This final week of dress rehearsal saw some of the calmest and most empathic collaboration that I have witnessed in the past five years of being in this ensemble.
We had a couple of unexpected absences and early departures on Tuesday, and both the ensemble members and the facilitators threw ourselves into quick thinking to fill the gaps so the play could keep moving. We are getting more solid on the logistics of costumes, props, and scene transitions, so we were able to cut time off of our run again, although we didn’t quite finish the play. I encouraged the group not to stress out – that continuing to cut time is a very good thing, and that, now that our transitions have sped up, we can focus on picking up the pace in our line delivery and responses to one another. I continued to push the idea that as long as we can make it from beginning to end, we will have done our jobs. I asked if everyone would be in favor of doing a “speed through” on Friday, and we all agreed that that was a good idea.
On Thursday, I got word from our staff partner at the prison that our Anne had begun her suspension of activities due to the infraction she committed last week, so I buckled down to make sure I knew her lines and was ready to fill in for her.
We began Friday’s meeting setting up quickly, determined that we would get through to the end of the play. People ran lines and helped each other with costumes as we got going. Our Margaret is also the “curtain queen,” and, as she organized her script and the curtain plot, seemed stressed. I asked her if she was okay, and she said that she’d had an emotional few days and couldn’t seem to shake it. I encouraged her to do what we all do – to give herself over to rehearsal’s tendency to require total presence and commitment, which provides a welcome distraction from anything else going on in our lives. “You might not have as much fun as usual, but at least your focus will be here and not there,” I said. “That’s what I’m hoping for,” she replied.
We dove into our run, and we were excited by the fact that, from the first moments, our Richard greatly sped up her delivery, setting the tone for the rest of us to match her energy. We gently reminded each other as we went to “pick up the pace” and “go faster – faster!” with many ensemble members who don’t normally side-coach joining in with a smile.
Our Clarence, who up until just a few months ago was too afraid to get up on stage, surprised all of us by going on for her second scene without a script. As the scene progressed, she started to go up on her lines. She couldn’t her our “curtain queen” cuing her, so I knelt just off stage and fed her her lines. She skipped ahead a few times, but the others on stage rolled with it, clearly not frustrated and just adapting as they went. When she came off stage, she was completely red in the face, collapsed in a chair and burst into tears.
A couple of ensemble members and I went to her immediately. “Tell me what’s going on,” I said. “That sucked. I forgot all my lines. I suck,” she said. “That did not suck. You do not suck,” I said gently but firmly. “It didn’t go the way you wanted, and it wasn’t perfect. It’s completely okay to be upset about it, but I don’t want you to think for a second that that sucked.” One of the ensemble members said, “Really, you did great.” “For real,” I said, “That was amazing. You were so scared to get on stage until just recently, and tonight you went on stage without a script – which is scary – and you did what all actors, even professionals, do when they go off book for the first time – you forgot a bunch of your lines. We all do it.” “I just feel like I failed everyone,” she said. “Absolutely not,” I said. “Have you noticed that every single one of us is forgetting lines? And we’ll all do it in performance, too. Not a single person is going to be perfect. And none of us are expecting you to be perfect, either. Plus, when you skip lines, you cut time off the play, so you’ve done us all a favor!” She started to calm down. “What you just did was not a failure. You got from the beginning to the end of the scene. When it started to go off the rails, you didn’t give up or have a meltdown on stage. You kept going, and you got all the major plot points out. That’s all you need to do. You entered, you kept the play going, and you exited. That’s not a failure. That’s a victory.” By then she was much calmer – no tears, and most of the redness gone from her face. “I know that wasn’t what you wanted,” I said, “But do you feel a little better now?” She said that she did. She then launched into the rest of the play, in which she plays a couple of other characters, with great gusto and a new level of energy. It was thrilling.
We moved through the play at about the pace we want, but as we got close to the end, it was apparent that we hadn’t gone quite fast enough. When our Richmond got to her “oratory to the soldiers,” she took a breath, raised her fist in the air, and simply yelled, “Let’s go to war!” She exited, looked at me, shrugged, smiled, and said, “We don’t have time for that shit.” I laughed, saying, “We don’t. That was amazing. Great decision.”
As our Richard raced through her lines, people started to pack up, including our Richmond. “No!” I said, “Do the fight! End the play!” “There’s no time!” she said. “There is!” I said, “Just fight fast!”
We did get to the end, when she made another great decision. Instead of giving her final lines and speech, she simply raised her sword in the air and shouted, “The bloody dog is dead!”
We cheered as we packed our things, agreeing to continue to run our lines (for a couple of scenes in particular), and getting excited to begin performances on Tuesday.