Sun 4 Dec 2011
Scott Lange (Lucentio / Gremio / Pedant) on the rehearsal process of a six-person The Taming of the Shrew.
It wasn’t until the first week of rehearsal that I realized how much work this production was going to take. Not just from me, but the whole cast. My first thought when we decided to produce a small cast show (and I maintain that thought is a correct one), was that we had a cast of smart, talented, Pigeon Creek veterans who would easily bend the production to their will.
For the most part, it has been smooth sailing. Only a few scenes have given us fits about the staging, conversation and discussion has been free flowing, and we’ve been able to have quite a bit of fun while staying (mostly) productive.
But there are a few challenges that I never expected. With our typical cast size (about 12 people) every actor has just about equal stage time, but everybody gets a break at some point. But when the cast is half of that, everyone is pretty much on stage through the entire play. With an ensemble directed cast, when an actor is not on stage, they are designated as an outside eye to assist the scene. But with a small cast, there are rarely any scenes where more than one or two actors have been able to step back and look from an audience perspective. So even when we are not on stage, we need to be active participants in the rehearsal process. There’s no sitting back and letting someone else do the work.
What this results in, at least during rehearsal, is a lot of tired actors. We typically rehearse four hours a night. By the time we hit that fourth hour, everyone looks pretty spent. It takes a lot of energy and mental fortitude to work with this type of show.
There are also on stage challenges. Everyone is doubled to the extreme. So actors may be playing two or more large roles. Sometimes this results in instant on stage costume and character changes. There are only a few of those in the play, but we have had to take a really close look at those to make sure they are clear and precise. With those instant changes, the actors have to work harder to make each and every character distinct. We always maintain that a change of costume indicates a change of character. That is still true with this production, but there will be fewer costumes to help with that. We need to make sure that the audiences can tell when a new character is on stage, even if there was no costume at all. This has been difficult for me to wrap my brain around. I always base my characters physical and vocal attributes on my own. This way, what ends up on stage is me, but not me, at the same time. I feel like with this production I have had to push that farther that I normally would. It has been hard, but I am always happy to be pushed and challenged in ways I never expect.
We have not had anyone outside of the cast come in to watch our craziness yet. I know that day is coming. I am always slightly frightened when that happens. I feel very vulnerable the first time I present my work to a new person. But the point is for someone outside of the process to come in and help us determine what parts of our concept are working, or perhaps not working. They’ll help us edit, embellish, and perhaps alter our work if necessary. In the end, it will be for the greater good, and will help us put on the best production possible.