Sunday, January 31, 2010

Tech and Preview #1

After a very productive tech week we had our first preview last night. It went very well. But it seems that the first preview is the hardest... the biggest hurdle to clear. Taking something that everyone has been working on in such a personal and intimate way and then all of a sudden adding an audience. Actually seemed like a bit of a shock. I walked into the house ten minutes before showtime and my first thought was "what are all these people doing here?" That being said it did go very well. It turns into this whole other thing when you add an audience. The energy of the people watching it can completely change the dynamic of a scene, make you see things in a different light, and can even transform the meaning of a line that you've heard a million times before.

In a very different way, the addition of tech into the rehearsals also had a similar effect. The addition of sound and light design actually made it real in some way. Like I finally realized we were actually doing it... It also made me reconsider the play. Everything seemed fresh again. Like I hadn't heard that scene a million times. Everything was made new again, and fuller, more of complete package. Watching the actors play with the light and sound was also really interesting to watch. Watching them integrate those production aspects into their performances and using them to help them define beats or certain shifts within scenes. It's this detailed work that I find so satisfying to observe because the benefits to the overall coherence of the show are huge.

But I also have no idea how they do it. I got up on stage to do some light walking for Rebecca and navigating the stage with the lights in my eyes seemed an impossible task. To manage that and give a connected performance? A mindblowing feat. I'm a bit in awe actually.

- Courtney Walker, assistant director

"We must be careful about what we pretend to be." - Kurt Vonnegut

George F. Walker in The Star

Read Richard Ouzounian's piece in the Toronto Star about George F. Walker and the world premiere of And So It Goes.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Finding Karen

While discovering a character is a unique and challenging process for every actor, discovering a character whose brain doesn't work in the same as everyone else's presents a whole new set of choices to make and roads to travel. It has been a fascinating to watch Jenny Young and her fellow performers discover the character of Karen, a young woman with schizophrenia. While this character's disease is by no means the only aspect of her humanity that we encounter, it is a huge part of not only her character but the substance of the play.

So this means that her voice, her physical world, the way she interacts with others are all things that the actor has had to find with the reality of her disease in mind. How far should this go? Does it pervade her every interaction, or do certain things and people trigger it? This has also affected the choices of the other actors, particularly Martha and Peter, who are playing her parents. What are their individual relationships with her and her disease? Do these different relationships with her affect their relationships with each other?

These are a lot of questions, yes. But I would feel silly writing anything that seemed like an answer. This is such a complex yet organic process and it is just truly remarkable to watch these characters take shape throughout the rehearsal process, especially given the extra dimension that needs to be layered into Karen's character.

Watching TV last week I came across the HBO documentary "Diagnosing Bipolar: Five Families Search for Answers," and the interviews with the parents of the affected children struck me as so resonant with the characters of Gwen and Ned, Karen's parents. The one thing that every single parent said is something that both Gwen and Ned say in the play; that they would do anything they possibly could to make life just a little bit easier for their child. Such a basic desire to protect your child, and in many ways that's one of the central conflicts of the play. Gwen and Ned want to make everything better for Karen, and they simply can't.

- Courtney Walker, assistant director

"Many people need desperately to receive this message: 'I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people do not care about them. You are not alone.'" - Kurt Vonnegut

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"And she felt things. Did she ever."

The set was loaded in today. A very exciting thing indeed, to see what you've been staring at for weeks in model form get writ large on the stage. It will be even more exciting to watch the actors play on the set. Shawn has captured the essence of the show in such a simple and elegant way... it's all just so... right. The actors have also been having their costume fittings, which, I must admit, is always one of my favourite parts of this whole process. I love how details of the characters come out in the costuming with all the careful deliberate choices made by the designer. And not only this but somehow all these unique aesthetics come together and create a unified energy for the entire show. Amazing stuff, I know.

- Courtney Walker, assistant director

"All persons, living and dead, are purely coincidental." - Kurt Vonnegut

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Day Four.

So day four draws to a close and I am horrified to realize/remember that we are almost one third through our rehearsal process. Horrified but also enthralled. And maybe a bit sad that it's flying by so fast.
The actors in this show are just spectacular. Each of them creates a completely different energy when they step on stage and in some magical and incredibly compelling way these energies come together to create something very unique and constantly surprising.

We did very little (read: none) table work aside from the reading. George had the actors on their feet twenty minutes after the room had cleared from the reading. There is plenty of discussion happening in rehearsal, but it is coming from a wholly organic place as the actors begin to develop the relationships and physical worlds of their characters. There was no sitting around analyzing the text line by line (truthfully there's no time) but rather we have jumped into a constant process of physical and emotional discovery as the actors figure out who these characters are and how they fit into the physical world of the play.

Another testament to the talent of our cast... end of day four and they're all getting off book very, very quickly. It's so interesting to watch an actor learn their lines. That moment when they're trying to remember a line and you can see that they see the words on the page but are just having trouble bringing them into sharp focus. You can almost see their brain outside their body; vibrating, spinning around, so incredibly engaged and active that you worry they might blow some essential cognitive fuse.

That's what's most thrilling about this whole process to me; the mistakes, the stutters, the false starts and all the wonderful things that get discovered in those moments, whether it's realizing that the character actually should be laughing at that moment too, or that both of them saying that at the same time is delightful and poignant. I suppose that's what's essentially thrilling about theatre itself. You are watching real live bodies in front of you, real flawed humans capable of mistakes and misfirings. And so what comes out in performance is even more compelling because of that potential... terror.

Maybe tomorrow I'll post some more about the show. As opposed to my philosophical views on the theatrical arts. Speaking of which:

"Literature should not disappear up its own asshole, so to speak." - Kurt Vonnegut

- Courtney Walker, assistant director

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Follow And So it Goes on Twitter!

Well who said Twitter was only for telling people what you had for breakfast? Follow And So it Goes on Twitter for rehearsal pictures, quotable moments, missives from the brink of insanity, and all the rest.

And So it Goes...

Monday started with a reading of the play. George said "How funny that the first time we hear this thing out loud is actually our first performance as well... how nice for the actors as well."

It did seem rather strange though, the actors reading together for the first time surrounded by a ring of people. Sitting in that ring listening to it I realized that this is a very still, very intimate play. It's very funny but it's also devastatingly sad. To find that balance will be so important as we get the play on its feet. So too will be remembering that those things... funny and sad... are not mutually exclusive... remembering that in fact they live in exactly the same place within us.

But of course we had things to talk about after the reading. First and foremost why is god's name do we only have three weeks of rehearsal including tech. Well a few days ago George said something to me about preferring terror over complacency when it comes to this piece. He would rather the actors be a little scared than bored. I'm trying to convince myself that this makes sense and I'm sure the actors are attempting to do the same. We had to talk about mental illness... to say that this is a play "about" schizophrenia makes it sound like something it's not. But it's there and so we talked about it. Working on "This is Wonderland" for three years plus countless more in research, George has seen the way the most vulnerable members of our society so easily slip through the cracks of the justice system, the way putting these sick people in jail is like trying to fit a round peg in a square hole... something that I'm sure will be in our minds as we continue the rehearsal process.

We also talked about Vonnegut... who he is and why he's in this play. My attachment to him and what he means to me personally as a writer and more importantly just as a human being who lived on the same planet as me is too embarrassing to make a matter of public record (although I kind of already did...) so for now I'll try to keep it in the context of And So It Goes. Going back to things being funny... well no matter how awful things got for him and the world in general (and they got pretty bad... think the bombing of Dresden) Vonnegut was always able to see that most of it was also hysterically funny. And I suppose that's what he's doing in this play. Because as one of the characters says "Bad things happen." And they do... but we're laughing a lot in the rehearsals for a play that makes me cry every time I read it.
- Courtney Walker, assistant director

"Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind." - Kurt Vonnegut