My scene partner and I rehearsed outside of class. Rachel’s 24 or so and earning her doctorate in geophysics. She hails from the Upper West Side in New York where she’d done theatre in high school. She also has a boyfriend, something she made clear about 30 seconds into our first meeting. And she kept bringing him up when we weren’t working on the scene. So I talked about my wife. A lot. So there.
To be fair, it’s awkward to have to engage with a near stranger in an intimate way. Our scene wasn’t a love scene, but no matter what the scene’s about, your partner is the target of your attention. The concentration which you put on that person is, or should be, high voltage. Higher wattage than daily life calls for. So, you do feel a certain inhibition. But it’s exactly this constraint that you have to blast through.
Drama, after all, is not daily life.
When we weren’t talking about wives and boyfriends, the rehearsals went well. The scene itself is juicy. My character, a master manipulator and tough businessman, intends to blow off a seemingly neurotically incapacitated woman. She still wants to date him, though. The problem is, he slept with her on their first date. She took it seriously. He didn’t. So, it seems as if things are going his way, and then she turns the tables on him. His only recourse is retreat.
Rachel worked hard, and had a fine competitive edge to her. Without saying it, we could both tell we wanted to be the best in the class. Because our scene takes place in a cafe, I suggested we do it in a real cafe. This, I thought, would give us some useful images and sensations that we could draw upon. Just the mention of the idea freaked her out, so I let it drop. (I’ll make my actors do something like this though on my next show -- it should generate some real life images to draw on.)
Our rehearsals were really repetitions. I heard a director once say that rehearsal in English is imprecise. In German, the word is “probieren” -- that is, to test, to try, to experiment. In French, it’s répéter -- to repeat. The director noted that to rehearse should involve both activities, exploration and repetition.
We strictly worked the répéter side of the street. Mainly, I wanted to get over the barriers of integrating the newly memorized text with the action of the scene.
As I said, Rachel worked hard. She’s also a bit shy, so it was much easier to run the scene than to make conversation. So, no wasted time. Again, I would feel lost, then connected to the line of the scene. But even during simple run throughs, you could feel the rise and fall of the scene, driven by its language.
We ended. We felt ready for class, and ready for the inevitable questions that Teacher would put to us.
What I learned:
Rehearsal should be more than repetition. It should involve testing, trying stuff out, and mixing things up.