Letters to Holly

Wednesday, October 31

Countdown: Two Rehearsals

Tech rehearsals are always, always, always the roughest of the practices. The lights and sound systems are synchronized, and, traditionally, the play is run twice: once to set up all the cues and the next run to see how it all works together. But this was a light tech rehearsal. We're using only two small lights in addition to the court's fluorescents, and a small stereo provides pre-show atmosphere music. Actually, I think there's supposed to be music between acts, but I didn't hear it between Two and Three. The tech stuff itself wasn't too stressful, and we ran the play only once. But it was still a rough night.

I dressed up in my suit and took along the shirts and ties I'll wear in each act. As each act is a different day of the trial, we need different accessories, but the suit stays the same. We have ten-minute intermissions, plenty of time to trade shirts and ties. I'm using the fabled Windsor knot for the ties. I never understood why it's allegedly so difficult; it just has one more wrap before you tighten it. But it makes for a bigger knot and exaggerated dimple, and it helped make Sinatra so dashing.

Some of us are wearing costumes tonight, just to get a feel for them, and I again get comments on how well the suit works. The costume lady says nothing to me, not even to veto the suit again and demand I wear the one she suggested. She could have. She does have the power to do that. But that would mean altering the britches before Wednesday's final rehearsal. It's the first time folks have seen me wear it in person, and many are again shocked by the $5 price.

The tech crew are feverishly placing props and drop cords and adjusting the court to our staging needs. They tilt the tables and bring in the new chairs. The real court attorneys use modern plastic and fake leather chairs with wheels and swivel seats. We had them Sunday night. But the decision has been made to replace them with period-correct wooden chairs. They take up less space (a premium when squeezing between the stenographer station and the defendant). But the back-seat director objects. And objects loudly. Too short, he says. Don't let us swivel dramatically. He finger measures the difference between the seats and where the table tops comes to our chests. Just won't let it go. Keep in mind, this is the guy who before now insisted on period realism. The director argues her case, before making an announcement that the complainer "has won," and we'll use the newer chairs.

The director assembles us together for notes and reminders. Then one of the tech folks asks for a minute to say something. She says that a while back, she left the board of the theatre because of a stream of emails she deemed destructive to the company. She says she eventually came back but sees this same thing happening again, with destructive conversations purposefully taking place in full view of the email chain. She says other people have spoken to her and made the same comments, and she wants it known that she doesn't like it and thinks such conversations should be handled differently.

The director doesn't take this well, and says that this is her lone opinion. When it's stated again that others have agreed quietly, the director says she doesn't recognize "phantom votes," and here we have the moment of decision: Do I say something or not? And I decide not to.

It feels like a capitulation. I'm not proud of it. I am obviously disappointed with the behavior I've seen, and I said as much when I interjected an email during the first argument chain. But this moment is not going well, and the director is not taking it well, and frankly, I want to do the damn play and go home. I make the joke often that theatre is no place for drama, and any new comment is fuel for the fire.

I don't have a dog in this hunt. I'm using the show to play layer in a courtroom, and I don't have an investment of subsequent protocols among the theatre folk. But we still have seven official runs of this show to go. I share a table with the back-seat director for the majority of the show, with a high-school girl sitting between us. And I decide that I won't put her physically in the middle of what I believe will become open bad blood. Maybe that's an excuse. But it calms me down from my deep-rooted instinct to shout profanities at the top of my lungs and blow off this play. If my wife wasn't connected to some of the actors, I might act more selfishly. I'll do my lines, I'll do my best, and I'll do no more with this gang.

But the director continues: She says older men have bullied her all her life and begins a litany of complaints against what she sees as the current antagonist. She also reveals he picked the play because he didn't like the other one. Remember, the initial courtroom play was announced months before and solicited for the auditions. It wasn't until I called for a script that the play switch was announced. So when in the process did he change the play, and what did that entail? Who did he have to convince to make this apparent last-minute change? He just sits and laughs while she says all this, and she calls him "a little emperor," and I'm watching two retirees acting like kids. Finally, the stage manager asks if we can move ahead to the play, and a chorus of agreement breaks out. And we slowly break up to our first-scene places.

We have a four-person practice jury tonight. As I address them, the director asks me to grandstand a bit more in the middle of the courtroom. There's some playing with the lights, and we run the act. During intermission, the young widow actress cries on my shoulder. Her mom had a heart scare earlier in the day, and the gal wants to be home with her. She's inconsolable, and after trying to calm her down and make her chuckle, I suggest she ask the director if she can go home. She's afraid the other actors will be angry with her, and the previous verbal tussle probably didn't help her nerves. I walk her to the director who hears her story and sends her home immediately. She only has about five lines for the rest of the play, and she attended rehearsals weeks before she was given a part with lines. This girl, she's got real drama to deal with, and I thankfully don't hear any grumbling over her absence. That would make me blow up at someone.

The rest of the play runs as usual. Some line trips, some movement awkwardness, some timing issues. But it feels a bit cleaner tonight. We had a night off, things should go smoother Wednesday night. The judge is thrown by the decision to forgo the dramatic blackouts to end the acts and return to the script. He's reading a little and reciting a little, and generally it sounds OK. He telegraphs the gavel banging a bit much and mistimes his responses. Me, I feel a little stiff in the suit, but the awe of the courtroom is gone. Now it's just a fancy room to move around.

The backseat director and I have a small moment in Act Three. His character stands up incensed by testimony from the stand, and I'm to stand up and quiet him. His character is temperamental and prone to inconvenient outbursts. The judge then gavels him down, and the testimony continues. But here's what happens: The judge jumps the gun and gavels before the guy can stand up. He stands up to object in character, says his line, and tells the judge about the gavel problems, out of character. I, meanwhile, have reacted as directed by the script and start the shushing. But he won't stop talking to the judge. I get louder. He goes on, and I growl -- there's no other word -- "HUSH." He subsides a bit, still mumbling as he sits down, but we continue the scene, which is most important, and for a good while he sits and mumbles profanities under his breath. I assume it's not at me. I've got work to do in this scene. I can't be distracted by him. And after a while, the scene is over and the play finished. Not guilty, by the way. Dammit.

The director runs us through a quick curtain call sequence, the capper to the rehearsal process. Traditionally, the last thing you learn and practice. But we don't run through it after it's choreographed. Some of these folks need the muscle memory, and I hope we don't look too slapdash Wednesday night when we try it for the first time. I have the easiest cue; the attorneys are the last to stand and bow. I intend to shake Doc's hand each night no matter who wins. He's worked hard for this play, and I think he deserves credit for the commute and commitment. I have the flashier role and that puts me comfortably in the position -- obliges me, even -- to be gracious to him for the journeyman effort.

The crew quickly packs up, and the director approves of my alternate ties and shirt. As I tell the wife how it went, she notes that apparently the same kind of armchair directing confrontation happened during the previous play. I recall that I was told it happened during the play before that. This, it seems, has become the norm. I don't see any comment I make changing that, and as I don't rely on this group for my theatre jones, don't have the initiative to make repairs. Let them bark at each other. I'll play in another sandbox.

Official play website

Extra Drama
Countdown: Three Rehearsals
Countdown: Four Rehearsals
Countdown: Five Rehearsals
Countdown: Six Rehearsals
Countdown: Seven Rehearsals
Clock is Ticking
My Big Speech
Punching a Cop Is Bad, Right?

Act Two Redux
Friday Through Sunday
Getting Serious
Our First Friday
Act Three Lines
Dusting Off Act One
Line Trouble
End of Second Week
'Go and Do Likewise, Gents'
Script Work
Walking and Talking
Marking the Floor


First Night
Second Night
Third Night
Fourth Night

Picture of the Day
An ape made from coat hangers.

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