Johnnypost 4: three read throughs and two weeks

Paul Nicholas, who plays Amahl, is from New York. So for the (brief) rehearsal and run of Johnny he’s staying with us. Over breakfast the other day, he said “Maybe you’re inventing a whole new way to do plays Ben. Three read-throughs and two weeks of rehearsal.”

We talked about the company, I forget their name, who worked on Shakespeare with a process they believed was how the Lord Chamberlain’s Men rehearsed. Actors received only their lines, not a script. Each of their lines was preceded by the line which came before. The cue line. Then they went away for two weeks and learned their lines . . . alone. Then they came together for a few days to learn the sequence, then performed.

On the other end of the spectrum are the Scandinavians, legendary for state-sponsored, six to eight month rehearsal processes. Both Paul and I have had encounters with European theatre artists who said things like, “How can you possibly produce a play in four weeks?”

I lean towards Shakespeare. With long rehearsal processes, there always comes a time when I feel like the director is making up things to do, things to pull apart and pick at, ways to doubt ourselves and start over. Makes me crazy. It’s especially debilitating with comedy, where I feel getting to the audience as soon as possible is vital. Often, the things we think are funny are only funny because we all love each other so much, or because we were present at the moment the joke or gag was discovered. And so we laugh as much at the discovery, as we do at the gag itself. By the fourth week rehearsing a comedy no one’s laughing anymore, because we’ve seen the jokes a gazillion times, and so the disaster can be that you begin to try to make other things up, when the first thing was actually funny. But we were all tired of seeing you do it.

We read through Johnny at the very end of March, the middle of April and the beginning of May. This gave us a deep familiarity with the play. And it allowed our creativity to get to work. I believe creativity sets to work on a project and chews on it even as we sleep, as we concentrate on other projects. It works on the project in our dreams, in fleeting moments as we drive the kids to school and even when we forget about it al together. Because somewhere, your creativity remembers that you are building something and it isn’t complete. So we arrived in the rehearsal room with a lot already in place.

Now, we enter a technical phase. We ran act two last night, and act one this afternoon. We’re in good shape. As I was puttering around straightening up after rehearsal, I overheard the actors sharing their excitement about watching eachother in the rehearsal. It sounded genuine, not that phony “You’re so greaaaaaat!” stuff we can indulge in sometimes. Tomorrow, we find out if we have enough hands required to move the six chairs, one table and one bed around which comprise our furniture. I think we do. I think.

Johnny-post 4: three read-throughs and two weeks, originally published Thursday, May 28, 2009