Archive for the ‘Rehearsal’ Category

We invited Beth Finke, a local writer who lost her sight in early adulthood, to come speak to the cast of Wait Until Dark about her experiences.  She wrote about the two-hour conversation on her own blog, which you can read here:


Thanks for the kind words, Beth, and thanks again for all your help!


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Back to the rehearsal hall!

Wait Until Dark started rehearsing last Tuesday. It’s directed by Ron OJ Parson, Resident Artist and mastermind behind Fences and The First Breeze of Summer. Ron is easily one of Chicago’s best directors of realism (and is nationally known as one of a couple go-to directors for the plays of August Wilson), but in the past couple years he’s started pushing himself and his designers into territory that’s a little more abstract and theatrical–like the tableaux in First Breeze or the final image of Flyin’ West–elevated moments that heighten the emotional impact of the scripts he directs.

Cree, our casting director, likes to brag that this cast is entirely new to Court Theatre, which is pretty cool. Charlie and Ron, the two directors who work here most often, do tend to cast from a pool of their favorite actors, people they’ve worked and developed a shorthand with (for instance the all-star ensemble of The Wild Duck). But WUD (as it’s become known in emails among the staff) is different. It’s a new kind of show for Court Theatre: a populist Broadway hit that most people know from the movie version, and also a thriller. This is a genre of play that no one seems to make anymore, outside of the annual International Mystery Writers’ Festival (at which Ron has won “Angie” awards in past summers). So we’ve got a new kind of cast for this show. It’s usually a star vehicle (Marisa Tomei played the lead in a disastrous New York production a few years ago), but we’ve cast non-Equity up-and-comer Emjoy Gavino in the lead role of Susy, the blind woman attacked by con artists. You’ll hear from Emjoy on this blog in the coming weeks.

The design presentations are very exciting.

Jack Magaw, our set designer, has created a meticulously-realized garden apartment, built all the way out to the back door, which the audience never even sees. But since the sound of entrances and exits is hugely important to the plot and the atmosphere of the play, he’s designed geography out to the street in front and through to the back bathroom (of which certain seats in the audience will have a clear view, while others will only hear the stuff that goes on back there). That’s another thing–Jack and Ron are taking advantage of Court’s semi-thrust to give each audience member a totally different perspective on the action, instead of building way upstage or designing a vast, uncluttered environment so everyone sees basically the same thing. This all contributes, we hope, to the tension.

Unlike the generic preppy outfits of the film version, our WUD, designed by Rachel Laritz, is going to take full advantage of the 1960s Greenwich Village setting. The renderings we saw at first rehearsal are heavily influenced by the setting’s art world, drugs culture, and high fashion. The characters, instead of existing in a “timeless” limbo, are clearly connected to the era and class strata in which they operate. Sam (Susy’s husband) is a fashion photographer, and Roat is a high-level drug dealer with a theatrical bent–drab is not the order of the day.

Sound is, of course, extremely significant in Wait Until Dark, since it’s Susy’s primary source of sensory input about the men in her apartment. There will be plenty of live effects, as well as a full-on background score (!!) by Ray Nardelli. In general, the production is going to look and feel more like the stylized world of film noir than the realism you might expect. After all, Knott’s bizarre, twisty plot hinges on all sorts of fun secret codes and Byzantine con games that would, frankly, seem a little preposterous in a full-on kitchen sink world (not that we won’t have a kitchen sink).

What do you think? Are you excited about Wait Until Dark? Skeptical? Outraged? Indifferent? What questions do you want answered before you see the show?

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Remarks by Resident Dramaturg Kate Bredeson.  Enjoy!

There’s something refreshing about Court Theatre’s approach to the preview process. At Court, there are not just a couple of previews, but a whole week of them: seven performances total. And every night, following the performance, there is a post-show discussion between audience and artistic staff (usually led by me and director Charlie Newell). The thing that’s really exciting is that not only does Court actively solicit the opinions of audience members, but that things drastically and entirely change within the course of previews, often based on those shared comments.

Last night, after Sunday evening’s performance of The Wild Duck and the subsequent production meeting, the artistic team convened to discuss the production. We talked about what was working, what wasn’t, what questions we have, what we love, what we don’t, and the last half hour of the conversation was devoted to a possible huge re-writing and re-staging of the final scene of the play. Richard Nelson, who wrote the new translation/adaptation of Ibsen’s play expressly for a début at the Court, spent the weekend with us to see the production and discuss the process, and suddenly in our meeting, he began discussing the tricky last scene, and pulled out his script and drew sweeping arrows, made slashes through dialogue, and scribbled new words in the margins. We don’t know yet if this will indeed become the final five minutes of the production, but Charlie is excited to try it and see what happens.

Today was our first day off in a week, and tomorrow (after the inauguration) we are back in the theatre at the MCA to explore new ideas, incarnations, and experiments. Characters are still evolving and growing, the set and lights and clothes continue to change. We still have questions, and, five days before opening, we still have time to explore—which is a good place to be.

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Today’s rehearsal just ended–the cast was staging and then working through Act V, the play’s manic, creepy, hilarious climax.  The actors, to my eye, seem a bit desperate, a bit terrified of the whirlpool Ibsen’s created; they’re holding on for dear life.  The staging moved very quickly–Charlie has a a clearer and more complete list of specific images he wants to see than I’ve ever known him to bring into initial blocking.  This is actually not that comforting to actors in the process of creating behavior for characters in extreme emotional distress.  Today, the cast mostly expressed a desire to slow down and work through the logic, and sometimes they got pretty frustrated.

From what Charlie’s told me about his intentions for this process, that’s precisely where he wants them.  As ever, he’s reluctant to hand out moment-by-moment logic, always preferring to help the cast to find it themselves.  This usually leads to satisfyingly surprising individual stories.  But on this one he’s taken that notion quite far, attempting to zoom past knots of confusing cause-and-effect, leaping from picture to picture, trusting that there will be future rehearsal hours to clarify and redefine the moments.

This goes back to something he said at First Rehearsal, past the point where my last entry ended.  I intended to give you another semi-verbatim chunk of his remarks, but after observing today’s rehearsal, I think it’s more useful to contextualize it in today’s work instead.  What he told the cast was, “Unlike [for instance] Titus Andronicus, where the process was about figuring out what the hell that story is and how best to tell it, I know exactly what The Wild Duck is.  I’ve worked on it, I’ve seen it done exquisitely.  So for me, unlike any other rehearsal process I’ve directed, I’m going to be starting with very clear ideas.  And I need you to push me to take it to the next place.  The last thing I want is to just do a warmed-over version of Lucian’s production.  This is ours, and we need to be rigorous about challenging the first idea.”

So what he’s doing now, I think, is laying out that first draft, putting all his favorite Lucian images and his already-congealed understanding of the story on the table, for the cast and himself to then take up, shake, break open, rebuild, discard, replace.

This play is difficult.  The laughable absurdity of the situation is horribly tinged with the pathetic, human scrambling of the characters.  Empathy and revulsion form a wholly new sort of audience-actor relation as their notes are plucked together.  Today, it was exhausting to watch, even for half an hour, the actors running around holding up lines and stories and props and jackknife emotional transitions like plates on sticks.  I suspect that when it’s up, it’ll still be exhausting to watch, but for much more satisfying reasons.

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It’s First Rehearsal again.  This one, The Wild Duck, is the show I’ve been waiting for since last February.  The cast is outrageous — they’ve all worked at Court before, in some of our best shows (Hamlet, The Glass Menagerie, Carousel, Titus Andronicus).  Jay Whittaker is back in town!  It’s a smaller group than the Caroline cast (11 instead of 18), which was the last of these big rehearsal-room gatherings we had.  The table feels sort of empty by comparison.  We’re missing two actors today, so I’ll be reading the part of Old Werle (for John Rieger, oh my god) — two angry scenes opposite Jay, whose work as Tom in Menagerie was basically mind-blowing to my fresh-out-of-college aesthetic.  I’m pretty nervous.

Charlie’s introduction, paraphrased (I had to take longhand notes on the back of my script instead of the usual furious typing):

“My journey with The Wild Duck began when I moved to Washington, DC after college, to apprentice at Arena Stage.  This was 1984.  They were bringing in Lucian Pintilie, a Romanian director, to remount his famous Paris production of this play with an American cast, and I was asked to assist him.  This was a major formative experience — it changed my DNA as a director, partly because of Ibsen’s play, but mostly because of Lucian.  The doors he opened for me in two areas of the director’s craft were essential to all the work I’ve done since, and I’m still exploring them.  The first revelation was of a director’s clear, powerful, dangerous vision for a play.  Lucian’s images were profound and provocative, and his confidence in them was unshakeable.  His approach to the text was rigorous and extremely intelligent — he took nothing for granted.  The version we used was his own adaptation, which pointed up the ridiculousness, the outrageous comic potential of these characters, as well as his own strong political point of view.  The second of Lucian’s revelations was of actor process; the size of passion and gesture that actors are capable of while still maintaining the rigor of craft and storytelling.  All of you have worked with me before, and you don’t know it but whenever I speak about acting, or the process of creating a role, I’m quoting Lucian.

“Three years after that Arena production, which was a legendary moment for those who saw it, I was assisting the late, great Garland Wright at the Guthrie.  And because I had worked on the DC production, I worked on Garland, who was wary of big personalities like Lucian — perhaps because his own left little room for another! — to bring The Wild Duck to the Guthrie.  So I got to assist Lucian again, to bring this profound production to another audience, and again the people who saw that show still talk about the effect it had on them.

“Like the film Unfinished Piece for Mechanical Piano which transformed how I understand Chekhov, Lucian’s Wild Duck made me see Ibsen in a completely new way.  Ibsen is alive and present for me, his judgments and insights inform my world because the heights of Lucian’s staging and his direction of the actors were unforgettable.  I wrote down every word he said through those two rehearsal processes, and for years I thought, I can’t do The Wild Duck because I’ll only want to do what Lucian did.  But now it’s 23 years later and I came back to the text and thought, now’s the time.  I’m ready now — but I’ve gotta get the A-team to do this with me.

“This process is going to be different from the others we’ve done together.  In part that’s because I know this play better — I know exactly what it is, inside and out.  And so I need to push myself, and you need to push me, to move past the answers I’ve already got.  It’s not like Titus, where the point was that I had to discover the mechanics of that play along with you.  I want to start from answers and push past them to new questions, harder questions.  I’m not going to be thinking about “Does Kevin like me today?” or how to keep you feeling safe and comfortable — we need to live at a place of discomfort, so that we don’t just rely on knowing where we’re headed.  If that makes you nervous, that’s good.  I’m scared.  This one needs to be scary.  The piece demands that we be more than we are right now.”

More to come…

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The set is built, hung, and painted. It is gorgeous–I can’t wait for you to see it. The cast starts working on it Thursday afternoon, spending one day getting used to the space, and then we’re in technical rehearsals starting Friday, integrating lights, sound, costumes, and props.

What follows is my condensation of the design concepts presented at first rehearsal, with images of the set model by Scenic Designer John Culbert, and renderings by Costume Designer Jacqueline Firkins. Caveat: this description is based on notes I took way back on August 12th. Staging ideas have undoubtedly developed, changed, been scrapped and rethought since then.

The anchor of the set design is the central location of the basement, a sunken cement square that can also function as, for instance, the kitchen in the Channukah Party scene. In order to accommodate the band and still have floorspace for all the staging the show requires, the design includes a wide balcony space, on which the Radio ladies and the Moon will also do the bulk of their work. The stairs upstage center will be Stuart’s primary domain, evoking his characteristic sense of being trapped in a state of transition, unsure of where and how to land.

Set model by John Culbert

Set model by John Culbert

Notice the image covering the rest of the floor. This is a photograph of the early-evening Louisiana sky, taken through the trees. The disorienting up-is-down effect and the high contrast of the light blue sky and dark green foliage create an abstracted theatrical space in which a variety of locations can be evoked through simple furniture and creative staging. While initially, as you can sort of see in the photo, the design called for a photo-realistic painting, the gesture has since simplified into a more painterly, abstract pattern, which will be covered with a high gloss. The center ceiling panel contains some surprises that I won’t spoil here. The bottom face of it will be covered with the same painted image as the floor.

The costume design incorporates gestures from two different worlds. The first is, of course, the standard historical realism of 1963. This is mostly what you see in the photo.

Costume renderings by Jacqueline Firkins

Costume renderings by Jacqueline Firkins

But take note of two images: the man in the far right-center of the photo, and the woman in the gown in the middle, surrounded by reference photos. The man on the right is the Dryer, and he, along with the Washing Machine, is being dressed in a vocabulary reminiscent of early-century work clothes, with a few theatricalizing surprises thrown in (spellcheck doesn’t recognize “theatricalizing”, but if it’s not a word, it should be). In the center we have the Moon, in elegant evening attire that sets her apart from the other characters, both “real” (Caroline, Dottie, Noah, etc.) and anthropomorphized (Bus, Dryer, etc.). This dress connects the Moon somewhat with the similarly-stylish Radio, whom you can see sitting in the center of the balcony in the set model (by the way, in case you didn’t notice, the figures in the model are built from copies of Jacqueline’s renderings–the woman just upstage of the basement square with the headdress? That’s the Washing Machine).

Charlie Newell: “One of the biggest design challenges inherent in the show is this question about the Washer and Dryer. If you put an actual washer and dryer on stage, does that make it easier for the audience to understand, or not? Because then you’ve got the actors on stage singing and you’re asking, who the hell are those people standing next to the washer and dryer? And most of the time the actor is saying ‘I’M A WASHING MACHINE.’ So that’s kind of a clue. We’re in two worlds: 1963 and the world of ‘What is human about these other characters?'”

Jacqueline Firkins: “These are people, they have human qualities, and they have sensibilities. So we want them in clothes, we don’t want to say this is not a human, this is not a soul.”

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Hi, I’m Harriet Nzinga Plumpp. I am the Washing Machine and the Moon in Caroline, or Change.

Well, let’s see….where to begin. First off, I want to say how happy I am to be back on my feet in rehearsals. My son is 11 months old and I have not done a show since my first trimester with him in the Winter/Spring of ’07. Our cast is full of parents so I feel a great sense of support–Yay to that!  It’s an even bigger delight to be in rehearsals at Court Theatre.  Caroline, or Change is my third musical at Court (I had the pleasure of working on Man of La Mancha and Raisin).  It is great to be back.

Just yesterday I was conversing with Melanie Brezill, who plays Emmie in the show.  We were discussing how valuable the rehearsal process with Charlie Newell is for us as actors. At Court, the musical is treated first and foremost like a play.  This theatre definitely strives to present a strong, focused point of view. Many of us have been in this business for many years and have experienced a rehearsal process that does not allow time to explore and to ask questions about who you are as your character.  It should be natural…second nature. For me as an audience member, it’s much more enjoyable to follow an actor’s journey when every breath, every gesture and thought has intent behind it. Oooweee, don’t get me wrong, this is not an easy feat–but, it’s a great thing to strive for.  In rehearsal, Charlie gives us this time to explore. Which is, as Charlie says, “fantastic!”. So, hopefully, by the time you see the show our instincts are settling in. You can feel our anguish, our joy, anticipation etc… This takes a lot of energy, focus, and patience from everyone and can be exhausting.

We did our first run-thru of the show two days ago and I was exhausted afterward, in a good way;-)  Because I am playing the Washing Machine and the Moon I need to figure out how to separate the two vocally, mentally, and physically.  This past weekend it dawned on me that whatever energy Caroline (E. Faye) has I must feed off of it for the Washing Machine to work.  The W.M. is truly a part of Caroline.  Once that clicked, I was able to start taking the W.M. and the Moon on their own separate journeys.

I’m off to rehearsal now, so I look forward to seeing you in the house.  Enjoy the show!  I have a great feeling that you will.

Peace, Harriet Nzinga Plumpp

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