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From Page to Stage: A look into the rehearsal process of Earth and Sky

26 December 2011 No Comment

Ruth Neaville, who plays Joyce, and Jim Johnson, who plays Detective H.E. Weber, listen to feedback from director Matthew Randall. Photo by Traci Brooks.

Traci J. Brooks

Director of Photography

A small collection of actors gathers in the Waddell Conference room at Loudoun campus, bearing scripts and pencils. As they sit, their specific beverage marks their spot — Arizona Green Tea for one, seltzer water for another.

Despite the dignity of the room, the atmosphere is anything but somber as Taking Flight Theatre’s cast and crew rehearse for their upcoming performance of Earth and Sky, a play by Douglas Post.

Earth and Sky is a play in the style of a film noir, a mystery whose ending the cast and crew are keeping tightly under wraps. The basic plot revolves around Sara, whose boyfriend is murdered and who finds herself delving into the seedy world around her to find out who killed him.

While the majority of a play’s rehearsal time is spent on stage, this step of creating a show is just as essential as standing in front of an audience. “Table-work,” as actors call it, is essential for an actor to understand his character’s role in the play. They practice different vocal inflections, discuss how they’ll stand and where they’ll move. They discuss the characters’ relationships to each other and draw connections between the actors’ lives and those of their characters.

“This is a very character-driven show,” director Matthew Randall explains, noting that he always does approximately a week of table-work in his shows.

“It’s the foundation of the entire show,” Jim Johnson, who plays Detective H.E. Weber, says of table-work. “It’s an opportunity to dig into the characters before we get on stage.”

Questions fly as actors read a line, pause for feedback from Randall and then respond to his probing as to their character’s motivation. The actors don’t even go by their real names, instead responding when Randall addresses each of them using their character’s name.

“I don’t think Sara is at all present,” Randall comments.

“She is so checked out,” agrees Lauren Palmer Kiesling, who plays Sara.

“Then, try a line delivery that shows you’re checked out.”

She thinks for a second and nods.

They work the same two-minute scene again. And again. The speed and volume of the lines change slightly from one run-through to another.

“That was beautiful,” Randall finally says.

He turns to Ruth Neaveill, who plays Joyce, a fellow librarian with Sara, to give feedback on her physical actions during the scene, “You could even drop one book while you’re talking, she picks it up for you, you continue talking, you drop it again.”

After another run-through, Randall compliments Neaveill: “Your vocal quality is perfection for this role.”

It’s a fluid, dynamic way to see a play performed. Without costumes and lights, it’s almost easier to hone in on the most important part of the show: the words. The ear and eye watch every nuance of the actors, picking up on subtleties that might be purposefully hidden when they are on stage — a wink, a hesitation before a word. Here in this room, the actors’ motivations and thoughts are an open book, giving an unparalleled look into the work of building a show.

Earth and Sky runs 100 minutes with no intermission. It will be performed Feb. 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, 19, 24 and 25 at the Waddell Theatre on Loudoun’s campus.

For more information, visit tftheatre.org.

Lauren Palmer Kiesling, who plays Sara, reads through a scene. Photo by Traci Brooks.

Ruth Neaville, who plays Joyce, performs a monologue, showing that being seated doesn't mean being still. Photo by Traci Brooks.

By: Traci J. Brooks

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