| Rehearsal Diary

Week Three

During our third week of rehearsals we move through the entire play again, our work becoming increasingly precise and specific. As we arrive at each scene we remind ourselves of the month and date in which we decided it takes place. This allows us to reconsider whether we have located the scene at the ideal chronological moment for the characters, given the development of the relationship between Ken and Rothko that takes place throughout the play, and so serves as a useful opportunity to check-in with the shape of the story our production is telling.

older actor mixing paint
Red rehearsals. Photo: Marc Brenner

Now that the actors are more confident and familiar with the text, we are able to start working in minutely calibrated detail. For example, we identify a line in a debate between Ken and Rothko where a tiny change of inflection from the actor transforms it from feeling like the ending of a conversation to a line which is keeping the energy alive and dynamic, and therefore keeping the audience connected to the shifts in the conversation. The actors also have to tackle the challenge of conveying the speed of their characters’ thoughts. As Rothko and Ken are hyper-articulate, intelligent people, the actors need to be utterly confident with their dialogue and the thoughts behind each line in order to inhabit the phenomenal pace at which both of the characters think. The more we interrogate the characters’ debates and get to the root of what they are saying and feeling, the more within reach this complex task feels.

Towards the end of the week we have our first full runthrough. This provides a useful marker of where we are in the process and allows the actors to have their first physical experience of the play’s shape. It provides us with some useful insights to help shape the production further. In the final scene, Michael instructs the actors not to play the end before it happens – Rothko makes a significant decision here and it is important that Ken doesn’t know it’s coming or the reason for it. This note unlocks the dramatic energy of the scene and brings the shifts in the characters’ relationship into sharper focus. 

actor laughing
Red rehearsals. Photo: Marc Brenner

In seeing the play in its entirety for the first time, we also notice that the audience might interpret Rothko’s studio to be a place purely of seriousness and academic debate. Michael encourages Alfie, as Ken, to show us his character enjoying the moments when Rothko makes jokes, indicating to the audience that the studio can also be a place of amusement and amiability. This is useful for providing an extra flavour within the production’s texture, enhancing the contrast with the moments of gravity. This seemingly small note, which sends ripples throughout the entire fabric of the production, is one of the many detailed discoveries we make in our penultimate week of rehearsals.

older man laughing
Red rehearsals. Photo: Marc Brenner