Workshopping ON THE EVE – Week #2: Finding Character
The SDSU Class of 2016 (plus two guests) learned all the music for the staged reading of On the Eve in about a week (only using 2 hours of class time a day to learn it as a group)! Once that was finished, it was time to move on to dissecting the script and staging in preparation for the rest of the creative team – Seth and Shawn Magill and Michael Federico – to arrive.
The first thing our director, Stephen Brotebeck, put on the schedule was a read-through/sing-through of the show. Experiencing the show in this way was so helpful for putting the songs into context and getting to be exposed to the full story at least once before staging. I believe first impressions of a character lead to some of the most truthful line readings and responses. I found myself really listening and reacting to the story as it unfolded, something that can be lost after running a show over and over again.
Over the following week, we would go through the show scene by scene – run it, talk about any questions/clarify the story, do any staging (besides standing behind music stands), and run it again. One wonderful aspect of On the Eve is that it tells a story with many layers. As actors, we (with the director’s help) had to determine when we were playing an actor in the “real world” and when we were playing a character in the play that the actors were putting on. The show-within-a-show concept is always tricky, and in On The Eve, the lines sometimes blur, forcing the actor to be very specific in their characterizations. It was a blessing to have a director who let us have the time to mull over different ideas of what could be going on and let us have freedom to try different concepts. If he didn’t have an answer to a question, he was quick to email the rest of the creative team for guidance.
Finally, the composer/lyricists and the bookwriter joined our little group! With only two days until showtime, this was really a time for the creatives to make sure that the story was clear and that we were presenting it in the right way. This was also a great opportunity for us, the actors, to ask questions about story and get clarification on character, motivation, etc. It was wonderfully enlightening for all of us! I had an interesting moment where I found my idea of what was going on in the world outside of the play was completely wrong (or against the author’s intention) and I had to shift my thinking and some of my choices in a very short amount of time. One aspect of those two days that was so special was how supportive everyone was of each other. If there was something that the director, composer/lyricists, or bookwriter hated, I had no idea! They were so kind and energetic about just putting the piece on its feet. I really appreciate new musical theatre artists who are simply excited to tell a story rather than getting bogged down in minutia.
All of the creatives understood the actors – most members of the creative team have acting backgrounds – and they made sure that this process was just that: a process. Sometimes producers, directors, choreographers, etc. feel like they have to rush through everything. While it is true that “time is money” and I believe that everyone should come in prepared, I was reminded that, by giving yourself the time and freedom to really explore a piece to the fullest, some really amazing choices can arise. There really never is enough time, as most artists will complain, but being allowed the liberty to simply TRY and THINK and QUESTION can make all the difference.
I can’t wait to share the experience of the performance with you in the final post! Feel free to comment with any questions you’d like answered!
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