Thursday, July 29, 2010

Macbeth- Week Five Rehearsals

It's getting down to the "Mac-wire" as it were. Discoveries and being made, scenes are getting tighter, relationships and motivations are becoming clearer . . . all in the enormous shadow of the MU building. While all the pieces are coming together, it's the time in the process to make the show move. A focus on pace, timing, and bringing out the rich detail we've worked so hard to produce will push the production to the next level. All the elements are there, in place, it's now up to the actors to focus and make the world come alive for the audience.

The actors are all focusing in at finding their characters an making precise choices about physicality and vocal life. After more experiments with dialect work, I ultimately decided to forgo the idea. While, in some respects, I liked the extra layer of detail it provided to enhance the world of the play. Sometimes, however, ideas such as these just don't work for practical reasons. When producing outdoor plays in such an enormous space as the Quad, projection and clarity of diction if just as important (if not more) than physicalization and well-conceived character work. Too much of the text was getting lost in the dialect so it was dropped. It's all part of the process of discovery of figuring out what does and does not work.

Another process of discover I've been toying with over the past few weeks is manufacturing a scary and realistic-looking severed Macbeth head. Familiar with the casting process for mask-making, I excitedly took on this project which has really involved a lot of trial and error. Casting for a mask a quite a bit different and more involved than for an entire human head because there are just so many more contours and complexities involved. The first attempt at casting the face, neck, and ears ended in failure. The casting material of choice, alignate, takes great impressions, but is unfortunately fragile and occasionally difficult to work with. While the cast of the back of his head worked, the face cast was torn in several places and, therefore, unusable. Matt (Macbeth) was a trooper in his willingness to sit for a second casting with eyes and mouth completely covered in pink, rubbery goo. The second facial casting (after figuring out a better water to alignate ratio) was far more successful and resulted in four plaster positive from which I will create a latex version of Matt's head.

Getting things just right requires patience and practice. I found that if I work with the delicate alginate carefully enough, I am able to pull a successful positive latex version of the body part from the mold. This meant mixing the alginate thick with warmer water , applying a thick layer to the plaster positive, then covering the alginate with gauze bandages and a thick layer of plaster to ensure that it keeps its shape after the casting. Mixing the materials is a messy (but fun) business. In moving into these last few days before tech, it's all about creating the final details to make the production and the world come alive.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Macbeth- Week Four Rehearsals

Death to the Tyrant!

Act II is worked through! We just may have a play on our hands. A month into the rehearsal process and there is still a way to go in creating an experience for the audience (hopefully the experience of dirty, sexy fun).

The blocking and working of Act II had its own challenges in contrast to those of Act I. While Act I must work to grab the audience's attention and pull them into this slick, down-and-dirty world we are creating, it must also set up the characters in a thoughtful and nuanced way so that the unraveling that occurs in Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, and Macduff has a strong emotional impact. The rhythm of the first half of them play is somewhat (and deliberately) irregular. The brutal street brawl, passionate exchanges between the Macbeths should feel quick, almost frantic. Most of Act I, however, allows the audience to take pause and let the story develop and Macbeth to reveal his calculating, methodical killer-instinct.

Act II, on the other hand, starts with the banquet scene and should become increasingly manic until the play's climax. The challenge is, of course, building up this energy so that the final battle between Macbeth and Macduff is raw and memorable without losing the poignancy of Macbeth's existential crisis and Lady Macbeth's nightmarish levels of regret and guilt.

Act II is also interesting to stage in the space because of the three scenes that require the entire cast. The banquet and the apparition scenes both occur in Act II and this requires a level of detail in keeping the other characters engaged with the action without things becoming distracting from the main dialogue exchanges. The lack in lighting equipment to direct the audience's focus in the Quad means developing ways to tell the story from every vantage point. While this should be true of any play in any space, its vitally important in the Quad where there are few places outside the MU that actors can be "off stage."

As always, in working through the scenes some wonderful discoveries were made that further contrast first and second parts of the play. While in the beginning, Macbeth is extremely controlled and rational, he becomes emotionally erratic, manic, and unpredictable. Part of this, we found yesterday, is played out with and inversion of the power dynamic between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. One or the other always assumes the dominant role in their relationship. It is written to be extremely balanced, until he starts to slip away. It is interesting that this couple, so loving and supportive of each other, is capable of such "direst cruelty." Their love story is a fascinating study because they really fall apart when they no longer have their "dearest partner of greatness."

The fight scenes were another element that really came to life this week. Putting the finishing details on the multiple (and horrifying) displays of violence further enhance the raw savagery of Macbeth's world. Now . . . if only I can devise some other challenges to fling in the actors' paths . . . hmmm.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Macbeth- Week Three Rehearsals

Hot Summer Days

The Quad is a challenging space for many reasons- its monstrous size, its lack of proper acoustics, the limitations in terms of set design, defining the audience space . . . Shall I go on? One of the biggest challenges, however, has nothing to do with the design of the Quad and everything to do with the concept of "outdoor summer theatre." While few things are more fun than summer theatre the exposure to the elements wears upon cast and crew throughout the rehearsal process. Last week's rehearsals in the heat (topping in the high 90s) were a test for their strength and endurance as they faced maintaining a level of high energy and the looming possibility of heat stroke under a blazing and unforgiving summer sun. Thankfully, they all made it through with few complaints. Thursday, however, was particularly brutal. Kudos to Alex, in particular, who is in nearly every fight . . . and dies in spectacular fashion at the end of nearly every fight. This, of course, requires Alex to spend a lot of time on his hands and knees and the burning hot concrete. The lives of actors are glamorous indeed.

In spite of the heat, progress was made. Act II is blocked and will be celebrated with . . . a Monday evening Slop Through! As I have reminded the cast on several occasions- Act II is far more complicated than Act I. The inclusion of jazz music, the shorter (nearly overlapping) sequence of scenes that build to the play's climax, and the complicated fight choreography are just a few of the challenges we face as we move into Act II working rehearsals.

Blocking Act II, with or without the heat, presented a challenge in and of itself in that the pace is so different and many of the scenes feature most of the cast members. In particular, the premonition scene and the banquet scene were particularly complex. Looking forward to seeing the whole play tonight in rough form. We've got a ways to go, but I can see things coming together.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Macbeth- Week Two Rehearsals

A busy Bard week of taking the play apart so that we can put it back together again. The best news was reclaiming our beloved Quad space in the name of Bard! The transition from the dark, temperature-controlled Withycombe Mainstage out into the expanses of nature went (surprisingly) smoothly. The actors were definitely ready for the move and the summer sunshine certainly infused a new level of energy into the process as a whole. Pictured above we are working in the space for the first time and we are utterly dwarfed by the size of the MU. Everything about the performances must adjust. Having blocked all of Act I in the Withycombe space, it was interesting to see the moments that translated well into the larger venue and those that needed more drastic adjustments.

Now a delicate dance occurs between balancing the spectacle demanded by the space itself and keeping the integrity of the story. Cool fight scenes, well-conceived special effects, and clever design choices enhance and audience's experience and certainly contribute to an engaging piece of theatre, but without clear storytelling and characterization it's all flash and no substance. It's empty calories. Macbeth as a play is, thankfully, intriguing enough to embrace high-concept theatrical moments AND complicated psychological analysis of the characters.

Early discoveries were made in the Quad space over the last week, I believe, through the transition. While it's easy to get away with more subtle choices in a smaller indoor venue, the outdoor Quad space demands clear and bold choices. These choices began to take shape in all the performers this week as they became more confident with their blocking and with the space itself.

The less artistic, yet not less important, element of marketing also began to bloom this week. The printing of our very artistic graphic design helped contribute to another boost in cast morale. Nathan Langner's slick Tarantino-esque design captures the spirit of the show perfectly: Dirty. Sexy. Fun. When considering blocking and characterization choices for the actors to explore in this show, I keep going back to the sense of movement and tension depicted in the graphic design. I want the show to feel like a bloody, violent thrill ride as Macbeth, a profoundly flawed human being, unravels and through a process of his mistakes discovers (or rediscovers) his own sense of humanity and reverence for life and the living.