I was invited into a friend’s rehearsal room last week and was immediately reminded on this strangeness of this creative space.
In this instance the friend is producing his solo performance project. His opening night isn’t for a couple of weeks but it’s part of a high profile festival called Arches Live where I have also produced work. Fortunately for him he’s traveling abroad between now and his opening night. Unfortunately this will take him away from the project in those crucial days before mounting a show. I have total faith this absence won’t harm the development of the show, but it does present some questions about the invitation to view the work. Coming in a couple of weeks before opening means he’s got lots of time to make changes, respond to my responses, and work on the show from the bottom up. But if he’s away he’ll have other kinds of “mulling” opportunities. By stepping away from the project so much he’s going to get a perspective on it he wouldn’t have if he stays in towns and hammers away at it. I’ll be sure to ask him how this little break has affects his production process. I always forget how useful stepping well back from a project can be. That space (especially when it’s used to see other work) can be just the room necessary to understand the piece wholly, not in its distinct parts. This is especially true of social work…..
He’s also an artist who understands the value of outside eyes in the rehearsal room. I am very precious about my rehearsal room only because I lack confidence in my directing skills. I don’t know if what I’m doing would be acceptable to people outside the project – are my creative strategies unusual, are they odd, are they counter productive and is this obvious to everyone but me? So, for me, paranoia keeps most people out of my rehearsal rooms. However, I have had visitors to dress reherasals. Why? Am I going to change anything that close to opening? No, I do it to know where the laughs are lurking (if they are lurking.) I do it to know where I struggle to encounter the spectator – where am I shy but didn’t know in the solitude of running lines in an ampty room? So while I include people I rarely include others for feeding back. I have a select few dramaturg friends who’ll I’ll invite in and even then it’s on a literary level, rarely do I engage questions about the performance texts (objects, staging, lighting, etc.)
So I respect my friend deeply for his bravery in having people into his rehearsal process. What’s more he had lots of people in – like 10 people – and he had a chat with us afterward. That was a rewarding experience for me as someone who has no stakes in his project but wants the piece to succeed on every level. What he’s doing with the piece is potentially very profound but it’ll require a lot of bravery on his part both as a performer and the maker of this piece. I won’t go into too much detail but there is an opportunity for audience involvement that could see one audience member especially emotionally exposed. This isn’t an exploitative event and will happen only with the audience member’s full voluntary knowledge. But if it happened I can’t imagine a more profound moment in a theatrical form that is decontructing itself (which this piece does.)
But I was largely alone in being excited about this aspect of the piece. In the rehearsals we were all engaged with this artist’s wishes. We resisted nothing to respect the integrity of his sharing – we wanted to see fully what he was making and disected it (critiqued it) only afterwards. So with the full effect up for discussion and not the theoretical version I was convinced he’d created an opportunity that would be unparralleled at the the festival – a chance for an authentic emotional experience on the part of the individual and those who chose to share in the intimacy of the moment. But other visitors to his rehearsal were not impressed and discouraged the venture and thought of alternatives.
This is why I don’t want people in my rehearsals. In case they start directing and come up with alternatives. That act of invention comes from participating in the hard yards of rehearsals. To invent in a session like this, off the cuff, presumes a level of knowledge with the project that is impossible for these outsiders. This is especially annoying when the suggestions are good ones.
I don’t know what my friend is going to do or how he’ll alter the final part of his piece. I hope he enjoyed having outsiders into his room, that strange place that is the rehearsal space, but I also hope he listens to his gut and put my voice and the voice of all those visitors in their place – just outside the heart of the piece where he alone should be.