Last week, while enjoying the freedom of a rare Monday night away from work, I decided to drop in on the Advanced Scene Study class. Quite a few people were out leaving us with a small contingent, just one scene and one monologue on the line up. The scene was from “Period of Adjustment” by Tennessee Williams, the play just preceding “Night of the Iguana.”
Kelly and Geoff worked well together; they made strong choices, were using themselves deeply, maintained connection to one another. I tried snapping some photos but often found myself too engrossed in their performance to manage a decent shot. By the time they wrapped up and received their feedback from Cay, mostly about deepening their dialect work and connection to the environment, I had resigned myself to the idea that I wouldn’t be getting much blog material on this particular Monday. Then Kelly asked a question.
Kelly: I’d like to talk more about the place, how do you find that?
Boom. Notebook back out.
Cay: First I would ask you to find a place for yourself, do you have that?
Kelly: Physically or emotionally?
Cay: Physically. There are some emotional things you can extract from the physical, but you have to find it sensorally. If I were to ask you what’s the essence of this place…?
At this point Kelly leaned forward.
Kelly: We haven’t worked on that before in here.
Cay: Well, since it’s a small class let’s work on it!
A side note: Building a strong place was one of the things that I really hadn’t thought much about before working with Cay. It always seemed to be the least important part of the work to me. Over the last few month though, through my work with Cay and with Fred in Drill class, I have come to appreciate the power of a strong place and it’s ability to ground me in a scene.
Cay: Is there a place that might lend itself to you for this scene?
Kelly: How so?
Cay: Well you said earlier that parts of this character remind you of being a fifteen year old girl. Is there a place that you can use for that? For example, in college there was a girl named Janet. She was Southern, very pretty, and and her room reflected her personality. She had things, and everything for her was “little”…her little mirror, her little bag, her little hat. She would say “Be a dear and hand me my little gloves.” Back then you used to get roses for everything, and Janet was forever drying roses, strings of roses across the walls of her room. If I were trying to connect to a place that made me feel young then I would take one or two things from Janet’s room and place them here. The roses give it to me, I might imagine that string of roses.
Kelly: At what stage do you do this?
Cay: Before I put it on its feet I look for places or aspects of a place that help ground and support me so whenever I lose the scene I can come back to it.
Fred said something similar a few weeks ago, that even at the early table read he likes to start creating the environment around him.
Cay: You know you have something going for you when it engenders behavior. You don’t have to fake behavior, the place does that for you. While I’m talking to you do you have a place coming to mind? And are there specific things from that space you can transfer to this place? What gives you that sense of being fifteen?
At this point Geoff jumped in with his own experience of the place. (The essence of his place didn’t have to do with being young, but with something that spurred his character.)
Geoff: The fire. That was my scent. It reminds me of my sisters house. Everything is in it’s place, and I always associate going back to the back there to the fire, the fireplace.
Cay: Tell me about the fireplace.
Geoff: It’s a potbelly stove with a window. It stands out from the wall a bit, it’s an antique.
Cay: What color?
Geoff: Black iron. Vintage, but functional.
Cay: Go stand where it is. can you see it?
Cay: Really and truly?
Geoff: (After a second) Yes.
Cay: Warm your hands.
Geoff began to do so. Over the next twenty minutes Cay had him build the room in a much more detailed way, sometimes using props to support the imaginative environment. A bundle of wood from the prop shelf went next the “fireplace”, a small ladder and blanket became a Christmas tree in the upstage right corner. Imaginary pictures on the wall of the family were almost visible from my seat in the audience. The whole stage, and the actors on it, transformed in front of us. Geoff paced purposefully around the new environment, taking in the changes.
Geoff: I can smell the fire, and the tree. And the draft from the door, the smell of cold air.
Cay: Have you thought of anything Kelly?
Kelly: Yes, but it doesn’t look like this place.
Cay: That’s fine, we can’t see what’s in your head. You just have to smell what you need to, see what you need to. Use the props and the set as best you can to support that.
Note from Cay: Tim’s excellent account of this rehearsal gives one of many ways to work on place. More to come in future blogs.