The Framework for Artistry

improvisation kandinskyLast night was the table read of Boeing Boeing. I love these actors. They brought such finesse to the roles! They had done their preparation, so for tonight’s rehearsal we could go straight to figuring out what to do. This farce requires specific choreography, and it is a little mind-boggling. I had made charts and drawings and used game board pieces as characters – checking to see if the sight lines would allow us to time those simultaneous entrances and exits.

But it all feels different in a taped-off rehearsal room. Still, we had the furniture, and that’s the main thing. I flounced around from chair to chaise, making large, then small, adjustments to end tables and arrangements.

Good enough. We can adjust as we go. I decided we’d first map out the large shape of the movement, so that we could narrow in on the specific beats in future rehearsals. I wasn’t sure if that was the best approach, but it felt right to me. These actors, and my assistant director, were game, and so good at it.

We worked through most of the play, making rough blocking choices, building in the entrances and exits essential to the play. We adjusted our playing to the furniture and space. We worked as a company, moving through a beat, discussing how it worked. Sometimes I’d offer alternative choices, sometimes the ones they originally made were perfect. We cracked up a lot.

We made notations of our choices, and moved on.–for three hours, with one break. When it was over, we were a little amazed. We’d made a large number of fairly good choices, together. We sketched out the playing field.

Afterwards, Jeffrey said he’d never had a first night of rehearsal that accomplished so much.

Alexandra said, “You’d usually spend the first two weeks working on what a farce is.

If we have a sense of what we’re doing, we avoid the risk of being talking heads. We need to be doing things, and saying things to each other while we do things. It’s the doing, not the saying.

Driving home, I imagined that I felt the way a traffic cop did when she got off duty. A traffic cop has to be constantly mindful–she manages movement, maintains order, and enforces the rules–not really what I imagined a great director does. But as I thought about it, I realized that until I’ve done the job of traffic cop, we won’t have the security it takes to develop the individual bits of business. By creating the basic framework, we give ourselves the freedom to exercise our artistry.

Improvisation now has room to flourish.

I’m very pleased with the first night.


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