Actors in Rehearsal : The Medea Effect
Last week, fortunate circumstances allowed me another step in an ongoing experiment. I like to say this is a thing I do – but in truth, it’s a very rare privilege that doesn’t happen very often. For only the second time in my career, I’ve been sketching actors in rehearsal.
I’ve been tremendously lucky to get another chance at this unusual experience. Being in the room, a fly on the wall, observing the actors, director, and motion designer at work. Seeing their trade-craft, and learning more than most will ever know about the subtext of the play.
It’s uncommonly generous of them to allow me to watch their process. After all – it’s meant to be seen, much like a painting, only in the finished state. After they’ve fully mastered the roles. Yet I’m there to see the relationship form before my eyes. The characters become real, and the tension between them deepens.
[Pencil, with light washes on Stillman & Birn Epsilon Series Sketchbook 8.5 x11″]
The play rests entirely on the interaction between two people. It must be a tremendous challenge for the actors – they’re called upon to create a complex psychological narrative with only body language and gesture – a larger, gradually revealed, hidden story, that rides above-and-beyond the simple words they’re speaking. I’ve only seen the first half of the thing – and the suspense is killing me!
In rehearsal – there’s nothing but the actors. No costumes, no set. Though the actual performance will be presented in a stripped down almost bare set, it will be enriched with lighting, sound and video. Here there’s nothing to distract from the physicality of their performance.
It’s surprising to me, in this age of video games and film. I mean – I’m right there – only a few feet way from these people. Their voices are LOUD. You actually feel the tension. Even a stomped foot or a snapped gesture makes a solid noise. A tossed chair can really mess you up.
For me the first day is a matter of studying their faces. Getting to know the actors. It’s a kind of portrait exercise. Research drawings. I’ll be going back next week, and we will see what develops. Like I say, the suspense is killing me. Like all drawing from life – you only get one chance to make a record. I’m just hoping to live up to the experience.
(Update: click over to day two of the rehearsal).