Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Director's Excavation

Harold Pinter

Typically, by the third read I feel I understand a script. Then, on the fourth I discover new things about the characters. By the fifth or sixth read I'm comfortably in charge of its rhythms, resonances, character motivations, and relationships. With Ashes to Ashes by the sixth read I wasn't even at the first stage of overconfidence. Now, on the twelfth examination I'm beginning to understand its rhythms, structure, and some of its resonances, but much of the play remains a mystery. That, precisely, is Pinter, and what makes his work such a directorial challenge. I think that's why I prefer him to Beckett-- Beckett's work is one of the few that makes sense of Mamet's absurd advice to actors to "just speak the lines" as written. The grunt of the interpretation is turfed to the audience. But with Pinter, the real work lies in the rehearsal process-- it can't be completed in the director's head, nor tasked to the viewer. The challenge is unearth what resonates for the actor, select which choices are supported in the script, then build a cross resonance through the structure. To do this, we need to excavate ourselves as well as the characters.

Too many blogs are errant ramblings through the writer's thought process. I'm going to do my best to make this blog practical: not a tutorial (that would be far too arrogant), but a road map of how we got to the final product, the questions, exercises, discoveries, and tactics. I'll focus on the directorial process of Ashes to Ashes, and do my best to update twice weekly. Unlike the previous Second Wind episodes, this blog will be more text, less video.
It you are unfamiliar with Pinter's Ashes to Ashes, I highly recommending finding a script. It very much epitomizes what is meant by "Pinteresque". While the definition of this term has fluctuated-- sometimes insightful, sometimes silly-- I think it's best defined by an emotionally charged, visceral language within an abstract situation. It's characterized by deeply emotional (often menacing) words in a world whose characters, relationships, and rules aren't clear. Rebecca's first words in Ashes are a revelation that her lover used to hold her throat, bring his fist to her lips, and command her to kiss it. The listener, Devlin, is perhaps her husband, perhaps a current beau, perhaps her therapist. Rebecca maintains the act is one of adoration towards her, and even though Devlin is the one demanding answers, one feels it is Rebecca who is in control of the interview.

Tomorrow is the first read for Ashes, with Lisa-Marie Newton and Lol Levy in the roles of Rebecca and Devlin. I'm thrilled to have Scarlett Kellum and Fred Sharkey returning as costume and set designers for the production. First rehearsals are all about character analysis, discovering what makes these people tick. As a director, I find equal important in asking questions and providing my viewpoint. What questions I'll ask my actors depends on the prep work they've already done; but I've written a few starters: are these two husband and wife or something else? Who has more money (and thus more status)? How does Devlin organize the myriad of details he collects? Did Rebecca actually have a child? And for the actors personally-- what unspoken secret or history exists in your family, and how did it shape your life?


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