We officially welcomed a new cast member into the performance yesterday. She has been flirting with us all for the best part of a week, and making great efforts to become part of the show. Last night Dennis, Jeffrey, Ben and I relented and let her have a role.
As our Tuesday rehearsal was not until 2pm, I had a fairly quiet morning in the apartment, and for the first time I decided to avail myself of the gymnasium facilities here (I had promised myself that I would anyway, but when Bob measured me for costumes and the numbers were rather larger than I’d expected, that made my mind up). I didn’t have a long work out, and really just picked up a running programme that I had started at home and let lapse a few weeks ago. I returned to the apartment red of face and moist of skin, but it is a good discipline and I shall make every effort to keep it up during my stay. Actually, the weather is so good that I may well start running in nearby Loring Park.
After a healthy breakfast I started a run through of the entire show, using my previously re-arranged furniture as a temporary stage. It seemed to go pretty well, but there are a few moments that are hesitant, so more work to do: always more work to do.
The rest of the morning was taken up with domestic chores, such as laundry and ironing, before having some soup for lunch.
Over at the Wesley Center the performing space had moved one step on, as Ben had been in all morning hanging large black drapes at the back of the stage to mask the altar, organ, piano, various speakers, a large TV screen and other equipment that would look out of place in an 1847 study. As I walked around the stage I realised that the issue of physically getting onto the set to begin the show would be tricky. I would have to part the black curtains, and that would break the integrity of the ‘room’. At the Music Box theatre we had much more space and I could walk between masking flats at the back of the stage and onto the set itself, but here that is not possible. I had a brief chat with Ben about it, and we decided that until a lot of the backstage equipment had been moved we couldn’t really make a decision.
Jeffrey arrived and after a discussion about the entering issue, we spent some time re-blocking a couple of scenes that are not working quite as well as they could: Jesus’ dinner with Simon, the Pharisee, and the moment that Dickens sees his son Alfred staring at him, as he ‘performs’ the crucifixion and a couple of others.
We were on a tight timescale, as Jeffrey had to catch a plane to Arizona where he is working on another of his plays, so as soon as we could we began a complete run of our show
I made the best entry I could through the curtains and onto the set and off I went. This was the first run with the sound cues that we worked on yesterday and on the whole it went well, although there were a few occasions that cues didn’t come in, or weren’t quite right, but it is amazing to feel the atmosphere of the piece growing and developing with each run.
As for me, it wasn’t a great performance: Those hesitant lines become much bigger issues under the pressure of keeping the story flowing, and I am using much more of my mental capacity just to ‘get it right’ than I should be. When the performance is complete I will be saying the lines without thinking, and 100% of my concentration will be on the emotion and atmosphere of the piece. The same is true of the movement on stage and all of the work we had done an hour earlier went completely from my head! So, more work to be done there, then. Always more work to do.
When the play finished, we all sat down to chat, although we didn’t have long due to Jeffrey’s flight. Jeffrey, Dennis and Ben were sat in the auditorium, whilst I sat on the steps at the front of the stage looking straight up the aisle to a rather grand wood and glass door at the back of the house.
Immediately Dennis chimed in with a note about the start of the show: he hated the clumsy first entrance through the black curtains onto the stage (exactly the issue that Ben and I had discussed earlier), and felt that it would be better if I took to the stage when the house lights went out, allowed the audience to accept that the show was about to begin, then bring the stage lights up and start the show with me already in the scene. The problem with that solution is the lighting system in The Wesley Center does not allow for a complete black-out (all of that Tiffany glass), and it is difficult to turn all of the house lights out at the same time, as they are all operated from separate switches.
We passed this problem back and forth for a while, all trying to come up with the best solution. In fact, that solution was right in front of my face the whole time: the impressive wooden door at the back of the house. The long central aisle, or hallway. The small flight of steps up into Dickens’ writing room.
‘Couldn’t I enter from the back?’ I said. After all the character of Dickens is returning to the house after a tea party. He is returning in high dudgeon and Dickens was known for his rapid walking pace.
‘How about, playing the opening music, and as the clock bell chimes six I walk into the room?
Everybody pondered this idea for a moment and then it began to take hold – this might just be our answer. We decided to try it, and Ben cued the music up, while I went to the back of the hall. As the bell started to ring I strode down the aisle (with a satisfyingly loud tread to alert the audience to the action) and found myself in perfect positon as the final chime subsided: we had found our answer.
As the week goes on we have been adapting our show to suit the new venue, and now the dear old lady that is the Wesley Center will provide not only a backdrop to the action, but become part of it.
We have officially embraced our surroundings.
To see the Wesley Center, watch out promotional video: