Leading the rehearsal process

The rehearsal room is where all the director’s preparatory hard work pays off and is their opportunity to experiment with and explore the text using their skill and creativity, together with that of their actors. Some directors have a particular style or method of working, utilising the theories of specific practitioners such as Konstantin Stanislavsky, or Bertolt Brecht, while others will borrow from several theorists, or adapt their working methods according to the play they’re directing. […]

The majority follow a fairly loose pattern of working, in which emphasis is placed on understanding the text – especially important if working on period plays where the language patterns and vocabulary are not the same as we use today – exploring and establishing the relationships between the various characters in the play, and seeking out the meaning and emphasis in terms of the dramatic action of the play.

Proxemics

Proxemics means the position of people in relation to each other onstage. It works closely with characterisation and a relatively new science known as kinesics, which is the study of movement and gestures, and the meanings these can have in terms of personality or character.

The position of people in any group is significant – it tells you a lot about their relationships – and this knowledge can be used when exploring spatial relationships onstage. Where a character stands and with whom or away from whom all has a relevance to what is being conveyed to an audience, in terms of the relationships being established. This should also be considered in terms of the character’s relationship to the physical space he or she is in.

Simply by arranging bodies in a physical space, a director can imply connections, weaken or strengthen the relationships between characters, create tension and heighten or supress mood and atmosphere. By arranging characters differently within a space, different things are implied.

This awareness is combined practically in the process known as ‘blocking’. Once a fairly perfunctory process of telling actors where to enter and exit and where to move onstage, today’s directors take a more holistic approach, exploring movement as part of a journey the actors go on as their characters develop.

Blocking

Traditionally, the stage space is divided up into sections and referred to in shorthand, for ease of use by actors and directors and simple recording by stage management. The layout is assigned from the audience’s point of view.

Movement will almost always upstage dialogue and stage movement is a powerful creator of meaning. In most twentieth-century and contemporary plays this movement onstage is justified by character motivation or intention. It is the job of the director to marry the character motivation that the actor feels is appropriate with the visual needs of the scene.

A director needs to consider sightlines – that is the view from different parts of the auditorium when watching the play. If the audience can’t see key moments of the play they won’t understand it. Blocking makes sense of the relationships between characters and helps create focus for the audience, showing them which action in a scene is important.

Planning a rehearsal

Whatever the approach, for the next two to three weeks the director and cast will embark on an adventure, breaking down the play to explore it for meaning, subtext and motivation. While each actor is on a personal journey of exploration with their character, the director must retain an overview and draw them all into a coordinated whole that will make sense to an audience and entertain them too.

Production meetings

The production team, which comprises the designers, a stage manager and other personnel as required, such as a composer, a movement director, a vocal coach or a puppeteer, meet regularly with the director to discuss the progress of the production, agree deadlines and resolve any problems that occur. A director does this in addition to the rehearsal commitment, often having to meet at the end of a long day of rehearsal, or in lunch hours.

Run-throughs

By the third week of rehearsals, actors will have learnt their lines and begun to run through the play on a regular basis. The director does this gradually, building scenes, then sequences of scenes, and finally running the whole play, so that actors get a sense of the overall rhythm of the play and how to pace themselves through it.

For the director this is a testing time. It is the last opportunity to alter or revise any aspect of the production and the point at which they can gauge whether what they set out to achieve at the start has been realised.

From A Practical Guide to Working in Theatre, Methuen Drama (Bloomsbury)