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Director’s Diary (continued): Ice Glen

Two weeks from opening Ice Glen, everything begins to take on its reality. The actors put the scripts aside and, their hands and eyes newly free, take up the props, develop gesture, make eye contact with their scene partners. The set will soon be painted and lit, turning a neutral stage and raw wood into the place of the play—in our case, rooms in a grand home in the Berkshires, the nearby woods and fields, and a Boston office. Mary Kulcsar and Judi Heath are working on the costumes that will communicate the characters’ personal circumstances. Rehearsal furniture and rehearsal props are gradually being replaced by the things we will actually use, and the props we have merely been miming will come into being. The plastic apple will be replaced Monday with a real apple, and the actress will actually be able to chomp down on it, and then work on eating and talking at the same time.

The publicity is coming out, including the gorgeous photos by Michael Stanley and Al Kulcsar’s great poster and cards. This means there’s no turning back!

As a director I’m in the “tweak and try” stage. The basic movements and emotional arcs have been worked out and are becoming natural to the actors. Now we look for ways to improve and clarify the scenes; and the actors, more certain of who their characters are and where the scenes are headed, have interesting suggestions to consider. We did completely re-block one scene a couple of nights ago, reversing the relative positions of the two principal actors and thereby greatly improving the scene, but most of the changes we’ll make from now on will be small ones, although these kinds of changes can still have enormous impact on the way the lines or scenes work.

With fewer “big” issues to think about, I’m finding some time to participate in other aspects of the production. I’m helping to work on one of the gowns, for instance. And I’m having great fun building one of the props: a lump of mud. I love fabricating props, and this is one of the most challenging I’ve taken on yet. How can I make a lump of mud that is credible to the eye and manageable for the actors who have to carry it around? I spent this afternoon wandering the aisles of Poster Craft, picking up an unlikely assortment of materials that I think will do the trick. The success or failure of what results will ultimately be for the audience to decide, but first I want the prop to feel real to the actors. Theater is illusion, but the more we ourselves can believe in the illusion, the more easily the audience will believe in it too.

So here we are a week before First Dress, the most amazing rehearsal in the whole process, when the actors are actually clothed and coiffed as their characters and step into the physical world of the play. I’m very grateful that we still have a week before that, but I’m also looking forward to seeing the change reflected in their eyes when suddenly everything is real.

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Director’s Diary: Ice Glen

Ice Glen rehearsals are at what is for me (and, I hope, the actors) the most exciting point right now: the exploration and development of subtext—a word that entered the English language around 1950 as a concept articulated by the great Russian actor, director, and theatre theorist Constantin Stanislavsky, whose work laid the foundation for the “method” school of modern acting that flourished in the U.S. through the work of disciples such as Sanford Meisner, Lee Strasburg, and Stella Adler.

Stanlislavsky urged actors to prepare their roles with great consideration for the characters’ inner life, the emotions and experiences that inform and drive but are not expressed in the characters’ words: “At the moment of performance the text is supplied by the playwright, and the subtext by the actor….If this were not the case, people would not go to the theatre but sit at home and read the play. [T]he printed play is not a finished piece of work until it is played on the stage by actors and brought to life by genuine human emotions….Words are…part of the external embodiment of an inner essence of a role….” (For a quick presentation of the Method, go to http://method.vtheatre.net/subtext.html.)

The actors have been thinking about their characters for awhile already, of course; but “subtext” also refers to the relationships between characters and to the progress of a scene. Imaginative and emotional exploration, then, goes beyond an individual actor working on an individual character and actually underlies the work as a whole.

And Ice Glen is a play that is particularly dependent on the effective presence of subtext. The title implies as much: Ice Glen is an actual place, near Stockbridge, Massachusetts. According to http://www.outdoors.org/,  “At the northern end of the [Beartown Hills] is the gorge called Ice Glen. Nathaniel Hawthorne called it ‘the most curious fissure in all Berkshire’..…the ravine runs less than a quarter-mile. Yet each turn reveals another cave or more stacked boulders or ancient trees. The hemlocks…provide a blanket of shadow even on the brightest day.” In the deepest part of the crevice the ice never melts. Named for this place, the play is set in 1919, and the characters are people of social position. Among such people at that time, emotional lives were lived behind a façade of propriety, good manners, verbal restraint. Without attention to subtext, in places the dialogue seems disjointed, the actions unmotivated, the intentions cryptic. In its characters and situation, the play is somewhat reminiscent of Checkhov. The ideas of a theorist of the Russian stage, then, seem especially apt.

So our rehearsals at this point are about one-third “practicing” scenes, and two-thirds discussion of, and experimentation with, who the characters are and what they feel and want as line follows line and scene follows scene. In the blocking stage, the mapping of the physical movement in the scene, I began to set up patterns of relating and moments of energy; now we’re refining those ideas to produce more nuanced gesture and a complex emotional life under the action.

The byproduct of these discussions has to do with the company itself: a deeper confidence in one another; a clearer sense of purpose; a sharper focus on the process and on the play.

If we do this part of our job well, the audience won’t even think about it: they’ll just find the play engrossing, human, and true. And that’s what theatre is all about.

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Upon Further Inspection…

I am typically a bit of a Scrooge when it comes to the holidays. Seeing the Christmas displays up in the stores before Halloween has passed usually makes me weary of the holiday before Thanksgiving even gets here. So, how it is that I found myself volunteering for a Christmas themed show is anybodies guess, but so far it’s a decision that I’m enjoying thoroughly. Inspecting Carol, while set around a production of A Christmas Carol has more in common with Scrooged than with It’s a Wonderful Life, so even a cynic such as myself can have a lot of fun at a show like this.

Inspecting Carol

Tickets: $12 – $18

Friday Nov 27   –   8PM
Saturday Nov 28   –   8PM
Sunday Nov 29   –   2PM

Thursday Dec 03   –   8PM
Friday Dec 04   –   8PM
Saturday Dec 05   –   8PM
Sunday Dec 06   –   2PM

Friday Dec 11   –   8PM
Saturday Dec 12   –   8PM
Sunday Dec 13   –   2PM

The Cast of Inspectiing Carol

The Cast of Inspectiing Carol

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