Friday, September 23, 2005

I Need Spirits to Enforce...

I have a theory:
When you rehearse a comedy it can be very hard and difficult going and fun as hell to perform and when you rehearse a drama the rehearsals are great fun but the actual performing of it, the dredging of usually unpleasant emotions from the well of human experience is hard.

And though The Tempest isn't a comedy out right, I am playing one of the clowns so my scenes at least are comic in tone. In fact, Lillian's entire take on the play is decidedly whimsical. This is going to be a playful Tempest, full of odd sounds, rim shots and humor that ranges from the bathroom to the gallows. And everyone seems up to it.

The island upon which the Tempest takes place is populated (or haunted, as the case may be) by Spirits. These are played by the most courageous, plucky, intrepid and talented group of young actors I've ever had the pleasure of sharing the boards with. Onstage virtually the entire play, they have the onerous task of creating non-human characters that by turns must support or comment on every line in the play. Their every move is scrutinized for synchronisity. Their physical attitudes must be constantly adjusted. They can never, for example bring their elbows in. They must sit in painful positions for entire scenes, diligently listening for precise cues to cock their head or make strange chittering noises. One of them, Jeff, was nearly swept off the stage when a gust of wind hit the sail he must manipulate in the opening storm scene.

But slowly, as the rehearsals have worn on they have become a unit. An otherworldly, by turns malevolent and comic unit. Each with his or her own distinct shape and style. Jean Paul's mosquito guy is a treasure of antic evil. Lyndsey's odd munchkin never misses a beat. Jeff and Katie's love scene is a heartbreaking treat. Will's manic monkey is a musical marmoset. You get the idea.

But back to more important matters:

I'm seeing my Stephano in Commedia terms as a classic Puchinella. All appetite and avarice and not a lot of brains. Think the Skipper on Gilligan's island. So Each night I'll be donning a volumnious fake derriere and a huge beer belly replete with belly button ring. A kind of drunken pirate with aspirations of gentility that are always swallowed by his darker purposes. A bully, a blow hard and a boor. Bombast with a soft spot.

The soft spot comes in the form of his love for his buddy Trinculo, played by the immensely talented Jud Williford who has taken over for an injured Stacy Ross.

In our first scene, not counting the crazed capering we do in the opening storm scene, Lillian has given us each delightful, emblematic little dances, each set to our own distinct music. We are the vaudeville counterpart to the scheming courtiers, and when Trinculo must take shelter under the strange fish/man Caliban's gabardine hilarity is supposed to ensue.

But remember this is a comedy and when rehearsing a comedy funny usually equals pain. How do you get two grown human beings to look like one two headed, four legged creature? What new forms of communication must the participants create? In the rehearsal hall I remember hearing this line:

"When I put my hand on your ass you stick your right arm out and then he can stick it back in."

These are the kind of things they don't tell you about in Drama school.

Another conversation:
Question: "Do you have to spit the wine right in his face for it to be funny?"
Answer: "Yes."

The Clown scenes get rehearsed like little evil ballets of violence. Each pratfall calibrated and timed to not get in the way of, but bolster Shakespeare's text. Every eye gouge properly set up and delivered like a souffle. Should that be a double take or shall we attempt the demanding triple. You get the idea.

All this, of course, takes an extraordinary amount of trust and patience. And knee pads. And elbow pads. And an abiding love of the work which of course is the most important and which this company seems to somehow have. In spades.

I said it in the dressing room last night and of course all the guys scoffed at me but it's true: I couldn't wish to work with a nicer group of people.

Next hurdle: TECH


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SuperBitch64 said...

I was so sorry to hear Stacy Ross was injured. I have been a fan for 25 with The Tempest nearly complete, I wonder when and where she will show up next.

Mr. Campbell, if and when you see Ms. Ross next, please offer my sincere greetings and the following message: "The Days of Wine & Roses with Chicken Every Sunday."

It's been many years, but perhaps she'll remember and smile.

Best wishes.