Behind The Scenes of NORWAY (Week 2)

January 10th-15th, 2011.

Hi everyone, Evan Sesek here again to bring you behind the scenes of the NORWAY rehearsal process.  The first week of rehearsal was about getting a general “shape” to it–getting some basic blocking down, and figuring out where there are some majors shifts (emotionally or otherwise). This week (Week 2) is more about running what we’ve worked, stopping, and refining certain moments. For example, in one scene, we spent a good deal of time on the words, “I’m sorry.” It’s funny how just two words can have such weight and if said in the wrong tone can completely change the scene. Like the words “I love you”, they’re so loaded and could be said to hurt someone, to comfort someone, or to mock someone. It’s also a credit to Matt’s great directing, always paying attention to details while keeping the entire play in mind.

In this second week, we’ve also been dealing with the challenges the script presents. One of the awesome things about this play (and one of the biggest hurdles) is that it not only takes place in between two time periods (2001 and present day), but also between spaces (bedrooms, coffee shops, parking lots, etc.). So, how do we communicate to the audience where and when we are, while also not lengthening the play or distracting the audience with scene changes? I don’t know if we’ve completely settled on a solution, but having Matt, Sam, Peter (sound designer), and Mike, and eventually Racquelle Davis (lights, she’s currently in NY) all on board, I know there will be an interesting solution.

Speaking of Peter, it’s been great to have him in every rehearsal. In my experience, the Sound Designer works with the director during the process, but very intermittently and then shows up around Tech Week to lay in the sound cues. However, Peter is there for every rehearsal, listening and watching the scenes, and experimenting with sound and music that will heighten and support these scenes. At the top of the play, he experimented with four different pieces of music/sound, and he and Matt decided on one. With Peter here, the performances and the text influence the sound choices (and vice versa), making the process that much more collaborative.

George Prentice of the Boise Weekly interviewed the cast, Sam, and Matt on Friday–so keep a look out for a Preview article there. Anyway, hope the weekend has been swell for everyone, check in next week for another look behind-the-scenes of NORWAY.–Evan

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Day Five: Names

Today’s work included a discussion of names, specifically, the names of people and places in a particular section of the play. What names do we choose to use when speaking to one another? Do those choices change with circumstances? Mom, Mother, Mrs. Weems, Barb, Barbara, Mabel, Memsahib, these are all names for one character in Namaste Man, Andy’s Mother. The name used to address her  at any given moment says a lot about the relationship and the moment. Even the house where Andy lived in Nepal had a name: Woomera Ghar.

Blind
I went to Rattlestick tonight to see Craig Wright’s newest play, a modern adaptation of Oedipus. It’s nowhere near as good as The Pavilion or Lady. Too bad. Of the three plays I’ve seen in New York this week (two world premieres and a modern classic), it was the fresh interpretation of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, written in 1937 , that will stay with me.

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Day Four: Workshop

One of the unexpected benefits of this rehearsal structure (one week in NY, then two and a half in Boise) is that it helps to keep the options open early as if it were a workshop week. Andy is not yet standing on the stage at BCT where you (Do you have your tickets?) will soon be gathered to see Namaste Man. In a way, we are free from that pressure of production and we can better explore the options of style and chronology that will make the show in Boise distinct from the original production. Have I mentioned that this is just the second time Namaste Man has been produced? And it is already a very different, and even better incarnation of Andy’s play.

A Behanding In Spokane
Kristy, Justin and I went to the The Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre last night to see McDonagh’s newest show. We all worked on The Cripple of Inishmaan together at BCT in 2001. And for Kris and I, the twisted brilliance of The Pillowman (BCT 2008) proved that McDonagh could tell stories that weren’t set in Ireland. Unfortunately, this play, his first set in the U.S., is not his best.

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Day Three: Travel

Wednesday’s rehearsal included a quick trip across the globe. One of the puzzles to solve in the staging of this show is about distance. Andy’s family traveled and lived all over the planet when he was a kid: Rome, Paris, Thailand, the Suez Canal, Zambia, a brief stop in Virginia then Calcutta and Kathmandu. Davis spent a good bit of reahearsal today working with Andy on different ways to tell that piece of the story. Should he use the width of the BCT stage to create real distance or should he be confined to a small square of light and depend more on the text. In the end, the part of the story most about movement may end up being the most still.

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Day Two: Ring Ring

Another great day with Davis, Andy, Peter & Kris. Andy arrived with a fresh version of the script with cuts and rewrites done the night before. Cutting a script can be hard for any playwright even when every character and scene are pure fiction. With Andy and Namaste Man it must be even harder. I can’t imagine the complex relationship he must have with this story, his story. The characters are real people, his parents, his siblings, his long lost friends. But he is up to the task. This is very hard work, but he is up to it and he has a fantastic collaborator in Davis.

It’s great to have Peter here (generously, on his own dime) to begin the work of creating the sound design from the very beginning of this rehearsal process. It was Peter who first brought Namaste Man to my attention. He was the sound designer for the world premiere in Seattle and lobbied for a BCT production. I’m happy that I listened to him.

The range of topics covered in a single day of rehearsal is always entertainingly broad. Today’s highlights: the difference between one telephone ring and two (ring…ring…ring vs ring ring…ring ring…ring ring), as well as Andy’s belief that all great plays contain some reference to, or exploration of the purpose of theater itself.

I witnessed further evidence to support that theory tonight.

I saw David Cromer’s production of Our Town at the Barrow Street Theater. I don’t know that I’m capable of describing the show without using what would seem to be hyperbole, but there was a scene change near the end of the play that made me weep and Michael Shannon was brilliant. Understated and simply brilliant. All the “folksy” pitfalls of a play that I thought had devolved into a bad community theater cliche were avoided. The power of simplicity was proven, proven again and then turned on it’s head.

Wow.

-MCC

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Day One: Namaste means hello. . . or goodbye.

It was a fantastic first day of rehearsal in New York. We are on the third floor of the Gowanus Arts Building in Brooklyn, a wonderfully weird old building with mosaic tile floors and oddly uneven stairs. Marion Williams, the set & costume designer was there to present her scenic design in the form of a beautiful model that recreates BCT impressively well, especially considering that she’s never been there. It features a large crate of objects, each of them important, suspended from the center truss. From this crate the pieces of the story are retrieved and revealed, many of them are Andy’s actual possessions, brought to rehearsal today in a well-worn suitcase. Andy read the most recent version of the script and we spent some time discussing the recurrence of antithetical yet coexistent truths: the play is about Nepal and yet the play is not about Nepal, it’s about all places; the “opposite thing can always be true.” I can’t wait for all of you to experience this story. Andy is a magnificent storyteller and the characters he creates in Namaste Man, are not only memorable but powerful.

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NYC Theater Tickets Booked

I just got off the phone with actor and dear friend Justin Ness (THE DAZZLE, VALPARAISO), who, in addition to putting me up in his spare bedroom for the week, will be joining me for a couple of shows. All my tickets are booked:

OUR TOWN
When I had the unbelievable fortune of meeting Edward Albee last year, he told me that this stripped down version of the Thornton Wilder classic, directed by David Cromer, was the best thing running in New York.

A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE
The newest play from wonderfully twisted mind of Martin McDonagh (THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN, THE PILLOWMAN) is his first to be set in America. I’d be going even if it didn’t star Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell.

BLIND
A modern twist on the Oedipus story by Craig Wright (THE PAVILION) at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. I have admired Rattlestick from afar (40 World Premieres in 15 years) but have never seen their work.

VENUS IN FUR
This quirky new drama from David Ives (ALL IN THE TIMING) has become a huge hit off-broadway and it’s already on the short list of BCT possibilities. It’s about theater auditions and sadomasochism.

I can’t wait.
-MCC

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