42 Relationships on Stage

I’ve left my real home in Crystal Beach for a fictional one in Brighton Beach and I’ll be using this space to share some thoughts that I hope you’ll find useful.

Neil Simon is a wonderful writer. One of the best. His dialogue is so free-flowing, so easy, so natural that you really don’t need to do much to make it work. Say the words and don’t trip on the furniture. You’ll get laughs, tears, and standing ovations.

But there’s a great big bear trap awaiting anyone approaching his scripts. The plays flow so naturally that it’s easy to be lazy. It’s easy to forget that the play is about something, about people, relationships, storytelling. That we as actors, directors, designers can take this rock-solid foundation and elevate it to something even higher.

This brings us to the readthrough.

Ted Price (no relation to Lindsay) is directing the play and he’s constantly pushing us to add layers and dimensions to the characters and the storytelling.

Ted laid the groundwork for this by giving us his interpretation of the spine of the play – “To find dignity and worth in a dingy and troubled world.” This is the foundation from which we build the show, the tree trunk that holds the branches together. We are all here to support that spine.

He also emphasized that this is a play about a family of seven people. Seven people means that there are 42 different relationships in the play. We all relate to one another differently.

When I start reading a script I’m very selfish. I flip through the pages to my parts. I think it’s perfectly natural to feel like our character, no matter how small, plays an integral role in the play. The most integral role. That’s healthy. Our characters should never be unimportant, never boring, never wallpaper. But we do have to remember that they are but one part in a larger whole.

We discover the roles and interactions and other characters’ journeys throughout the rehearsal process.

But in an effort to jumpstart the relationship building, Ted took great pains to explore each character in detail. Not for the benefit of of the actors in their own roles, but to give us a foundation and understanding of everyone else’s place in the story.

For example – Eugene’s spine is To be understood and to understand. Nora’s is To stand on her own two feet. These details are mostly obvious to the actor playing the character in question, but perhaps not to the others.

I challenge all directors to do this. It was really helpful so get such a detailed big picture, to understand where everyone else is coming from, and to understand how all the moving parts work.

Aside – The photo above is of our set. Theatre North West begins rehearsals with the entire set in place. All our blocking is done on set. To paraphrase Ferris Bueller – “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend building the set before rehearsals.”

About the author

Craig Mason

1 Comment

  • Sound wonderful, Craig – I know you will enjoy every minute of it!  
    All the best to you, my friend – and thanks for sharing your thoughts!