Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Thoughts from a First Rehearsal

by Mariah McGavin
MCT artistic intern Mariah McGavin will be
working with director Marcella Kearns
and the SHERLOCK team throughout the summer.

One of the things they tell us in writing classes is that every play you read and write is a blueprint. A map for everyone to follow. As a playwright, you lay ground rules, words, and some actions, but a lot of it is up to a team—lighting designers, costume designers, directors, and actors, among others—to figure out the rest. That’s the beauty of theatre—it takes a lot of hands and minds to make something great, and there’s no exact way to do it. 

And as much as I like this analogy, I’ve always thought it was a bit funny, too, since blueprints seem so mathematic, cold, and rigid, and the act of writing and interpreting seems to be a little less pretty, calculated, and strict. We get ideas and scribble them on the closest piece of paper. We wake up in the middle of the night with a breakthrough. It’s not as pretty or simple as a blueprint seems to be.

Yet that’s the main thing I was thinking of when I sat in on the first reading for SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE CASE OF THE JERSEY LILY. It was exciting, since so far it has been one of the only times I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a professional rehearsal. 

Images on the page become more than
just a "blueprint" as artists and designers
explain their motivations and ideas.
Leading up to this, every time I looked at lighting and set designs or read research, all I could think about was the analogy of the blueprint. And I could almost envision it in my mind — people reading what seemed to be “just words,” but being able to conceive water-colored lighting designs, sets that feel like a telescope with each unraveled layer, and transitions inspired by the zoetrope and Debussy. When design presentations happened at rehearsal, themes of truth, light, and honor all came forward — all of which were ideas that were never really stated by Katie Forgette, the playwright, but were instead felt, observed, or inspired by those who read the play. With each new idea, this piece of work began to feel less and less like the rigid idea of a “blueprint,” and more like something else.

At the beginning of rehearsal, director Marcella Kearns talked about the meaning of “ground truth,” a term that refers to discovering what the heart and soul — two words she was explicitly clear to use — of the matter at hand really is. She said this play focuses on truth and honor, things we seem to be struggling to have a sense of more and more every day. 

And as funny as it sounds, you hear truth and honor during the read-through — a collective gasp or laugh when something is revealed. A slight noise when the audience realizes a character is more honorable than they initially gave them credit for. Throughout the play, we yearn for the truth of the matter and wonder who we can trust. We see who is really honorable. We realize that there’s more to everyone and everything than meets the eye. We collect everything we see, hear, and observe to try and discover the truth.

Beyond that, I discovered things that came to life in a different way when people read them. Though I’ve read the play several times over, I laughed at things that I hadn’t laughed at before, and I was pleasantly surprised with how things were played when I wasn’t sure how they were going to be played. With each quip, I could confirm that Oscar Wilde was always the wittiest person in any room. With every exchange, I could feel the chemistry that Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson had as a result of working together for years. Even before the reading started, Marcy had pointed out that “there’s a generative friction that results when someone requires us to be better,” and I could feel that in the play. I could feel how enemies were challenged with each discovery that Mr. Holmes made, and I could feel how Mr. Holmes himself was challenged with minds as great as his. And while you laugh, you’re also constantly on your feet, well aware that you can never be certain who or what to trust. You can feel the build up to big reveals. You feel the shock at a reversal. You feel the play working up to something, although you might not know what it is yet.

That’s a lot to take away from a “blueprint.”

When I talked to Marcy during the act break, she noted the positive (action based) character choices that people were making, instead of reading something in a negative (non-action based) way that it could be interpreted as in print. Though Marcy was talking about character choices, my mind went to tarot. 

In tarot, The Star can stand for
inspiration, transformation and optimism - a
perfect image for the first day of rehearsal!
Cards in tarot (especially the major arcana) typically tend to either be positive (action) or negative (non-action). They have intricate designs, and any tarot reader will tell you it can take years of patience and energy to fully understand the meaning of the cards. After seeing the design presentations for set, costume, and lighting, and hearing the actors, I’m starting to think that perhaps instead of thinking about plays as a “blueprint,” maybe I could think about them a little bit more as a tarot card. While they may leave the outline for something, they also hold so much emotion, feeling, themes, and thoughts for us to interpret. 

While we erect tangible things from a play like costumes, props, and set pieces (which for this production, by the way, are amazing), we also erect intangible things—thoughts, feelings, impressions, and so much more. Both are invaluable and proof that so much can come from a piece of text.

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