In Rehearsal

I have heard and have been involved in so many discussions about the place of the playwright in the rehearsal process. The question always asked is, “Should the playwright should be “allowed” at rehearsals?” I’ve been shocked at how many directors and producers say, “No!”

The playwright will be hostile, will try to usurp power, will refuse to change a word, will slow down the creative work.

I disagree. The creative work started in the playwright’s head but the final creation is the result of a collaboration of all the players – producers, directors, set designers, actors, etc. And the playwright. Each contributes to the growth and evolution of the material. There will always be rigid and argumentative writers who indeed won’t change a word but every playwright I’ve ever known is eager to be able to cut, to clarify, to deepen, to flesh out her work with the help of the director and actors. All are thrilled to see their words come to life.

I remember being part of a company that developed a new play by an author who didn’t attend rehearsals. The morning after opening night, he came into the theatre office and grabbed a thick telephone book. He said to the director, “This is what I think of your play and this is what I would like to do to you.” Then, he tore the telephone book in half and walked away. (He was a burly man who worked out.)

The director of The Wind in the Willows, Dorothy Dillingham Blue, shares my philosophy. At the first rehearsal, she told all present that a new play is a work in progress and quoted, “A play is never finished. It just opens.” She continued, saying, a play is a living thing, cited Memphis, which was developed over a period of six years, and encouraged everyone to think, “Would it be better if….?”

We’ve just started rehearsing but I’ve there from the beginning of auditions. I’ve been in on talks with the set designer and as a result have rewritten the first Toad scene. The horse is gone, alas. I’ve added words for the mean Weasel girls, removed a Guard, changed exits and entrances, commented on lyrics and tempos for the songs. (What a joy to hear your lyrics sung by beautiful, youthful voices.)

I’m also useful on occasion. One of the actors mimed putting something into Mole’s hand. “What are you giving her?” the director asked. “A raspberry,” she answered. I was then able to demonstrate the Bronx cheer or giving someone the raspberry.

The second blocking rehearsal starts tomorrow at nine and I can’t wait.

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