Monday, July 28, 2014
Responsibilities Include But Are Not Limited To…
We occasionally get asked the question “What does the director do since the show is unrehearsed?” Recently, a similar question was sent to us via Twitter (follow us: @USP_players), but 140 characters was not enough to explain the director’s role in the Unrehearsed Cue Script Technique.
‘Director’ is the best name that explains what I or Andy do. Some call this position ‘Playmaster’ or ‘Presenter’.
As the Director for the Unrehearsed shows, my first responsibility is working on the script. We use the First Folio of 1623, so once the decision is made on which show we’re going to do – the director goes through the text line by line, word by word looking for entrances or exits that are missing or that need to be added, line attributions that change (sometimes to the actor who actually played them); works out doubling charts, when/if quick changes are needed, casting/prop/fight/costume/effect requirements; understanding and looking up every word, comprehending the script completely, and then re-reading it several more times after that. Basically, the same as what many modern directors do when they begin directing a show. Since USP consists of just Andy and me, at this point, we do not have the luxury of staff, interns, or dramaturgs. We do all the text work ourselves, including making each cue script for each character. We continuously check our work for errors and maintain consistency to keep up with our high standards for The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project.
After the script has been thoroughly gone over, taken apart and put together again, then the director makes decisions on casting. Like most directors, I prefer to work with actors who are not only talented, but are great to work with. This technique relies very much on speaking verse well, being able to improvise, having a positive and brave attitude, and having a strong and likeable stage presence. I spend time talking with each actor about the technique after their first go at cold reading a Shakespeare monologue. I won’t give away all of my secrets, but a sense of humor is another vital element that we look for when casting an Unrehearsed troupe. This audition time is for us to get to know the actor and for the actor to get to know us. After all, if they decide that this isn’t something they want to do, it’s much better to realize that during the audition process.
Once casting is completed, Andy and I schedule a two-day workshop with the entire cast and stage manager where we teach them the Unrehearsed Cue Script Technique. It’s a lot of intense work for everyone involved, but it’s incredibly rewarding once the actors realize that Shakespeare does all the work for you. It’s simply a matter of following the rules of the technique.
Then, over the course of a few weeks, I meet with each actor individually for their text sessions (also known as ‘verse nursing session’) where we go over every word, punctuation, stage directions in the text and anything else that is in their individual tracks. Most of the actors have two tracks (a set of characters that they’ll play for each show) and a few will have three tracks. It’s vitally important that everyone knows exactly what they’re saying and doing. I don’t give them precise blocking directions per se, but I will make sure they’re aware that an “action to the word” moment is happening or that there’s a shift from prose to poetry, and so on. This is also the time when I give a scroll tutorial (how to build it, use it, etc.) I try to get the actors out of their head and their usual way of performing Shakespeare so that I can help them to approach their roles from the Unrehearsed perspective. No Stanislavski allowed.
It’s incredibly stressful not being able to see everyone six days a week to make sure they’ve got it all down, and that’s where trust comes in. That’s another incredibly important aspect of casting. We need actors who we can trust who will trust us in return. This technique relies on the actors trusting us, each other and themselves.
During all this time, I’m consulted by our costumer, fight director, and props person (two of whom are Andy and myself usually) and make decisions about certain elements. I make myself continuously available to the actors for any questions or concerns they have via phone, email, coffee chats. And I try to remember to breathe.
Finally, the day before the first performance we have a six hour ‘set-up & fight rehearsal’ day. We spend this time reviewing all of the aspects of the technique, the actors learn what their backstage duties are (either tent, costume, props or signage set-up), the fights are taught, the choreographed moments (dances, faints, jumps into someone’s arms, etc.) are taught, quick changes are worked out, and everyone has a chance to re-connect with each other since the last time we were together en masse was at the Unrehearsed workshop over a month ago.
The night before each show, I send the cast list of who will be playing which of their tracks to the stage manager who then sends that to the cast. The day of the performance, everyone sets up, fight/dance call happens, and the show goes on! I sit in the audience and take notes, and at intermission I rush backstage to coach the actors if they need it (usually about pacing or not using the audience enough, etc.) That evening, I send the cast their notes about certain technique rules that were missed (for example: Juliet: you’re saying “thee” to this person in this scene but you were miles away from them) and the cast list for the next show goes out mixing all the tracks so that the audience never sees the same show twice. This goes on and on for the rest of the run.
Aside from the director’s usual responsibilities in a rehearsed show, my responsibilities don’t differ that much. We perform outside, so there’s no need to block the actors to find their light. There are no sets or extra set pieces. We give the actors all the tools they’ll need and continue to guide and instruct them throughout this amazingly fun and rewarding process.