Letters to Holly

Wednesday, December 20

Day Eleven: Onstage

We arrive to discover we are now working on the stage. It's my first time seeing the space, and it's right nice. The decor is yellow, and it seats about 450 in a wide arc. The stage has a good width and depth, and it has a flat wall backing. I help move our practice chairs and bed upstairs, and after a while we get to work.

The director and stage managers sit at tables on the edge of the stage watching us move through the play. And we are doing the whole play tonight. Gooper's fairly inactive for the first chunk of play, and I have plenty of time to try to memorize my lines.

There's two ways to do this that work for me, and they work in conjunction. First, I memorize all my lines as a long list of script. I'll learn each line and add it to the list and then recite the list. If I screw up a line (and I check the script occasionally), I have to start over and recite the list from the beginning. This is my brain's way of using slight negative reinforcement.

The second method to memorize is the cue lines, the dialogue that leads into my lines. And I can't do this in an arbitrary way. I can't just know the lines; I have to know where in the play they are and what the actors are doing. So, yeah, I have to learn the flow of the play -- how each scene plays out and why Gooper talks when he does. Again, I have the much easier part among the principals: Daddy, mama, Brick, Maggie, Mae and Gooper. That leaves only the doctor, the reverend, and the kids. Oh, and the servants. Those parts we have yet to cast, but then again, they don't appear onstage at all. Anyone can do them. If I were a director, I would raffle off the roles as a fund-raiser. (Want a stupendously easy part in a play? Just read these five lines out of the book when cued. Must speak loud, must not be late. All money raised goes to Krispy Kreme and a case of Sprite.)

I can't just read the script and memorize it. Well, I can, but the job is made much easier if I have stage movement to help cue me. But I only have two more rehearsal days before we are to return to work off-book. So I can't just rely on movement memorization. I will have to sit by myself with the script and train my brain. Mae confides to me that she can manage Act One but hasn't tried to memorize Act Three yet. If forced at gunpoint, I can do Act One and Two offbook right now (quick check ... yeah, I can do that), but Three is Gooper's biggest scene, and I'll say I have about 40% of that set to memory.

When I'm not mentally screaming at my stupid sieve of a brain, I look at the backstage area and the prop room. There's a jukebox devoid of records, a row of 1950s salon hairdryers (has to be for Steel Magnolias), a couple of thrones, a styrofoam barbell, and a couple of suits of armor. And I'm a contented geek. I love being in a theatre, and while I'm not backstage, I walk the aisles to see the stage and seats and check out the large production posters in the lobby.

I sing onstage for the first time in years. Gooper and Mae lead the kids in singing Happy Birthday. Susan the stage manger tells me later that I have a great singing voice, but I don't have to work a big range with that song. But it does give me a little encouragement to at least consider trying out for a musical later. Probably chorus, though.

The stage does make for a slightly larger working area but not so drastic that we have to move too awfully quick to get from here to there. The rehearsal runs almost three full hours, but that includes some stopping. Once we get the scripts out of our hands, the play will speed up tremendously, I'm sure.

Previous entries:

Day One: Reading It Through
Day Two: Act Two
Day Three: Reading Act Two
Day Four: Talking It Through
Day Five: Blocking Act Two
Day Six: Act Two Redux
Day Seven: Reading Act Three
Day Eight: The Da Gooper Code
Day Nine: The Laying On of Hands
Day Ten: Pictures and Pages

Pictures of the Day

This is the director and managers watching Maggie in Act One.

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