TEENAGE DICK is in its second week of rehearsal, and the work is now focussed on how the actors move during the play: staging, plus fight and dance choreography. Each week, we invite our Fresh Eyes volunteers to attend rehearsal and then share their observations. We always enjoy seeing the rehearsal process through their eyes, and hope that you do, too.
This was the first fight scene practice in the rehearsal process for TEENAGE DICK, and it appeared to be a productive session. Going in, some of my questions turned out to be broader than the session allowed, such as what tension caused the need for the fight to occur, or how do characters’ actions (ie fighting) tie into larger motivations. This was a functional part of rehearsing that ran from nuts and bolts technique like how to hold your hands in a flipper position when grabbing someone’s upper arm to more sophisticated movement like how to fall backward with force after being struck by a car.
The fight coordinator, Jonathan Cole , took charge from the outset. He made it clear that today was time for exploring, to discover a push/shove moment, to work off rivalries, tensions. He referred to a Chicago style, where bodies meet, but no pain ensues. Also (not sure if this is a part of the Chicago style) he said the point is to fall not into the floor, but across the floor. An important distinction, especially when your body is on the line during live performances.
The first hour was comprised of three exercises with some variations. Mats were laid out – which made me think of nets under trapeze artists. No mats during performances of course. The first exercise involved grabbing another actor’s upper arm; the person grabbed acted as a fulcrum, turning slightly when grabbed. Here, Jonathan posed the question: How can I show the most psychologically uncomfortable position of my arm and posture? Possibly to augment the effect of the grab? In the second exercise, one actor’s hands each slapped the other’s chest with a hot stove retraction by the slapper while the other fell back slightly. To accommodate larger hands on smaller chest areas, Jonathan pointed out, it might be necessary to adjust hands into an angel-wing position. The actors seemed to understand this easily. Then they practiced putting the two exercises together. With the third exercise, movements became more complex. Seated on the mat, grabbing the left leg with the left arm, the actors fell back at a 45 degree angle and slapped the mat with the other hand. Then they tried the reverse briefly, the point being to find the more dominant side. Then with a partner, one person was the post, who stood in front of the faller. The latter kicked a leg out between both actors, then fell not linearly, but at a 45 degree angle across the front of the post. This exercise was briefly practiced, perhaps because a break was looming.
After the break, they turned their attention to six scenes.
- Page 28. Richard practiced his fall during his “gyrating” line. Here, the actor realized that starting the fall with his body closer to the floor was more effective and less jarring. I was reminded Jonathan’s advice, “fall across, not into the ground.” Interesting that they didn’t practice Anne’s attempt to help him up and his reaction. He did mention that it would be a strong reaction because he felt so shamed by falling.
- Page 41. Buck hit Richard in the balls after “Hey. Hey” line and Richard made a convulsive “Aghh” sound. All seemed satisfied with the results.
- Page 56. Eddie moved forward toward Richard, pushed his chest at “malicious” with one hand, then the other at “unlikeable” and then one finger pressed on his forehead at “troll” – Richard fell back at each push and eventually slapped away Eddie’s hand. This one also seemed well in hand-no pun intended.
- Page 67. Eddie grabbed Anne from behind, his right hand on her upper left arm; she turned as he slightly lifted her. It wasn’t clear how the “He shakes her” stage direction would play out.
- Page 78. Eddie hit by a car, fell backward over his right shoulder, twisting slightly left, bracing and helping the flip with his left hand on the floor. Eventually, with Jonathan’s suggestion, his body ended up 90 degrees to the right, then slowing it down at the end for a more stylized result. By far the most athletic move by a very athletic actor.
- Page 38. The extreme wedgie. Eddie grabbed Richard’s belt from behind with one hand and pulled his pants up with the other hand. Three times! This scene will be practiced more on Thursday as will the fight scene on page 74.
For an exploratory session, it was a very purposeful two hours, thanks in large part to Jonathan’s direction and the actors being well-versed in the movements required.
Josh [Hecht, director] made two points that seem to speak to a larger framework: one is how stylized will the movement of the actors end up being, and the second was that the type of violence in the play moves from a kind of comic violence to a more serious violence by the end. I presume these points will be addressed as rehearsals proceed.
And finally, I noticed how gentle Jonathan was in his approach. Some situations involved fairly violent movements by the actors, yet Jonathan always made sure the actors were comfortable.