Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Prepping for a Minor Experiment in Directing

On Monday, I go into rehearsals for Philadelphia Story at UNC Asheville. After examining the way I work, I've decided to do a few minor experiments in my approach.

First, a basic orientation: I have always been suspicious of the way directors horded power. My first dissertation (I ended up abandoning it after several years when I realized that it wasn't a dissertation but an 8-volume set) concerned how directors convinced actors to give up interpretive power to them. The answer: create acting theories (such as Stanislavki's) that required so much introspective focus on the part of the actor that they absolutely needed a director to coordinate everything else. Job security.

Second, a basic goal: I have always felt that rehearsal doesn't really happen until the production is staged and the actors are off book. It is only when the actors start to be able to look at each other that real REacting takes place. So I wanted to create a rehearsal process that would get us to that point as quickly as possible.

Putting these two things together, as well as the fact that I am the author of Introduction to Play Analysis and teach play analysis each year, I decided that full disclosure was necessary. It seemed to me that the main way that a director maintains power is by withholding interpretive information. Prior to rehearsals, he analyzes and interprets the play, and develops an idea in his mind's eye of how each scene plays. Once in rehearsal, he reveals this information bit by bit.

I decided to do it all at once, upfront.

First, I had the script scanned and converted into a Word document. I then have been typing the following into the script, or posting it to a wiki set up for the cast:

1. An analysis of the play's conflict resolution structure: protagonist, opposing force, introductory incident, moment of engagement, climax, denoument, major dramatic question. This is there to give the cast an orientation to the basic story we will be telling with this production.

2. Character analysis. My two student dramaturgs made a list for each character of everything they say about themselves, everything others say about them, and all of the stage directions that pertain to them. The first two can give insights into their personality. The latter item, while time consuming, can be very revealing. If you are working with a published script (rather than an acting edition), the stage directions can be considered those things that the playwright really want you to know about the character and what they are doing. By lifting them out of context, sometimes a pattern is revealed (sometimes not).

3. I broke the play into 34 scenes that seem to have a complete conflict. For each scene I provided the following:
a. analysis of conflict resolution structure (see #1 above)
b. identification of large transitions within the scene
c. indications of places where I think the character goes from Point A to Point C, in the hopes that the actors will figure out what the unspoken Point B is.
d. full blocking

My intention in doing this is to allow the actors to share a basic understanding of the play, moment to moment. None of it is carved in stone, but is a starting point for rehearsal. By providing the blocking in the script itself, the amount of time it takes to stage the scenes should be reduced. In fact, in a miniature experiment, actors were able to "play through" a scene the first time with only a very few stops. This allows us to run scenes many times, and I hope have the entire show staged within four rehearsals (we have 3 hr rehearsals). Also, by providing all this information, I think it will empower my Assistant Director, who can take scenes off to another space and stage them, or rehearse them knowing the basic shape we are going for.

The major question that might be asked is whether I am limiting the actor's creativity. It remains to be seen. But had I done this work in advance, I would have been directing the show with my interpretation in mind anyway, but nobody would have known the full outline of my ideas. At least this way, anyone can argue. In addition, the amount of creativity will be determined by my own rigidity as a director, which would have been the case anyway, truth be told. Actors still will be expected to figure out intentions, explore emotions, talk and listen, react -- all the things actors normally do. So I am hoping this won't overwhelm them.

Anyway, we begin Monday. For the next two days, I'll be working through the script typing in blocking. Once finished, I'll have the scripts copied and distribute them at the first rehearsal. We'll see how it goes.

I have set up a blog for the cast to post their feelings as the rehearsals get under way. The URL is: Feel free to check in and see how it is going!


StinkyLulu said...

I'm hoping you'll share the scan of a page or two of your "rehearsal script as living document" experiment...

I have two main thoughts about the potential benefits for your students:

A) It will provide an excellent "model" of how the minutiae of script analysis works and is a dynamic part of the directorial process. I've no doubt it will be a profoundly influential "example lesson" for a few of your students.

B) I wonder how many will be absolutely overwhelmed or confounded by what they are to do with such a document. I hope you provide a full report.

Scott Walters said...

Yes, I will provide a few script pages by the end of the week. Yes, it will be interesting to see the reaction -- in a test run, it was really smooth!