Saturday, September 25, 2010

Week 1: Entry 1: Creating a Safe Rehearsal Space
The key to creative freedom in a rehearsal room for me is undoubtedly a spirit of fun, collaboration and openness. Our director, Miles Anderson’s opening gambit on Monday September 13 was to express his desire that we should all have fun. The minute the process ceased to be fun for any of us, then the time had come to quit - or at least express that loss of fun.

What does it mean - to have fun in a rehearsal room?

For me as an actor I have to know that I can trust everyone in the room to respect what I’m doing. I don’t mean that in any supercilious, precious way. I simply mean that if I’m expected to be vulnerable in the rehearsal room, then I need to know that no one in that room is going to ridicule or deride the offerings I dare to make.

With a one-person show, the level of vulnerability is particularly high. There’s no one to turn to on stage except myself. I’m very lucky in this situation because the rehearsal room is a very familiar space to me - it’s the blackbox Arena theatre in the Department of Theatre and Dance at UC Davis. I teach actor-training in here, so I know it as a laboratory space. Also, there are only four of us in the rehearsal room: Miles (the director, whom I’ve known for 5 years and with whom I’ve worked as an actor); Reed Wagner (the Stage Manager and Miles’s chosen Assistant Director) and Sabba Rahbar (the Assistant Stage Manager). I asked Reed to be involved in this production as I’d seen him in action a year ago, as the Stage Manager in Sideshow’s previous production - Elephant’s Graveyard. Reed is a student majoring in Dramatic Art, and last year - at a mere 19 years of age - he had impressed me hugely with his ability to take an authoritative position with fellow undergraduates, graduates and faculty. His courtesy and maturity were striking. As Miles got to know Reed in our early production sessions, he was impressed by Reed’s insights into the script, and so Miles asked him to be his Assistant Director, as well as the Stage Manager, thereby giving him a double investment in the production’s growth. I was delighted.

I’ve known Sabba Rahbar since her stage managerial involvement in a production of The Seagull in March of this year. She is also actively involved in the student theatre group, Studio 301. Sabba is another Drama Major whose intelligence and reliability belie her youth. Not only is she a rock-solid production member, she also has great insights into the material of Tilly No-Body.

So what a treat! To have 3 wonderful, creative and mature people in the rehearsal room. The need for a safe space is made all the more important by the fact that I’m faculty and two of them are students: it’s quite a vulnerable position in an educational institution to really try and practise what you preach. I’m the Professor of Acting: I need to show that I’m a decent actor, or my whole credibility is questioned. Also Tilly No-Body is tricky material - it involves someone having a nervous breakdown, it involves someone attempting suicide, it involves someone trying to be talented and sexy and inspirational to her husband, Frank Wedekind. It’s delicate terrain. All the more important that - as I squirm around on the floor having pretended to just take poison, or I cavort on top of a costume trunk attempting to lure my imaginary husband - the people in the rehearsal room don’t find this either deeply embarrassing or just plain funny! At the end of Week 1 of rehearsals, I’m feeling pretty okay! Thanks, team!

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