Archive | June, 2015

Where Not to Stand (or Preparing for Battle)

26 Jun

The art of producing a play is a lot like a big game of tag. One actor says their line which is a cue for the next actor to say theirs which then either gets a response from the first actor or is a cue for yet another actor to say the next line. And to throw in another dimension, the lines may be the cue for one of the technical folks to get into the act–play a sound effect or change the lights. In essence, each line ends with an unspoken “tag, you’re it.”

IMG_1859This week a new type of blocking was introduced into ECT’s production of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe–fight choreography. And after watching our fight choreographer work for a few hours, nowhere on stage is the next cue more important. No question, when two or more people start wielding (fake) swords or other battle implements, missing a cue means someone can get hurt.

Stephen Eliasson works with ECT on fight choreography and had scheduled a few hours to work with Fenrus Ulf, Peter, and the White Witch on their battle scenes. Before he came he had obviously spent some time thinking about the two scenes and how they were going to play out. He had taken notes and knew the steps that each actor would take, how they would stop, lunge, lean, twirl, and block a strike. And even how they would meet their end.

IMG_1824But one of the things that was utmost in his mind was the safety of the actors and the only way to ensure that was to make sure the actor was aware of the cues of their fellow actor. They need to prepare for the possibility that an actor may fail to jump the right way when the sword comes at them. Advice like “wait for her to get her arms fully stretched above her head and holding the staff up in the air before you bring you sword down.” And, “make sure you can see him before you start bringing the staff around.”

IMG_1832Who appears to be in control of the ensuing violence may not be the one who is in control of the actions at all. The appearance of actor A getting shaken by actor B is actually actor A creating the motion while actor B follows along. Such is the illusion of live theatre.

IMG_1910The choreography of battle is no different than the choreography of a dance except the perceived violence involved. And the art is just as difficult. So difficult that there is the Society of American Fight Directors that trains and certifies people like Stephen. Stephen only does this occasionally for groups like ours, but his enthusiasm and understanding shine through, making actors comfortable with swinging objects or their fists at each other and making you, the audience, believe they have landed their blow.IMG_1948

 

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Where to stand

15 Jun
This side.

This side.

Until the Evansville High School Class of 2015 graduated, we practiced on the Middle School stage. It doesn’t compare to the EHS stage but I marvel at old pictures that show past large musical productions that were held there. The pit band didn’t have a pit, often it appears they were set to the back of the stage. And there aren’t any wings to speak of, so I can’t imagine how there was room

That side

That side

for set pieces, let alone actors, back there. Yep, we are spoiled now.

Most theatre groups don’t get on stage until a few weeks before the performance, so we are lucky to get on five or six weeks before opening night. That said, the rehearsals in the Middle School are more of the actors working on lines and getting to know each other and because the stage is only half the width it’s hard to really work on where the actors should be on the stage.

How about over there?

How about over there?

Entrances, exits, where to stand, how to time the delivery of the lines is difficult because it will take longer and require a completely different timing on the big stage.

So everyone was happy last week when they arrived at the EHS Performing Art Center (PAC). The directors can move and reassemble each tableau–known in stage terms as blocking.

Hannah said it was feeling like high school again as she told the story about a normal week with the high school director: “Monday: ‘all of you come in from the left and stand there, no, maybe a little further downstage.’ Tuesday: ‘No, no, it’s not working for me, try upstage and to the right, that will be much better.’ Wednesday: ‘It’s not speaking to me on the right, it just isn’t, well, right. Let’s try front and center!’ Thursday: ‘I just think it works best on the left and downstage.'” With that she threw up her hands and walked off.

Sure Hannah, that way works.

Sure Hannah, that way works.

Sometime Director Dave is standing on the floor in front of the stage, sometimes on the stage, sometimes sitting a few rows back in the seats. Melissa isn’t quite as transient but tries to judge it from the audience perspective. They talk to each other and then to the actors, the actors make suggestions and then they run the scene all over again.

Dave on the floor.

Dave on the floor.

In another few weeks, after Dave and Melissa have tried scenes upstage and down, stage left and stage right, and all of the combinations in between, they will finally decide the best place on stage and there simply won’t be time to change it any more.

And after this first week of rehearsals on an empty stage where things were starting to feel right, a small crew came in on Saturday and built the platforms that will become the set. So that means we will need to reconsider the blocking one more time. At least.

Dave on stage, Melissa (19) hangs tight.

Dave on stage, Melissa (19) hangs tight.

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