Six Characters in Search of an Author, Tompa MiklosTheatre, Trg-Mures, Romania, 2010
1971-76 –– Deciding to give up acting and pursue a higher academic degree and a training in directing, I applied and was accepted to the PhD. program at Drama Dept. at the University of California at Berkeley. This was a scholar/director program, in which you had to prove yourself as a scholar and write an academic PhD. thesis, but also to prove yourself as a capable director.
The Drama Dept. at the University of California, Berkeley
The four and a half years in Berkeley were perhaps the most important in our lives as a family, and certainly in my life as a creative theatre artist.
The Department, which had been established a few years earlier, was at its peak, chaired at the time by a gifted designer, Henry May, the faculty included O’Neil expert,Travis Bogard, costume designer Warren Travis, talented director Robert Goldsby, Classical Theatre expert Dunbar Ogden, Symbolist expert George House, and – most important for me – William Oliver, my dissertation director, mentor and ultimately close friend.
A brilliant, iconoclastic, totally impossible, practicing existentialist, who often continued a conversation in his room non-stop regardless of who came in or went out, Bill was, most of all, an extraordinary theatre director. Among his creations was a four and a half hour expansion of Buchner’s Danton’s Death, his own four-hour, vast historical panorama The Masques of Barbara Blomberg, and the four-hour and forty-five minutes juggernaut – Peer Gynt. All of these he created in an extraordinary fashion: a year or more of research and preparation, then, a month or so before the beginning of rehearsals he would block out the mise-in-scène of the entire play in meticulous detail. The first week or so or rehearsals, Bill would sit in the audience, his nose in his prompt book, and give us the minutely-detailed blocking in his stentorian voice, hardly lifting his head to see what had actually transpired on the stage. When that incredibly tedious section was over, he would have a full run-through, texts in hand, and then begin working on the scenes. Amazingly, he hardly ever changed his original blocking for the simple reason that it worked – no change was needed! Trying to understand that over the years the answer was very simple, Bill was endowed with an extraordinary visual imagination, and with his set in mind, his chosen actors in mind, he was capable of seeing the entire production, scene by scene, in its best possible configuration.
After talking an undergraduate course in directing, I moved into our second year of the PhD which was devoted entirely to directing. Going from one production to another at a rapid pace, this was basic training of an intense kind. During this year I directed five short plays. After the first three:
A FULL MOON IN MARCH, by W.B. Yeats
LONERGAN, an original play by one of our lecturers, David MacDonald.
WORDS ON THE WINDOW PANE, by W.B Yeats (Bill Oliver insisted that I direct a realistic play, so I did a play which includes two long séance sessions)
LEONCE AND LENA by Georg Buchner
UBU COCU by Alfred Jarry
For my MA production I went again into a kind of realism – fantastic realism:
TANGO, by Slawomir Mrozek.
This was my apprenticeship; this was where I learned that I loved directing, and did it well, for the most part; this was where I discovered my initial style of directing, which is detailed below.
Of all the arts of the theatre, directing is the most complex and demanding, alike in the complexity of its creative demands only to architecture.
Apart from those teachers who taught me at Berkeley and influenced my way of directing, such as Bill Oliver and Henry May, there were a number of theatre artists whose words amd insights on the art of directing have guided me throughout my career:
The true director incorporates inside himself a director of form, an artist-director, a playwright-director, an administrator-director
When one starts working on a play, at the beginning, of necessity, it has no shape. The play is just words on a page, or ideas. The event is the creation of a form…
…there is a great misunderstanding about this which frequently places an obstacle in front of work in the theatre, and it is basically the belief that what the playwright or the composer of a play or an opera is a holy form. We forget that the playwright when he is writing stage directions he is suggesting production techniques that are drawn from contemporary theatre halls. One must read between the lines. When Chekhov describes in great detail a scene that takes place inside or outside a house, he is, in effect, saying to us, “I want this to look real.” After his death a new of theatre space was born – the open arena stage – which did not know at all. Since then, many productions have proven that the three-dimensional cinematic relations between actors, with a bare minimum of furniture and props, seem more real, in the pure Chekhovian sense, then a heavily laden proscenium stage.
It is absolutely clear to me that the director’s task is to be a professional spectator. This a very precise art… The director is someone who teaches the actors something that he himself doesn’t know. And this is true if he knows “I don’t know how to do this, but I am a spectator”, in which case he can be creative. And this might also turn into a technique because inside all of this there is a complex and precise technique. But this is a technique that cannot be acquired in any school; it can be learned only by doing… Directors are not teachers of actors. They can be great directors, in complete mastery of misc-en-scene, without, for example, being able to teach the actors voice technique.
The director has a primary vision of the play when he reads the text, when he proceeds from the assumption that he wants to be a spellbound spectator… Therefore the director has to draw out of this still confused vision, which is not yet a conception but only the dream of the production, some first few steps into the work. He has to translate this into precise terminology: which actors? which spaces? He has to lay out a plan. There is no getting away from it. The plan is the starting point for the work; later unknown things will appear, unknown things will come from the actors, new associations will come to the director himself, the props begin displaying new possibilities.
…If the director does not look like someone who can be fascinated by an unknown possibility, even if it’s just for today, for this moment, he will remain always at the limited and banal level of his own conception.
The director has been called a spiritual gardener, a doctor of feelings, the midwife of the inexpressible, a cobbler of situations, a chef of speeches, a trustee of souls, the king of the theatre and a servant of the stage, an acrobat and a magician, a measurer and the measure of the public, a diplomat, an economist, a nurse, a conductor of the orchestra, a leader, an interpreter, a painter and a costume designer – a hundred and one definitions, and all of them totally useless. The director cannot be defined because his functions are undefined.
In short, directing a play is an intricate work of the hand and the heart, an action with such a high of sensitivity that anything that is human can be included in it – no more and no less. I don’t believe in theories and there is no theory that can contain the craft of directing plays.
Direction is a job, a craft, a profession and, at best, an art. The director must be an organizer, a teacher, a politician, a psychic detective, a lay analyst, a technician, a creative being. Ideally, he should know the literature of acting, the psychology of the actor, music, history, and above all, he must understand people. He must inspire confidence. All of which means he must be a great “lover.”
Working on the dramaturgy does not only involve the text or the story that we want to tell and make visible to the spectators.
There are three different dramaturgies, which should happen simultaneously but can each be worked on separately: 1. An organic or dynamic dramaturgy, which is the composition of the rhythms and dynamisms affecting the spectators on a nervous, sensorial and sensual level; 2. A narrative dramaturgy, which interweaves events and characters, informing the spectators on the meaning of what they are watching; 3. And lastly, the one that I call dramaturgy of changing states, when the entirety of what we show manages to evoke something totally different, similar to when a song develops another sound line through the harmonics.
In a performance, this dramaturgy of changing states distills or captures hidden significances, which are often involuntary on the part of the actors as well as the director, and are different for every spectator. It gives the performance not only a coherence of its own but also a sense of mystery.
The dramaturgy of changing states is the most elusive. There are no technical rules. Furthermore, it is difficult to explain what it involves beyond the perceptible effects: leaps from one dimension to another.
For the spectator, actor, and director it is a spring from one state of consciousness to another with unforeseeable and extremely personal consequences, both sensorial and mental.
This leap from one context to another is a perturbation, a change in the quality of energy, which produces a double effect: enlightenment or a sudden vortex that shatters the security of comprehension and is experienced as turbulence.
It is as difficult to describe the process of directing as is to define the art of the director. It depends, to a great extent, where one feels the director’s position stands vis-à-vis the production: at the service of the text, realizing the words and stage directions as written by the playwright, or at the service of his own art, his ability to read the words and the stage directions and see it all differently, while at the same time attempting to be true in his interpretation to playwright’s concept as it is expressed in the text. The first of these is “workmanlike” – as a director I create and light the space with the help of designers as something close to the playwright’s description, and help the actors say the text and move within the given performance space as written, with as much truth and authenticity as possible.
The second of these leads into adaptations which can be, but don’t have to be, true to the actions of the play as written, and involve a great deal of freedom in the use of the text, the stage directions and the suggested space.
In order to resolve this difficulty, the best place to begin is with this attempt at a definition of what is essentially undefinable: the art of the director.
Directing in the theatre is an independent art form that uses the elements of stage language – space, time, tempo, movement, form, body, texture, colour, voice and language – in order to create a complete work of art that exists only in the real time/space of the performed event in front of audience.
As I am writing this definition I am totally aware of the fact that it, too, is a reduction: what is “a complete work of art”? what is “the performed event”? is there a necessary balance between each of these elements, “space, time, tempo, etc”? And what is the place of the playwright’s text – which does not even appear in this definition except as “words”? Since greater theoreticians than myself gave up the chase, I will leave this as a bare-bones starting point.
In all of this I am skirting very close to the concept of the semiotics of theatre, a critical discipline which has been part of my work as a director almost from the first directing exercises I created at UC Berkeley. Since it has such seminal importance to my work, here is a brief journey through this fascinating territory.
Semiotics of Theatre was at the cutting edge of theatre studies for nearly 20 years from the 70’s to the 90’s and since then has mysteriously disappeared from the front of the stage of theatre research, and the learned volumes are mostly gathering dust in libraries. Kowzan, Pavis, Elam, Rozik-Rosen, and many others wrote amazingly complicated treatises, complete with charts, equations and endless graphs, in order to try and encompass a single moment of theatre. It seems to me that this “disappearance” is not so surprising, simply because a single moment of theatre is so complex that, I believe, it defies reduction to graphs and equations, and at some point these astute researchers realized that they had more or less exhausted the academic possibilities of the subject.
Paradoxically, the contribution of theatre semiotics to my own work is crucial, not as an attempt to reduce a moment of theatre to a concise definition, but as a way of understanding the dynamics of theatre as a key to directing and acting.
Basically, the concept of semiotics in the theatre is very simple: the function of the director, the actors and all the other partners to the creation (designers, choreographers, musicians), is to create signs within the performance space, verbal, visual, and aural; the function of the spectator is to interpret these signs. What is more, because spectators come to the theatre with the readiness to fulfill this function, in the time/space of a performance, everthing, however minute or even accidental, that is seen or heard in the performance space, is meaningful. So the most basic equation of the dynamics of a theatre performance in time is signs and interpretation.
In my own work, this is at the back of my mind, embedded in my technique, in every decision that I make: movement on the stage, use of depth, elements of the sets, costumes, etc. This lies at the basis of the way in which I have been directing for the past thirty years, at least – adaptations of classics.
In my understanding of the art of the director, the unction of the director is to translate the two-dimensions of the written work into what Grotowski calls “the dream of the play” that is the real-time, three-dimensional performance.
It took many years for me to reach the point where I felt confident enough in my art to create truly radical interpretations of classical plays (Blood Wedding, Macbeth, Hamlet, Six Characters in Search of an Author, among others), or to take on rare texts with no innate form (Picasso’s Desire Caught by the Tail, Cocteau’s Wedding on the Eiffel Tower, Lorca’s The Love of Don Perlimplin for Belissa in the Garden, among others. For full details see Productions). However, in 1993, working on a production of a rarely produced play, Hinkeman by Ernst Toller (for the 20th Anniversary of the Faculty of Arts at Tel Aviv University, which was devoted to Expressionism), everything I knew and liked about theatre came together in a “production dream” that took shape in my imagination in great detail long before the first day of rehearsal: the ragged reorganization of the entire space of the theatre hall into Cubist triangles, rectangles, ovoids and abstract shapes; the distorted perspectives of the audience with scenes played in one audience space but also observed at the same time by other spectators a great distance away from the action. That breakthrough production marked out a clear path for me in my understanding of the art of directing, and placed my directing projects, from that time on, firmly on the side of what is known in Germany – and the West – as regie theater, a director’s theatre.
Starting from a totally inchoate desire to direct a certain play, it usually takes me a year to get to the point where I am ready to begin rehearsals. The process involves, first of all, an instinctive attraction, a seed of an idea, an image or a question which has drawn me to the play. E.g. for Hedda Gabler (Zurich 2015), the starting point that eventually led me to a totally revised and reworked performance text, was a question: “Who Killed Hedda Gabler?” For Blood Wedding (Tel Aviv, 1994), the time-crossed, circularity of the final production was the idea that the entire play functions like the title of Marquez’s novel, it is a Chronicle of a Death Foretold.
Based on this initial attraction, the first thing that I do is clear three to four hours for an “associative reading” of the play. I read the entire play, without a break, and write down everything that comes to mind during that time frame, literally everything: images, questions, observations, and reflections. This is a prima vista process, a conceit, as if I have never read or seen the play before, an attempt to discover my instinctive, associative connections to the play. This document is now put aside and not referred to again until two weeks or so before the opening. Amazingly, almost invariably, I find that I have spent six months or more trying to avoid these initial associations, images, etc., but they are almost all there. In other words, my subconscious attraction to the play actually contains the entire production.
The next stage of this process is an enormous amount of reading, research and visual stimulation, until an impossible-to-define moment comes when I feel I am “full”, when I have to stop ingesting and need to begin writing out the text that has germinated in my imagination throughout all the months of research. This is a totally undefinable moment, but in my work it seems never to fail: at some point I find myself looking blankly at more and more images, or unable to focus on yet another article on the play at hand, and it is clear to me that the time has come to write. It is from that point on that the “dream” takes over, and begins being played out directly from my imagination into the computer, as my dream-vision begins to take shape and turn into a performance script.
This is a very difficult process to describe because, on the one hand, it is, initially, totally inspirational, beginning from a line, an image or an event that I see in my imagination as the opening action, and proceeds from there virtually unplanned, as the densely stored information that I have gathered over the months coalesces as I write. On the other hand, it is, nevertheless consciously crafted, as the performance text develops along a subconscious, but very powerful, through-line, or concept. This involves endless drafts (usually 10 or 15, which acquire new numbers whenever there is a significant breakthrough or change in the developing score), using the playwright’s text very freely, changing characters or extrapolating texts from one character to another, along the strong undercurrent of the concept, until the “dream” has taken complete shape.
Creating the Performance Text and Space
It is at this point, sometimes after six months or more of work on the adaptation that I bring in my collaborators, my co-creators. The first of these is my set designer (who may or may not also design the costumes), with whom I have to work out the configuration of the space. Since these adaptations are not abstract exercises, but designed with a particular theatre space in mind, the text itself, the performance script, already includes the desired configuration: frontal (mainstage or small stage), transverse, thrust, in the round, or variations of any of these.
This, too, can take months, as we go through the latest draft line by line to examine the semiotic function of the space, the entrances and exits and the mise-en-scène of every moment. This occasionally requires visiting the future stage space if we are not previously acquainted with it (see the development of the concept of The Dybbuk in “Productions”). This progresses finally, after painstakingly going through the entire adaptation, to proposals by the designer in sketches, then in a 1:50 “white” model, and finally, the finished product: a 1:20 fully designed model.
From here, the work on the text continues, but involves more co-creators, such as a composer and a choreographer, if needed. At the end of six to twelve months, when the adaptation has been finalized on paper, rehearsals begin.
Directing the Play
Everything that has been prepared over many months now goes into the next, most creative stage: making it all come together with the actors, the choreographer, the musician, and any other co-creator (costume designer, puppet or mask maker, video editor, etc.)
Phase I – approaching the play with the actors
There is a commonplace conception that goes back to Stanislavski and the American Method that every production must begin with “table work”: repeated readings of the play and extensive discussions about its structure, the characters, the events, the actions, the motivations and the objectives. Occasionally, directors working in this way will ask the actors to devise a “biography” of the character’s life before the time of the play.
Over the years, I have found that spending so much time talking at the table is a waste of precious creative time, because after two weeks or so of deep discussions, when the actors finally get up and begin moving in the space, everything they have talked about disappears and has to be “re-discovered” through their bodies. Having experienced that phenomenon early in my career, I came to the conclusion that rehearsals have to begin with the actors on their feet and moving in the space with the text. Everything that they can discover through intensive verbal and mental interpretation, can be much more clearly, effectively and profoundly incorporated into their creative work if, after a single reading of the play, we move into the creation of the mise-en-scène.
One of the reasons for this development in my directing career is the fact that I rarely direct straightforward realistic plays, and if I do they are radically adapted so that the original development of the plot is turned into a holistic, multi-levelled, often circular, rather than linear, narrative that functions simultaneously in many different time frames. This creates a different kind of concept of character development that gets no direct benefit from the traditional methods of table work. In effect, this form of theatre requires “micro-acting”: the ability to bring to a very small scene, that has been extracted from a larger, more detailed event in the original play, the entire weight of the full scene as originally written. For example, in Lorca’s Blood Wedding, there is a brief dialogue between the Mother and the Groom before the wedding, in which she asks him, “Did you bring the watch?” In the original it is part of the preparations for the disastrous wedding scene. In my adaptation, this encounter between the Groom and the Mother, occurs at various places throughout the production as a tiny, self-contained moment, not obviously connected to anything that precedes or follows it. However, the accumulation of this same question serves a different purpose altogether – the emphasis on the closing time-frame leading, inevitably, to the “death foretold.” The actors have to play this repeated scene each time in its original context in order to give authority and authenticity to the moment, and by doing so contributing to the overall concept of the production.
Even though every production is unique in its requirements, this is one general part of the process of my direction that applies virtually universally, no matter what kind of material I am working on: a single reading of the play; a detailed presentation of the concept; a presentation of the model of the set and the costume designs; occasionally a presentation of excerpts of the music, and finally, a presentation of the stages of the process.
Phase II – Training
Since, indeed, every production is unique, I can only generalize about the various possibilities:
a) In most cases, my rehearsals begin with a week or ten days of intensive training in my ImageWork Training and the Chekhov Technique. This is particularly true when I am working with a company for the first time, but is also true for companies or actors I have worked with in the past. For the latter, this is refresher and a reawakening of the theatre language of my form of directing.
b) During this time, the actors are told to keep their notebooks near at hand, along the wall of the workspace, and that anything that happens, from the moment they step into the working space until the end of the rehearsal, is potential material for the production. After all, they have read the play, they have heard the concept, and they know which character they are playing, so that by moving in the space through the various training exercises, they actually call up material – images, associations, insights – that are relevant to their character in some way, for the most part unexpected, about their character. These discoveries they have to write down immediately in their notebooks, otherwise they tend to disappear. For that reason the actors are allowed to do so at any time without asking permission from me. Clearly, no amount of talking can help them tap into their huge store of images and memories, in the same way that physical improvisations can.
c) This kind of work is two-directional: the actors are free to go and write down anything they think is important, and I often go to an actor who is doing something that I think might feed into his or her work in the production, and ask him or her to repeat it and then go and write it down.
Phase III – Mise-en-Scène
a) At the end of the training period, we do something that catches most actors off guard: I “block” the play, i.e I go through the entire play, making a rough sketch of the mise-en-scène together with the actors. This can take anywhere from four to seven days, depending on the length and/or nature of the play. At the end of this blocking process, we do a full run-through, texts in hand. Since during this process we also begin to scratch the surface of the beats, objectives, and character motivations, “table work” on the go, as it were, the run-through gives them the Chekhovian Feeling of the Whole, and gives them a good preparation for delving deeper into the play when we begin working scene by scene.
It is important to note in this context, that the actors are told very emphatically, that these intensive blocking sessions have one main purpose: to get them on their feet and moving in the space of the production, and to allow them to begin the process of “in-coporating” – putting in the body – their sense of their character. They are also requested to note down the mise-en-scène in pencil, since once we begin working on the scenes things will change radically.
b) Even though I inherited this blocking process from my mentor at UC Berkeley, William Oliver, I deviate from his way of doing it in the fact that I cannot envision the whole mise-en-scène in advance the way he used to do. Since I have, in a certain sense, envisaged the entire play in my mind while I was writing the adaptation, I know more or less instinctively what the blocking should be, and write out very detailed stage directions (See: Texts). Some of these texts with such extensive stage directions make actors uneasy – as if the entire play has already been worked out and there is nothing for them to do except carry out the directions. This has prompted me often to give the actors “blank” texts, with very few stage directions, so that they can feel free to work with what I give them and contribute from their own understanding of the nature of the play. This kind of writing, the imaginative envisioning of the play during the creation of the adaptation, makes it possible for me to allow the mise-en-scène to emerge from the work on the scene together with the actors. If I do work with the detailed text, I make it very clear that the stage directions are merely suggestions and that everything can change when we work on a scene.
c) The next stage in the development of a production is perhaps the most satisfying and the most challenging: working through the play, scene by scene, usually covering a full cycle about three times in a six week rehearsal period, stopping at the end of each cycle to do a run-through.
d) During this part of the creative process, scenes and moments are picked apart in minute details, not by sitting down and talking about them, but by finding solutions in movement to the objectives and actions that have been identified. Having been an actor myself, and totally reliant on my actor’s instincts, I often solve problems of interpretation and movement by simply stepping into the performance space and demonstrating what and how I think this particular moment should be played. Actors, by and large, resent this intrusion into their space, and I appreciate that, so whenever I do demonstrate a moment I do so in a broad exaggeration so that there will be no sense of the possibility that I might actually play the moment better than themselves.
And one more important element of this process: rehearsals, or parts of rehearsals, are always ended with a quick run-through of whatever has been done during that hour or during that entire session; a closure to everything that has been worked on by putting it into the body. Leaving a scene without this kind of closure, putting the growing work into the body, means leaving it all to the vagaries of memory. The body remembers these things much more efficiently, connecting physical location and movement in the performance space to texts and emotional sub-texts. The same principle of active body-memory applies to the next time that scene is worked through: first a run-though to awaken the body-memory of the scene, then the detailed work.
Phase IV – The Actors
a) Everything that I have described above says very little about the actors’ contribution to the growing work of art, while in fact, it is the real body of the work, equaled only by my own work in creating the adaptation. In the best possible cases, at a certain point, truly creative actors will begin bringing in their own choices and ideas so that the work becomes a joint creation.
b) My mentor and dear friend, Eugenio Barba, refers to his actors as “colleagues” and I unashamedly copy this attitude in my work. No amount of brilliant adaptation and blocking can come to fruition as a complete work of art without the active contribution of the actors, so they are colleagues in the full sense of the word, co-creators. As a result, I have developed a way of working in a virtually improvisational way: coming into the work on a scene as if I have never seen it before, and working with whatever the actors give me on that day. On occasion, the direction that I give is diametrically opposed to what we may have done the last time we worked on that scene simply because what the actors give me this time is different, and perhaps better, than what we did before. When actors complain about this, and say, “But last time you said that I move to the right!” I usually tell them that I “don’t remember” what we did last time, and that I only work with what is now. This kind of ostensibly “naïve” openness to whatever is happening on the stage when it actually happens, is crucial to the “first-time” sense of the development of the play
c) Clearly, this can only work on the basis very comprehensive understanding of the play that I have written, and all these improvisational directions emerge from a powerful through-line that is sitting in my subconscious and directing all my choices.
Phase V – Heading Toward Performance
a) Generally speaking, when I begin rehearsals I sit very close to the performance space, so that I can see details and be able to enter into the space if necessary. As the work progresses, and larger sections of the play are worked on (e.g. whole acts), I move further and further back in the audience space so that I can observe the overall stage picture, and correct it if necessary. By the we reach this stage of the process, on occasion I tell actors to move a little bit to the right or the left because the scene is saying something, in terms of semiotics, that is not what I intended. If one of the actors asks me why he needs to move, my answer is simple – because the stage picture needs it. If he pursues the issue and ask what his motivation for the move is, I ask him to find it by himself within his character. This can only be done during the late stages of the rehearsal period when the actors have incorporated their characters, “own” them” and are confident enough to solve this kind of direction on their own.
b) The turning point in this entire process is when the production is “birthed”, when the actors know more about the characters than I do. Like in a human birth, this is wonderful moment – I have managed to bring it all together into a coherent work of art – but also a sad one: I have nothing more to say to the actors about the substance of their parts, or the nature of the relationships between the characters. In essence, the actors “take the play away from me” and now all I have to do is to see the technical aspects of lighting, music and choreography. Bringing the actors to this stage must occur a week or ten days before the opening night, because they have to hold on the everything they have achieved during the tedious lighting sessions, or equally difficult cue-to cue sessions, when the rehearsal jumps through the lighting and music cues , and the actors go through the motions like puppets.
c) There are, however, two special rehearsals that I insert at this stage: a “speed run” (often referred to as an “Italian” run-through) and a “crazy rehearsal”:
The Speed Run: working in great detail on all the scenes, stopping and starting during rehearsals, taking time for transitions to occur – all these create a kind of false timing for the performance. The speed run makes it possible for the entire production to reach its natural, effective tempo. How does it work? For a play that is running in the run-throughs for an hour and forty minutes I give the actors 25 minutes to do the entire play, keeping the mise-en-scène and saying the entire text. If there are complicated set pieces that are moved by the actors during the play, we do it on a bare stage and they mime the movement of the furniture or sets. I stand right next to the stage and clap my hands if I feel they are slowing down. The result is, first of all, exhilarating, secondly, it has given them zero time to think so transitions occur at a quarter of the tempo, and finally, in most cases when they are moving that fast they often improvise a moment in a way that is much better than what they have been doing. Having experienced the possibility of drastically shortening moments or transitions in the production without losing any of the emotional impact, the next time we do a regular run-through, the entire play – invariably – is shortened by anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes.
The Crazy Rehearsal: This is done on an empty stage, and the instructions are simple: the actors have to go through the entire play, say all the text, but they are not allowed to use any element of the existing mise-en-scène they have worked on. As long as they are saying the text they can do, more or less, whatever they want, wherever they want to do it. This has a similar effect on the actors as the Speed Run: jolting them out of the constraints of the original blocking, they can improvise to their hearts’ content and, along the way, find nuggets of insight into moments of the play that they would have never discovered if they had continued to work on these scenes with the original timing andmovement. It’s the freedom that is exhilarating and highly creative, and brings about many exciting changes to the play.
Phase VI – the Technical Rehearsals
There is only one major consideration in this part of the creation of the play: helping the actors hold on to what they have achieved as they go through the tedious job of being puppets on the stage for the director, the lighting designer and the composer. Part of the secret to this is detailed, meticulous preparation, so that moving the actors around the stage from cue to cue is as brief as possible.
Phase VII – Leading Up to Opening Night
Once the technical rehearsals are over, the entire effort of the past six to eight months has to be brought together, smoothed out, and made to work as an effective piece of theatre. No matter how experienced your actors are, they are almost totally dependent on your feedback – as the only audience they have until opening night. That’s why you have to give detailed notes, not only about what isn’t working, but also about real achievements, jumps, innovations and surprises. Even if you have “open rehearsals” and invite friends and colleagues to see the performance, the first contact with a real audience is always a vibrant, sometimes frenetic, event that has a certain brilliance to it simply because of the heightened state of nervous energy. Until that moment, you are the only audience and have to carry out that complex undertaking with as much focus as possible.
There are occasions when the actors have so totally “taken over” the performance that giving them nit-picking notes is counter-productive, and the only thing you can tell them is “You need an audience.” On the other hand, if that magic moment of having the production “taken away” from you by the actors has not happened, there is a race against time to bring the actors to the point where they will at least be ready for an audience, even if they are still totally dependent on you, in the hope that things will come together when they learn how the play functions in the real time of the performance with an audience.
If the theatre makes it possible for the play you have directed to run for five or six consecutive evenings (this is usually possible in theatre schools, but less so in professional theatres), then you now have the responsibility, as director, to gauge the response of the audience, see what works, what doesn’t work, and make changes if necessary – creating a greater emphasis somewhere, or reducing the time-frame of a scene elsewhere.
Phase VIII – Letting Go
When I was directing The Crucible at a theatre school in Israel in 1985, I was pressuring the actor playing John Proctor to give me detailed answers about what he was doing in a particular scene and why. After about twenty minutes of this intense interrogation, he stopped the rehearsal, asked me to stop questioning him, and said, “Leave me my secrets!”
This was a great lesson for me, and one that I have fully assimilated in my work with actors. In the same way that I don’t have to explain everything – my secrets – to the actors in terms of the overall production concept, they must be given the freedom to play out their secrets without any intervention on the part of the director. So – after a play opens, and has its first few performances, and the director gathers the actors every evening to give them notes, there comes a time when he must let go, when the performance is their secret, and they have to be left alone to discover it channels, alleyways, and high roads. They no longer have to answer to the director, only to their audiences and their professional integrity.