Inside The Writers’ Room – an actor’s perspective

June 26, 2012

Hi. My name’s Karen Peakes and I’m playing the role of Mary Forney in this production of “Women in Jep”. I’m one of those women in jep.

The very first time I read this play I laughed out loud several times. This doesn’t happen on a regular basis for me. Usually, I read a play thinking in terms of what I can do with the material, >help how I’ll do this or that in the audition, or how fast can I get through this so I can get back to folding my laundry and making dinner. But with this play, I immediately got sucked into its hilariously wacky world and was completely enchanted by the comedic music of the language. I was hooked. I just wanted to say those words – not because I wanted the job (although, of course, that’s a perk), but because I just knew it would be fun. And…well…I got the job…and it IS!!
So, I’ve been asked to describe a bit about how this experience differs from the average acting experience. So here goes:

Karen and her castmates highlight their scripts

Typically, once cast, I would receive a script weeks – if not months – in advance of the start of the job. I’m a procrastinator, so that means I usually read it once or twice and then panic a few nights before rehearsals start and madly highlight my lines so as to seem “prepared” the first day. With this process, we got the script only a short time before we began rehearsals and were told there would be changes throughout so “don’t worry too much about memorizing ahead of time”. Brilliant! Off to a good start!

Then there was the first read-through.

Typically, the first day of rehearsal involves a table read of the play. This means that the actors and the director get to sit around a table and read the play aloud together for the very first time. This is the moment that my husband (also an actor) and I refer to as “the first day of school”. It’s the day you want to make a really good first impression and make the director happy he or she cast you and your fellow actors excited to be working with you – without trying too hard or “acting” too much. You don’t want to perform during the first read-though, you just want to show that you’ll be able to when asked.

THIS production, however, had a read-through of an entirely different nature. We agreed to have our first read-through in front of an audience of about 40 or so people. Cue the nervous stomach. We received updated scripts AT THE DOOR as we arrived that evening and had only moments to madly try and highlight our lines before taking our seats. Cue the quivering hands. Having an audience watch a read-through makes it almost impossible not to at least try to perform. As actors, we want to entertain. As humans, we don’t want to embarrass ourselves. Cue the dry mouth. It was hard. I’m not really sure what happened. We got through it and everyone seemed pleased. [Watch the video of the read-thru here.]
So that was the first day.

On to the rehearsal process!

Typically, a playwright of the given play is nowhere to be seen during the rehearsal process. Most plays are already fully realized and previously produced when rehearsals begin. This process is vastly different. Our mission, when we chose to accept it, was to be a part of the creation of this play. Wendy had a full length play already written when we began, so our job has been to help her, and Ed – our charming director – determine what works in her play, what doesn’t, what works but may not be necessary, and so on. As she put it – and I hope I get this right – “No one can track a character’s journey as well as the actor playing that character.” In other words, as actors, we quickly become keenly aware if a moment seems to come out of nowhere for our character, or something seems out of whack in the general timeline of events in our character’s life.

Now, actually telling a playwright something doesn’t feel right about her play seems a daunting task. Or seemed. Wendy is – and I think I safely speak for everyone here – a really cool lady. Not only is she hilarious, Wendy is totally open and collaborative and has made us all feel safe to say the things we’ve needed to say. It’s been really amazing to have rehearsals end with a long discussion about a problematic moment, only to have it begin the next day with a re-write that completely solves the problem – sometimes with the addition of only one or two lines. And then there are those moments in rehearsal where someone will accidentally add a word, or flat out ask to say something a different way. What a privilege to have the playwright there in those moments! It’s oddly empowering as an actor to have the opportunity to help shape your character’s journey. Whether our suggestions are incorporated into the play or not, the fact that we can make them at all is – well – it’s just really neat.

Check back for more from Karen, when she talks about laughing uncontrollably during rehearsal.

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