Much Ado About Acting

 

Part One


August 26, 1999


Talk about a frightening near miss! After a hectic week in the office, I was using today to catch up on all my phone calls, and one call on my list was to get information about the Much Ado About Nothing auditions. So I called the Stage Company office and got the voice mail system, which usually has a recorded message about upcoming shows and auditions. I had to endure a short period of listening to recorded menus, then pressing-one-now or pressing-two-now, before I got to the announcement about audition dates.

The director of the theater company, David Wohl, had recorded the announcements, and his voice sounded familiar and cheerful until the words sank in. "Auditions for our next production, Much Ado About Nothing, will be held at the Capitol Center theater on Monday and Tuesday, August 23rd and 24th, at seven o'clock. Scripts will be provided and..."

NOOOOOOOO!

Two days ago! How had I missed it? I hadn't checked the weekend paper for audition notices, but I should have gotten something in the mail! I had spoken to David only a little over a week ago, and I was sure he said auditions wouldn't happen until September. Aaaaaaaaah! Could I still audition? It was Thursday -- surely he hadn't finished choosing the cast yet!

If there was still a chance of getting into the show, I had to take it. Immediately I called David at his office at the state college, supposedly to ask about my Arcadia pictures (which he said will be ready next Tuesday -- finally!). Then I oh-so-casually asked if the Much Ado About Nothing audition dates had been set yet. (When in doubt, pretend ignorance. There was no reason he needed to know about my panic attack, right?)

There was a slight pause on his end of the line before he said, yes, the dates had been set -- he was in the middle of auditions right now. In fact, he was doing callbacks at the theater tonight, and did I want to come?

YES!!!!!!!

I hoped that my sigh of relief wasn't too audible and assured him that I would love to read some scenes for him. We agreed to meet at six thirty that evening at the theater.

After I hung up the phone, my adrenaline level was still raging, so I was pretty much useless to do any work. I used the tail end of my lunch hour to zip home and get a copy of my theater resume, which I still needed to update. Back in the office, it only took a minute to add a line about Arcadia, and then I attempted to return my mind to engineering for the rest of the afternoon.

~~~~~~~

As soon as I could get away from work, I zoomed home, walked the dog, fed the dog, and did everything I could think of to prepare for the audition. I decided it was worth dressing up a bit -- a skirt and heels would be much more appropriate for Beatrice or Hero than jeans and steel-toed boots. Besides, I had tried to dress in what I thought was a Hannah-ish manner (down to the very British riding boots) for the Arcadia auditions, and I'm convinced it had helped me get the part. I owned a copy of the script (purchased back in May), but I only had time to skim through one or two scenes before I had to leap into the car and head downtown.

Parking was even worse than usual, considering it was a Thursday night, since the city was in the middle of its annual Regatta celebration. Thankfully the many food and entertainment booths were set up several blocks away, so I wouldn't have to deal with any of the crowds. The parking gods were on my side, however, since I found an open spot right around the corner from the theater.

Returning to the theater for these auditions was a totally different feeling than entering it the first time for the Arcadia auditions. Now it was a familiar space where I was comfortable. I could look at the stage and remember what it was like to perform there, and remember all the time spent rehearsing there.

It was the fact that the theater was completely empty that was something of a surprise.

David must have arrived just before me, since when I walked in I found him over by the control board turning on lights. Aside from him and me, there was no one else in the theater. Where were all the other actors? When David said he was doing callbacks, I thought he meant that he hadn't made a final decision about casting the major roles, so everyone who was being considered for those roles had been invited back to read a few more scenes. Apparently David had meant something else.

I followed David up to the stage, where he handed me a script and took my resume. He told me which scene I could start reading, then said he was expecting one other person, and we'd start the audition when he arrived. Sure enough, a few minutes later another actor walked in. He wasn't anyone I had met in other shows I've done, and I didn't recognize him from any that I had seen in the area: he was in his late 20s or early 30s, with sandy reddish hair and glasses, and he introduced himself as Casey. I had been feeling smug about having my nice little audition resume ready, but Casey immediately one-upped me: when David asked for his information, he opened his backpack and whipped out an 8" x 10" glossy black and white head shot, with his acting experience listed on the back.

Hmph. Either he had acted professionally, or he was an amateur with an attitude.

Once David had arranged his paperwork and was ready to take notes, Casey and I got up on stage. We were to read a scene between Hero and Claudio, at the point in the play where Claudio denounces Hero in front of the people who had come to see them get married. There were several chairs on stage, so David let us read it sitting down the first time, so we could familiarize ourselves with the text. For the second time through, he asked us to stand up, so we could add whatever movement or emotions we liked.

Standing or sitting, I wasn't too pleased with my performance. For most of the scene I was just standing there, trying to look hurt and confused while Claudio made his accusations, and such silent reaction has never been one of my strong acting points.

Next we read a scene between Beatrice and Benedick that happens shortly after the Claudio/Hero scene. Since we were already standing, David didn't make us sit down again, and he must have been relatively pleased by what he saw, since he didn't ask us to go through it a second time. The scene is one of my favorites in the play, but it's difficult because the actors have to cover such extremes of emotion: at one moment Beatrice and Benedick are happily confessing their love for each other, and the next she is chewing him out because he won't kill his best friend just because she asks him to. I gave it my best shot, though -- after all, it's easy to get worked up when Shakespeare gives you lines like, "Oh, that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the marketplace!"

With the scenes read, there was nothing else to do, so we all said good night and made our way out of the theater. David said he hoped to finish his casting decisions by the next day, and he would be calling the actors tomorrow night to award roles.


August 27, 1999


Did I mention that I hate waiting? It is the absolute worst part of the audition process. At least in this case I only had about 24 hours to wait before I got the results, whether good or bad. How on earth had I survived the three days between the Arcadia auditions and David's phone call?

You'd think that a day wouldn't be much to endure, but every second that the phone didn't ring was an eternity. In the office it wasn't so bad -- at least I had my work to keep me busy and to (partially) distract my thoughts. However, even with the demands of some utility maintenance at one of the manufacturing units and waiting for vendor bids for a scrubber column, my brain had plenty of time -- too much time -- to replay the previous night's audition and nit-pick over everything I could have done better.

I was still kicking myself for having missed the two main audition dates. Had I forfeited every chance of getting a lead role because of that error? Hopefully not -- David was a fair director, and if I didn't get cast it would be because he wanted someone else as Beatrice or Hero, not because of the audition timing. I would have felt better about my chances if I had seen the competition, though.

Well then, what about the way I read the scenes? I didn't think I had done very well as Hero, but it was difficult to do anything with her three lines in that scene. During that part of the audition, David was probably paying more attention to Casey's performance as Claudio. The more I thought about it, the more obvious it became that Casey was the reason David had a callback night. There must not have been anyone suitable for Claudio on the other two nights, so David had called Casey to ask if he was interested in auditioning. Anyway, if Hero was out, that left Beatrice. I thought I had done a respectable job in that scene -- even if my overactive imagination kept pointing out things I could have improved. Had I moved when I shouldn't have? Should I have sounded more or less angry? Had I projected my voice enough? Had I read the lines too fast or too slow? Why hadn't I asked David to let us read it a second time, or to let us read another scene? Argh!

By the time I got home from work, I knew I would drive myself crazy if all I did that evening was sit around the apartment and wait for the phone to ring. Taking my dog out for a romp in the woods was a much better idea -- Nemo and I both had lots of excess energy to get rid of, and throwing sticks for my puppy is one of the best stress relievers I know. Besides, by the time we got home David would certainly have called, right?

When I got back to the apartment I resolutely did not look at the answering machine until I put away Nemo's leash and gave him his supper. Then I look a deep breath and looked. The little red light was blinking! Yes! Was it David? No. It was a message about search and rescue training for that weekend. Double argh!

So, I made dinner, and the phone didn't ring. I read a book, and the phone didn't ring. I watched some television, and the phone didn't ring. By eleven o'clock, I was pretty much resigned to the thought that the phone simply was not going to ring. Drat and blast! I could handle not getting cast as Beatrice, or even as Hero -- but to not get cast as anything?

 


August 28, 1999


 I was not a happy camper when I went to bed Friday night, and I still wasn't a happy camper when I woke up Saturday morning. Needless to say, there had been no late night phone calls from a certain theater director. I told myself I didn't care, but of course I did. Yes, there would be other shows, but I wanted to be in this show! I knew I was in a bad state by the time I started wondering if I hadn't been cast because David had actually been displeased with my performance in Arcadia -- get a grip, girl! Thankfully by then I had to go to a search and rescue training session, which effectively jogged my mind out of its downward spiral.

There were still no messages on the answering machine when I got home. It was definitely time to start thinking about other ways to spend my free time this fall, because Much Ado About Nothing was not going to be an option.


August 29, 1999


By Sunday morning, I hadn't completely conquered my disappointment, but I was at least on the way to getting over it. A leisurely breakfast, complete with some Duke Ellington playing on the stereo, some good coffee, and the Sunday comics, had done much to improve my mood. When the phone rang, I figured that the last person to be calling would be the director of the Stage Company.

"Hi, is that Liz?"

I knew that voice! "David, hi! What's up?" Talk about a silly question. I hoped I knew what was up: he was calling to offer me a part in the show. The only question was which part.

"This is sort of a last minute call, but I've been casting the minor roles for Much Ado About Nothing, and I wanted to ask if you would take the part of the Sexton."

"The Sexton? He's in the scene with...with Dogberry, right? But isn't that a male role?"

"Yeah, but there were so many talented women who auditioned that I thought I'd use them in some of the smaller roles."

I stifled a laugh. That remark would be David's tactful comment on a situation that always plagues community theater directors: auditions tend to bring in more women than men, so shows that need a lot of men are notoriously hard to cast. However, if David wanted to flatter my acting ability, I wasn't about to contradict him.

It only took another moment for me to make up my mind. The Sexton was definitely a tiny role, but I had spent the past few months telling myself I would accept any part, just so I could be part of the cast and get my first Shakespeare experience. Besides, a small role should leave room in my schedule for other things, like keeping up with my voice lessons or singing in one of the local choirs.

"Sure, David, I'd be happy to be the Sexton. I think I might even have an old black graduation robe somewhere."

"Great! That sounds like just what we're looking for. The read-through will be at the theater tonight at seven o'clock, so I'll see you there."

After I hung up the phone, I went rummaging through the closet in my spare bedroom, and sure enough, there was my graduation robe. I had no idea why I had kept it, except that I am such a pack rat. I had been meaning to donate it and a few other items to the Light Opera Guild's costume shop, but now I could just wait to donate it after Much Ado About Nothing was finished.

For fun I tried it on, then wondered what I could wear under it for my costume. The Sexton in the Kenneth Brannagh movie version of Much Ado About Nothing had worn some kind of high-collared white shirt with a cravat, but I didn't own anything like that. It was too bad I didn't have some kind of lace collar to go with it...A sudden image leapt to mind and I started laughing. I was going to end up looking like Judge Judy! I wondered if David would let me use a Brooklyn accent, which made me laugh even harder.

The more I thought about being the Sexton, the more I liked it. It was a small role, but I would have an amusing scene with Dogberry. Besides that, it would take care of my theater craving, it would give me something to do with my free time for the next couple of months, and it would earn me another poster for my collection.

~~~~~~~

At seven o'clock Sunday evening, I was back at the theater again. The front door was still locked when I got there, and a few people were standing outside, waiting for the director to appear with the key. I recognized Tim Mace (Septimus from Arcadia) at once and said hello. There was red-haired woman whose name I didn't know but whom I recognized from the Arcadia auditions, and a blonde woman I didn't know at all.

David eventually came to let us in, and we all headed to the upstairs classroom, where we received our scripts and waited for the other actors to arrive. Besides Tim, who had won the role of Benedick, it turned out there were a few other Arcadia veterans in the cast. Bethany Cline (Chloe) would be Beatrice; Gary Brown (Ezra Chater) was playing Don Pedro; John Cowan (the butler Jellaby) had the role of Dogberry; and Ansel Payne (Gus/Augustus) was playing Verges. The fellow I auditioned with had indeed been given the role of Claudio, and the red-haired woman was playing Ursula. There was also brunette woman whom I remembered from the Arcadia auditions -- she and I read a scene together, and I enjoyed it tremendously because she acted so well -- who would be Hero.

Reading through the play took a good couple of hours. Much Ado About Nothing is not a short play, and though David said he would be making cuts in some scenes, he had not yet decided where, so we read through every word. The Elizabethan English also caused a few stumbles -- some lines demanded to be read over again, since sometimes it was unbelievable that Shakespeare really meant for the words to go in that particular order.

As an example, one of my lines during the interrogation of Borachio and Conrade conveys the meaning, "What else did you hear him say?" However, the esteemed author wrote, "What heard you him say else?" Try saying that six times fast -- I could barely manage to say it once!

Although this was the cast's first time to read through the play, some of the actors were talented and experienced enough to give the rest of us an idea of how marvelous their scenes were going to be. Gary already sounded proud and imperial as the prince, and Jennifer (the brunette) made a sweet innocent Hero. Best of all were Bethany and Tim, who had years of acting together to draw upon. Beatrice and Benedick's scene after the wedding -- the one Casey and I had read at the audition -- was practically perfect, from Benedick's joyful declaration of love to Beatrice's chilling demand for Claudio's death.

David seemed pleased with the way the read-through went, though the cast was still missing a few characters. The roles of Don John and a few of the minor characters had not been assigned yet. And I was not the only one playing a gender-switched part: Beatrice and Hero's uncle Antonio became their aunt Antonia, Don John's sidekick Conrade would instead be Costanza, and one of the members of the village watch would be female.

Rehearsals were not scheduled to start immediately after the read-through, since the Regatta festival had another week to run, and trying to find parking near the theater during the festivities was nearly impossible. The major characters would return to the theater on Labor Day, and the rest of us would get our rehearsal information after David put the finishing touches on the schedule.


September 9, 1999


So much for the idea that a small part would mean a light rehearsal schedule! I got the schedule in the mail two days ago, so I started marking my calendar for days I had to be at the theater. September didn't look too bad, but October was very busy once run-throughs started. There were rehearsals scheduled every night during the last two weeks before opening night!

I got off to a slightly confused start tonight for my first rehearsal. When I got to the theater, I was surprised to see that all the chairs in the center section of the audience were gone, and the stage was completely full of stacked cardboard boxes! I had forgotten that one of the downtown movie theaters, after going through a big renovation, had donated all of its old seats to the Stage Company theater. Having the replacement of the seats coincide with rehearsals was annoying, but at least the audience would be comfortable during the performances!

With the stage so completely blocked, obviously tonight's rehearsal was happening somewhere else -- probably at the state college theater. A brief conversation with the security guard confirmed this, so I jumped in my car and zipped back down the freeway. I ended up being only a few minutes late, and the rehearsal hadn't really gotten underway by the time I arrived.

I always feel slightly awkward when I show up at my first rehearsal for a new show, but usually that feeling goes away as the rehearsal progresses. Tonight it didn't, and I wasn't sure why. Partly it was because my role was so small, so I had lots of time to sit in the audience and feel awkward, instead of being busy on stage. Partly it was because the other actors, most of whom had already been through three nights of rehearsal, had started to develop a rapport that I wasn't part of yet. Partly -- let's face it -- it was because I was still slightly grumpy about not getting a larger part.

Well, if I didn't swiftly try to get over the awkwardness and develop a positive attitude, this play was not going to be fun. And if I wasn't going to have fun, why do it?

Fine, my role was small. If that meant more time watching from the audience, then I could try to learn things by watching the other actors. I could try to figure out why David was giving certain stage directions, and then see how the actors changed their performance to incorporate his comments. I could note different ways the actors used their voices, or the different ways they moved around the stage.

As for developing working relationships with the other actors, that would come in time. It was silly of me to expect that the first rehearsal for Much Ado About Nothing would feel like the final performance for Arcadia in terms of cast bonding. I probably wouldn't develop relationships with everyone in the cast, but I would eventually get to know the people who were in my scenes.

Finally, I just had to get over not being cast as Beatrice or Hero. I had obviously been spoiled by my big role in Arcadia, but that didn't guarantee me big parts in every show I ever auditioned for afterwards. It also didn't mean that I wouldn't ever get another big part, but for now I had a small part. End of discussion.

Aside from these mental gymnastics, the part of the rehearsal that dealt with my scene went smoothly. My blocking was easy: after entering stage right with Dogberry, Verges, the watch, and their prisoners, the Sexton takes up his (her?) position at center stage and stays there as the action continued. Eventually I would have to come up with an appropriate way to respond to Dogberry's antics -- exasperation? confusion? -- but for now it was enough to know how we would be arranged on stage. After delivering my six lines, I would exit upstage center. No problem!

 


September 12, 1999


 The scenes that were blocked on Sunday night were the final three in the show: Borachio's confession of the plot to slander Hero, Hero's "funeral," and the second wedding scene. The stage directions in the script called for me to be on stage during the first of these scenes, but David placed me and the other "townspeople" (Dogberry, Verges, the friar, the watch, etc.) on stage to fill up space during the last two as well. I had no lines, so it was just a matter of remembering through which entrance I came on stage, where I stood during the action, and through which exit I left the stage.

With this rehearsal finished, the entire show was blocked. There might be slight changes to the blocking in the future, but the general action of the play was established. Now, as the director told us, we could start experimenting with the development of our characters and our relationships with the other characters. In other words, we were done with the basics and could really start having fun!


September 16, 1999


To simplify rehearsals, David liked dividing the casts of his shows into smaller groups, so he could focus on fewer people at a time and avoid having a bunch of people sitting around doing nothing. With Arcadia the cast was easily divided into 19th and 20th century groups, since the show was written with alternating timelines. Much Ado About Nothing did not divide quite so neatly, but the characters could be roughly grouped. Benedick, Beatrice, Hero, and Claudio tended to be onstage at the same times; similarly Don John, Borachio, and Costanza (Conrade) usually appeared together; and so on with the rest of the cast.

My group was comprised of Dogberry, Verges, the Sexton, and the watchmen. Since we had relatively few scenes, however, we never had a rehearsal all to ourselves. And by the time David added one or two more clusters to our slots in the rehearsal schedule, practically the entire cast was there! It made for longer periods of waiting before David got around to rehearsing my group's scenes, but I was glad to see more of the other actors.

Tonight's rehearsal did involve the entire cast, so I was able to watch the opening scene, the first witty exchange between Beatrice and Benedick, the masquerade, and the wedding scene before it was my turn to be on stage. Again it was interesting to watch how David manipulated the action and how the actors implemented his suggestions. David almost never just told someone what he wanted to do in a scene. Instead he would ask questions about what the characters were doing -- how they felt, what they thought, whether they were aware of the other characters, and so on. Simple things would completely change a scene: a line delivered in a different tone, or an actor sitting instead of standing.

The minor characters were fun to watch, but most of my attention went to the four main roles. Bethany and Tim, of course, were excellent. I thought the pace of some of their exchanges was a little slow, but since everyone was still using scripts that was somewhat to be expected. Even with their level of talent, they would not sound like Kenneth Brannagh and Emma Thompson after only a week of rehearsals! Casey and Jennifer had gotten a lot better since the read-through. They were still not quite completely comfortable with each other, but before too long you could tell that David would have them looking and behaving like a besotted pair of young lovers.

When David finally got to the Sexton's scene with Dogberry, it didn't take me long to discover what the hardest part of my role was going to be: keeping a straight face! John's antics were absolutely hysterical, but it would not be in character for me to laugh at them. I hoped that familiarity with his lines would help me master my humor -- otherwise the Sexton was going to look quite undignified!

 

Part Two


September 22, 1999


 

Having a smaller role in a show usually means longer periods of time between rehearsals. So far that has felt pretty strange, since it means I am not in total theater mode all the time. Several days go by in which I hardly think about Shakespeare, and then suddenly I realize I have a rehearsal that night or the next day, and I have to change gears mentally. Having non-theater time means I haven't been concentrating on my character or memorizing lines, either. Well, October and its more frequent rehearsals will eventually take care of this little problem, and in the meantime I had better enjoy my nights off while I have them!

Tonight's rehearsal went much better than the rehearsal last week, because I was so much busier. Since the whole cast was scheduled to be there, I had expected another slow night and even brought a book to pass the time until it was my turn to do a scene. As it turned out, I didn't have time to read even a paragraph!

The very first scene we did was a review of the interrogation of Borachio and Constanza -- my one scene with lines. Tonight I had decided to make the Sexton as exasperated with Dogberry as possible. I figured the Sexton would know what kind of nonsense Dogberry usually pulled, so the very last place in the world she would want to be was recording his capture of two citizens who had probably done nothing worse than carry a bottle of wine through the streets. David didn't comment on this characterization, but he didn't say he hated it, either. With a month left before opening night, there was plenty of time to get it right!

The end of the interrogation scene includes a long monologue for Dogberry that was cut from the movie version. It was just as well that I exited the stage before John started this speech -- I was getting better at keeping a straight face while I was onstage with him, but it was nearly impossible to remain serious while he was ranting about not being written down an ass. (David then added a line for Verges and the watchmen to repeat, "You are an ass.") When it came to the line about Dogberry being "as pretty a piece of flesh as any in Messina," the audience was going to just howl with laughter.

Next David wanted to rehearse the first wedding scene, so we minor characters prepared to make ourselves comfortable to wait through it. However, we had barely taken our seats before David said, "Oh, didn't I tell you guys that I wanted you in this scene?" So we turned around and went onstage again. It made sense, after all -- he had placed us on stage as townspeople for the second wedding scene, so we might as well be there for the first one.

Our purpose as townspeople was to fill up space on the stage and react to what was going on between the major characters. We also took it upon ourselves to make little comments to each other about the action.

Only four townspeople? Wow, Messina must be an awfully small town Ooh, a wedding! That means free food!

Friar: You come hither, my lord, to marry this lady.

Claudio: No.

Leonato: To be married to her: friar, you come to marry her.

That Leonato! What a card!

Claudio: There, Leonato, take her back again: Give not this rotten orange to your friend...

Did you hear that? He called Hero a rotten orange! (Outraged gasps.)

Leonato: What do you mean, my lord?

Claudio: Not to be married, Not to knit my soul to an approved wanton.

So would he marry her if she wasn't approved?

Don Pedro: I stand dishonour'd, that have gone about

To link my dear friend to a common stale.

Did he say the food for the reception was stale? Eeew...

Hey, prince, watch your mouth! Our Hero may be stale, but she is not common!

Benedick: This looks not like a nuptial.

Well, duh! Hey, Benedick's awake!

Hero: What kind of catechising call you this

Claudio: To make you answer truly to your name.

What? Claudio doesn't know his own fiancée's name?

Hero: Is it not Hero? Who can blot that name with any just reproach?

Claudio: Marry, that can Hero. Hero itself can blot out Hero's virtue.

Take the fifth, Hero!

Don Pedro: Who hath indeed, most like a liberal villain...

A liberal villain? No Clinton jokes, please! What if the villain was a conservative?

Don John: Come, let us go. These things, come thus to light, Smother her spirits up.

OK, we're gone. Does this mean we don't get the free food?

After the wedding scene, we skipped to the scene where Dogberry and Verges bring their prisoners to Leonato's house. All I had to do was follow Leonato on stage and wait in the background while he spoke to Borachio, Don Pedro, and Claudio. Again, the hardest part was not laughing while Dogberry delivered his exit lines. Ansel, as Verges, had developed some character quirks that were also quite funny -- he was mimicking everything Dogberry did and also bowing to Leonato at every possible opportunity.

Next we went through the fake funeral for Hero. The townspeople refrained from commenting this time -- after all, we were supposed to be under the impression that Hero was really dead. We filed on stage in our proper order and listened while Claudio recited his little poem, declaring Hero's innocence. Then when he was done, we would all file out again. David planned to have us each drop a rose on the grave as we left.

The last scene we rehearsed was the second wedding scene, so we townspeople (only three of us this time, since Ansel had become a messenger who would appear later in the scene) took the same position on stage as we had for the first wedding. And again, we deemed it was our responsibility to give a running commentary as we watched the action.

Oooh, another wedding! Didn't we leave before we got the free food last time? You know, maybe they should call this play "Two Weddings and a Funeral."

Claudio: Which is the lady I must seize upon?

First he doesn't know his fiancée's name, and now he doesn't know who he's marrying? What's with this guy?

Claudio: I am your husband, if you like of me.

(Hero unmasks.)

Don Pedro: Hero that is dead!

(Gasp!) He's marrying a corpse? No, I guess she wasn't dead yet.

Benedick: Which is Beatrice?

Another guy who can't recognize his so-called true love! Can you believe it?

There were several actors missing tonight -- Don John, Balthasar, and the second watchman -- but I just assumed that they had some schedule conflict and couldn't get to the rehearsal. Also missing was the actress playing Antonia, though we were more than halfway through the rehearsal before I realized that her absence was anything unusual. Instead of reading her lines from his place in the audience, as he usually did for absentees, David was discussing with the other actors who would take her lines, and removing references to her from other lines!

What was going on here -- did we suddenly not have an Antonia? More importantly, if we no longer had an Antonia, was David looking for a new Antonia? Even more importantly, if he had not yet found a new Antonia, would he consider me for the part?

I hardly knew where the thought had come from, but once it appeared, it was worth considering. It still wasn't a major role, but Antonia was a larger role than the Sexton. Instead of six lines in one scene, she had something like a dozen lines in maybe two scenes. Switching roles would give me a heavier rehearsal schedule, but there was still plenty of time before opening night to learn a new part.

When the rehearsal was finished, David and some of the Stage Company veterans in the cast got into a discussion of the upcoming performance season. I didn't want to interrupt, but I felt a little awkward just waiting there. However, I didn't let myself just leave -- David had said he was going out of town this weekend, so if I didn't speak to him now about Antonia, he might have made a decision about the role before I saw him again. I would kick myself if I didn't talk to him, and I had nothing to lose by approaching him. (The thought of earning brownie points with the director by offering to help him with a tough situation was also good motivation.)

The others finally left, and I was able to catch David's attention. When I asked, he explained what had happened to the original Antonia to make her drop out of the show. He hadn't quite figured out what to do about the role, he said -- he had cut several scenes in the first act that included a lot of her lines, so the character was nearly superfluous. However, she was necessary in the scene where Leonato and Antonia confront Don Pedro and Claudio, accusing them of having killed Hero with their slander.

I was slightly discouraged to hear David say he had cut Antonia's lines -- if I switched, I might not get any more lines after all! Having come this far, though, I had to make the offer to step into the role -- so I did. David at least said he'd think about it. I also thought he looked pleased that I made the offer (and if that look wasn't my imagination, may he remember that when the next auditions come around!). Now I can just wait until next week to see if I will still be the Sexton, or if I will become Beatrice and Hero's aunt!


September 28, 1999


For this show, I seem to be spending a lot of time waiting for phone calls from David that never happen. They are rehearsing Act 1 tonight, so I expected that if David wanted me to take over the role of Antonia, he would have called me by now. Well, as I said, it was worth a shot!


September 30, 1999


Tonight was a run-through of both acts, so those of us who only appear in Act 2 were allowed to show up at rehearsal a little later than the normal seven o'clock start time. I considered coming at seven anyhow, so I could watch Act 1, but then I decided that I would see plenty of it during the run-throughs in October. No need to sacrifice free time if I didn't absolutely have to!

There were a few minor changes that appeared in this rehearsal. Costanza -- she of the ever-changing name -- was now Carlotta. (There were already a few side bets going, on whether she would have a different name for each performance.) Also, the role of Antonia had been completely eliminated. In the one scene where her lines simply could not be cut, the lines had been given to Ursula. This created a slightly odd scene, since Ursula now appeared to be advising Leonato on how to punish the prince and Claudio, and household servants do not usually presume to advise their masters. Well, we would just pretend that Ursula had been with the family for a long, long time and was granted more respect than a common servant. Besides, the audience probably wouldn't even notice anything unusual.


October 7, 1999


Tonight we were back in the Stage Company theater at last! The theater at the state college is nice -- in fact, the acoustics are really good there -- but it feels better to be rehearsing on the actual stage where the performances will happen. The installation of the new seats was finished, and they were much more comfortable than the old ones. It was somewhat amusing to notice that the movie theater cup holders were still attached to them, though.

I was surprised for a moment when I walked into the theater, because there was a set on stage. I wondered if it was our stage, since the entrances were in about the right places. However, I didn't remember there being a balcony all the way around the second level. As it turned out -- and as I would have realized sooner, had I thought to connect the posters outside the theater with the equipment inside the theater -- it was not our set. The theater was being used for a youth theater group's performances of a rock opera version of Romeo and Juliet.

Either the set builders were inexperienced or they ran low on their lumber budget. For some reason, the balcony platforms were less than six feet off the stage, so most of the Much Ado actors had to be careful not to bump our heads into the beams or struts while we were on stage. For once I was glad to be short -- I had a few inches of clearance under the balcony and so had no worries about an accidental concussion.

Some of the major characters had begun to get costumes, so as I walked down the aisle to take a seat, my progress was slightly obstructed by Ursula, Margaret, and Hero, all of whom were trying on dresses and getting David's approval or disapproval of whether it looked right for their character.

The purpose of this rehearsal was another run-through of Act 2, and it went pretty smoothly. The only deviation was a short return to Act 1 so the choreographer could show the actors what she wanted them to do during the masquerade scene. Since I was not on stage then, I was glad I brought a book with me; however the dancing did not take long, and I only had time to read a couple of pages before I was on stage again.

When we came to the trial scene, I decided to try it without the script -- David had wanted us all to be off-book this week anyhow. I got through the scene without any prompting, though I was still a little unsure of one of my cues -- I couldn't remember if Dogberry or Verges said the line before I had to speak.

The rehearsal went smoothly enough that David decided we didn't need a rehearsal Friday night. All of us were happy at the news, since this weekend is our last break before opening night. Once rehearsals get underway next week, it will be nothing but run-throughs and ironing out details until the 21st.

I found myself enjoying the rehearsal for a number of reasons. First of all, opening night was only two weeks away, and we were back in our own theater, which probably raised everyone's excitement level. Then I was finally getting a sense of the rhythm of the play and how the scenes connected. I could imagine myself standing backstage, watching a scene and waiting for my cue to come on. The various still had everyone a little confused -- we could never remember in what order we entered, since it was different for each wedding and for the funeral!

Having the entire cast assembled for rehearsals also gave me lots of good opportunities for my hobby of "people watching." I was always curious to see how the actors clumped together when they were offstage. Theater people are usually quite cliquish, since actors who have worked together before tend to hang out together, and it can be difficult for newcomers to join them.

The actors at the Much Ado rehearsals seemed to be doing their best impression of an eighth grade dance -- boys on one side, girls on the other! Margaret, Hero, and Ursula were always chatting together, occasionally joined by Beatrice. The men would not be caught dead doing something as unmanly as chatting, of course, but occasional glances towards the back of the theater would show Don John, Don Pedro, Dogberry, and Benedick just happening to all be conversing in the same place at the same time.

Those of us who had smaller roles and/or not enough theater experience to declare allegiance with any of the established cliques just socialized where we pleased -- dropping in anywhere we found an interesting conversation, or keeping to ourselves.

 

© 1999 Copyright held by the author.

 

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