Behind the Scenes: Peter and the Starcatcher – Week 3
Welcome back! This week we venture behind the scenes of Peter and the Starcatcher once more as the cast tackle learning some big production numbers, and attempt their first stumble throughs of the acts.
Tonight we finished blocking the show. Theoretically. Blocking is seldom ever really finished until a show is in dress rehearsals, but at this point all the major scenes are done. There will still be plenty of tweaks that need to happen in the next couple of weeks, but for now, all major movements have been written down.
In two weeks the cast will have to be off book, which means they'll have to have their lines memorized -- as well as their blocking. As we head into the next couple of weeks, there will be a lot of repetition to try to cement all that in their memories. Some actors learn their lines first, then learn their blocking. But many actors learn both together. Knowing that you are about to cross to someone can help you remember what you're supposed to say to them. Memorizing an entire script is one of the hardest things any actor has to do, and rehearsal is designed to help that process along.
But it's not all just about rehearsal. "In order to attain the next level, it's about the work you do outside of rehearsal," Derek tells them. For the next few weeks they'll have to also be working on their own time: memorizing lines during lunch breaks, rehearsing songs while driving to work, recording their lines so they can play them back over and over again. Everyone has different methods, but the work done outside of rehearsal will help when they're running the scenes later.
There's a massive thunderstorm outside but, safe in the bunker of the Coffeehouse, the cast is learning to sing like mermaids. The second act of the show opens with a big musical number, and tonight the cast is learning it (properly) for the first time. This was one of the songs they partially learned during call backs, and Jessy describes it best: "Ever been in a room with twelve Al Jolsons and two Judy Garlands? That's mermaid rehearsals." There's a lot of crooning, and they sound fantastic. For once they get to spend most of rehearsal sitting, but going over and over the same lyrics for three hours can still be exhausting.
Tonight's special for another reason: this is the first time the entire cast has been together since auditions. Usually there's at least one person out, or not called, but tonight everyone is here for the very first time. It's unusual for that to happen so late into the rehearsal process, but this is an unusual cast.
Tonight is our first stumble through of Act One's blocking. The goal: to get through the entire first act of the show, tweaking transitions between scenes for the first time and working in actors who weren't present when we blocked various scenes. It is rare for an actor to be off stage for any length of time during this show. They spend so much time doubling roles, there's always something for them to be doing. But when blocking, some nights we only kept the three or four people involved in a particular scene and let everyone else go home, rather than make them sit around and watch. Tonight we add them back in, and figure out what they're doing in the background of some of these smaller moments.
"I envision this opening on a blank stage," Derek says, walking them through the show's opening sequence. He mimes a curtain opening. "A lighting shift... Do you have anything? Anything at the opening?" he asks Gerry, referring to music. Gerry shakes his head. Derek grins. "Good. I like quiet and weird. So... the lights shift, and then everyone will enter." And we're off.
Unfortunately, we're off to a rocky start. We manage to get through the first couple of pages okay before the trail derails, and then we spend a lot of time trying to figure out what everyone has forgotten. It's been two weeks since we blocked the first scene of the show, and as it's one of the more complicated ones, there are a lot pauses while people try to remember where they're supposed to be – or in some cases, learn the scene for the first time. Eventually we get back on track and move on, but it's still a night full of fits and stops.
We're working the scene again where Molly explores the ship, and opens three doors, revealing three different scenes. In the script all it says is that she opens the door to reveal "Worshippers" singing a hymn. Derek has blocked the scene with David Ko playing the priest, Demitri and Andrew serving as a makeshift altar, and several other cast members are the choir. The first time they run it, it's much like the last, everyone very prim and proper. Derek stops them and makes a few adjustments. "I want you," he says, pointing at David, "to sing it beautifully, like a priest. But the rest of you are pirate worshippers. Sing it like pirates." They try again, this time adding a little character. He stops them once more to clarify, asking each actor in turn what their character is doing. One says he doesn't know the words, so his pirate just mumbles along incoherently. Another decides that he's making up for lack of skill by singing louder, and Derek adds some body movement to enhance this. Another decides he's falling asleep. They try it again, and this time what was a fairly bland scene of a choir singing is now a hilarious moment full of character choices. It's details like this that will make the show come to life.
By the end of rehearsal we've only made it halfway through Act One, though. It's not a failure, as Derek told them at the beginning. We've sorted through some of the trickier transitions and fixed some places where multiple people had been blocked to do the same thing. Jessy adjusts our calendar for the next few days: we'll be finishing Act One tomorrow and moving on to Act Two on Friday.
We're trying to finish Act One tonight, and overall things are going better than the night before. Unfortunately our Smee (Andrew Barclay) is out for the night, so his understudy, Melbin Borrero, is filling in. Not every show has understudies, some directors like them, others do not. They can be useful when something happens -- an actor falls ill or gets injured during a show's run, for instance. But for many people, at this level of theatre, understudying can feel like a waste of time. In this case, however, it's less about contingency plans and more about helping out with schedule conflicts. Andrew will be out for a few days, so Melbin (who has a smaller speaking role) will fill in when needed. Daniel Gray is also out, but Mick (our Assistant Director) has been filling in for him and does so again.
There are some tricky scenes to work tonight, especially the final scene. There are melees and ships crashing together, actors becoming sailors, then pirates, then their main character before switching to something else again. It's a mad sort of confusion, but the mood tonight is lighter, everyone a little more relaxed, even though some of them haven't seen this blocking before except on paper. By the time we get to the final song of the Act, it feels like a triumphant note to end on.
Act Two tonight and we're down four actors: Bob is in Private Lives, and JC runs the bar for the show, Andrew is out of town, and (in an interesting plot twist) Nate is across town for the opening of Deerlake Middle School's production of Peter Pan, which he directed. Derek decides we're going to skim through some of the scenes and focus primarily on the transitions between them, and anything tricky that was missed before.
We add in a few props this time, though the decision to use them is up to the actors, and we make a few discoveries along the way. Umbrellas, by the way, tend to break easily. We also attempt a couple of the stunts that we will need to learn soon. Derek walks the guys through a fairly simple lift that ends with a controlled, slow motion-ish landing. Then Doc gets to read through the scene with Keith he missed last week, while the rest of the cast learn how to be "fish people."
We make it all the way through to the end, even though at one point stage management is reading in for the four missing characters while Derek darts around like a hummingbird, acting out all their bits so we know where they're standing and what they're doing. It's an interesting way to end the week.
Peter and the Starcatcher opens March 16! Get your tickets early because we expect this show to sell fast.
Photos this week by provided by Jessy Reaves and Melissa Findley.