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<  Theatre & Performance  ~  Tech in the Rehearsal Hall

Russell Blackwood
Posted: Tue Feb 10, 2004 7:36 pm Reply with quote
Moderator Joined: 18 Sep 2003 Posts: 125
What technical aspects of a production routinely either show up, or are simulated, in the rehearsal hall?

Usually, the same essential elements of the sets, props, costumes and sound influence the director, stage manager and cast, informing all the choices they make before moving on stage during tech week.

Here?s my own list of the usual suspects:

Set ? ground plan(s) taped out on the rehearsal hall floor. If a set piece is integral to the staging, a stock platform or flat is brought in.

Props - Rehearsal hand props and furniture are chosen to approximate the size and weight of the actual prop. If an actor?s business involves food, liquid, fight-worthy weapons or the handling of special effects, those too will likely be introduced prior to tech week.

Costumes - Actors may wear rehearsal shoes or costume pieces (particularly for period plays and musicals).

Sound ? If staging is timed with a sound cue, it?s usually rehearsed with a sound cue.

Is there anything else to add to the list?

Sure, lighting for one. Rehearsing with light can, for some productions, be as vital to decision making in rehearsal as knowing the position of the set's platforms and stair units.

Below is an excerpt from an article I wrote in August ?02 about rehearsing with light. I?m eager to hear other people's experiences with it (including, ?Never considered it.?) and also to know how these lessons with light might apply to other aspects of tech and design - and when and how they are introduced into the rehearsal process.

Taken Callboard Magazine, August ?02:

Seldom, if ever, do most directors and lighting designers consider the opportunity to rehearse with light. There is an unspoken assumption that everything related to the lighting design?s effect on actors fits in to the confines of tech week. But in questioning the play and each other about a character?s relationship to light, the director and designer could realize an opportunity to better tell the story. If light could have a profound effect on many of the choices made in rehearsal, light does belong in the rehearsal hall.

Peter Maradudin and York Kennedy are two Bay Area lighting designers who have seen the impact rehearsing with light can have on a production. They will tell you that rehearsing with light is can be as simple as turning off the rehearsal hall lights and turning on a lamp.

Maradudin remembers the first time he did it. He was designing lights for Berkeley Repertory Theatre?s 1987 production of Long Days Journey into Night. The director, Jackson Phippin, insisted that the fourth act be lit with what appeared to be a pool of light cast by a table lamp. From the start, every rehearsal was played by lamp light in a darkened rehearsal hall. Maradudin recalls the results. ?[The actors] started to really use human behavior with the light to tell the story. Which is to say, that if you are admitting something you are ashamed of, maybe you step out of the light a little bit or look away from the light. That was wonderful to see a director work that way with the actors. It inspired me ever since to try and incorporate that thinking into the whole process. An actor can really use the light to enhance what they are doing.?

Kennedy was also inspired when he first saw the impact a table lamp could have on actors in rehearsal. His lamp lit a production staged in the round where its magic extended deep into the audience. When Jack O?Brien was preparing to direct Ibsen?s Ghosts at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, he asked Kennedy to visualize the effect of an oil lamp burning at the center of the Cassius Carter Centre Stage. Kennedy did and was enthralled.

Imagine 280 seats surrounding the turn-of-the-century parlor where Ghosts? timely taboo, the ravages of venereal disease, was on display from every angle. In a theatre in the round, most audience members are aware that where they are sitting determines what they see onstage and how they see it. Lit only by a lamp, the extremes of light and darkness heightened the audience?s awareness that no one was sharing the same exact visual image of the play.

Theatre in the round is often lit in the round. No matter where each actor stands or where each sits, the actors are evenly lit. However, when all the light onstage appears from one source, light and shadow echo an actor?s every move. Imagine the circle of seats numbered like a clock. If a character stands in front of the lamp facing the 12 o?clock seats, she is fully lit. But for those watching from the 6 o?clock seats, her back is turned, causing her shadow to sprawl toward them. Seats at 3 o?clock and 9 o?clock have her profile, that is until she moves again, causing a whole other series of views to emerge.

It definitely wasn?t overlit,? Kennedy recalls. ?People would tell Jack, ?It looks beautiful, but shouldn?t you fill in the lights more? I can?t hear if I can?t see their eyes.? He would just say, ?No, I love it!? Perhaps it wasn?t darkness that was keeping them from hearing the play: it just asked them to hear in a different way.

During American Conservatory Theatre?s 1994 ? 1995 season, Maradudin and director Richard Seyd found that for Othello the best way to rehearse with light initially didn?t involve lights at all. Seyd and the design team were heavily influenced by Hollywood?s visual vocabulary of film noir, and in particular The Third Man. To harness the genre?s stylized composition, the design team created a story-board of the entire production, illustrating scene by scene how the actors, sets, costumes and lights would interact with each other.

The storyboard illustrated that as Iago, actor Tony Amendola?s performance would require such specific interaction with light and shadow, and in so many locations onstage, that the only way to replicate the storyboard?s ?avenues of light? in the rehearsal hall was to tape it out on the floor on top of the ground plan for the set.

?You would hear this voice in the darkness,? says Maradudin, ?and at the right point in the monologue he would step into the light, sort of be caught just so, in the light from a window or a doorway. It?s so great to see light bulbs going off in actors? heads about how they can use the light and the space. He was starting to come up with all these great ways of using the shafts of light.?

?The need to develop the play in this way grew out organically from the film noir concept I had for the piece,? remembers Seyd. ?Often actors feel very restricted by working to such a tight visual plan, but in this case we explained the idea and had developed it so specifically that the actors really took to it. The movement from the rehearsal hall to the stage was simply effortless. It worked beautifully. As they began to feel the actual lights on them and could watch each other working with the lights, more ideas developed during tech. The effortless nature of the experience came from the intricate planning the design team did in the early stages. I think it was the most collaborative experience I have ever had.?
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Comments that are very cool.
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