Thursday, March 7, 2013

Can you see Bob?

A few of us don’t give up easily, and we have taken Sean Daniels up on his offer to cohorts to sit in on some technical rehearsals of the new Nextstage play, Bob. It was an opportunity to compare something different with The Book Club Play.

What I’ve found is lots of similarities, and complications. I probably could have foreseen the similarities. Both scripts are relatively new, and at a point in their creation that the playwright is still involved and viewing the Rochester performances as a final phase of development before heading out into to the wide world of Theatredom. Both plays are also comedies with poignant messages about people and connections and purpose. Both plays have a cast that has worked together beforehand, which creates a synergy between them that naturally enhances their collective performances.

In the case of Bob, the cast has just come from Atlanta where they performed Bob for several weeks there. They arrived here last weekend and went right to teching the play for the Nextstage space. The Directors did the Atlanta show with this stage in mind, but the current production team has to make the transition work. Geva’s stage manager for the show spent four days in Atlanta watching the show several times, taking copious notes and photographs to help her recreate it here. On Day One, the actors were gushing at how wonderful it was to have the set transported here and every last prop put in place just how it was there. One actor remarked, “Even the pockets of my apron have all the right stuff in them!” The props in this play are numerous, so kudos to the team for getting it all straight.

The Lighting Director had banks of lights rehung here to better approximate the design used in Atlanta. The square footage is much smaller in the Nextstage and herein lie some of the complications. I listened to a discussion of how the smaller stage meant the actors were closer together, and at first I thought that sounded like The Book Club Play. Those actors are onstage most of the show and confined to the living room space. There it was a relatively easy solution, with the lights simply up most of the time, so the audience watches all the interactions at once, simulating the three cameras that are taking in the book club meetings. The more I watched Bob in rehearsal, though, I began to see a huge difference.

This play requires actors to be on the stage most of the show, but the focal point changes frequently. Two characters may have a short scene, while the other actors sit in view on the sidelines or lounge in the funky letter holes, shadows of Bob’s world, visible but not active in the scene. The rearranging of people and positions, the rapid back and forth of the action adds to the chaotic feel inherent in Bob’s life. But it’s all in a very small space, so lights are used to constantly highlight or darken various parts of the stage, back and forth, with different contrast and attention, all to help the audience focus on the pertinent parts and not watch the whole stage all the time. It’s a pretty frenetic set, with distractions everywhere, like a child’s heavily-played in, seldom picked up bedroom. It is helpful to have guidance as to where to look. Easier said than done. The lights themselves are intentionally frenetic – and I can’t even describe the various options of lighting. Here’s one take:

Today was Day 3 of the tech process, with lots of skipping around and refining small bits. (I am now adding incredible patience and yes, again, amazing memories, to the list of necessary skills for actors. And Tech people are by definition detail oriented!) The show goes for Preview tonight, which frankly after a full tech day, impresses me that everyone can get themselves energized and engaged, performance-ready for tonight.  Then one more tech rehearsal and preview performance tomorrow, and it’s a wrap. Showtime.  I look forward to being in the audience Saturday. Judging from the sneak peak I’ve had, I anticipate dynamic surprises with every aspect of the show.

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