Week Two of History Boys Rehearsals

September 10, 2009

By Matt Ocks: Assistant Director for The History Boys.

In our second week, The History Boys has reverted from a play about history, memory, poetry and teaching to a play about furniture.

Desks. Chairs. A door. A lamp. The piano.

What goes where? When? And who puts it there? And then who takes it off again?

Blocking is a major part of early rehearsals for a play, and one of a director’s many responsibilities. Some directors come in with an entire plan mapped out, but Terry Nolen works differently. He usually has some preliminary thoughts about how things will go, but he starts every day with an open mind, so that the play can literally come to life through a combination of impulse, instinct, experiment, and collaboration.

I have a theory (I’m not the only one, trust me) that well written plays tend to stage themselves in a lot of respects. So far Alan Bennett’s words have guided us well, even though he sometimes seems reticent to share information. Bennett doesn’t always specify where a scene takes place, or when, so a lot of this week has been about searching for the clues. (Picture our fearless leader Terry in a deerstalker cap a la Sherlock Holmes, with me his bumbling assistant Watson, and you’ve got the idea).

Some of the cases we’ve been cracking: Which boys need to stay in the classroom after a bell has rung? Can a conversation between the irrepressibly witty Mr. Hector and the deliciously droll Mrs. Lintott happen as they walk through the school hallway, or must they be sitting in the staff room? Bennet doesn’t lay it out for us, but he guides us through subtle means, and it has made blocking an unusually satisfying experience.

Though it’s still grueling. Three days in, and we’re on page 34.

Of 109.

End of Act 1 where are you?!!

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