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Volume 99, Number 3


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17 January, 2008: Day 2                                                                 

Student actors rehearse off-stage

Anne-Marie Robinson '08

Off-stage, cast members (left to right) Richard Chagnon '10, Rob Holland '09, Jonathan Landis '08, and Kayla Mini '11 rehearse Charlie Chaplin-inspired choreography for the song "All for the Best."

Simultaneous dancing and singing ranks up there as one of the most difficult tasks ever.                  

Also consider:

Driving on the left-hand side of the road

Unicycling

Consuming 20+ hotdogs in one sitting

Patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time

All cake walks next to the dancing-singing combo.

Today we completed “Day by Day” and “Bless the Lord,” our first ensemble numbers.  We had a bit of a rough start because, shame on me, I hadn’t set stagings and blockings before the last practice. So today we reconfigured a few transitions, changed a few moves, clarified a few (I lie – many) counts. The cast seemed so excited to complete the first song. I have to admit, I felt relieved to accomplish it. I’ve never sung and danced at the same time, and I don’t think many of the actors have either. Nor have I ever choreographed for vocalists. So, all in all, this whole project is just a pile of New with a capital “N.”

I’m amazed that the cast has learned so much in two days.  They’re patient with me. I’m learning to ask “Can you do this and sing at the same time?” (Before today it never occurred to me to ask it. Go figure.) Surprisingly, they never say “no.” They’ll try pretty much anything. I have great respect for them. 

As I choreographed today, I chuckled to myself, wondering how in the world these pieces come together at all. I usually feel like this before (and during) the tackling of a production – overwhelmed, questioning why I committed to it in the first place, unsure how to transfer grand ideas to physical moves and corresponding counts. It’s almost like this: you have a crazy dream, awake from it suddenly, furiously copy your recollections to paper, then try to describe it to someone else. It never sounds quite as bizarre, nor crazy. You can’t quite conjure up the essence of the thing when you retell it. That’s how it is to choreograph. You listen to a song, tons of phenomenal, crowd-raving concepts streaming into your brain. Then you attempt to actually count the movements, the technicalities, and...you...just...lose it. 

So I get excited when we actually come close to replicating the phenomenal ideas. If the choreography – the whole show, even – generates the same, original, thrilling feelings, I figure it’s in good shape. 

Student actor Bryant Vance wows the audience with magic tricks

Emily Williams '10

During a dress rehearsal, actor Bryant Vance '10 wows his audience with 'paranormal' feats, demonstrating how one keeps the left hand from knowing what the right is doing.

Later:

Tonight’s rehearsal. Ed Cohn, our director, walks the cast through a wonderfully effective exercise. (Seriously, we – Trish, the stage manager, Trisha, the assistant stage manager, Rena, the student director, and me – witnessed dramatic transformations because of it.) 

After a briefing on the creative process – “Creativity is the physical manifestation of the imagination. Don’t describe, do” – and a discussion of the characters’ back stories, Ed asks them to find square footage on the stage. He instructs the actors to close their eyes, then asks them to envision their individual characters walking. Just walking. (People walk in the much same form – extending the legs, alternating the steps, moving the arms – yet there are as many variations of that form as there are people on earth.) We wait in silence. After moments of envisioning the characters’ gaits, Ed asks the actors to open their eyes and enact their walks, using the entire stage, in silence. So they do. We watch them – up, down, around the set, bumping into each other, adopting more visually signature struts as the minutes progress. We watch John transform into a burly, half-limping, formerly-strutting construction worker; Melissa into a proper middle school teacher, Brandon into a stuffy business-man. They take ownership of the characters. Ed advises them “Many young actors reduce themselves to merely portraying adjectives. Avoid that – portray unique, individual people, amalgamations of adjectives.”

Hey, that’s pretty clever. Probably revolutionary to my own writing. I mull that over. For me, as with everyone else, my adjectives depend on my circumstances.  And that’s what makes people unique – each person’s idiosyncrasies expose themselves under unique sets of experiences. Each person reacts to unique triggers; each person responds according to his or her individual emotional gauge. No one changes, shifts, evolves, or reacts at exactly the same tempo, in response to the exact same stimuli. And that, my friends, is characterization.

 

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