Letters to Holly

Friday, May 8

First Rehearsal

Yep, I'm taking Your Sis to the prom. At lunchtime yesterday, I rented my first tux for the first time in least five years. I last rented one for Esther's wedding. She had everything waiting for me at the Florida mall; I only had to show up and try it on. I got married in the suit Your Parents bought me ("the birthday suit"). When I took Your Sister to previous proms, I wore my tux, a hand-me-down from a kind mister possibly ten years back. This will be the first chance I'll have to wear the typewriter-key cufflinks Your Sister got me not long after we married.

Men don't have as much need to get measured for clothing. Most dress clothes are labeled for neck and sleeve sizes, and there's no chest measurement. I was measured by the clerk lady, and I sneaked a peak at her listing to see if all this running has paid off. It has. I might get a size smaller jacket just to show off a bit. I mean, I'm arm candy for Your Sister. I need to style and profile.

Within two days, I rented a tiller and a tuxedo. I'm living a country song.

+ + +

I was eager all day to start rehearsal. I love this short schedule. Rehearsal is usually fearsome; rarely does it feel like enough time to memorize lines and blocking. After last night, we have perhaps five more rehearsals. Six if I think we need it. Because I blocked beforehand, I don't have to worry about crafting that on site. I can steer as they read their lines. I'm writing less in my script than I do when I act. This feels like doing half a play. Technically, I suppose it is. I would do a radio show in a heartbeat.

I set up our set before the actors arrive. Please ignore the casting couch. We're not using it in our performance.

The table and chairs are for our dinner set. The wooden platform on the left is our cabinet for the phone and knickknacks. On either side of the table are two offstage chairs where the actors will be when they're not in the scene. I don't have the actual performance dimensions yet, but I'd rather practice on a larger scale and perform on a smaller stage than the reverse.Adjusting to a larger set will extend the play's time and kill the delivery of lines.

As soon as they arrived, I handed out the new script binders. The actors had trouble flipping the pages during the rehearsal, and they dogeared the pages to make that easier. I wanted to block the entire play tonight, and I knew that was potentially a tall order. I got us started as soon as they arrived. I told them where to initially move, watched them stand, and then moved them to the next spot after they said that movement line.

Because they had all done shows before, they had the right instincts for movement. I corrected them only when I needed them to go somewhere else. But they knew when to sit and stand for line emphasis, on the whole. I hadn't done this in an officially official capacity before; the high-school play shouldn't count, really.

It is exasperating. I felt that stereotypical director frustration as I told them movement and was answered with a "how about this" or "what if I that." No no no, my children. Listen to me. Go there. Say your line. Go over there. Say your line. This will work trust me. And generally that was OK.

But the actors repeatedly questioned the prop philosophy. Why couldn't we hang up a real banner, they asked. I told them:
1) It would be too heavy for the actor to bring onstage with everything else the script wants her to carry and her script;
2) I don't think we'll have a wall to hang the banner on at the performance space;
3) I don't want it.

Another actor wanted to have stiletto heels in hand when she enters. Her character comments on these shoes. She said the audience would be distracted if she didn't actually wear them. I noted that we're pantomiming props and ignoring virtually all the other costuming notes. She suggested she carry in a pair of shoes. Fine, I answered. If you want to carry them, and your script. That's how I handled some questions about props: You can if you want to, but remember, you'll have a script in hand.

Another question concerned a birthday cake. Why do we not remove it from the box and set it on the table? First, since it's never sliced or eaten or even seen in the script, why bother with one? Second, the party moves straight to presents because the mother doesn't care about the cake. Third, what we have in the cake box may only be a styrofoam prop. The cake makes for a visual gag in the last line, but no one sees the cake.

What I'd love to do is end the play, give the cast their curtain bow, and have one actor slice off a piece of the heretofore unseen cake and take it to the playwright. For that, yes, we'd need a real cake. And I volunteered to make one. One actress immediately said "marry me."

Ultimately, I explained that we'll start off these rehearsals with no props and build up our props as we (I) decide they need to be seen. We know here are certain props we'll have in hand: a walker, a bike horn, paperware, a cake box. But if the prop isn't necessary to hold and carry, we'll pretend. This is simplified theatre. This is selective depiction.

When we finished the blocking -- to my happy surprise -- we all volunteered to bring in certain props for the next rehearsal. I sent them home at 8:30 as I promised. It was mentally tough for all of us, and I thanked them repeatedly and congratulated them for plowing through 40 pages in 90 minutes. That's not shabby. I suspect this will be our hardest rehearsal. I told them, finally, that if we don't have a prop in our final rehearsal, we won't use it in the play. I will not saddle them with last-minute adjustment.

This weekend, I'll do some prop shopping.

+ + +

Because the US and Russia cut back on nuclear production after the end of the Cold War, NASA is almost out of fuel for deep-space probes.

The National Academy report says it would cost the Energy Department at least $150 million to resume making it for the 11 pounds a year that NASA needs for its space probes.

If it was simply a matter of propulsion, they could navigate the solar system to make planetary slingshots. The trip will take a long time -- a very, very, "holy-crap-that's-a" long time -- but it would be cheap. But the plutonium makes the transmitter, receivers, cameras, and scanners function.

Also, a new notion says we might find plant life on Europa.

No comments: