Hold on a minute, I'm having an existential crisis.
This blog records developments in the rehearsal room on the co-production between Greyscale and Northern Stage. Two plays, HEDDA GABLER; This Is Not A Love Story and DR FRANKENSTEIN. One cast. Rehearsed at the same time.
This week's blog opens with two lines of conversation. This occurred between one of our actors and Lorne during Frankenstein rehearsals: “Am I real? I'm having an existential crisis. I can answer that for you easily. No. You are not real.” That conversation, had early this week, has become a theme as we grapple with two rehearsal texts. Who am I? Ibsen gives us clues in the naming of his characters. Take our titular role - Hedda Gabbler. Hedda translates as strife or conflict. Or Hedda's academic spouse - Tessman, a name that translates literally as consolation man. The clues are in the names. The characters start in the names. And, particularly, in Hedda Gabbler, the names have power. In rehearsals we focused on the interactions between Hedda and the other people in her life. How she gains, or loses, power in each interaction.. At times other characters are able to invoke her maiden name 'Hedda Gabbler' almost as a spell. Eilert Loveborg (Scott) experimented with locating himself in the scene when not required by the text. His presence acted as a constant reminder to Hedda that he exists. We also had the sound desk set up this week. This gave us a microphone and speakers to trial. Scott used the technology to intrude on Hedda's scenes without needing a physical presence. These insertions added a new layer of depth to the text. They unlocked a fantastical element to Vicky's portrayal of Hedda. At one point Selma asked our cast to define their relationship to other characters by finishing the sentence “When I’m with you I ...”. Answer ranged from "When I am with you I don't know you" to "When I’m with you I love you". Tessman (Ed) stood in front of Hedda (Vicky) and responded "When I am with you I hear a rhapsody". Yes, the romance invoked a few 'Aahs' from the observers. It revealed Tessman's trusting nature and affection for his wife and his aunt and Hedda's complicated relationship with people around her.
Hedda also uses names to hold power over others. She insists her old acquaintance, Mrs Elvstead uses her first name. In this case it forces an intimacy to manipulate information out of Thea Elvstead (Rachel). Our actors explored their relationships with the performance space. It became clear that the table and the choices of where to sit or stand were meaningful. Hedda tried to control these positions more and more often. The physical distance became an indicator of the relationship. Hedda stalked down the space between herself and Thea as she forced the familiarity. In Frankenstein, the character's names have been less imperative. The significance has been with naming the relationships between each character and Victoria. An exercise with director Lorne, asked the actors to stand in a circle. They were then asked to stand in front of one another in turn and name their relationships to one another. For instance, Victoria stood in front of Justine.
Victoria: You are my aide. Justine: You are my sister. I am my truth. The reality of Dr. Frankenstein is often disrupted throughout the play. The truth of these relationships need anchoring in actuality so we don't lose sight of reality. Our actors have been building their roles. They decipher clues from the text to fathom the depths of the characters they seek to build. We have begun to get a real sense of the shapes of the characters, and the worlds that they inhabit. We had a visit from sound designers on Thursday, who began to add new depths and emotions to each scene. And as we stumble through each play, and get closer to being off book, it becomes clear we have two 'shows'.
photo by Mark Savage