Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Originally Posted by Ed Iskandar, Artistic Intern, October 18, 2007

Davis McCallum, Charles Mee and James Houghton

The first day of any rehearsal process is (quite appropriately, given the play at hand) like the wedding day of an arranged marriage. The to-be-weds have been introduced by their respective parents (often with the intervention of a few eager matchmakers), decided they like each other enough to go ahead, and on the agreed-upon day, they marry. The rehearsal process that follows is an anxiety-ridden, much hoped-for conception, followed by a lightning-speed pregnancy, and, on the first preview, the audience is witness to the delivery of a new baby. The previews follow the child's first words and steps, through an accelerated education, and eventually to the coming out party that is opening night, after which it is left alone to grow, mature and fend for itself through the rest of its performance run.

At Signature, the rituals that accompany the first day of rehearsal are as detailed as any wedding an imaginative bride might plan. The entire staff of the company takes the day off to attend the first rehearsal, meet the new company, and hear the play that we are working to support. Among the many exciting things about Queens Boulevard (the musical), is that it is a World Premiere steeped in the tradition of Kathakali, an Eastern theatrical form thoroughly underexposed in Western production. Mr. Mee has taken a traditional Kathakali play, The Flower of Good Fortune, and given it a contemporary spin in the same way that his Iphigenia 2.0 is a modern meditation on Greek tragedy. His inexhaustible supply of creative energy lights up the rehearsal room, which is somewhat astonishing given that Iphigenia 2.0 closed its sold out run only two nights previously, and his Hotel Cassiopeia would open later that same day at BAM.

The wary informal meet 'n greet while the company slowly gathers gives way to the Artistic Director's address, contextualizing the production within the season. And then, anxiously scrutinized by the assembled company, the Director delivers his opening address and the cast speaks the words of the text aloud for the first time, after which, designers unveil their vision of the play that has been rendered concrete in the months of pre-production and preparation that precede rehearsal.

The boldness and the uncertainty of a group of actors encountering for the first time the text on the page and the text in live space as the very first impression of the play is being created are always astonishing, but it is difficult to imagine a more diverse company trying to simultaneously create a more complex common language together. The thrill and surprise of the room is palpable at moments of unexpected depth in a simple comic scene, or moments of hilarity in an otherwise serious encounter. The play comes to life for the first time, in a fashion so electric and exciting that often, a rehearsal process is described as the process of reigniting the play toward the uncontrived and unadorned reactions of the first read-through. Off we go!

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