Thursday, August 30, 2012

Sneak Peek into a Kiss

Typically I'm directing, which gives me more opportunity to snatch up my camera and shoot; as an actor onstage in a two-person play, my partner finds that a bit distracting.  So there has been less documentation of what's going on in rehearsal-- but I wanted to share just a brief glimpse into the very unique production of Kiss of the Spider Woman we have planned.


We open on September 7th, 2012, and seats are going quick-- so grab your ticket now: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/263326

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Wild Trying


“The human shape is a ghost
made of distraction and pain.
Sometimes pure light, sometimes cruel,
trying wildly to open,
this image tightly held within itself.”
568*

Rumi

Blog Post by Finnian Sullivan, Co-Director

This quatrain # 568 by Rumi has come to mind often while working on Manuel Puig’s play The Kiss of the Spider Woman, for it seems in an uncanny way to be having a dialogue with the play itself, and so, in a way, is speaking to experiences that may soon be being dramatized on the stage by the actors.
While the play appears by some aspect of its definition tragic (of its effects one is pity), what I have found (something that the actors have made to be seen in rehearsal) are effects that are entirely un-tragic.  Lain within the play’s performance—and I suspect this is what I sense resonates with what Rumi writes— is a dramatizing of something on stage whose effects are neither pity (or fear) but rather contrary to either of those, something (unnamable by me, for sure) born of witnessing two human beings dearly and seriously involved in that tried-at-wildly opening of some new, human shape within, perhaps, their hearts.
In this, the play must not be tidily, needlessly categorized as a quote-unquote gay play or as a tragic play or as any other kind of play, for that matter.  Any such rebarbative assignments would have so much about this play lost to too, too many.
The slow emergence in rehearsals (again, owing to what the actors have begun to push from hiding) is that at the center of this play could be a drama of this wild trying by two human beings, and what is performed in Puig’s play is the dramatic image of these two characters opening this tightly-held-within thing of which Rumi hints.
And what is this wildly tried for thing? 
Not for me to say (and I don’t know, anyway).  That is left for the audience together and individual alone both of whom at once get to bear witness to this play’s performance by the actors. 
I do, however, wonder that what could eventually be dramatized by the actors in Second Wind’s production may somehow touch upon—say, in the way of a ragged yet delicate kiss—this very thing, a thing, perhaps, almost all us humans on earth are also ever “trying wildly to open” at many moments while we are here.

Finnian Sullivan
*Translation: John Moyne and Coleman Barks.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Notes on Exploratory Blocking

Blocking is Dialogue

I've said that a few hundred times.  If you're deaf, you should still be able to understand the action through movement, posture, and gesture.  A helpful rehearsal exercise is to have the actors move through a scene using only gibberish and their blocking.  This can be followed by having them speak only their subtext while moving through the space.

The other day I was asked about about exploratory blocking-- probably there's a better term for it but whatever that is eludes me at the moment.  At Second Wind we generally start with table work, and then put the actors up on their feet, letting them explore their movement without the director imposing his vision. This part of the rehearsal process has three primary goals:

  1. Encourage actors to follw their exstincts (which also provides ideas for the concrete blocking stage)
  2. Begin to form the "tonal" aspects of the scenes
  3. Help the actors learn their lines

The director may not be telling them what to do at this point, but he/she isn't blind and deaf in the process.  They're watching for impulses: impulses not acted upon, exciting impulses, and ones that block or contradict the action.  I start by indicating where the characters begin each scene, and then let them follow their impulses uninterrupted through to the end.  Then I adjust the beginning if necessary, and begin butting into the process.  Pointing out when they've squelched an impulse, suggesting a cross or movement.  I never stop them immediately when I have an impulse to direct, but rather let them carry through to the end of the phrase or beat.  And I do my best not explain why I'm moving them in this way.  The movement itself is supposed to bring out changes in them; it should be unconscious.  Occassionally, I'll give them an action ("harass him more; squeeze it out of her; give him more of a cold shoulder") for them to interpret physically.  I repeat each scene at least three times, giving them a chance to connect the dialogue to the action, and to explore.

While it may appear that I haven't done any special preparation for this part of the process, the exact opposite is true.  This is the hardest part to prep for, so I've done the most.  Typically, I'll have read the section of the script we're scheduled to work on at least three times just for this day.  First, I focus on questions I have:  why did they suddenly change the subject (and how is that reason made clear in the movement?); what does this line mean?  What's the subtext?  After the first read, I try to label the scene: "The Seduction," or "Betrayal," or "Turning the Screw," or "The Knife Goes In," etc. 

On the second read I start to look at the smaller beats, noting when the scene is pulling people together, pushing them apart, and who is driving the conversation.  Is that annoyed retort a forward attack or blocking retreat?  Is he reeling in the other character, or herding, or driving?

On the final read I begin to sketch some basic movements: Act Two starts with John whispering in Alice's ear, crosses to bar for drink on this line, then she follows.  These basic movements I keep in my back pocket, only to be used if the actors seem lost on stage.

Sometimes, the scene is almost blocked by the time we're done; sometimes there's nothing I really want to keep.  That alone is a good first warning that the blocking rehearsal is going to be challenging for that section.  Which means back to the planning table. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

A KISS to Remember

Like any great love affair, sometime things just come together perfectly... and then they spin off into chaos and you struggle to draw the pieces back together, dust them off, and re-find the magic.  That's what pre-production for Kiss of the Spider Woman has been like.  One of those times that drive me to slide my copy of Slings and Arrows (the brilliant Canadian TV series about theatre) back into the DVD player for a little perspective. 

After a stormy production week, the sun has emerged I'm beginning to feel that magic in the air.  It was nicely topped with our first read thru of Kiss, which opens September 7th at The Phoenix.  Most people know Kiss of the Spider Woman as an award-winning musical or an Oscar nominated film.  But before any of these incarnations, it was a highly controversial novel written in response to the Dirty War in Argentina and the misunderstanding and oppression of gays and lesbians.  The dramatic version, seductive, subversive, and at times sublime, more closely follows the novel.  And to this classic of the stage, we invite you....

video
Here are some quick and dirty images from our First Read Thru yesterday.

Kiss of the Spider Woman
September 7-29, 2012
The Phoenix Theatre
414 Mason St., SF
(415) 335-6087
Tickets:  http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/263326

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