| Rehearsal Diary

Week Three

Combining our work from the rehearsal room with the stage and house of the theatre. While we’ve been busy rehearsing, the crew at the Booth Theatre on 45th Street have been hard at work building the stage, revolving door, broken elevator and grand staircase that fill the lobby of Erie’s hotel. Today we’ll finally start to combine our work from the rehearsal room with the stage and house of the theatre. 

Our day with the actors begins not onstage, but in the large lower lobby of the Booth instead. While the crew finish their work upstairs, we utilise every moment we have and begin with a rough run through in the lobby, approximating props and furniture while Forest and Frank focus on their lines and blocking. It’s a good run through and primes us for work on stage that afternoon.

Heading upstairs to the stage, we first take a moment to acclimatize. Forest walks around and tries going all the way up the stairs and sitting on the bench downstage left.  As Associate Director, this is the day where my job entails running to the extreme corners of the house, sitting in what might be the most difficult seats from which to see the play, so that we can tailor our staging to the whole audience. Michael stresses that this is a work session just for us. We’re not yet tech-ing or working with a full crew, so the actors should absolutely take all the time they need. Forest and Frank do a few vocal exercises they’ve learned from Kate Wilson, our Vocal Coach, and start playing with their sound and characters’ text in the space. The Booth is a beauty, and Forest’s baritone and Frank’s reedy tenor fill the space terrifically. O’Neill sounds great in these walls!

The following day begins with a thorough technical rehearsal. All the designers and their teams are in full force and the stage is busy with crew making final adjustments. The first moments of a tech are often the most difficult, as everyone works to find a common vocabulary for the creation of a fully integrated production. Working to our advantage is the long history Michael has with his three designers. He, Christopher Oram, Neil Austin and Adam Cork have worked together countless times and have honed an aesthetic and shorthand that makes tech-ing with them a blurring dance of collaboration and art. 

The play begins with Frank pre-set at the Night Clerk’s desk, from before the audience enters. Frank’s character, Charlie, has almost forgotten that he’s existing and sitting there, and this choice allows the audience to essentially forget him and, instead, view Charlie as part of the scenery. After the house lights go out, the musical interlude begins, during which time Neil has programmed a lighting sequence that brings the lobby to life.

A major component of this are several wall sconces that adorn the lobby walls, leading up the grand staircase. We have our first go and the lighting and music is timed well but could use some finessing in the quality of its movement. Michael sees an opportunity for a more gradual growth of the light, which invites the audience into the space and play. He turns to Neil and says, ‘You know how the lights are going like this…’ – Michael demonstrates an illuminating gesture with his hands – ‘What if it was more like…’ and he makes a flower-blooming gesture by opening a fist to reveal his palm. Neil nods, understanding what Michael wants from this demonstration, but also from the knowledge that comes from years of working together. He radios to his Lighting Programmer, they make a few adjustments, and before too long we are running the sequence again. This time the sconces crescendo to their lighting state gradually, like a slow inhalation. The desired effect is achieved, the first sequence has been tech-ed and we’ve gained an integration of different sensibilities that we will replicate and explore throughout the play.  

As we continue to tech, Michael encourages Forest to carry on with his acting rehearsals during the time he finds himself waiting and standing in place as we focus lights on him.  Forest jumps on this, taking any break where we’re making adjustments to run his speeches and lines with Frank.

It’s worth mentioning that this is Forest’s first time on stage in over three decades. He has a wealth of experience portraying a range of characters, and brilliantly so, but theatre acting is a totally different beast. The intimacy of a rehearsal room served as a nice bridge and now we find ourselves on a Broadway stage, it’s important we do all we can to encourage Forest to share his performance with the auditorium. These moments of rehearsal, while tech continues around him, are key in giving Forest the repetition and comfort level he will need for this performance.

By Wednesday afternoon, after just a day and a half of tech, we are basically ready for our first stumble-through. On Thursday we re-tech from the beginning of the play, which is a favored tactic of Michael’s. This is really the same as his sketching method in rehearsals. We tech quickly and then have a stumble-through with full tech. Then, taking what we’ve learnt, we re-tech from the beginning of the play and follow that with another run through. We repeat this process until we have it and we’re ready to open, and with this hour-long drama that’s no problem for this tried-and-tested team.

Throughout this process, Michael never loses sight of his actors. He continues to feed back to them on their performances, giving notes and making adjustments as we go. He reminds them to emphasise the key set-ups in the first ten or so lines of the play. For Forest, this is the first mention of the titular ‘Hughie’ and the expositional line, ‘Poor guy croaked last week…’ Michael reminds Frank to really hit the words in his line, ‘Hughes, Charlie Hughes’, when he responds to Erie asking his name. It’s key we hear this and Frank takes the note and plays it well. With Forest, Michael also encourages his playfulness with the language, finding expansiveness with key words. This helps Erie paint the picture of his stories and for the audience to be pulled into the play. Instances like: ‘Some of these dolls were raw babies.’ And: ‘While I was signing up for the bridal suite.’ A little spin on these words yields great rewards. 

We approach the end of the week and it’s time to add that final and most important element, the other character in the play – the audience. Saturday night, a small collection of friends and family of the show file into the theatre. It’s a warm and happy crowd who are anxious to be the first to witness this performance. 

Forest and Frank play the piece beautifully and Erie Smith’s story is told. The high and lows, the despair and laughter, are all found in this hour-long drama, just as Michael hoped we would way back at the beginning of our journey.