All plays start this way, with table work. It’s a necessary building block to discuss the plot, conflicts, and arc of a play before adding movement and blocking—or how the director places actors onstage, often to create stage pictures. A full-production is in rehearsal a standard six weeks. We had five days so tonight was “it” for our table work time. We had to get the script on its feet by Tuesday if we were going to be ready for an audience and Saturday’s performance.
The director, Donna, also sews and does needlepoint. (Talent often works like that: the more talent you may, the more talents you have.) So, I’d borrowed a ball of string from her for a table exercise, an ice breaker that would give the group a chance to relax, while getting to know one another, but it also revealed the character work that the actors had done on their own time.
“When I throw you the string, tell me something about your character in relation to others in the play, what you know about a certain relationship.” One by one, Liberty, Adrienne, Judy, Peggy, and Dennis talked about how their characters--LESLIE (DAWN), DEBORAH, MADGE, CHRISTINE, and CURTIS--got along. Each held onto the string and then passed it to another character. After our first go around, it was easy to see how entangled the string was. “That’s how intertwined these characters’ lives are. It’s a messy web. And we’re one big, unhappy family!”
Then, since we were warmed up, we read through the entire play without interruption. (We didn’t have a full cast present so we had volunteers that were there for the salon read, and I read stage directions.)
Afterwards, we discussed what GLIDERS was about, using the givens. –Givens are the details stated in a play through dialogue or exposition. They’re facts about a character’s backstory, the setting, or the nature of relationships, but there are still spaces and gray areas where actors can—and should—fill in the blanks, gaps left to an actor’s imagination. Sometimes this interpretation is evidenced in the way a line is read or mannerisms that seem to spring naturally from a character.
Another way an actor conveys choice is through the words they emphasize or key. This was particularly helpful for me, as the playwright, because it let me see how clearly I’d written the dialogue and used it to nail down those familial relationships. Questions on passages from Donna, the actors, and even our salon spectators also pointed out areas or lines that may need clarification. (Luckily, there were only three sentences I had to change throughout the entire process.)
After the cast was released for the night, Donna and I went back to her house where I stayed for the week. We sat, downloading the night’s events, on her back porch where we could count on a constant, cooling breeze. We laughed, strategized, corrected, and plotted out the next day’s rehearsal. What I didn’t know that first night was that this would become our pattern, and that one-on-one time with my director became one of my favorite things about this theater week and my time in Cincinnati. Donna and I were on the same page with the play’s desired impact and our vision for what could be accomplished and how.