Tuesday / May 28 / 2019
Written by Emma
T-minus one week until opening night! The auditorium was busy with excited chatter as the ensemble members gathered their costumes and props, working through jitters as they went. The mission for today was to power through the entire show. When we left off last week, we had made it about two thirds of the way through the show before we needed to stop and pack up. With two rehearsals left before show time, a full top-to-bottom run-through was a must! With all eyes on the prize, we formed a standing circle.
We had agreed last Friday as we wrapped up that we could all use a warm up before this evening’s rehearsal got going. And, working as we were with limited time, it needed to be quick! We decided on an exercise that involved us closing our eyes and counting from one to twenty as a group. The single rule to this “game” is that only one person can talk at a time. It sounds simple enough, but in practice it is quite challenging. We climbed our way up to fifteen a few times, then would falter and need to restart when two people called out a number at once. After a few minutes of this the group sensed it was time to move on. We collectively decided to ignore our mistakes and we finally made our way up to twenty. It’s little moments like this that I feel truly define this group—times when, without speaking, everyone seems to land on the best decision for us all. It’s an awesome, goose-bumpy feeling. We lowered the night’s ring and got down to business.
Actors got in place for 1.1 as I sat down in the front row with a script. I do not have an onstage role, and as such, I found myself in the lucky position of being the sole audience member. Over the past nine months I have seen this group work tirelessly towards this moment when things all come together for the first time. I was excited to see what they had up their sleeves, but, more than that, I was looking forward to seeing how the ensemble would channel those pre-show nerves.
The show opened a bit rocky, but instead of dwelling on it, our Viola quickly directed actors to reset from the top, and we started again. After that slight hiccup, the run took off! Absorbed as I was with what was happening onstage, my notes from this evening are scant. However, some highlights of this performance are as follows:
Frannie danced across the stage multiple times with a huge inflatable palm tree.
Our Antonio, who is by nature quite shy and reserved, spoke loudly and drew her (foam) sword with gusto to defend her dear Sebastian. It was such a large movement that I was taken aback! This was something she would not have done when she joined the ensemble, and it marks some huge jumps in comfort and ability. Hats off! (Oh, and by the way: there are twenty-four hats in this production. Twenty. Four.)
The Zannis were spectacular! They were joking around, interacting with the audience (of me, at the moment), and seemed far more comfortable doing their Three Stooge-ian shenanigans this run.
Having stepped into the role very late in the season, it was clear that our Olivia had invested hours in drilling her lines. She avoided using her script at all costs and pushed herself to remember as much as she could. The few times that she would forget, instead of faltering she would paraphrase what her line was supposed to convey while staying in character. This is an excellent practice for final performances.
With only a few minutes left, we were still making our way through 5.1. Part of our chaotic set includes a dozen emoji beach balls that need to be inflated and deflated every rehearsal. Still fully engrossed in the action downstage, Frannie (wearing a clown nose, of course) began deflating the emojis and setting them to the side to help speed packing along. The effect was hilarious—hopefully we won’t be that pressed on time during final performances, but it definitely added to the ambiance of insanity that defines 5.1.
After Feste sang the show’s final lines, everyone immediately snapped into action packing props and costumes. We powered through this task with great efficiency, taking a mere eleven minutes to get all elements of the show securely stored. It wasn’t until we finished that it hit us—we had run the entire show for the first time! A spectacular accomplishment. Onward to our final rehearsal—and performances!
Friday / May 31 / 2019
Written by Matt
Final dress rehearsal. Nerves and laser-focus. Emoji beach balls and inflatable palm trees. Let’s get this kaleidoscopic cesspool started!
We facilitators were a little bit late getting in today, but the rest of the ensemble had already started setting up: clearing the stage, laying the backdrops out, running lines, and doing everything else they could do without costumes and props. All of this prep work seemed to help us get in the right mindset, and we all got in costume in record time.
Our goal today was to speed through the play, so we were eager to translate our offstage energy into onstage urgency. The opening, however, was a little bit rough. The Captain lost her way on the lines, which threw Viola and the zannis off. My job is to page the curtain for Orsino at the top of the next scene, and I was about ready just to throw the curtain open and have Orsino blow everyone off the stage with her giant “IF MUSIC BE THE FOOD OF LOVE!!!!” Fortunately, the actors stumbled their way to a conclusion that conveyed the necessary information, the zannis dived under the curtain, and we were off to the races.
Orsino brought the energy back up with her speech, as she declaimed her thoughts on love and music and everything else to the ceiling of the theatre. Maria, who was taking notes in the house, wrote that she was “very Gaston from Beauty and the Beast,” which is PERFECT!
Act I scene iii is our rock. Sirs Toby and Andrew have such good chemistry and are so reliably funny and energetic that the scene really serves as a hard reset for the whole show. Our Sir Andrew, in particular, has a genius for comedic timing and physical acting that would not be out of place on a professional stage--and her absolute commitment to the process and the role means that, whatever else is going on, we can rely on her completely. Our Toby fully inhabits her role, giving Andrew so much to work with. Add to that equation our Maria, fresh off a carefully choreographed quick change (she, of course, also plays Orsino), and you’ve got one of the most consistently funny scenes in the whole play. The scene’s tempo sets the pace for the rest of the play, since the other opening scenes are such little oddities, more useful for setting up the play’s plot than anything else.
Perhaps we got a little bit too much energy from the scene, because we jumped into Act I scene v before scene iv was properly finished. This may have had something to do with the fact that Frannie, the zannis, and I were audibly playing with beach balls backstage…
All the playing with beach balls was really about a hastily concocted plan to cover Orsino/Maria’s quick-change by playing baseball--the zannis and I would pitch beach balls to Frannie, who was supposed to bat them with the palm tree. Without telling Frannie, I plotted with the zannis to throw a couple of pitches and then bombard her with beach balls. In practice, that turned into an instantaneous barrage of beach balls which was probably ill-advised and unnecessary (we’ll iron it out for next week), but also showed some of the zannis’ playful energy. They have finally come fully out of their shells! We may actually need to rein them in a little bit...
Our Malvolio had a bit of a rocky start, missing a couple of entrances (covered brilliantly by Maria, Olivia, and Viola, but she really showed up for Act II scene v. This scene is difficult--it is, from Malvolio’s perspective, a very lengthy soliloquy, but with the added difficulty of interruptions by other characters throughout--and it it also crucial to telling the story of the play. And it is among the funniest scenes in Shakespeare. No pressure… but our Malvolio brought the scene to life! This is a huge victory for a woman who has struggled with anxiety in general, and about this scene in particular. Something about doing this scene with such urgency (and to such hilarious effect!) propelled Malvolio through the rest of the play, and challenged all of us to up our game.
Our Olivia, who (I have to keep reminding myself) is still brand new to the role, shone throughout. Her lines are many and come quickly, and she is already in command of them as if she had been playing that role from the beginning. Our Viola, a veteran who no longer struggles with the language but often struggles with memorization, was as close to off-book as I’ve ever seen her, which freed her up to give a subtle, affecting performance, especially of her serious speeches. The urgency of the speed-through gave her the push she needed to nail those lines! And our Antonio had a great day! Her show-stopping “Put up your swords!” exploded out of her and was genuinely surprising. Given how shy and inhibited this actor has been, this represents a major victory. No wonder she came backstage with a huge grin on her face after the scene!
A special word should be reserved for our Maria/Orsino. Her work on both roles is full of subtlety and attention to detail. As she has settled into them--and especially after the addition of the costumes--the two roles have continued to diverge. Her Orsino comes with his own array of facial expressions, vocal tics, and body language that are utterly different from Maria’s. Watching her, with every rehearsal, instinctually discover a few new line readings and gestures for each character, then lock them into place for the next run--it has been a master-class. Everything from the angle of her hat to the color and size of the feather duster she uses in each scene is attended to, but her performance never feels over-rehearsed or stale. The result is that she has become the core of our ensemble simply by doing the work with outsized integrity, dedication, and work ethic.
The run fell apart during the final scene, which was plagued by missed entrances and flubbed cues. Still, tonight’s run shaved a good ten minutes off of Tuesday’s, and we are in a good position for next week. After a chaotic and often frustrating season, it was gratifying to see this ensemble come together so completely. We put up the ring (and celebrated one parole-bound ensemble member’s final rehearsal with SIP!), and the positive energy felt palpable as we sent it up to the flyspace.