Old Stagers: The Rehearsal

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It’s a lucky theatre-goer who has never had to witness an unfortunate actor fluff a line or two. The awful cavernous silence while they wait for a cue; the sniggers from the audience (the length and volume of which largely depend on their maturity and how much they paid for a ticket); and the bitchy whisper that carries just a little too well, “What do they DO in rehearsal?!”The answer is that even the actors do quite a lot, really. The truth is that every gesture, dramatic pause, comedic facial expression, and heart-rending tear is the result of weeks of hard work and development – whether the actor is conscious of it or not. There is more to rehearsal than endlessly ad-libbing comically facetious lines into a tragedy to try and give the director a heart attack.A rather strange director named Stanislavski used rehearsal time to try and get actors to ‘live’ their parts. He wanted to move away from melodramatics and try and achieve acting which was realistic, characters who seemed like real people. However actors of the time relished melodrama, it being in the very nature of Thespians to flounce and pout and generally show off. Thespians liked (and still do like) to take centre stage with dramatic waves of emotion – all this contradicted Stanislavski’s view of acting.Stanislavski encouraged actors to imagine how they would behave, if they were in their character’s shoes. The old proverb, “don’t judge a man till you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins,” also applies to acting; it is hard to realistically act someone until you have put yourself in their shoes. This is what Stanislavski was asking actors to do in rehearsal time.Rehearsal time lets an actor really engage with their character effectively. It is also a chance to perfect smouldering looks, fight scenes, fast-paced reparti and, of course, to learn one’s lines by saying them over and over and over again. Rehearsal time can also be important for actors to familiarize themselves with parts of the play that they feel uncomfortable with. As modern plays become more daring and adventurous, the cast have to practice and master more and more difficult scenes. Even Daniel Radcliffe’s stage début involved riding a horse naked or some such; I bet he needed a lot of rehearsal time to get to grips with that.So the rehearsal is the behind-the-scenes work which the audience doesn’t see, but which is vital if the play is to succeed. It is a chance to perfect acting technique, to really engage with the characters of the drama, to rehearse barely-learnt lines – and, of course, to flirt with the good-looking thesp in the leading role. Well, come on, who wouldn’t?
By Ryan Hocking

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