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RR - The Golden Thread

Tuesday, November 3, 2009 Leave a Comment

We're in tech and two weeks have past since my last rehearsal report. Here's what I've learned and been thinking about:

-The Golden Thread: I've always liked this phrase from Steppenwolf, though I'm repurposing it considerably here. The continuity of the audience's attention, that golden thread, is never unbroken even in the best play; but every detail of production must strive towards keeping it whole.

-The Game Of Inches: And I do mean every detail. Every nuance counts to maintaining that golden thread. Reblocking an actor into better profile - a matter of inches - can maintain it. Cutting or adding one line can make a difference.

-Long Distance Runner: But this is hard, because sometimes the number of little fixes can be so overwhelming that it seems that an entire scene or act isn't working. Sometimes that's true; but more often than not, it's that string of little moments failing that create the illusion of a larger disaster; and like a long distance runner, the company must travel the distance from dead to living theatre one step at a time. Always, always, we must fight off that exhaustion and solve each break in the thread.

-The Exchange Rate of Time: Not all time in a play is created equally. A minute of stage time at the start of the play weighs less than a minute at the end of act 1, so that an action that might hold an audience's attention 15 minutes in will fail utterly to do so 1 hour in. A cut or addition of 5 minutes to the beginning of an act is equal (more or less) to a cut/addition of 30 seconds at the end.

-Snowballing: The only thing that allows a play to survive the increasing weight of time and sustain an audience's attention is the momentum of the unbroken golden thread. Like money earning interest, an action that starts small can roll down the hill of a play and gather such momentum that it can easily hold a fatigued audience's attention. This is one of the great challenges inherent in subplot (and the chief difficulty of Lesser Seductions); actions introduced halfway through a play have less time to gather momentum; and can actually halt the forward momentum of a central action.

-The Church of Want: This is an old thought worth rethinking in this context. Almost always, when the thread breaks and momentum stalls but the staging is right and the pages are necessary; the fault returns (as it so often does) to the actor not knowing what they want. Then, like a list of biblical plagues come all the old actor evils: the sawing of the air with the hands, the pause to work up tears, the pacing like a seasick sailor, the sentimentality, the breaking up of the rhythm of the line so it sounds "natural", the playing of mood, the barely audible sincerity or the scenery rending screaming; indication station, all aboard.

We're getting closer and closer to maintaining that golden thread with The Lesser Seductions of History, and last night, Jake, Michael and Candice especially took huge steps forward in driving their parts forward with that church of want. But the structure of the play makes momentum difficult to achieve, and the margin of error in this play may be smaller than most.

Have you bought your tickets yet? I hope so, and once you've seen the play, I'll be posting an open thread for audience reactions to the play. Can you tell I'm excited to share it with you?