Director’s note: We’ve finished blocking All My Sons and are now in the midst of working through the play off book. One of our actors, Matt Steinberg ’15 (Frank Lubey), took some time out of his busy schedule to write a bit about what it’s like to bring this show to its feet.
We stand in a circle and take a few deep breaths. On the director’s cue, we all stretch our arms into the sky (or, rather, towards the catwalks), and, with barely a word, we suddenly flop down in unison and attempt in vain to touch our toes. We try to relax our bodies thoroughly. Then, we slowly roll up – vertebra upon vertebra, as we like to say – until we stand once more, feeling ever so slightly taller than when we started.
Once again, without barely a word, we stretch our faces in unison. Make our faces as big as possible, like a lion, then as small as possible, as if we’ve just tasted a sour lemon. And again. Tongue twisters follow, and we end with a truly bizarre game that goes by the name of “zip.” It’s just another night at rehearsal.
We break into two groups: one with Emily, our ferociously supportive director, to work on what we call blocking; one out to the hallway to work on memorizing our lines. Blocking is an arduous affair at best. We have our scripts in front of us, so we know what the words are. However, what we don’t know is the location. Where are we? When are we there? When do we move? How do we move? What do we hold on to? We work for two hours every night for two weeks to answer those questions and record them in our scripts. Emily, by necessity, must change her mind frequently. My script often ends the night as a frantically scribbled, resignedly erased, and frantically re-scribbled mess. The other group has a monumental task ahead of them. Every word in the 64-page book must be memorized by both the speaker of the word and by the person who speaks after. Of course, everyone else in the scene (and the play, for that matter) ends up memorizing them as well. We need to know the exact sequence of lines and words and be able to recall them perfectly while moving around and interacting onstage. It’s exactly as hard as it sounds.
Both blocking and lines must be compounded with character work. It’s not nearly enough to walk the stage and recite the lines word for word; we must also have depth and emotion to our characters. It’s still not enough to simply think, “Joe seems sad now, so I’m going to frown.” We must know our characters like we know ourselves, down to every twitch, step, and breath. This comes after a long process called character work, where we discover and invent everything that we need to know about our characters in order to have emotional depth. Emily rightly loves to stress our character’s “objective” – what our character is trying to make happen in the play. Knowledge of our objective and our tactics, the methods we use in pursuit of our objective, is a key part of acting that we cherish and use.
We love it. We love the work that makes the magic happen, with all the stress, effort, and time that goes into it. And, on closing night, after our work has joined up with all of the wonderful work being done behind the scenes, we will take our bows and start wondering how soon we can do it again.
The Williston Theatre presents “All My Sons” on October 23-October 25, 2014. Read more and reserve your tickets online.