By Jonathan Silver, Assistant Director for Under the Skin
“This blog post is not about kidneys.”
The last time I was involved in a creative rehearsal process with Terry Nolen was 5 years ago during Arden Theatre Company’s 2009/2010 season opener The History Boys. During those rehearsals a half-decade ago, I had the privilege to focus my attention on my portrayal of Timms, the role I was cast in (and my first professional acting experience post-college!). This time around, I have the honor of serving as Assistant Director for this world-premiere piece. But that’s not what this blog post is about – nor is it about kidneys.
Like a human being, every production of a play or musical is its own unique, individual entity that requires natural evolutionary growth and exploration. For the actors, director, and design team, the seeds of this growth happen during the first few days of rehearsals sitting around a table reading the text, discussing the text, rereading the text, discussing more of the text, rereading the text again, discussing the … well, you get the picture.
For Under the Skin, Terry Nolen (director) and Michael Hollinger (playwright) led the cast through 5 days of table work (5 days x 6 hour rehearsals = 30 hours of sitting, reading, and discussing). Under the proper leadership (which we are), these rehearsals can be the most exhilarating – it’s the point in the process where the cast is getting to know one another and seeds of ideas are being planted and the themes and motifs begin to take shape. The repetition of the above stated reading, discussing, etc., is a chance for the actors to familiarize themselves with the text and for Terry to encourage the actors to “feel free to explore the wrong choices,” and “Find your footing in the text,” and “MORE READING, LESS ACTING!” For Michael, these rehearsals are to experience his words spoken aloud and alter words, sentences, or punctuation. It also provides him with an opportunity to hear different versions of scenes he has written so he may discover a multitude of possibilities then narrow in on orchestrating the story he wants to tell (As of the writing of this post, we received five interpretations of one particular scene and six rewritten scenes).
Because Under the Skin focuses on a family crisis and the figurative walls they need to overcome, while at the table, the cast was also invited to share (or not) personal stories that related to those said walls. Since the rehearsal room is a sacred place, I’m not at liberty to delve into what was shared (or not) but I can say that Terry, Michael and the cast opened their hearts to one another and instantly created an environment of safety and sincerity. You won’t hear their personal stories, but you will sense a depth of connection between the performers that is a result of this kind of sharing.
After these revealing 5 days were over, the work from the table was implemented when we started staging the show on our feet. Without the table work – the intellectual exploration of every punctuation mark, word, sentence, plot point, etc. – it would prove rather challenging to dive into the physical and emotional journey that takes place during staging.
For me, table work is the most electrifying process of rehearsals. It’s the point in a production’s development where the show only exists in my mind’s eye – it remains on the page and is not yet tactile. As these sessions at the table progress, preconceived notions of what I thought the show might be slowly disappear and the real nature of the play takes shape. What you saw when you came to the Arden and witnessed Under the Skin is the product of Michael Hollinger’s imagination, Terry Nolen’s orchestration, and the ensemble’s passionate dedication to executing a great story…
not about kidneys.
Jonathan Silver is a director and actor. Arden: Cabaret of Duets (Director), Incorruptible (Assistant Director), The History Boys (Timms). Regional: Old Jews Telling Jokes (Penn’s Landing Playhouse); Max in Lend Me A Tenor, and Professor in South Pacific (Delaware Theatre Company); Elliot in Completeness (Round Table Theatre Company); Freddy Eynsford-Hill in My Fair Lady (Act II Playhouse); Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet (Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts). Television: Alain on Pokemon (Cartoon Network). Education: BFA in Dramatic Performance from University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music.