Oftentimes, we’re flying by the seat of our pants in the theatre. On opening night, the show… isn’t… quite… ready… yet… We need just one more week! Just one! Please!
But what if you’re über-prepared? The cast is off book, the blocking is solid, the set is fully built, and you still have a few days of rehearsal left? Or what if the show is already mounted and you’re just keeping things going between levels of a competition?
Peaking too soon is just as scary as peaking too late. The feeling of a show being “done” before opening is very dangerous because the beauty of a live art like theatre is that it’s never complete. There’s always new territory to explore, new discoveries to be made.
Here are five easy techniques to use to keep the discoveries rolling…
Put everyone’s name into a hat and recast the show totally at random. Run scenes with the “new” cast. Don’t worry about getting the blocking right, just do it for fun. This allows everyone to see the play from a completely different perspective, allowing the actors to step outside of their own roles and to be more sensitive to the other characters’ wants, needs, objectives, journeys.
Spread everyone about the room and tell them to close their eyes (or turn out the lights). Do a line run of the show like this, with everyone in isolation. You can also coach the cast to whisper their lines, yell their lines, sing their lines, etc. You’ll really like the whisper part, it’s a great focus-builder.
This is a variation of a line run. Have the cast stand or sit in a big circle. Do a line run of the show as quickly as possible. No pauses, no drama, no emotion, just raw speed. It’s my favourite thing to do in the late stages of rehearsal. It’s a great team- and focus-builder and is a big help for actors struggling to pick up their cues.
Another line run variation. Have the cast stand in a circle and do a line run. Whatever character is speaking holds a big rubber ball in his or her hands. At the end of their line, they toss the ball to the next speaker, and so on. Use the physical act of throwing the ball to mirror the emotional act of the line. If the character is angry, they’ll throw it with some intensity. If the character is loving, they’ll toss it gently. If the character is infirm or very young, maybe they roll the ball. If the character is teasing, maybe they’ll roll the ball just short of their scene partner.
Run various scenes of the show playing the exact opposite of the intention of the scene. Play comedy for tears, drama for laughs, make suspenseful scenes obvious, make silly scenes dangerous. A world of discoveries comes out of an exercise like this. Every scene should be three-dimensional. Nothing in life is ever one note.