On Thursday you have the opportunity to not only see the opening night of a play, but an opening night of a company as Poor Shadows of Elysium open their doors to the tune of a coin-flip Richard II at the Curtain (good seats still available!).
This process has been a joy. I am reunited with several of my compatriots from last summer’s 7 Tower’s production of Tis Pity She’s a Whore and I’ve been allowed to play John of Gaunt and the Bishop of Carlisle. If you haven’t read Richard II let me say simply that I get to deliver two of the greatest speeches ever put to paper. I get to do it on an Elizabethan style stage under the stars and I get to do it with a cast digging for every ounce of gold in this rich mine.
And that’s sort of not the good part.
It’s the coin flip.
Chance decides who plays King Richard II and who plays his fair cousin Henry Bolingbroke. We really do open the show with seven couplets, two orphan lines, and a coin flip (expertly executed!) and on stage our Richard-of-the-now has all of 15 seconds to do his preshow prep and open the show.
And we have to adjust
and therein lies the fun.
From the beginning (as noted here) we’ve essentially been rehearsing two shows. None of the choices Aaron and Kevin have tried have been constrained in any way. Indeed the only times they even know what choices the other has made are in shared scenes. They’re pretty different. Aaron and Kevin are very different performers with very different styles and approaches.
In the standard rehearsal process choices and reactions tend to happen early, calcify early and remain until the space, costumes, lights and audience modify them …then that set of choices and reactions live for the run –Thespian bed death.
When you are playing more than one person opposite more than one person the geometric possibilities are impressive. I play Bolingbroke’s father and one of Richard’s final supporters. The choices the two men make about their relationship with me drive my reaction back at them and that evolves as they own more and more of show and try new tactics.
You can’t stop listening. The only workable tactic is know your lines and intention and play it at stakes. Or y’know – acting.
It’s awesome. There’s no acting-cheating allowed. It’s not as simple as playing the note the same way every time. The notes change – the instruments change. It’s sort of enforcing the best acting practices in not allowing us to lean on our crutches. It’s lovely.
Last week (a week from opening) health issues forced our Northumberland to resign from the show (get well soon Casey!) and David Boss stepped from the roles he was playing into Northumberland. This led to shuffling as our director chose to not go outside the family at this late date. It lead to the untimely demise of Ross and Scroop and Wes Riddle picked up the Gardener’s man in 3.4.
The now-cut Scroop delivers the news of Bolingbroke’s victories in England and York’s defection to the King in 3.2. It’s a huge driver toward the “Let Us Sit on Ground” speech. The speeches are now transferred to a letter delivered by Salisbury and read by the Bishop of Carlisle.
Honestly it’s a better scene. It colors the relationship between King Richard and Carlisle further (culminating in the “I Speak to Subjects” speech in 4.1) but more importantly it doesn’t ‘dilute the room’. Where dealing with the politics of status the fewer people in a room the more likely you are to get something truly personal (or at least less rhetorically obfuscated) out of the high status folks.
As much as it was a bit of a Balrog when we were already weary, the whole switcheroo has highlighted the flexibility of the process though. Rather than the panic of newly busted scenes and rhythms is was simply a new face where the other was expected which is something we’ve been training for all the while.
I can’t wait to share all this with you.