I don’t know why I am obsessed with the things that I’m obsessed with, and I can’t change or redirect my obsessions, but at least I’m aware of them in every play. Does awareness count?
The first Registry rehearsal happened tonight and although this is a tale of bureaucracy and romance, a large-scale play (the opposite of Revision), my obsessions remain the same: relationships, failures, fantastical beings.
We started with 20 pages of text – a huge victory for me. Usually, I barely have a few pages on the first rehearsal. What I didn’t tell the cast is that everything we read tonight was written in the past ten hours. I didn’t have time to write before today (beginning of the semester madness), but I wasn’t worried: I’ve carried The Registry in my head for so long, I knew it was just a matter of sitting down and writing it. I stopped after 20 pages because it was 5 pm and we had rehearsal at 6, not because I was done.
Before reading the script I tried to go over what I call “the unhappiness list,” mainly because almost everyone in the cast is new. Over the years, I’ve compiled a list of things that can potentially make people unhappy: my rhythm, my process, underestimating the amount of work that goes into the making of a play. The cast has seen some of the plays I’ve done, but we’ve not worked together on stage. I forget how difficult it is to explain to newcomers how The Milena Theatre Group works. The principles of Creative Writing come to mind. I can tell and tell, but until I show, until they experience the process, the description alone doesn’t count.
I say: the text evolves, it changes, it grows with you. I say: we improvise this scene, and only when I have enough (the best!) material, that’s when the scene gets written. I say: the script will be complete at the end of the rehearsal process, not before. More difficult things to say: please leave your life at the door when you enter the rehearsal space. It makes all the difference. This is why I don’t have intermissions, so the public won’t leave the performance space and remember their problems. It is difficult, almost impossible to ask this of a cast. Stuff, real life stuff, happens all the time, and I am not prepared for it. I can’t explain, not in a way that makes sense to anyone new to the process, that I get ready for a rehearsal hours in advance, that an hour before I sit in the empty room and think of nothing else but the play, that I draw diagrams of the stage, imagine every movement and every voice inflection, that I listen to the soundtrack obsessively choreographing every scene in my mind, that once people come in, I no longer see their true identities but those of their characters. It’s a little bit like being in a trance (I’ve never been in a trance…) Perhaps it sounds merciless. It probably is. But I don’t know how to do a play otherwise.
Months after a show, I meet people who tell me they’re still thinking about the latest play. They tell me there’s something haunting about the Milena Group productions. I think this is where it comes from: this total immersion in the reality of the play, without the need to look back. Remember Orpheus and Eurydice? That’s how he loses her forever: by not believing in that fantastical promise, by turning back to verify reality, by forgetting to play his part. Rehearsals are the anti-Orpheus. Don’t ever look back. Pause reality. Forget…
After we read the script – basically the opening of The Registry – we spent a little time improvising with superb results. I saw a company’s rehearsal once where the actors stood in a circle paying each other compliments for about 15 minutes. “You have grown so much as an actor these past three weeks…” “I love how kind you are…” “You have such pretty hair…” Were they honest? Perhaps. I grasp the scope of such an exercise (bonding, building confidence), but do these things really work? That image – people in a circle taking turns to say nice things to each other – stayed with me and I knew I’d use it in a play someday. The Registry is perfect for this: a collective of semi-fantastical clerks in charge of human relationships, starting every day with uplifting circle-compliments. That’s what our improv was about. “Your stapler is really polished.” “Oh, thank you, I’ve had it since my undergrad days…And can I say how impressed I am with your organized desk?” “Thank you! I’m really trying…I’m so grateful for your respect of deadlines. It makes my life so much easier,” and so on. When the head of HR told the youngest female employee (whose nickname is Baby): “Baby, I like how you pound that stamper,” and she replied “Thank you! That’s because my ink pad is really moist,” (ok, so it's not that kind of play, but - still funny for a first improv) I knew that, once again, I had assembled the perfect cast. There was some nostalgia there as well: some of the people in the cast are graduating this year, some will start their PhD exams, some are half-way through their dissertation. I’ll never work with some of them again. Perhaps this is our last play. The stage manager graduates as well, my right-hand girl, irreplaceable, intuitive, amazingly reliable. This is our fourth play together. I keep saying this: nobody truly knows anybody until they do a play together. Nobody really knows me until we meet on stage.
The stage is set. Rehearsals have begun. Questions (all the questions) will be asked, and answered, crises will happen, solutions will be found. There is a joy – almost a giddiness – I feel at the start of The Registry that I don't remember experiencing before. Perhaps it’s the subject (a comedy of bureaucratic revenge); perhaps it’s the people; perhaps it’s that I get reunited with my first lighting designer after more than five years. Perhaps it’s all these things.
If this production will haunt someone, it will not be us, it will not be me. Let it be you, then.