The Playgoer: Foreman in Rehearsal

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Foreman in Rehearsal

Every wanted to be a fly on the wall in a Richard Foreman rehearsal? Well thanks to Time Out's Helen Shaw, you are there!

Go read her moment to moment diary of her two hours watching Foreman and Willem DaFoe work on the upcoming Idiot Savant at the Public Theater.

Amidst all the funny incidentals, take note of the basic fact that Foreman rehearses his actors in costume, and on the set.

Foreman does not see a big difference between “rehearsal” and “tech rehearsal”—from Day One, he has had full costume, sets, lights and the sounds of buzzes and crashes cuing servant-actors to bustle in with weird pictures of fruit. This has the odd effect of making things seem far more finished than they are. While I watched, nearly every line came in for a tweak (whenever there’s a moment, the stage manager calls a “Stop and Write” so everyone can mark scripts).
A great example of someone breaking those "rules" that don't have to be rules.
We're led to believe rehearsals must be conducted in street clothes for 3-4 weeks and then just a few days in "tech" and in the space--which are the actual performance conditions. It's strictly budget planning that has brought this to be. Yet when you stand back, it sure does seem to privilege spoken dialogue and blocking over all other production elements, as if they're not as essential--or at least nothing that can't be thrown together in a few days before first preview.

A true gesamtkunskwerk-auteur like Foreman could have it no other way. Which is why he is rarely engaged by theatres other than his own little Ontological Hysteric in the East Village where he can build his own sets and have total control from day one. But most directors--no matter how visual and integrated their vision--have to follow the standard playbook of design meetings months in advance, followed by rehearsal with actors separate from design elements, and then throw it all together at the end.

Some directors complain of having to make crucial design decisions before they've had a chance to organically develop the performance in rehearsal. But how ironic that the design process is forced upon the creative team too early, but they still don't get to work with it until the last minute.

No wonder so many productions seem so inharmonious.

More goodies on Idiot Savant, by the way, on the Public's own You Tube channel. (How about that!)


Kris Joseph said...

I love the idea of rehearsing in costume, on set. I've never had the opportunity, but have come KINDA close on a coupe of occasions. Having the designers (and their work) present in rehearsal adds SO MUCH to the collaborative process!

Unknown said...

As nice as it sounds, most theatre groups can't fund such a monumental task.

Most theatre groups don't own their spaces - thus they rehearse in basements/spare rooms until they are nearing the run of the show at which point they more to a the full stage, with the set, lights etc, which during rehearsals were being designed and built offsite and moved to the rented venue. Even if the group owns the theatre they are wasting the space with rehearsals instead of some having another show perform there.

Not to mention light and sound board operators, stagehands, almost everyone needed for an actual run of the show, would have to be paid for every rehearsal.

Mr. Foreman may have the ideal, but it is an impossibility to most theatres, especially during a recession.

Playgoer said...

You're absolutely right, Xander to point to the economic factor. By no means did I mean to fault theatres who genuinely cannot afford to allow directors to work this way.

But it's also a business model that has been embraced by theatres large and small, and also on Broadway of course. So I think we need to not let it become just "routine" and perhaps find other business/budgeting models that might allow for more flexibility in the coordination of rehearsal and design process.

By the way, in a movie or tv show that tries to portray the theatre artists at work, the big giveaway that they're don't know what they're talking about is when they actually show actors rehearsing ON THE STAGE. Yeah, maybe in 1928...

Edward Einhorn said...

When Foreman works at the Ontological (or at least when I assisted him on a show) the evolution was more subtle, but the luxury of working in the space for months was enormous. He changed the set, props, and music about as often as he changed the script. The costumes came later, as did the lights (I was actually the one programming the lights for that show - I made it a personal challenge to make all his constant changes so quickly that I never needed to ask him to hold the rehearsal while I programmed). But what I learned most from working with him was that all those rules I had learned in directing class and often struggled with were far from universal. From then on, I directed as my instinct dictated, not as I thought one was "supposed" to.

Edward Einhorn