I spent the winter break fretting. Now it’s time to move beyond that. What is on the other side of worry? Humor. A kind of resilience I can’t explain, a feverish inertia that has to keep us going until January 10th.
There’s a new sense of excitement and doom in the air, new because each play feels different, but also because this time we’re working against an established rhythm that’s ensured some sort of sanity for all our past productions.
Two weeks before each play we’d meet every night. At the end, we’d have the show and all would be over by the end of November. This time, because the ACA stage was not available in November, the entire schedule shifted. We had a week of semi-continuous rehearsals in December. Then winter break. People would send me messages, “Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year,” and I’d thank them and reply “Read your script.”
We’re starting rehearsals on the stage on January 3, going through the 8th - then show on the 9th. I’ve seen the stage in the configuration I want (it’s a modular stage) only once. Today I went to clarify the last scheduling details only to find the theatre set up for a wedding. By the time we unload large pieces of furniture and 250 small props tomorrow afternoon, the place might be cleared of tables and chairs, but we’ll still have to imagine where the stage ends and the runway begins. Not great for a first rehearsal in the space.
For the past hour I’ve been coordinating tomorrow’s sequence of events. It looks vaguely like this:
-Rent a van (I’ve never had this much blasted furniture on the stage) Note to self: psychological realism be damned. On the stage, it always demands A LOT of furniture.
-we’ve been going back and forth on who’s going to actually drive the van. And the winner is…J because SM (stage manager) has never driven a van, C broke her toe, L has an upper respiratory infection that looks suspiciously like baby pneumonia -- not pneumonia that babies get, but a wee bit of pneumonia... the list could go on. (What will I do when J leaves the program? Mourn for years, no doubt. Become a poet. Never do a play again. Yeah, good plan.)
- SM will pick up “the talent” (inside joke) at 11:40. S, J, JD, SM, and K will be at my place at 12 to load everything up. This will take a while. (Note to self and others: my house looks like a deranged furniture warehouse with random moments of splendor. Psychological realism be damned. A LOT of furniture...)
- at 2pm we’ll be at the theatre full of enthusiasm and the hope that all traces of the previous night’s wedding party have been removed. I imagine setting the stage will take about two hours.
-at 4pm we’ll have a rehearsal sans lights, and with rather primitive sound (on a cd player) because, at that point, we won't have access to the sound booth. I hope to be home by 7 and have an impossibly large glass of wine.
-at 10am the next morning, the longest day of the year will begin (tech and dress rehearsal, or the play in slow motion to set up lights and sound). Six microphones, eighteen sound cues, tons of fades, blackouts, sound bridges, and other things I’m told belong only in the movies.(Note to self: purists be damned as well).
-costumes. What I’ve seen of the costumes filled me with intense giddiness. The sisters look like they’ve stepped out of an unfinished Vermeer sketch. The unfinishedness is the point. As I was discussing the costumes with D we realized that they needed to look like a work in progress. These characters, at the moment our play begins, exist only in the mind of Chehov, the playwright. The play he‘s writing begins as our play ends. The women who populate his imagination are constantly evolving as characters, influenced, despite his best efforts, by his continuously shifting relationships with the actresses playing the three sisters. With D, we decided the costumes should be made of muslin, sort of mock ups of costumes with unfinished seams, sleeves and collars. We chose muted, Vermeer shades of soft beige, and brown, and off white. The sisters don’t have an identity yet, they don’t have “color.” In contrast, the three gigantic paintings that divide, symbolically, the space of the stage, show brilliant, vibrant colors: pink, red, blue. Initially I wanted the sisters to wear these colors: a pink, a blue, and a red costume – but then I realized the necessity of the sketch, of the evolving personalities, of the unfinished nature of the design.
Unable to sleep or to relax, I’ve recreated the set in my house: the sisters’ dinner table where they spend their days waiting for something to happen; the letter writing station – a small black table where every character (but Emma) withdraws to read or write letters; Chehov’s desk with papers and books, and cigars, and a gun (the detective’s gun from “Noir”), which is a bit of a joke: the unused gun proudly displayed on the desk, a reminder of what not to do in a play (never have a gun that doesn’t go off…) This gun doesn’t go off. One is meant to break rules, particularly when the rules are replaced with something else, an irreverent homage to the grand master of psychological drama (“what is my motivation?”), also a nod to the often illogical, unplanned nature of the human being. In other words: beyond rules, life unfolds, chaotic.
It seems I have digressed a little. A lot. I feel feverish, excited, afraid. These are the days when the work of an entire year takes shape and has to coincide with the beautiful images that have fought inside my head from the very beginning.
Oh, how I wish I could explain this, all of this, in endless faculty meetings, in encounters with Very Important Personages, as an answer to the eternal question, “so what is it that you do?” or the version I heard (but wasn’t meant to), “What is it she does? Those little plays…” I don’t know how else to say it: these “little plays” are my life. They’re what I do. They’re what keeps me sane (by means of a detour through temporary insanity). I am alive when I write plays, and when I stage them, and I suffer and celebrate when they’re over. They are my paradox, my contradiction. And this one is coming to an end.
Glissando; Or, the Art of Cruelty opens (and closes) in a week. I’ll be much older by then. But the next day, if all goes well and the image in my head materializes on the stage, I’ll feel younger than ever.