80 Post 1 – tech begins

The important thing is this:

to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are

for what we could become.

– Charles duBois

The set

Aaron began rehearsal Saturday by reinventing the beginning of the play. He has the immediacy and lack of attachment which I have seen in the great directors I have worked with. Watching him talk us through a new opening, I remember Lillian Groag saying to us, at one of the first rehearsals of The Imaginary Invalid, “Don’t get to attached to anything early on. I may just toss it out during tech.”

We have arrived onstage earlier than expected – a great gift, received from the production crew of Delaware Theatre Company. It must have helped that the set is basically three concentric, round platforms,  a few chairs and several piles of shipping trunks. Friday, Aaron was called away on other business, and the cast worked through some of the play guided by Dani Rose, our stage manager. It’s a big cave of a theater, but you can tell it was designed with acoustics in mind. It doesn’t take a huge amount of voice to get to the back row. The seats rise up in a big half circle of brown velour. We have dubbed the color scheme of the interior “sad salmon”.

I again convinced of the potential of theatre, acting and the collaborative process of rehearsal  to save the world. Recently, I wrote a draft of a pamphlet written on Quaker themes and submitted to Pendle Hill Publishing (it was turned down for some more editing). In it, I compare the way Quakers make decisions and the way theater artists make decisions. Quakers employ a sublimely challenging process called spiritual discernment, in which there is no human executive and no voting. A Quaker begins to feel God moving the group in a certain direction, notices this vocally, and waits to see if others share this sensation. When it works, the group arrives at a decision which has unity, if not unanimity. In the conventional model, theater artists employ an executive, called the director. But as with all great leaders, the best directors seldom act unilaterally, but manage to invite group creativity. The most honest ones – like Aaron – will tell you it’s essential. “I can’t do this without your input,” he’ll say, and so we feel implicated and responsible for what is being made. I really like working with him. We have an oddly intense and personal connection. I think we see ourselves in each other.

Aaron Posner, Greg Wood and James Ijames

Our cast is made up of young and old, gay and straight, black, white and Indian. Aaron’s Jewish, I’m a Quaker and everyone else keeps faith to themselves. We are supported buy an all-female stage management crew of assistants (the extraordinary Debbie Lau), dressers (Selena and Bela) and Dani our stage manager. And this has something to do with why I still think theater can save the world: we represent so many of the factions in conflict with each other “out there”, and yet we are being woven together in complex organizational system in which we each have enormous and interlocking responsibilities. And we are getting along. Actually, we are enjoying each other, even through the occasional frustrations and road blocks.

So back to Aaron changing the opening: it was a fairly extreme adjustment made in the service of something greater than any one person’s ego or vulnerability. He looked at the stage, looked at us, and realized on the spot that everything we had designed for the first two minutes of the play (critical minutes as any theater artist will tell you) were just not going to work. And so we came up with something radically different, something which serves the play better, and ironically, something which is truer to Aaron’s original vision: we are five actors telling a story.

James Ijames and Dan Hodge

When we put principals over personalities we become better artists. This has not been an easy road for me. My personality has been an obstacle to collaboration in the past: my vanity, my grandiosity, my fear. But one of the endearing traditions in rehearsal is the tradition of telling on ourselves. During a break, and actor or a director will tell an amusing story, in which the story-teller’s own foibles are the punch line. It’s a wonderful way to bond together in our imperfection and humanity. I will not tell anyone’s stories here but my own, except to say this: a great leader is not ashamed of her imperfections. I fall in love with people who are able to say, let me tell you how badly I screwed up once. It makes me feel better about myself.

Debbie Lau bringing the tempest to my face.