It's All Greek to Me - Or Walkabout

Lori Holm making discoveries as The Poet playing Achilles.

Lori Holm making discoveries as The Poet playing Achilles.

When we talk about collaboration, what are we talking about exactly? Where does an idea begin? How does it grow?

I kept asking myself these questions after finishing two open rehearsals last weekend. Our first adventure took place at Rediscover Records in the basement. The day after we conducted an open rehearsal as a promenade from room to room at Next Door Theater above Side Street Studio Arts. These experiments in space prompted me to change the whole show. So when people come to see our production of An Iliad, which opens this Friday, it will be something completely different than previously envisioned.

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When we began this process more than a month ago, I knew I wanted to expand the cast. The play is written for one person, usually a man, but in our production we have two men and two women playing all the parts. We lost one actor due to unforeseen circumstances, so I stepped in to fill the role, something I would normally relish, but I’m not really a fan of directing, producing, and acting in the same show. It is a lot to manage – and you need help from the outside.

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We’d been rehearsing at various locations to get a flavor of different spaces. Our cast was very supportive of each other and one of my early plans was to offer two open rehearsals where we would run parts of the play in front a live group of people. One our actors, Joe Cattoggio, said it was too bad we couldn’t do that kind of thing all the time. I agreed with him, but at that point the production plans we already set. But I couldn’t let it go, so I asked everyone on the production what they thought about giving the audience a choice: to see the full stage version of the show with full lights and sound or a more unplugged version in side room. Everyone agreed to keep the regular show intact, but maybe offer a special performance of the play in a raw space. That was the idea then…

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Fast forward…after conducting the open rehearsal at Rediscover Records, the intimacy, closeness, and heat from the cellar basement created a dynamic between the audience and actors that was super-charged. There was a mingling of excitement and fear at the prospect of playing in this setting.

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The next day…this open rehearsal was held upstairs at Next Door Theater, where we presented different scenes in the small kitchen, the lobby area, greenroom, and theater space. But what made this memorable was a simple request from Stage Manager Tara Schuman, who’s been acting as my outside eye when I’m on stage, since I can’t direct myself and watch everyone else. She asked me to give my opening speech to her in the kitchen just like we were talking over coffee. I did this and the tone in the speech changed. Then she asked the other actors and audience to come in and I did it again, and it changed some more. Then one of our actors, Lori Holm, suggested sitting around the table and talking. Before I knew what was happening, we were interacting with each other in a way that I would not call acting. What this did was take much of the “acting” out of the play and made it more about sharing a story – The Iliad. It also helped us get closer to the play and the audience.

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Then we moved to another room and Lori shared her section of the story and then another room where Ann Marie Nordby shared her section and then finally we finished with Joe Cattoggio. What captivated me about all this was how it was done with no sound except what was found and no lighting except what was provided. Everything was practical and useful whether it was a chair, a lamp, a stick, or drum, or rattle. And it worked.

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Once we finished this experiment in space, I quickly suggested that we needed to present the show this way, rather than keep with our old plans. Everyone agreed and the practical work of adapting the Elgin Art Showcase to this new vision began.

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So, what we have created is a promenade from room to room, or casually called a Walkabout, where the audience goes from space to space seeing and hearing the play being told piece by piece. Nothing is hidden – the actors playing parts, the props being used, the lights being turned on and off, the sound being played by an instrument or CD player or a mixing board. The Wizard of the Theater, or in this case, The Muse of the theater is on full display for everyone to witness.

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So that’s a little look behind the process of making a show. One thing leads to another if you allow others to look and lead and share.