Thursday, October 29, 2009

the actors in the hallway

I arrive early at the space where I teach in LA on Wednesday nights. My classroom is off a hallway that has doors to studios where other classes are taught simultaneously with mine. Invariably, there are actors out in the hallway at a quarter to seven, clutching scripts (or sometimes not) and speaking earnestly to each other, apparently "rehearsing". Thet are all in street clothes, so it doesn't appear that they have given any thought to what they will wear in their scenes. Because they are rehearsing in the hallway, they have no physical environment. In a word, they got nothin. And they know it. And they are about to present that fact to their teacher and their peers, in their class. The resulting anxiety is so palpable you can cut it with a knife. I unlock my classroom and make my way in as quickly as possible, tape my poster up on the door, and then close the door, and wait for my students to arrive. I do my best to shed any of the free-floating nervousness that may have found its way into me as a result of passing through this activity.

My class starts, and 90 minutes in, we take a break. I head out into the hall to run down to the corner store and/or make a pitstop, and there are still actors out in the hall, reading off of photocopies and getting ready for the big moment. I am told that these actors are preparing to read in their "cold reading" class (I'll take that canard up another day).

The burns. The practices I promote in my class for rehearsing couldn't be further from what is on display in the hallway. First off, I strongly encourage students to rent space to rehearse, rather than rehearsing in someone's apartment, let alone in the hallway before class. The act of formally setting aside time and space to give to rehearsing is very significant, apart from the practical advantages of such an arrangement, which are many. By setting aside time in this way, the actor affirms for herself the importance of what she is doing when she rehearses. She says to herself: "What I am doing when rehearsing is important enough to take steps to assure it gets done well."

When you do that, the creative part inside of you has a way of waking up and taking notice. And then, you never know what might happen. With the actors in the hallway, you always know what will happen: not much.

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