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. 


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