Actors are not Plastic Penguins
Updated: Oct 1
Last month my post focused on school and learning. Embracing each opportunity for learning, especially if it takes you out of your comfort zone, is an opportunity for growth. Around the time of September's post, I began learning how to direct a short play by watching YouTube videos.
I thought you might enjoy a sample of my first three weeks as director of LEON.
I will begin by saying I’ve never directed a play or assisted in directing a play and I’ve never acted, so volunteering to direct LEON was a bit cocky, even for me. Sure, I wrote it and knew it, but could I direct it?
I dove into online research on “how to direct a play” and then filtered my searches for reader’s theater plays. The research included several dozen YouTube videos.
LEON is a humorous and bittersweet story of three sisters reminiscing about Christmases of the past and how a holiday knick-knack set of four angels bonded the sisters through the years. The 'catch' is that one of the sisters has recently passed and appears as a spirit.
Auditions were held and I chose three ladies to portray the sisters. The first rehearsal was the read-through. At the table, we read each line to determine if the sentences flowed easily. The cast of three were comfortable with the structure.
Next, we dove into the rehearsals.
Readers Theaters vary in the way rehearsals are held. Some allow for theater group members (and guests) to sit in as audience during rehearsals, while others keep the door closed until a few rehearsals have passed. I opted to keep the door to the rehearsal room closed, at least for the first few rehearsals, as it was my first shot at directing and I needed to find my footing with the cast.
During the first rehearsal, we worked on blocking.
I had been working on blocking in the quiet of my kitchen during the prior weeks. Two small plastic penguins, a plastic widget, and a square of cardboard were my cast and set. I read through each scene while moving the pieces around the square cardboard that represented the table. Actually, that was quite fun. Plastic pieces are easy to rearrange. The YouTube hint for blocking by using toys proved quite helpful.
But my cast are not plastic, they are live human beings. We fumbled through the first blocking rehearsal. A humbling moment was when Tina asked, “Should I be on this side of the chair or that side?” I realized this cast of seasoned reader theater actresses were LOOKING TO ME for direction.
I wanted to say, "Whatever works for you." But then I realized this instant was defining the entire idea of directing. Where does she have to be, so she's not in the way, so she doesn't bump into something or someone in the next scene? What did I do with the plastic penguins? Details matter!
I felt clumsy and I'm sure the cast felt a bit clumsy, but we all agreed it was the first rehearsal and things would get better.
The next week I was better prepared. We added props and continued working on the blocking. From start to finish -- with a couple of bumps -- it ran 30 minutes. Not bad, at all! We were excited! We did another run-through and cheered each other at the end. This was a productive hour; the movements were smoother, and we were gaining confidence. I suppose there will continue to be blocking adjustments during the next couple of rehearsals as we continue with what works and omit what’s not needed.
We have nine more rehearsals (one per week) until the dress rehearsal.
Jane, Beth, and Tina (the names of the characters) moved easily and followed my notes. They handled the props like professionals! I am also enjoying watching them give their characters personalities. I'm lucky to have such a great cast!
I recruited my wife for sound effects and prop control. And, Gio has offered to assist and step in as director when I travel East for two weeks.
Soon we will have a handful of rehearsals under our belts and as the cast becomes more comfortable in their characters and movements, I will hopefully become more comfortable with this new challenge!
We can't predict what may happen once the lights dim, some stuff can not be controlled. That's the fun of live theater!
For now, be assured, that the actors for LEON are NOT anything like plastic penguins!