| Rehearsal Diary

Week Two

In our second week of rehearsals we build on the skeleton we created for the scenes last week. We move through them in greater detail to fill every moment with clarity, asking questions to allow us to understand the characters and their situations more deeply. For example, when Ken arrives for his first day as Rothko’s assistant, we ask whether Ken would know what Rothko looks like before he meets him, and whether he would therefore be able to recognise him when he gets to the studio? In 1958 there’s no Google for him to search for his new boss’ photo! We decide that Ken, being keenly interested in contemporary art, would have seen a photo of Rothko in an art trade magazine and would therefore be able to identify his new boss when he arrives. These kind of questions, employing the imagination and inventiveness of actors and director alike, form a large part of rehearsals and are key in making it such an enjoyable and creative space.

sink with painter's brush and rags
Red rehearsals. Photo: Marc Brenner

As the week goes on, we begin to think about how what we are creating in the rehearsal room will translate to the larger space we will eventually occupy at the Wyndhams. Michael discusses the importance of gradually building the physical and vocal energy required to carry the scenes so that we arrive in the theatre ready to fill the space, rather than being deceived by the more intimate environment of the rehearsal room. We are also fortunate to have practical lighting set up in the space, which was a key component of Rothko’s studio and how he desired his work to be viewed. Rothko had highly specific opinions about the correct positioning of light for his work to be best observed and created, and so this usefully provides the true atmosphere of the space for the actors to inhabit.

stage lights
Red rehearsals. Photo: Marc Brenner

We spend more time on the complex priming sequence, honing it to try and discover the ideal combination of randomness and synchronicity. As the actors get more fluent with their dialogue, we discuss the importance of holding onto the immediacy and in-the-moment discovery of what they are saying. The element of frustration which actors naturally experience before they have fully learned their lines can actually be helpful in creating the experience of characters searching for the right words, especially in the kind of messy arguments which form a significant part of our play. We focus on one particular confrontation, where Rothko and Ken battle for ownership over the many associations of the word ‘red’, and look at how we can keep this section moving at the speed of genuine thought, remembering the characters are discovering their ideas for the first time.

actor pouring red paint from one bucket to another, watched by older actor
Red rehearsals. Photo: Marc Brenner

We end the week having explored two-thirds of the play in careful detail, with a robust architecture that will stand us in good stead as we move into the climactic sections of the play next week.