Friday, July 18, 2014

There’s More to Acting Than Memorizing Lines; Go Behind the Scenes with "Peter Pan"

When they're not onstage, Christopher Huntley (Peter Pan) and Shane Iverson (Wendy) can be found in the hall outside the CoLab, rehearsing a scene

Monday, July 7.  It’s the first day of rehearsal for Peter Pan, and all 37 (yes, 37—the largest cast ever!) young actors are assembled in the Nicholas Studio.

Getting into the music rehearsal
Although they auditioned together in the spring, most of them haven’t seen each other since and—except for their own roles—don’t necessarily know who else is in the show. It’s a time for greeting old friends, meeting new ones and extending congratulations.

Afterwards, they gather in a circle onstage for the read-through/sing-through of the script.  Now it’s official.  Rehearsals are underway…

Was that strains of Peter singing “Never Never Land” coming from the Nicholas Studio?  Or Captain Hook’s “Pirate Song” bursting out of the chorus dressing room and into the hall?  Or, could that be the entire cast joining in “I’ve Gotta Crow,” their voices wafting throughout the building?

No time is wasted.  When not onstage, Nick Slimmer (Captain Hook) and cast members watch the action or make notes
Yes! In the early days of rehearsal, the songs from Peter Pan are in the air.  Even during breaks, cast members can be heard singing on the terrace, in the lobby and along the hallways.  Music Director Erin McNally encourages them to use down time for anything they feel needs work or can be improved—and their compliance is both serious and enthusiastic.    

After three intense days of singing, the cast meets with Director Hisa Takakuwa in the Nicholas Studio for a full rehearsal, combining the words and music (or “score”) with the script (or “book”) of the play.  Under Takakuwa’s direction, the next four weeks will about the process and working as an ensemble.

But first, each cast member must “discover” his or her character.  Writing in a play book—that will fill quickly with notes—they begin with physical traits.  This can be specifically physical (“I bounce on my toes when I walk”) or more emotional (“I’m really scared but try not to show it”).

Grace Tomblin-Marca (Canary Rob) and Sydney Pardo (Robert Mullins) working on a song in the chorus dressing room
Then comes a deceptively simple exercise called “three words.”  Taking turns, each actor speaks the words that best describe the character he or she is portraying.  Happy, energetic, aware.  Serious, strong, conflicted.  Stubborn, intrigued, observant.  Excitable, social, quick.  Alert, lovable, optimistic.  These words—which can be ever-changing—also go in the play books, along with questions they have or discoveries they’ve made about their character.  It’s day one, and those books are filling up quickly!

Finally, the cast gathers around the perimeter of the stage, sitting in groups (Darling family, Pirates, Lost Boys, Indians) and standing as their scenes are played out—for the second read through/sing through of the script.  This time, it’s different.  They’ve made specific choices and become familiar with their characters.  Now they’re a real ensemble, and whether performing or just watching and waiting, the concentration is intense and the joy is palatable.

As the last line is read, the last note sounded, a collective sigh goes out.  They’ve made it through the first week!

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