Sunday, February 28, 2010

First Week of Rehearsal

We've just finished our first week of rehearsal, and I've got to tell you, everyone should write a play and everyone should have the experience of sitting in on rehearsals for something that's been rattling around in your skull for a while because it's such a revelation to watch the disembodied voices in your head start to come to life.  It's really helpful if you've got a dream cast of actors...

(from left to right, Director Alberto Isaac, Sound Engineer Yoshi Irie, cast members Greg Watanabe, Robert Wu, Chris Tashima, Jared Asato (partially hidden), and Sab Shimono)
Sab Shimono, Keiko Agena
Jared Asato (foreground), Greg Watanabe
Chris Tashima (behind him is publicist Junko Goda and Alberto Isaac)
(Super Stage Manager/Producer Darlene Miyakawa, Costume Designer Ken Takemoto, cast member Sharon Omi)
(John Miyasaki, Sab Shimono, Jared Asato, Chris Tashima, Robert Wu)
Master Thespian Sab Shimono

...(there are more great actors in this cast, by the way, whose pictures you'll see in future posts, including Emily Kuroda, who took these pics)...

It also helps to have great designers...

Ken Takemoto
Set Designer Alan Muraoka
Video Designer John Flynn, Ph.D - he's the one whose mouth isn't open
...(Jeremy Pivnick, Dave Iwataki, and Chris Komuro are not pictured here because they couldn't make it to that first rehearsal)...

And one of the best theater artists/director/actor/writer/dramaturgs I've ever met:

Director Alberto Isaac - he's the smart-looking one.

I've been lucky enough to have acted in a few productions over the years, and have been lucky enough to have sat in on rehearsals for the plays I've written in my late-blooming career, and every one of them has been different from the rest. 

This one has been an exceptional revelation to me for a variety of reasons, including the fact that this is the first real adaptation I've ever attempted, this is also the most "developed" play I've ever worked on (more readings and and more rewrites than anything else I've ever written), and it's also a piece that's based on a book that's been important to a number of Asian American artists and readers, so there's a certain obligation to NOT SCREW IT UP.  So, it's a little scary, but luckily, it's hard to be scared when you have the team that we have, and maybe more importantly to me, the director that we have. 

Alberto Isaac has directed almost all of my plays, and I have a fresh new awe of him in this process.  I might've mentioned once before that Alberto is the most literate director I've ever worked with; one of my favorite notes during INNOCENT WHEN YOU DREAM was about a flirtation around a hospital death bed:  In trying to get across what he saw happening, Alberto tossed off..."In the charnel house...a seed is sprouting."  In a rehearsal this week, one of his notes was "In vino veritas".

I've gone on and on before about Alberto (mostly on our Innocent When You Dream MySpace 2007!) so suffice to say here, to my eyes, he's at the absolute top of his game here in this first week.  Alberto's a master of what's going on underneath the surface, which is part of what makes him such a brilliant actor, but also why he's so perfect for directing Japanese American writing, where almost EVERYTHING is underneath the surface.  And it's treacherous down there, below the Asian American surface - rip-currents above and down further below, cold water currents that run in the opposite direction from the warmer flows closer to the sun.  He's also a master of contradictions - again, perfect for a people who are themselves masters of compartmentalization.

The work he's doing with this play is detailed, textured, and as precise yet subtle as a pointillist's painting.  Without giving away too much, let me just say he had a couple of the actors improvise killing each other, and then at the moment of the fatal blow, he had them envision the other actor become someone they love.  The results made my hair stand on end.  I told him how much I admired what he had done, and he said, "That's the first step.  I need ten more."  Many of the scenes in the book are moody and internal, but those values can be deadly onstage, so what Alberto is doing to them is to give the actors purpose and objectives that turn them into live wires unable to relax because they're all looking for something, all trying, in their own ways, to figure out what's next.

This is also the fastest I've ever seen him work.  Part of it is a function of the schedule:  We don't have a lot of time and we have a huge cast with various time conflicts, so in order to accommodate everyone and to use our time as efficiently as possible, Alberto's been putting scenes on their feet from the very first day.  It probably helps that Alberto's directed every reading and many cast members have been part of those readings, so in some ways, we've already done a lot of the table work he normally likes to do in the beginning to guide everyone into the same world.  Still, at the end of this first week, there are still things we haven't touched, except for the first read-through of the first day, and the heat is on.  But he's already done a lot, and our experienced and game cast has gone for it with him, getting us off to a great start.

Knock wood, there's a lot to do and every week from here to Opening Night is going to be different from the last, but we're off to a great start and deep into middle age, I'm getting a great education from a great director and a great cast.

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