Rehearsals and other complicated things

Have realised, over the past week - as I realise every time I'm involved with a new play - just how poorly understood is the process of developing and rehearsing a play, especially a new play.
This was brought home to me a few years ago, when I happened to be talking to a young performance student who clearly couldn't understand why she was being asked to analyse texts, when all she wanted to do was - well - perform. It was obvious that, having come from an amateur dramatic background, she seemed to think that professional performance involved being told where to stand and where to go, while learning the lines and making them sound natural. Similarly, somebody just asked me if rehearsals involved me 'making sure that the actor said the lines the way you want them said.'
Well, there is, of course, a sense in which all these things are true. Playwright David Mamet, famously, only asks of his actors that they read the lines the way they are written. But he IS David Mamet! There is also a sense in which all these things are only the tip of a much more difficult, but much more interesting iceberg. It is impossible to underestimate just how much rehearsal time (and pre-rehearsal time, with whoever is directing the play) is spent in analysing the script, discussing what it means, who these characters are, why they speak and behave the way they do - and what are the complex emotions underlying the words on the page. If director and actors bring a fine emotional intelligence to the project, the whole experience can be truly rewarding. But however rewarding, the process is never simple or easy, for any of those involved.


Bill Kirton said…
Such a familiar experience, Catherine. I think playwrights who INSIST on their lines being spoken exactly as written (even if they're Mamet or - intake of breath - Beckett) are depriving their scripts of potential growth. I don't mean one should be cavalier with the words - of course not - but tweaks, contractions, the odd colloquialism and so on can add to an actor's understanding and performance.

So many personal anecdotes swim into my head as I write this that I think I should maybe write a blog about it myself, but as a general point, I've always found the rehearsal process (as writer, director and/or actor) to be the most fascinating part of the experience. All those involved learn more about the play and one another as it grows. In a way, the actual performance before an audience is a necessary evil.
Definitely agree, Bill. About the performance as well. Although even that changes with the audience, doesn't it? Some audiences are wonderful and some are 'sticky' and it influences the actors and the way the whole play goes. I always think of this when kids have to read play texts at school but aren't taken to see the play. It's like studying the score of a symphony, but never being allowed to listen to the music. The most important part of the whole experience is missing. Be interested to read your take on it all!