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Thursday, March 21, 2013

REHEARSAL NUMBER 2: Bobby Offers Advice to Community Theater Directors


Greetings and salutations everyone.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and I would like to welcome you to Theater is a Sport, a blog run by me, Bobby Keniston, a realtively young man who has been obsessed with theater my entire life.  If you are a student actor, a playwright, a community theater junkie, or a plain old drama geek, you have come to the right place.  As Shel Silverstein might say, "Come in.  We have some tales to spin.  Come in.  Come in."

At this moment, aside from listening to the Magnetic Fields sing 69 love songs, I am sitting at my computer hoping to relay a little bit of advice to community theater directors about what to do at your second rehearsal.  A good while back, I wrote a post about the importance of a read-through and table work in general, and, assuming you agree, it is now time to talk about the first rehearsal away from the table. 

First of all, don't get me wrong--- there are some plays of complex themes and language that may require more than just a single rehearsal of table work.  If you are directing that sort of play, then, by all means, stay at the table if you must.  However, in my experience, I have found that the sooner the actors are up and moving around finding their characters in their voices and bodies, the better.  Clearly movement is very important on stage, and there is no time like the present to have your actors begin to start to feel things in their frames, renting out their bodies to their characters. 

Remember as I move forward that I am talking about community theater here.  The advice I am about to present is intended for amateur productions, where most of my experience as a director exists.  What I will present is also applicable to school theater, where I also have done a great deal of work.

When I direct community theater, which is composed of very game, often talented, but by and large untrained actors, I like to treat early rehearsals as almost an introduction to acting class.  In fact, I had an actor from one of my community theater productions tell me (in a positive tone) that after working with me, he felt like he deserved credit for basic acting college course.  WhileI don't know if that is true (although this young gentleman did learn a lot and grow exponentially), I do think education is part of being a community theater director (obviously it is the most important part of being a school director).

This is why, following the table work, I like to devote at least two, maybe more, rehearsals to character work.  Guiding the actors into finding their characters physicalities, voices, motivations, etc.  I like to start with brief physical warm-ups (including some voice stuff), and then move into what I call "The Movie Poster Exercise". 

The Movie Poster Exercise works very well with students, but is also appropriate for community theaters as well.  Have the actors close their eyes and focus on their breathing (they should be standing).  Pay attention to actors' breathing at this early stage, making sure they utilize dropping their breath into their middle (or diaphragm, as it is called).  Right from the start, make sure to encourage this type of breathing, as it will save you time later when dealing with vocal projection...

But I digress.

So, with their eyes closed, tell your actors to imagine their characters in their minds as if their characters were the stars of their own movies, and to picture how they would look as the hero on their own movie poster.   Assure your cast that the character need not look like them (one day they will have to look like them, but that's later).  Tell them to focus on how their character is standing, what body part do they seem to be leading with or exaggerating, what expression is on their face, how is their posture, etc.  Have them get a clear picture of this in their heads.  Then, and this is why their eyes are closed (so they won't feel silly or shy), have them slowly start to bring this posture into their own bodies.  Have them mimic their characters' movie posters with their own bodies.  Then, as they all seem confident, have them exaggerate it (use the idea of levels 1-10, and make them show this posture at an exaggerated 10, and then mess with different levels).  

Once you are through with this, have them drop it and return their bodies to neutral and open their eyes.  Now, I have found, is a good time to have them walk throuh the space, milling and seething as it is called.... have them start nomally, then play with the speeds (double speed, triple speed, half speed), making sure they do not bump into each other.  After a bit of having them walk as themselves, encourage them to start thinking of their characters' movie poster and start bringing that posture into how they walk.  Have them walk as their characters in a variety of different speeds.  After this exercise where everyone is doing it together, you might want to have people shar some things individually, point out where their character appears to be "leading from" and whether or not it is their intetion.  This is a great way to start having your actors creatively begin to "own" their characters, which is what every director should want.  Remember, you are their to guide and get a vision across, but it is very important to allow your actors to feel creative and to build their characters (if there is something that you feel is completely wrong, of course you will have to steer them in a different direction).  But this rehearsal should be a kind of productive play (after all, it is called a "play" for a reason).  This is all very fun, but it is also all very much a kind of work, too.  

In fact, the very foundation of work that everything else will build from.

In future posts I will happily be talking about character's voices, using improvisation in rehearsals, and all kinds of other stuff.  Thank you for tuning in tonight.

Until next time, feel free to check out the links below and remember--- theater is a sport.

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