Entries tagged with “The Taming of the Shrew”.


Scott Lange as Benvolio/Capulet

Most of our audience members are probably not aware of this, but on the morning of Pigeon Creek’s final performance of The Taming of the Shrew, I was in a fairly serious automobile accident. In addition to losing my car, some musical instruments, and the majority of our set, I also sustained injuries bad enough to require a six day hospital stay. Needless to say, we didn’t have a performance that evening.

We held auditions a few weeks before that scheduled performance, so I knew before the accident that I would be playing Mercutio and Lord Capulet. After the accident I had a number of concerns about my ability to perform. I had extreme difficulty walking for a few weeks, bruised lungs, and a dislocated elbow.

In order to perform adequately, I need to project my voice, move around the stage quickly, play music, and be able to fight as Mercutio. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do any of those things. I brought up my concerns to the rest of the Pigeon Creek board. We decided that I should go ahead with rehearsals, and see how my body improves. We came up with a plan “B”, but hoped we wouldn’t have to use it.

Anyway, it’s been almost exactly five weeks since that day, and that conversation. I’ve made quite a bit of improvement. I’ve still got a little bit of a limp, and I can’t quite straighten out my left arm, but things are progressing. I’m working pretty hard to develop a sort of strut for Mercutio to cover up the fact that I’m not walking totally normal. For Capulet, however, I am allowing the limp to come through. Both of my characters also talk excessively, so my lungs are getting back into shape.

By talking about this, I’m not really hoping to elicit any pity from actors or audience members. I also hope to avoid anyone saying “you did really great, for someone recovering from a major accident.” I want the performance to be able to stand on its own. As an actor, I’m always thinking about how I want to walk, move, gesture, or speak as a specific character. But this time the experience is so different. Instead of starting with my natural body movements (a.k.a. my neutral state), I’m basically building a framework from the negative end of the scale. I’m trying to discover my characters, whilst trying to rediscover myself.

Scott Wright (Sly / Hortensio / Grumio / Vincentio) on the challenges of being doubled.

Try this on for disguise…

It always interests me to see how much of what we discovered, tried on, or experimented with during our initial read-through and in the early phases of rehearsal made it into the final production.

Especially with a very-small-cast where each actor, doubled into two or even more major roles, is asked to make character choices that will make it very clear to the audience who is being portrayed.

Some of the choices are easy and obvious, given to us in the text – the older men for example. The “Old Master Vincentio,” accustomed, by virtue of his age and wealth to deference and obedience, is taken by surprise when he stumbles into the topsy-turvy world of Kate & Petruchio and the goings-on in Padua.

As Kat Hermes has mentioned already, one of our tactics is to choose one character that will be simply be the most like me – that will speak in my (mostly) natural speaking voice and be mostly just me physically.

Grumio seemed the obvious one : self-aware (but not self-conscious…), smarter than average, fun-loving, attuned to what’s going on and to the people (…and their motives…) around him, and well adapted to the unique circumstances of living around Petruchio.

Well – maybe I’m not always all those things, but a little positive self-image never hurt, right…?

I’d never thought much before about Hortensio. Never had to. In my previous experiences with this play I’d seen Hortensio as someone Grumio has possibly ingratiated himself to or as one of the pawns in Tranio’s ex-machina.

But in our first read-through, under the pressure to come up with yet another character (especially one that someone else hadn’t already played with that evening…), just having a bit of fun and trying to make my cast-mates laugh, I tried on something so ridiculous, so completely improbable – something I was fairly sure at the time wouldn’t end up working…

The feedback was immediate (the expected laughter) and unequivocal as later review of what we had done and discussions about how to implement this crazy concept made it clear that it was something we would be keeping.

So then I had to start wondering – what is Hortensio’s deal…? There’s plenty in the script – Petruchio’s “best and most approved friend,” a man of higher social class – an at least moderately wealthy resident of Padua, and most notably – in love with Bianca, or at least in love with his ideal of what Bianca represents… and utterly blind to the fact that she just isn’t really interested in him.

So as I thought more about it, my very different characterization of Hortensio (…not that it’s never been done – I’ve just never seen it done…) sort of started to make sense.

It sort of fit with the way other characters treat him, and it made perfect sense that Bianca might prefer a young, good-looking (if somewhat thick-witted) gentleman to an effeminate, lisping, not-so-good-looking man who might one day be caught trying on her clothes.

You still have one chance to get out and see our zany experiment in small-cast Shakespeare at the fabulous Grant Fine Arts Center in Grant, MI next Saturday January 28th. You may never see these particular characters again… :)

Scott Lange (Lucentio / Gremio / Pedant) on the process of finding humor.

Humor is a funny thing. Or perhaps I should say SENSE of humor. It’s a funny thing that is totally unpredictable.

The Taming of the Shrew is classified as one of Shakespeare’s comedies. There are many funny things about the play (i.e.: the characters, the language, and the situations), but it can be nearly impossible to tell what the audience is going to find funny once you actually get to performances. I feel as though this production was especially challenging in that regard. For instance, we didn’t have any outside eyes on the show until the week we opened in Grand Rapids. And even then, it was only one person at a time that would watch the show, and give us feedback.

When you perform a comedy, laughter is an essential part of the show. Both in terms of getting the timing of your performance down, and helping fuel the energy of the show. We didn’t really get to experience our first real dose of laughter until opening night. Like I said, we had some outside eyes come in during production week, but there wasn’t a great deal of laughter on those nights. That’s not to say that the people watching the show didn’t enjoy it or that it wasn’t great to have an audience, but when you are one of a few (or the only) people watching a show, the impulse to laugh heartily isn’t quite as strong. There’s something about a crowd that makes it easier to laugh.

So you may be asking yourself: “Scott, what do you do when you are rehearsing an hilarious Shakespearean comedy without an ever present audience?” Well the answer is that you try to make each other laugh.

Comedy can be very subjective. What I think is funny, you may find crude or tasteless (this happens to me often actually…hmm.) And what my friend thinks is funny might be pretty dull to a lot of other people. It takes a lot of experimenting with the play to really figure out what the largest majority of people find amusing. Even then, you can’t please everyone. Mostly what we do at Pigeon Creek, is to make each successive choice for a character more and more ridiculous. Often my goal is to find a way to make my fellow actors break character in the middle of the scene. If I can make one of my fellow professional actors lose their concentration, I’ve done my job.

Usually once we reach that point, we do need to pull it back a bit. Sometimes the things that make us laugh the most often can’t be done on stage. It could distract from what the other characters on stage are doing, or it might just be too much over the top. I personally have two moments in this show that get pretty good laughs that came from some over-the-top experimentation. They are a bit ridiculous, but I’m glad I got to keep them in the show.

But sometimes you can’t beat having an audience. Kat Hermes and I were just having a discussion the other day, about lines that we thought were funny, but that we haven’t been able to coax a laugh from our audiences yet. The conversation centered around how exactly we were attacking the lines; on what word we placed the emphasis, volume, funny faces, etc. Again, it focused on the experimentation we had done with the play, but also highlighted the fact that we really had to think about how to make things funny.

Like I said, humor is a funny thing. Sometimes it takes a lot of work.

Kat Hermes (Bianca/Tranio/Curtis) on Playing a Playmaker

When I was originally cast in The Taming of the Shrew, I was cast as Bianca, and expected to be doubled into one or two other minor roles. As anyone who’s read this blog or seen the show knows, things didn’t turn out that way. On our first night of rehearsal, I learned that I would be playing another major role, one that’s actually much larger than Bianca; Tranio, the conniving servant of the hapless male ingenue, Lucentio.

The clever servant who aids, but also manipulates, his less-intelligent master is a stock comedic character. But the interesting thing about Tranio is that while he’s smart, he’s not especially funny. Most of the good one-liners go to Petruchio’s servant Grumio or Lucentio’s other servant Biondello. Tranio gets a few deadpan asides that can earn a chuckle from the audience, but he spends much more time hatching plots than cracking jokes.

In a way, Tranio is what’s called a “playmaker” character; he writes the script from within the play and drives the action to achieve his own ends. But unlike other playmakers, such as Rosalind in As You Like It, Richard in Richard III or Falstaff in Henry IV (a role I played this summer for Pigeon Creek), Tranio doesn’t share the game with the audience. The audience gets to watch and enjoy his plots unfold, but isn’t invited to be his accomplice. In contrast, Petruchio, The Taming of the Shrew’s other playmaking character, makes a point of including the audience in his plans, telling them exactly how he plans to woo and then tame the shrewish Kate, and even asking their advice on his methods.

I bring up all this textual analysis to try to explain why Tranio was an especially challenging role for me. He’s a comic character who doesn’t make jokes, a playmaker without the playmaker’s usual connection to the audience; he doesn’t share any more information with the audience than he does with the other characters on stage. He’s hard to get a handle on. It’s much easier to play a liar who’s not very good at lying than it is to play a character like Tranio, who lies so well it’s difficult to tell from the text whether he’s ever telling the truth.

When playing multiple characters, as I certainly am in this production, I like to pick one character that is closest to my own physical “default” setting, which is usually the character I spent the most time as or the character who is the most like me. Because Tranio is my largest role, I chose him as my “default” character, so most of the physical work I did was in creating two different variations on that, Tranio as himself and Tranio in disguise as Lucentio. So the outside, the “what” of Tranio was fairly easy to come to. The inside, the “why,” was much more difficult.

It is possible to take him at face value when he says “I am content to be Lucentio, because so well I love Lucentio.” If everything he does is truly done out of devotion to his master, everything he does makes sense. But it is equally possible to imagine that he manipulates Lucentio into switching clothing and identities with no intention of ever actually switching back. His actions also make sense with that motivation. Going on the theory that complexity is always more interesting to watch, I decided that Tranio lies somewhere between these two extremes. He does genuinely care for his naive and gullible master, but at the same time is not above taking advantage of him for personal gain. When doing my actorly work of deciding my character’s intentions and tactics, I’ve thought very specifically about which actions Tranio takes to help Lucentio, and which actions he takes for himself.

I’ve also thought a lot about where the fun for the audience is in watching Tranio. You’re not really invited to laugh with or at him, you’re not included as his co-conspirators. You’re simply asked to watch, and hopefully enjoy watching, the cleverness with which his plans unfold and with which he adapts to obstacles.

Kyle Walker (Petruchio / Page) on Character Interpretation

‘Tis the Mind…

There always seems to be one line that comes to define my interpretation of a character. For Petruchio this one line has come to define not only the character but my view on the play itself:

For ‘tis the mind that makes the body rich,
And as the sun breaks through the darkest clouds,
So honor peereth in the meanest habit.

While The Taming of the Shrew is a comedy full of slapstick humor and mistaken identities, I also think it asks the question “What is it that defines who you are?” The Induction scenes are a clear demonstration of this notion. Does Christopher Sly, in his mind, truly become a lord? Or is it just a dream? Or has he dreamt till now?

Petruchio constantly plays with this idea. He bends the truth, lies, and manipulates people to his own enjoyment. He knows exactly who he is and enjoys coaxing people into questioning themselves. He believes marriage is a complete sham and love is just an excuse. He comes to Padua not to find love but to “wive it wealthily.” He is only in it for the money; the wife is merely a place holder, a technicality.

All of this changes when he meets Kate.

The plan was simple. Attain the father’s consent. Cunningly keep Kate off-guard. Trick her into marrying him. Collect the dowry. Live happily ever after with his money. But as it turns out, he mistakenly falls in love with her. His entire reality is thrown into chaos. The way in which he defined himself has been questioned. He has caught himself in his own game.

But it’s ok.

His honor, his mind, his true self, can peer through the darkest clouds, right? Or perhaps the character that he has been playing is now playing him. If a kind, thoughtful, and caring man pretends to be a womanizing, arrogant, and chauvinistic man and if he plays that character long enough, does he become that man? Can someone become lost in a character? Are we defined by what we do? Or who we think we are?

Strangely enough I think this makes Petruchio love Kate even more. His game has always been to confuse, startle, and shock people. Kate joins him in his game and she does exactly what he’s been doing to her and everyone else. She understands him; even though now, he might not fully understand himself. A woman who can do that to Petruchio has truly won “the burden of his wooing dance.”

Joel L. Schindlbeck (Baptista / Lord in the Induction / Haberdasher / Widow)

In the beginning of my acting process, I’m asking myself the question, “Why is my character saying these lines.” That question could keep me busy for weeks, and often it does. Using it as a battery for my rehearsal time, I march through the scenes, exploring and discovering exactly why the words are coming out of my mouth. But we’re a little under two weeks from opening the play. My use of these question has near run it’s course and so, we venture to the next question.

“Why is this character in the play?”

Luckily, to spur the creative mind, the answer is not simply, as in the case of Baptista in The Taming of the Shrew, “Because without this character, Katherina and Bianca would have never been born.” Yes, that is certainly a true statement, but couldn’t the play then have gotten along just as well without Baptista actually being around? We don’t see the birth of Katherina and Bianca, so obviously Shakespeare choose to not delve into the importance of birth and parenting.

“Why is my character in the play NOW?”

I believe that Baptista is the world of the play. He has created the rules of engagement for his daughters, he has set the bar for the courtiers and he referees the entire process along the way as a means of not only controlling the future of his family, but also establishing the base moral code for how his family WILL create their future. He is the thread on which the plot builds as a candle builds from being dipped into melted wax. Every act, every scene, every interiour French scene brings another aspect of life choices made by characters which alters the world of the play, putting on another dipping layer of wax for the final candle.

For example:

*We first see Baptista quieting the suitors and reminding them of the marriage rules that he has set forth for his daughters.
*Immediately, the suitors plot means of cheating the rules in order to achieve the desired end.
*This drives them to seek out a suitor for Katherina.
*This drives Petruchio to decide to woo the wild beast that is Katherina.
*This drives a formal engagement, through lies and deception of the rules, between Katherine and Petruchio.
*This frees up Bianca to be married.
*Problem solved!

(Except, as we lovingly see from any comic farce on life and love…not playing by the rules requires people to be on their toes and create diversionary tactics in order to by them time to achieve their ends without disrupting the world and rules set out for them. I mean, wouldn’t it completely have been simpler if the suitors simply hired true instructors to teach Bianca, hired Petruchio to win Katherina and then wait patiently as Baptista assesses their true dowries and makes the choice he intended to make. I’m digressing, but the point remains that Baptista has created the world of the play at the beginning, not necessarily a fair world, but the rules nonetheless. Without these rules, the following four acts wouldn’t need to happen.)

So, there’s a beginning answer to the question. Baptista serves as the world of the play, or keeping my simile, the wick of the play. But then what? I mean, all of that could be delivered in one speech and I could go to the bar while everyone else plays around for two hours and meets me there after the audience leaves.

This is where Baptista, as the world, must respond and/or change the world to match new realities that occur. He is the reactionary character. Not only is he the common foil to most characters’ ruses, but he is also the person responsible for seeing that progress has happened according to his rules and setting forth the next step of the world.

Using a similar example as above:

*Baptista’s Rule: Bianca may not marry until Katherina does.
*Petruchio will marry Katherina.
*Baptista, satisfied, allows for the suitors’ assets to be analyzed. Bringing his next rule…
*Lucentio (Tranio is disguise) may marry Bianca is his father promises the dowry even in the case of Lucentio’s death.

Thus: THE DIRECTION OF ACTION IN THE PLAY CHANGES WITH NEW RULES!

We have been whipped up in the courting of Katherina in order to complete the first milestone of the play. That being over, we now get TWO PLAYS to watch: The Taming of Katherina via Petruchio AND The Cozening of Baptista via Tranio’s lies of the Pedant being Vincentio (Lucentio’s Father.)

Having decided this, my next question is more meta-theatrical: Is a reactionary character a form of audience surrogate? I’m still working on it. Come find out.

Brooke Heintz (Katherina / Biondello) on playing the Shrew.

The Taming of the Shrew is one of those shows where we feel as if we are going to have a number of audience members coming to watch the finished product who already have very strong opinions on the content of the play. Like The Merchant of the Venice, which gets looked at over and over in the light of whether the play is anti-Semitic, etc., Taming of the Shrew is equally considered controversial when examined through a modern perspective on the relationship between the sexes. Many people who are familiar with the play have had to face the difficulties of our present day discomfort with a show that ends with a woman bending knee to her husband and proclaiming his right of dominance. The fact that the play was written ‘in the past when things were different’ shouldn’t be a throwaway excuse for that level of discomfort, and audiences shouldn’t be expected just to accept that this is a play about people who thought in vastly different ways than we do now. Pigeon Creek especially prides itself on making characters and story lines accessible to audiences now, and I think taking that kind of approach to it would have precisely the opposite effect.

Going into this production, I was interested to see how the rest of my cast wanted to approach this. It’s become almost standard fare nowadays to insert some kind of gimmick when staging the play, to either highlight its themes as misogynistic, or to find ways to subvert Kate’s final speech in its entirety, such as throwing in a wink at the end of the monologue to show the audience that she didn’t mean a word of it. Honestly, I’ve always found these things to be the less interesting choices, and unnecessary pandering to the audience’s need to feel ‘comfortable’ with how things tie together.

Kyle Walker (Petruchio) and I have had many conversations about what it is that Petruchio and Kate end up getting out of this relationship, and how it changes both of them, which I think is part of the key to accepting the play for how it’s written, rather than attempting to impose a modern lens on it. It’s important to look at what kind of characters Petruchio and Kate both are – both of them make extravagant decisions that seem out of place in any sort of logical world, and both seem to possess a natural streak of sadistic humor. As far as Kate goes, her temperament is something that’s so far beyond how any normal person should behave (male or female), that trying to defend her too much turns into making excuses for her unacceptable behavior. Even with the psychological impact of not having a mother figure around, of dealing with the favoritism shown to her sister, etc., she still desires to rule over everyone and everything, and doesn’t understand what it means to bend for anyone. Her actions are incredibly self-centered, and she has only one tactic for getting what she wants: behaving as a shrew. Since no one has proven a match for her tongue or violent actions, it’s managed to work for her just fine – until Petruchio comes along. Not only does he prove her equal in wits, and possess the strength to keep an upper hand on her in terms of her many physical threats to his well-being, but because of this, she’s forced to learn new ways to get what she wants that are equally satisfying once she learns to take ownership of them.

Playing Petruchio’s own game with him and taking it a ridiculous degree is her own way of rebelling and maintaining her sense of who she is, and he doesn’t mind when she does it this way. It isn’t a particularly healthy arrangement, but neither character is particularly emotionally stable at the onset, either. Petruchio doesn’t want to extinguish the fire that makes her Kate – he encourages her when she’s ready to fight the widow at the final banquet, rather than scolding her, and finds the whole situation humorous. The very nature of ordering Kate to give the other women a verbal lashing proves this as well. He doesn’t desire a woman who is meek – but he doesn’t want his marriage to be a constant state of war either, and through getting her to adamantly defend defined gender roles in public, Kate’s granted an armor for her pride that allows her to renounce her old tactics and adopt more socially acceptable ways of getting what she wants. There’s still something discomfiting in this, but there can be, just as there can be something unsettling in The Merchant of Venice that leaves the audience uncertain of how to feel about the characters in the play and their own emotions about what just happened. That sense of uncertainty leaves an audience thinking, rather than just laughing at Kate having ‘pulled one over’ on Petruchio at the end, which I personally think is a much more provocative and meaningful use of the play.

Of course, in the end, our audiences may entirely disagree. Either way, I’m very interested and nervous to see how audiences will react to seeing the play handled in what we considered to be a ‘straight’ fashion. And I hope it leaves you all with something to think about!

Scott Wright (Hortensio / Sly / Grumio / Vincentio) on managing rehearsals for six people.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…

In the weeks leading up to the beginning of rehearsals for The Taming of the Shrew, I put my hand up for the job of Rehearsal Coordinator. I’d been allowed to “assist” the rehearsal coordinator on a past production but in truth, that was really more about officially observing the RC than what I’d been doing – which was watching & learning by experience how it all worked.

As the very small cast was set and rehearsals began, the first job was to lay out the schedule – particularly for the short-term (i.e. the next few days) – which is really a maze of conflicts, scene labels (do we work on I.iii or III.i …?), and dates. Not to mention the schedule of performances.

It’s a very eye-opening experience doing this job. I found that I made a number of miscalculations about the amount of time certain scenes would require (and possibly about how much time the characters in our cast of actors would require for debating character and scene choices…) Some scenes are significantly longer than others, and when looking at the list of scenes it was far too easy to make the amount of rehearsal time for II.i (which is ALL of Act II) the same as for IV.iv (a comparatively short scene.)

Something else that took me by surprise as a relatively new Rehearsal Coordinator was when, as we finished the time period allotted for a particular scene and the talk and debate and brainstorming (and laughter…) came to a natural ebb. Everyone turned and looked at me expectantly as if to say, “Ok, what’s next…?”

Good thing I had it all worked out…

As Many Of Your Players Do

When the small-cast concept for The Taming of the Shrew came up I couldn’t help thinking, “Six…? How is that gonna work…?” I’ve done The Taming of the Shrew twice before this, and there are a number of scenes where there are at least seven main characters on stage. This play also has a scene for Shakespeare’s typical army of servants and attendants, and in the final scene almost the entire cast of characters is supposed to be at table for dinner!

The small-cast thing is something we’ve done before too, but when we did it with The Tempest in summer 2010 there were a few differences. There’s generally a smaller cast of characters in The Tempest, and there are two fairly distinct groups of characters who don’t interact much but appear in alternating scenes, with the big exception of the final scene where, again, everyone appears on stage.

The challenges in The Taming of the Shrew for doubled actors in a very small cast are, as always, to make very distinct character choices that help the audience recognize who’s speaking at any particular moment. The addition of hats, costumes, and props help to further differentiate characters, but the demands of a small-cast production make it necessary for those costumes and things to be especially simple and specific.

This particular challenge – of making very clear character shifts, sometimes very quickly within a scene – has been, and continues to be, really tough for me personally. As our show continues to come together and prepares to open the first weekend of January, we’ll be working to make all those elements come together to make this familiar, funny, and fast-paced story come to life in the way you’ve come to expect from us.

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.

Kat Hermes (Bianca/Tranio/Tailor/Curtis) on the Ensemble Directing Process.

Ensemble directing is one of my favorite parts of working with Pigeon Creek. Working on an ensemble directed production with a small cast, I’ve found that the excitement and challenges of ensemble direction are intensified. I’ve been thinking a lot about ensemble direction as a process.

I’ve worked on nine ensemble directed productions with Pigeon Creek and over that time we, as a company, have been organically developing a rehearsal method specific to working without a director that has been refined and improved with each successive production.

One of the major differences between directing as an ensemble and working with a director is the way in which the rehearsal process is “layered”. When a director is driving the bus, he or she typically gives the actors their blocking. Depending on the director, this can very general or detailed and specific, but most of the blocking work is done by the director outside of rehearsal.

By contrast, in an ensemble directed production, blocking typically takes several rehearsals of each scene. The first time we run a scene on it’s feet, we tend to decide where everyone is enter and exiting from and then just experiment, finding where interesting stage pictures occur naturally and where we need to stop and work on finding the best blocking to tell the story of a specific moment. It often takes several runs of the scene before we’re ready to “set” the blocking.

To somewhat oversimplify things, the ensemble directing process is a sort of inversion of the typical rehearsal process. Instead of the director working on the more “technical” aspects of production (stage pictures, pace, prop and costume decisions) outside of rehearsal and working on “emotional” or aspects (verse, objectives and tactics, character movement and vocal choices) with the cast in rehearsal, in an ensemble directed production, rehearsal is primarily focused on those technical problems while each actor does their individual character work on their own.

As actors in an ensemble directed production, this affords us a great deal of creative freedom but also puts a great deal of responsibility on each of us to be pro-active about our acting “homework.” Because the rehearsal process is front-load with technical work, once be being working on those acting details, there isn’t time to start small and work up to big choices. The most effective use of our rehearsal time isn’t helping each actor make choices, and there is no central directorial voice guiding actors towards specific choices. As an ensemble, we use our later rehearsals to help each other understand how the choices we’ve each made are “reading” onstage, and how to adjust what we’re doing to more clearly tell the story we want to tell.