Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Impressions from the first day of rehearsal – A Christmas Carol 2009 by Matthew Wiener

1. It’s kind of like Groundhog Day (the movie) - I’ve done this day over and over again. This is my 15th year of directing Xmas Carol, and about the 10th or 11th of this adaptation. Every year it’s the same (I mean we know how it ends) and every year it’s a bit different. The story is the same – but the voices are different – cast changes and all. And I suppose I am different too – just not sure how.

2. This show works like a well oiled machine. And the first day is no different. Name tags. Introductions. Housekeeping. The bathrooms are out the door and to the left. Talking about safety. Talking about health – this year we gave everyone their very own bottle of hand sanitizer! There will be no H1N1 in this cast! Talking about Dickens. Talking about this adaptation. Trying to say something profound. Trotting out the old lines: “This play is about reminding us we all have the ability to change our own lives and in doing so; change the lives of those around us”. Yeah. Sounds good. That’s it.

3. And then the read/sing through. It starts tentatively, timidly. The returning cast members try to find the groove. The new cast members (especially the younger performers) have no idea what’s going on. Kim Bennett, our Scrooge for the past many years, starts off-book and quickly picks up his script, scrambling for his glasses. The opening number is kind of quite – “What part do I sing?” and “How does that go again?” and “Oh, that’s where we do the sotto voce thing!”

4. The Ghost of Xmas Past is a metaphor for the entire moment. “Marley is dead” – yeah, we know. Dead as a doornail. And like Marley we bring this story back from the dead with every page of the script.

5. The music starts to bring us together. The score, by Alan Ruch, is very special. Difficult but special. As each number goes by the musical motifs for the show start to re-accumulate in our collective memories. And our muscle memories. Oh yes, I remember that. The Crow’s Nest number – which we all think is goofy – has everyone tapping their feet, bopping their heads – and smiling. And then The Travels – the most striking trio. We thrill to the memory of what that number can be. We can’t help but applaud – a little. And Silent Night. A carol sung in the key of JOY. The moment that on stage can stop an audience from breathing – or so it seems.

6. Lines start to jump out. “If they would rather die, they had better do it! And decrease the surplus population!” “Bah! Humbug” “Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it.” “Ghost of the Future, I fear you more than any spectre I have seen.” “I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!” Dickens really did know how to write.

7. Jot notes to myself. Rehearse the Joy. Lean Forward. Athletic Acting. Double up on Echinacea. Smile. Believe. Make a Joyful Noise. Wash your hands. Hit the Verbs.

8. 92 minutes. And we’re done. And we’re just starting. Again.

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