartment. Pictured left to right are Matt Holland (Baz), McKenzie Miller (Gotchling), Dan Mueller (Husz), and Arianne Jacques (Paulinka) around the kitchen table. A couple of things we discovered immediately in these rehearsals was how much this group of friends drinks together- in nearly every scene where they discuss politics, they have wine and/or vodka at their sides.
In "Scene 2" Agnes and Paulinka discuss Paulinka's therapy sessions with Dr. Bloom and Agnes' recent and growing interest in the Communist Party. Agnes exclaims: "Paulinka, these are the most exciting days of my life." Here, pictured left to right, are Arianne Jacques (Paulinka) and Victoria Hamilton (Agnes). I usually block and work plays one act at a time. Right now we are only focused on Act I and establishing the friendships and characters. It's crucial that the audience really like and identify with the characters in Act I, so that we earn the pay-off in Act II. Upwards and onwards!!!