Rehearsals: Day 7
3rd May, 2019
Preparing for the evening
It was interesting that the aims of the evening took a bit longer to become clear. In fact, they were the last notes I made in the preparation for this evening. Last week, I had thought we might get a chance to play with the text of the major characters.
That didn’t happen then, so they were top of the agenda tonight –– playing with a number of different actors, seeing how they presented with a demanding part of the text.
Actors were invited to read the excerpts I had chosen in the email sent last week so they could be a bit more familiar and comfortable with the material. The aim of the evening was to move the script along. And thereby, shift the focus from the group work.
That’s what happened.
It is timely to focus on the main characters in order for the actors to have the best opportunity to know these characters and for me, in consultation, to make the decisions on the combinations of individuals available to us. We will allocate the parts the actors very soon. Casting will be a combined activity, considered and explored.
And the build-up to this was greater focus on individual work rather than the group expression of previous weeks.
Check this out for evidence of a joint collaboration between Salieri and Mozart. There is great doubt that the rivalry as is portrayed in Shafer’s Amadeus existed between them at all.
Many of the the actors arrived late this evening. Those who had arrived early started moving to the music, warming up their bodies, having a bit of a bop to Beyoncé or Sigrid. As the others joined, they moved along.
In the past, my experience is that, after a few workshops / rehearsals performers begin to know what they need to warm themselves and it eventually happens without instruction. There is a freedom to the movement and to the mindsets of the participants and the build-up in the work has brought a level of invitation to play and explore that begins to kick in at the very beginning of the rehearsal.
That is my aim and sometimes I just let the night develop, see what place the actors are in.
I love when this happens, when the actor feels confident and steady and included enough to be taken with the feeling in the room.
I have received feedback that an actor missed having an exercise to bring the group together at the beginning and that the instructions in the warm up serve that function … maybe we’re not at the point I seek yet!
The Hunt and the Pounce
In this version of the walking exercises, the participants are asked to walk as if they are alert to a malign presence, checking for it, moving and shifting around the room, very aware of the others in the workshop, but not relating to them –– they work alone. Their attention is constantly moving around, checking where this presence might be, keeping themselves safe and ready.
Steadily, the intensity of the exercise builds up to the point where the presence is very close by, though not visible yet –– the actor isn’t certain where it is. A point of stillness with maximum alertness is reached.
Then the actors are asked to pounce on the presence, but to no avail, it wasn’t where they expected. Then again they pounce and again.
Each time, it is a false alarm until finally they come to realise that they may have been mistaken and that the presence wasn’t really there … probably … and they come back to a quieter, still place … though alert to the outside possibility that the presence is there.
My experience of this when watching the actors was that the state of alertness and awareness was acute. There seemed to be various moments when every single actor was utterly focused on their task and guarding themselves from the malign presence.
In the instructions, the suggestion is that this is the level of concentration and presence an actor should bring before they begin any performance. I don’t care for the malign presence element –– it brings a sense of fear that I wonder might be counter-productive. But I do appreciate that those actors were present in an acute way by the end of the exercise.
The actors split into pairs and worked on an exercise to bring total awareness to various parts of your body.
One person closes their eyes and stands, focusing on their centre of energy. The other person then touches them on their body, with one part of their body at first (a finger, a hand, an elbow). The unsighted person brings their awareness to that point of touch, imagining that the energy moves from their centre to that point.
Slowly the sighted person chooses different parts of the other’s body, gently and respectfully choosing a variety of places, unexpected, unusual for normal interactions: such as the back of the ear, the temple, the inside of the shin. The momentum builds slowly and eventually two hands are used, quickly moving from one place to another, as the unsighted actor learns to shift the energy.
These two exercises outlined above bring a whole new level of sensitivity and trust to our work. It is wonderful for me to observe this work with these generous actors. Seeing intimacy and tenderness is beautiful and compelling and the care that the actors took of one another was a privilege to witness.
Always, I aim to be attentive and sensitive to the actors’ needs and the demands on them. Whether I achieve this is another matter –– requiring constant checking of myself and the participants.
Before we began the Touch awareness’ exercise, I reminded everyone that they could choose to opt out. (Remember: ‘It’s all your fault, Karen!” The Amadeus Project: Day 2 )
In feedback later we discussed these exercises and the hand exercise from last week, one after the other, two actors in pairs, silently look closely at the hands of the other (The Amadeus Project: Day 6).
Different people found different exercises challenging, although they may have been working with friends.
When I read back what I have written in Day 6 blog, it’s as if this hand exercise is a small thing … and yet, for some performers, it had a profound impact.
I have no doubt that these exercises bring a different quality to performances and to the dynamic within this Amadeus Project Group. (See also the comments later in this blog post, when we began to read and workshop the ‘Constanze’ text.)
These are intimate exercises, demanding high levels of respect and trust amongst our group. That the make-up of the groups shifts and changes each night is unhelpful. We even discussed whether it’s too much to ask of actors to do in these circumstances.
That I am present every week, as are a number of the other participants, may influence my comfort levels, but I may have to reconsider what I ask of people, or ensure that I clearly offer the opportunities to opt out. The participants when asked, did hear and take own board the opportunity to opt out tonight.
The process moves along and each week brings new, intense demands.
Immediately after the second exercise, I asked the pairs to create a chair together from imaginary snow that surrounded them. They sculpted and worked, decorated and tried out this splendid piece of furniture. A sense of fun and hard work permeated the atmosphere.
The Characters defining tonight’s workshop:
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Maria Constanza Mozart
Four chairs on the stage. Four actors read the part of Antoni Salieri in the scene with Constanza and Mozart. At one point, there were four Salieris on the stage, one representing old Salieri and the others the younger version.
There will definitely be two Salieris, to split the extensive text, split the emotion of this character, this enormous role.
First, we read through the script and then, keeping Constanze mostly off the improvised set. I focused on workshopping the Salieri lines, trying to find a way into the text and the character for these different actors.
My keen interest was in getting to the point where the actors were silently acting to the text that was read by another person and they responded internally –– finding the emotional response to his situation. Seeing a group of actors undertake this together, at the same time was fantastic.
Just fleeting moments remain in my mind from these actors as they performed: the turn of the head, the look in the eyes, the crouch of the body.
I think concentration on text early on deadens it … actors pay too much attention to the words and getting those right, heads are buried in the books and we are unaware, unobserving of the other people acting with us.
My theory is, that in concentrating on the actor developing as an individual, in connection with the other actors developing as a group, then by exploring the characters through theme and situation –– a setting of sorts plus the society around them –– the arc of the story, and the words that convey it, will look after themselves when it comes to learning and saying them.
(‘Look after themselves’ = will flow and work easily)
We then flipped around, two Constanzes performed on the ‘set’ and Salieri read from the body of the group of the ‘audience’. Therefore, our attention was entirely on those playing Constanza and not on Salieri. Again, I wasn’t interested in the words of the text but playing with the emotions and the gestures.
Two moments jumped out at me here. In the text Salieri is directed to wipe Constanze’s mouth with a ‘mouchoir’. She has just had some of Salieri’s confections –– Venus Nipples. Shortly after this, he manipulates her into kissing him lightly on the mouth, once, then a second time.
These moments are small but powerful, because of their intimacy and implication for both characters (Constanza has no interest in Salieri and is desperately trying to get Mozart work; Salieri has never cheated on his wife before this, but jealousy is beginning to overtake him.) Definitely, the earlier Touch Awareness game has awakened the potential in heightening these gestures.
Two actors, one male and one female, also read the part of Mozart, in a scene with the character Von Strack, where Mozart displays his virtuosity on the pianoforte while denigrating the other Italian composers around for their old-fashioned reliance on ‘C Minor means gravity! D Minor means terror!’
Mozart, as usual, cannot control what he says and Von Strack, representing the official Court, is endeavoring to keep him in check.
We played with this text, finding the fun and extravagance in him, chucking away the script to improvise for a moment, thereby scaring the actors who weren’t familiar with the text, but who were tremendous in the moment.
In discussion later, I realized that I hadn’t asked for any men to read the role of Constanze, though I had been mindful of women reading the male roles. What does that say?
Next week will be the time for allotting roles; one more full rehearsal for casting purposes and to allow those wanting a chance to audition to prepare.
We finished with a circle, holding hands, leaning back together in mutual support and steadiness … mostly!
Email to Amadeus Troupe, 10th May, 2019
Hello Amadeus Troupe,
a little delayed … this week has been different in intensity, both in the rehearsal and in the reflections since. The word count in the blog posts are getting longer –– not sure what that says!
Thank you for your work on Monday night, which was special in its intimacy. Because we are getting closer to casting, it was more intense individual work and had a different atmosphere, I believe.
On Monday next we will return to a greater emphasis on group work, although there will be opportunities also for people to read for a role.
Any actor wishing to have a speaking role must be present on Monday night, unless you have made an alternative arrangement with me.
Just warning you that the Parish Hall isn’t available on Monday 20th May so we’ll have a chat about rehearsals for that week.
Here’s the link to the Blog: Day 7 https://karenminihan.wordpress.com