… ARCHIVED REHEARSAL NOTES
This page contains rehearsal notes and thoughts from a past production’s rehearsal process:
REHEARSED SEP-NOV 2019
THIS IS A PLAY
by Daniel MacIvor
Rehearsed and staged with the following SHADOWS:
by Sam Shepard
Rehearsed and staged with the following SHADOWS:
STANDING AT OPPOSITE ENDS
ARE DUCKY & MURDOCK
by Scott Shannon
A staged reading of a work-in-progress with the following SHADOWS:
ACTION/PLAY Notes – Sep-Nov 2019
The process for this fall has come to an end: rehearsed and (re-)staged Daniel MacIvor’s This Is A Play and Sam Shepard’s Action – both plays I am intimately familiar with, and both of which were opened in new directions for me thanks to the wonderful casts I had to work with over the past couple months. Our evening of plays also began with a staged reading each night of scenes from the play I’ve been trying to develop for a while, Standing At Opposite Ends Are Ducky & Murdock, read by Simon and Amanda to great effect, at least for me but it felt like the rooms were taken in a bit too (more on that below).
We’re continuing to CELEBRATE 20 years of Nasty theatre in the Shadows, and this fall’s selection perfectly embodies the past/present/future of the Company: Shepard’s Action ties to the original vibe of Nasty Shadows as it was his work and others I was exposed to in the 90s that developed the desire to stage this sort of theatre (if we can narrow down to a “type”) and another Shepard play, Cowboys #2, was part of our first summer of shows in 1999; MacIvor’s This Is A Play exhibits a Nasty discovery made close to 10 years into our adventure and this play and its writer have had a tremendous impact on the work the Shadows stage, and the work developed within the group; and finally the scenes from my play-in-progress, Standing At Opposite Ends Are Ducky & Murdock, exemplify the trajectory I’ve been trying to steer the Shadows more and more over the past 5+ years, into creating/producing more original content to compliment the body of known works we continue to pull from for productions.
So first I’m gonna blab about Action … man, that play is wacked! I first read the play back in 1995 or so after picking up a collection of Shepard plays since I knew it was being used in what sounded like an interesting theatre course at UNBSJ (a course being taken by my future wife and taught by my soon to be professor/friend/Nasty co-founder, Robert Moore). Reading Action back then was certainly puzzling, but I was completely drawn into this world Shepard had created for the play, despite my not being able to *explain* it – and I still can’t, not really. I can make jabs at themes and moments, but overall, what does this play leave us with? A feeling that the play’s world is weird … that our world is weird … and it is …
The cast for Action was a mix of familiar and new Shadows, with Ian and Annick having played in our Nasty group before, but Kat and Greg being some folks I met while doing another project a couple of years ago with Next Folding Theatre Company. Kat’s on stage presence and talents were immediately apparent to me, so I kept her in the back of my mind for a year as we went about some already pre-planned Nasty business, which ended up as a time of re-incorporating Annick back into the Shadows in an on stage presence (having only helped us out as a stage hand in the past). With both Annick and Kat freshly in my mind last year it became apparent that, if they were agreeable, we could create an wonderful version of MacIvor’s play A Beautiful View, and after asking them to be involved and us all agreeing to move forward with the show as a spring 2020 production I then wanted/needed something for us to do or stage in the fall of 2019, and Action was a play that bubbled back up to the surface for me.
Back when I’d first discovered it I was able to use the play as a class production project while attending UNBSJ in the mid-90s and we staged a version of the play that in some sense sketched out the model of theatrical creation I would lean more and more towards, what I now refer to as Garage Theatre – we staged the show in the corner of the SUB cafeteria. Just the acceptance that the production environment/elements are all part of the charade, that we as an audience can accept quite a wide variation in accuracy and detail with regards to those facets of production, and as such the performance and the text being performed became the heart and soul of what I was after and where I wanted to focus – the rest is a distraction for me. And I do not say that to foolishly be casting aside the talents and impact of the technical design aspects of theatre, but at a practical level it became something that I had to accept would/could never measure up to what I might hope, so I best accept that and work with what we had at hand, which makes me think of us like a garage band, and thus Garage Theatre.
However, this was all just a further understanding of something to which I’d been introduced a few years previous while attending Dalhousie University, the 1968 book The Empty Space by Peter Brook, with the opening phrase:
“I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space, whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.”
I cite this quote often as it is my touchstone for where my theatrical consciousness really takes root. Reading the words of Peter Brook changed my life immensely, and I still re-read his books often (just starting that process again now in the wake of this last project and in preparation for our next venture).
Back to Action …
So, I had Kat and Annick on deck for a spring 2020 show, but for fall 2019 I cast them into the roles of ‘Liza’ and ‘Lupe’ in the Shepard play, and (re-)cast Ian as ‘Jeep’, and went through a couple of other possible actors before landing on Greg as ‘Shooter’ – very glad things worked out as they did. We had attempted Action a number of years ago with the Shadows, but it fell apart due to the actor cast as ‘Shooter’ being a bit, umm, unreliable. At that time, I’d moved on from the show, but here it was again, and like the first attempt, Ian still remained a perfect choice for bringing ‘Jeep’ to life. Greg is somebody I had touched base with about possible working on something together to help stage an original play of his, after I saw his play Gullywump during 2019’s NBActs festival. I then saw Greg perform at the Fundy Fringe in a very rushed production of a play, and after seeing that performance and the role of ‘Shooter’ once again needing to be cast, I settled on Greg on the hunch that working with him could develop a strong performance. Greg’s willingness and honest hard work become something you can’t turn away from – it reminded me of working with Andrew Jones, who I often noted as the hardest working actor I ever played with; Greg is a close 2nd and his work paid off in spades. ‘Jeep’ and ‘Shooter’ carry most of the show’s “action” (for lack of a better term), and Ian and Greg really took the roles onto themselves in an honest way (there’s that word again, “honest”), and it created a spectacular thing to watch unfold each night as each took hold of their respective roles more and more through the process and over the run.
And so, we rehearsed and played, and the play came alive in a way it never had for me before – I’ve been reading this play for 20 years – its humour really rose to the surface, and I think it all stems from the way Kat was approaching the role of ‘Liza’. The first rehearsal with Kat, she simply settled into this “mother” role in playing ‘Liza’, which was completely appropriate as it is what that part basically stands in as, the mother figure, but her delivery of the lines and the casual tone opened another avenue for me to explore with the text, and glad we did! Following a thread of an idea that these exchanges are forms of conversation, some silly, some intense, some authentic, some not, this exploration really brought out a side of the play I had not really thought about or even really imagined was there – I was always so serious about the “story”. This release into something banal yet hilarious was wonderful and revelatory! It’s moments like these that make rehearsal so fun and worthwhile …
There were numerous moments in rehearsal that rattled or rocked a scene and helped steer us in the right direction, so in the end we had a very absurdly casual dinner but also with very high stakes for certain characters: The women were more accepting of the life they were all living at this point in time, but the men were unable to settle. Each have their moments in the other’s domain, where the men accept certain aspects of this life and the women are unable to do so, but in the end the men can’t hack it. In a nutshell, that’s the “story” at play during this wacky dinner … and seeing it performed in front of unsuspecting audience folks was a wonderful treat – I think it took us all on a trip for its duration! And but so the evening ended on this weirdly surreal and unsettling note … a far away place from where we began the night …
STANDING AT OPPOSITE ENDS ARE DUCKY & MURDOCK
The evening started with a reading of a play I’ve been developing (or trying to) for several years … had the perfect cast in mind when I began the writing, but sadly (for me) they moved away and began a wonderful life together (HA!) … fast forward to 2019 and I find myself working for the first time in a long time with two young actor who love playing with, so maybe they could read these parts? Would that work? … and so, I had Amanda and Simon read a couple of scenes from Standing At Opposite Ends Are Ducky & Murdock to begin each evening of our ACTION/PLAY run.
In some sense, adding the scene reading balanced the evening out in an interesting way for me. We started with sharing an incomplete new work in a trusted environment. Next, we shared a familiar work for us and our audience, infused with new life by the cast. And then we finished with a new-to-us work by a playwright the Shadows have staged and the process embodied much of what I love about our little Nasty world of theatrics.
Back to Ducky & Murdock, it is always nerve wracking to me when I share my words with people, almost more so than when I speak the words of others, no matter what those words might be – in those speaking moments I’m “the character” which creates a distance. While I will only perform now in something that I can truly believe in, as a performer of a text I feel slightly “shielded” from certain worries and/or criticisms. But when you’re the writer, the only reason anyone is performing and listening is because of words *you* wrote – to me, this is a major responsibility. Nobody would be gathered at this moment were it not for the words you wrote. And so, in each city’s performance space, as I stood in front of the audiences to introduce the reading (and to read stage directions), I was a nervous wreck. There I was, “the writer”, completely exposed while “the actors” read the words I’d written for those in attendance to hear and experience. And just like the first time I finally had the guts to share my writing as a performed play, this type of experience makes the next time easier to stomach and envision.
The play is VERY loosely based on my paternal grandparents who grew up and lived their lives in Saint John, so the play contains references to those very things while still building into the “world” I’ve sort of created where all my plays (or attempts thereof) seem to exist and take place. Like our own world, the details of this world emerge the more we are exposed to it, but still remain vague at the best of times (am I the only one who feels life like this?). I’m not looking to define the world of these plays, but more interested in discovering and interpreting those discoveries with each work.
So Ducky & Murdock is exploring the idea of my paternal grandparents and their love within the context of this of unknown world. More will come out when the play is performed, but for now I’ll just say that it was very helpful and encouraging to be with the audiences and watch them as Amanda and Simon brought the spirits of ‘Ducky’ and ‘Murdock’ to life each night of the run. It created an interesting vibe in the room where I felt we’d earned a trust from the audience as we moved forward with the night.
THIS IS A PLAY
And now the last piece I’ll speak about, which was the 2nd theatrical adventure of each night during the run, sandwiched between the scene reading and the wacky Shepard adventure: This Is A Play by Daniel MacIvor might be my favourite play of all time – I kid you not. The script is essentially a master class in what makes a good play, and this has it all. Don’t be fooled by “the gag”, hearing the actors reveal their innermost thoughts – this is essential to the whole, but not the be all/end all of the show. The “story” of this play is an elemental capture of an artist’s need to create and share with an audience, which is captured beautifully within the context of a story about a story, where the overarching outcome is the artist’s story witnessed live – but it’s not portrayed as a torturous undertaking or separate from the story about a story, instead the artist’s creation story is intimately tied and woven through these melodramatic stories that drive the action of the actors on stage. It’s phenomenal to watch unfold every time.
The text is so strong it can survive even a bad performance – I feel the Shadow versions have all been fortunate with absolutely stellar casts each time (not to toot our own horn), but I’ve also seen disastrously mundane versions that still carry the text. The text of the show is such that it lends itself across the entire spectrum of performance capabilities – that is just built into the show since you are watching actors reflect on their “good” or “bad” acting as they tell the melodramatic story within the play. So, seeing this done badly just colours the text in a hilariously honest way that still resonates profoundly; this resonance is simply stronger and perhaps felt more deeply when the show is done well. And once again I managed to pull together 3 wonderful talents who played together so well and brought out yet more colours and angles of the show that we hadn’t explored in our previous 2 productions (2007 & 2010).
At the core of our 3 versions of this show has been the OLDER FEMALE ACTOR portrayed by Julie MacDonald each time – she’s perfect in this role. Absolutely perfect. Julie has this natural charm that just embodies the role so fluidly you can’t help but fall in love with her sarcasm and warmth – a very fine balance, indeed, but Julie brings it in spades. In our first rendition back in 2007 the dancing element was very slight, and in 2010 we upped the ante on incorporating a few more dance-like moments/influences in some of the movements; this time we went WILD with the dancing vibes and it really paid off! We played in a MUCH smaller space for this last staging, pulling the audience in closer with performers and watchers on the same level. I could tell Julie was a bit hesitant, but she’s also game to try most of my suggestions, and adding these spins, pivots and such worked wonderfully to infuse more energy and motion overall and REALLY added to the notion that the director of the play within the play has “a dance background”, and admittedly I do have a (small) dance background, so it works on numerous levels in very good ways. This show is full of layers and soaking up the play’s density is also part of its surprising charm and easy acceptance by anyone in the audience. These layers are exposed most clearly as each actor is given the chance to strut their stuff, so to speak, with a number of solo moments that are all part of the overarching arc of momentum the layers and intersections between each level of the play create and follow.
The first performer we encounter fully exposed is the MALE ACTOR. Simon seemed like such a natural fit for this role to me and I had been wanting to use him on stage after first playing with and seeing him perform in The Crucible with Branch Out Productions – I knew he would work well in many possibilities, so when re-staging This Is A Play became an option, Simon was first on my mind and neither I nor the audience were disappointed by the result, far from it. It’s fun to work with new young actors hungry for digging into the theatrical world, which is not always the case when encountering new performers (people participate in this thing called “theatre” for many different reasons), so I’ve become more and more cautious over the years with whom we bring into the Shadow world because our focus is the work, a luxury afforded to such amateur adventures, and yet we’re out for something different than what community theatre offers and provides – Simon was a natural fit, working without ego and towards what the project needed. (And that previous thought isn’t meant as a slight on any other “aim” of a theatrical outing, I simply like to clarify that the Shadow focus is the work at hand first and foremost and the devotion to creating something theatrical, no other agenda – but this is a separate discussion.) Simon took my direction and with a mix of conscious and unconscious acceptance he thoroughly created the MALE ACTOR that came to life during our time together in the rehearsal space … in MacIvor’s work the performer very much meets the character at least halfway, if not even closer (which I’d argue is the case for most of this “acting” stuff we do). Simon’s MALE ACTOR was exactly what this production needed, and it was thoroughly entertaining and engaging to watch him move through the show each night having seen the work he did through the process to make it all work: my direction and his acceptance and interpretation thereof.
Another performer who captured my attention was Amanda. Michael brought Amanda in to read for the role of FEMALE ACTOR and I knew before she finished the first sentence that this natural talent needed to be used for some Nasty good work! (I’ve had the good fortune of encountering a few other Shadows that just had “it”.) She had such an intuitive approach to the text (and I’ve now seen this with other texts), I’m not sure she realizes how easy it seems to come to her, and I don’t want to give her a swelled head, but this kind of talent working free of ego is a true gift and I was so grateful to have her in this role (and hope to use her talents on stage for future Shadow projects as well!). Amanda has an energy and presence that grabs you, and when its focused her performances were a true highlight – in rehearsal she created this “look” for when the MALE ACTOR notes that “she has that look”, and this “look” simply killed me *every time* — and for her to come up with that?! Gold. Performance gold. Counter these comedic sensibilities with what she brought to my DUCKY & MURDOCK text, and we can see the blossoming of a well-rounded and sensitively instinctive performer. And this type of performer shines in This Is A Play since performance is at the heart of the show, and that heart is what made me fall in love with MacIvor’s work and why this show *might* be my favourite play of all time.
The show ends with this wonderfully beautiful coda, perhaps the purest moment I’ve witnessed on a stage. The story of the play within the play is absurdly melodramatic, with impossible twists and connections made between the characters while we’re simultaneously witnessing the actors connect through their shared attempts to “do” this thing called “acting” as we also hear their internal monologue describing all of this in the moment. In the moment. So, by the time we reach the coda the audience has already accepted the layers being exposed and the wacky details/storylines/ideas used to expose those layers, but yet this has been keeping them enthralled the entire time. The play within the play ends and we go to yet one more blackout, a frequent device throughout the show used to great effect – and I *loathe* blackouts! When the lights come up one last time, the actors are seen in their own spotlight area, positioned across the stage from the audience’s view left-to-right: MALE ACTOR – OLDER FEMALE ACTOR – FEMALE ACTOR, spread across the playing space like a curtain call. They share one last inner monologue aloud as a group, spoken straight to the audience, but it’s a shared thought that weaves through all of the lines they each share as they stand there still in their spotlights, each with an arm behind their back. As their group thought reaches the same moment across their dialogue, they one-by-one utter, “Lettuce,” and reveal a head of lettuce they were hiding behind their backs – the image of lettuce is a recurring presence for the play within the play, mainly through the hilarious tattoo each child in the set of triplets was supposedly given at birth before they were separated (oh, yeah, I said it’s a wild story!). But when this lettuce appears from behind their backs, its physicality in the space strikes a moment of magic, where we accept it as a holy symbol of sorts, a living metaphor for our desire to believe in the power of a story. It brings me tears of joy every damn time … so grateful to the cast for giving me this feeling again and allowing us to share it with our audience.
I’m writing this final summary a year later, thinking back on the run of shows and the time leading up. This was one of my overall favourite experiences in making theatre with a group of people – small casts, but for me I was working with close to 10 folks and that’s a big pile of people for a Shadow journey. It was so great to be with a large group where everyone seemed to click so well and that we in turn created some very engaging theatrical experiences for our audiences. I am so grateful to the Shadows who brought these plays to life and proud of the life they were given.
And we are now 7 months into a new way of life where a project like I’ve just described simply isn’t feasible for the Shadows – we’re currently meeting up in Odell Park to work on a new project, also aiming to revive a recently seen work, but the ideas around how we present our shows are needing to be even more adaptable than usual, and we’re used to being flexible but the current climate is a bit of a game changer, no? At this time last year we had the luxury of available and affordable rehearsal and performance spaces and without those luxuries we would not have been able to stage the evenings we did – as with the now, we choose what to play based on how and where we can make that happen. We had the indoor space to make these shows work with the enhancing effects of some nominal lighting, and yet we certainly could have aimed these towards outdoor productions but that would have been an entirely different creation. I have always found indoors to lend itself to a tighter focus though, for everyone, but we’ll see what the future provides for outdoor exploration and pulling an audience into our Shadow world of Nasty play.