"The Glass Menagerie" Update: We're Onstage!

Emily Picardi
Emily Picardi

It's been just over a week since Lyric Arts ended the 2013-14 season, and the cast of next season's The Glass Menagerie is already rehearsing onstage. The space is still cluttered with detrius from the RENT set (see the "Alphabet City" scaffolding in the back of the picture?), and bits of our own set are floating around unfinished, but Karen Tait and her stage crew have done a great, speedy job with getting the stage ready for our actors.

It helps actors so much to be able to rehearse in the actual space they'll be performing in. Platforms, locations of entrances and exits, and the general traffic pattern an actor has to follow can be difficult to visualize until they're in the performance space. It's interesting, then, to note that it's actually relatively rare for rehearsals to be onstage so soon. Companies like the Guthrie and the Minnesota Opera have big, empty rehearsal rooms where shows are rehearsed until much later in the process when the stage is ready for the production about to be shown. Often actors won't be able to rehearse onstage until tech week, which gives them only a couple of runs at the stage before performances begin. We can't overstate the awesomeness of getting the stage to rehearse on almost three weeks before performances begin.

If you look at the picture below you'll see the ghost of The Glass Menagerie's set onstage. The platforms upstage center separate the Wingfield's dining room from the downstage living room. That fragmented brick and metal structure on the side of the stage is the door to the Wingfield's apartment, as well as the fire escape that connects to it. Actor Ty Hudson was on the fire escape for less than ten minutes before accidentally dropping a prop into the floor grates.

As you can see, actors Samantha Haeli and Randy Niles are onstage right now, rehearsing my favorite scene from the show. Time for me to get back to watching them do their beautiful work!

"The Glass Menagerie" Rehearsal Update: Week One is All About Blocking!

Emily Picardi
Emily Picardi

I realize we've just finished our second week of rehearsals for Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie and I'm only posting an update on the first week now. Just… Pretend you didn't notice the posting date.

On that note, proceeding cheerily onward as though this post weren't late at all….

We've got the entire show blocked! Director Scott Ford is a master at fast blocking; at the beginning of week one he told the cast that he wanted to block the show quickly in order to get to the "real stuff"—the acting and exploration—sooner. With that goal, Scott and the actors got right to work, and the entire show was blocked in just three rehearsals- pretty amazing, for a process that can take weeks!

What is "blocking" you might ask? Blocking is planning the movements of the actors onstage. It can be accomplished in a variety of ways; some directors give actors very specific directions ("Now you're going to move three steps downstage and raise your right arm six inches"), and some directors are very hands off ("Ok, my lovely blueberry muffins, do what feels right!"). Scott's directorial approach is to plan crosses (an actor walking across the stage) and level changes (i.e. when an actor sits down), and let the actors have input on the smaller movement, or, as he likes to say, "Discover it as we go."

Blocking is the most boring part of the process for many actors and directors. It's where many actors feel most like "meat puppets," just parading around the set saying lines. Blocking happens before any questions of "WHY would my character move here?" and is all about creating interesting stage pictures. Not only is Scott very fast at blocking the show, he's also very good at creating interesting pictures that make sense. The very little directing experience I've had has taught me that blocking is difficult. How does one visualize interesting pictures without actually seeing them? How does one take each character's motivation, relationships with others in the scene, and the power dynamics of the scene into account without actors in front of them? It's a lot of advanced thinking, and having that skill is one of the things that makes Scott a good director.

Once the whole play was blocked we spent the rest of week one reviewing the blocking scene by scene. Scott was still adamant about not expecting great acting during these rehearsals. It's still very early in the process and the actors need time to play. It's hard to take things slowly, though, when your actors are so enthusiastic; actors Ty and Patti are already almost memorized, and all four actors are chomping at the bit to talk about their characters. Tennessee Williams creates such beautiful, complex characters that it's hard not to dive into their psychology. Everyone has had to show a lot of restraint in these blocking and blocking review rehearsals!

Week two has exciting rehearsals in store, as blocking is mostly communicated, learned and reviewed, so we'll be diving into the "Acting schmacting" that Scott is so obviously fond of. Stay tuned for an update on the rehearsals of week two, plus posts about the production design and the play's esteemed author.