Thursday, September 27, 2012

ASC: Tempt(ing) Me Further

For the last two weeks, I have been attending rehearsals at the American Shakespeare Center. I have spent most of this time with the Tempt Me Further troupe as they prepare Love's Labour’s Lost and The Duchess of Malfi. As a high school senior hoping to pursue theatrical performance, the experience of these rehearsals has been incredible. It is invaluable to observe the methods, attitudes, and interactions of these professionals. One method I find particularly interesting is the paraphrase. For those who may not know how the ASC rehearsal process works, for most shows (excluding Renaissance Season, that’s a whole different animal), the actors receive the script for the play months before rehearsals begin. They are expected to come into rehearsals with their lines committed to memory, and in this case, with a paraphrased version of their role or roles, ready to show. The actors interpret every line from the original language to more clearly reflect what the actor believes that particular line to mean on its own, as well as in the context of the piece. This practice is especially useful for plays like Duchess that were written in the same time period as Shakespeare’s plays, as the language is often figurative and usually very dense with meanings.
The first day I was at rehearsal, I heard the actors' versions of all of their lines in The Duchess of Malfi. The differences between each of the actors' interpretations were intriguing. Each actor came into the room with a slightly different idea of what their characters stood for and how they would interact with one another. On several occasions, I heard a line from one character to another, and the reply had an entirely different meaning than the first. As the reading continued, Artistic Director Jim Warren’s vision for the show became clear. Jim corrected paraphrases that did not match his view of the text, and he occasionally gave suggestions for ambiguous sections. The paraphrased read-through helped me to be able to understand almost completely the intricacies of the play, with no foreknowledge and certainly no great scholastic background of my own in Elizabethan theatrical language. Far from only being applicable in this context, I have been able to apply this method to my school studies, especially in literature with poetry and older texts.
Another part of rehearsals that I have particularly enjoyed is the rehearsal of violence. Having some basic stage combat experience, this aspect of the process is intriguing for me. The training the actors have is evident when they practice; they move slowly through warm-ups and transition into working with props and stage weapons. The care with which they treat all their tools and props makes it clear the respect they have for these items and for the damage they can cause if treated improperly. In Duchess, for instance, there is a scene which requires a specialized apparatus to create a specific illusion of intense violence (I’m being intentionally vague in the hopes that anyone who reads this will come see The Duchess of Malfi either on the road or when it returns to the Blackfriars Playhouse stage in December and in the spring.) The apparatus is completely safe when used properly, but the effect is startling; aided by the sounds and movements of the characters involved, the illusion becomes a powerful reality which leaves the audience breathless.
Throughout the Tempt Me Further rehearsal process, I have learned a great number of techniques, theatrical and otherwise, that I have been able to apply both in and out of the theatre. The atmosphere surrounding rehearsals is one that I have enjoyed; it is light and purposeful at once, leading to a comfortable productivity that achieves wonders. Seeing the ASC actors work is and continues to be an incredible experience, and it encourages me even more that the theatre is the place where I want to be.

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