“Try that line with more anger.”
“Bigger there. More frantic energy.”
“Let me see you own this conversation.”
Watching actors rehearse inspires and humbles me. Good actors are fearless. Try one reading of a line, one gesture or bit of business to go with it. Doesn’t work? Out it goes, and try something else next time. Does work? Keep it for now—but stay open to the possibility that something even better might come along next week, or tomorrow, or the next time you run the scene. I know a very small number of authors who write with a similar sense of abandon, but most of us play our art safer.
On Saturday, I had the honor of seeing a scene from my play Election Cycle staged as part of TEASE Twin Cities. Arranged by local actresses Erin Denman and Victoria Pyan, TEASE was a one-night showcase of short works and excerpts from longer works by emerging local playwrights. Being part of it was a gift.
The Monday before the performance, under the suffrage of director Anya Kremenetsky and actors Lana Rosario, Charla Marie Bailey, and Anna Olson, I attended my scene’s second rehearsal. Again, humility and inspiration. Every time they ran the scene, they tried something different. A gesture. A pose. A pause. Some things stayed; most were ruthlessly culled.
This scene depicts the first meeting of two characters who will become romantically involved. A lot of other things happen in the scene, as well, and given the straitened timeline and the fact that the TEASE audience wouldn’t see the development of the relationship, the team decided not to focus on that aspect of the meeting.
But there was a moment. One time through, one of the actresses crowded right up behind the other and delivered a crucial line practically into her ear. Low and intense, like a lover. The other actress froze, the character uncertain whether to lean back or run away and clearly unaccustomed to uncertainty. It was a perfect interaction, encapsulating everything these characters would become to each other.
Unfortunately, the second character’s response to that line is about the first being hysterical. Unless I wanted to be That Playwright who rewrites a scene mid-rehearsal to fit the blocking, that emotion didn’t work with the line.
The thing is—though maybe I’m biased because I both wrote the play and saw that amazing moment—I felt the echo of that interaction in the scene as performed on Saturday night. It was like making a martini by swirling vermouth around in the glass and then pouring it out. The reading was gone, but the emotion, somehow, remained.
That’s why we as artists need the courage to try everything we can imagine in our art. We throw it at the wall to see what sticks, but even what doesn’t stick is still there in echo, informing everything that comes after.