We continued Week 2 rehearsals with an exercise of actors listening to recordings of themselves speaking their lines, and allowing their bodies rather than just their minds to discover, in expressionistic space, the movements and grace notes of intention and emotion therein.
With those discoveries, actors re-recorded their lines, listened and moved to them again – and every iteration added more layers and precision to the work. It was a wonderfully economical method, which quickly winkled out nuances in the text – no dry wrangle over where one unit ended and another started – there is simple organic truthfulness in observing what the feet want to do, what the shoulders want to do, how close bodies want to be together, how quickly they want to separate from each other.
The Mandarin regimen went into full swing – Mandarin Coach Bobby Xinyue had to teach mouths and soft palates to form shapes and sounds that are alien to them. Some consonants are especially hard – I cannot even represent them without embedded sound files in any way that is meaningful. Mandarin is a tonal language, meaning homophones said in different “tones” or notes would mean different things. My favourite example: the syllable “ma”, pronounced with different tones, might mean either “mother”, “anaesthetise”, “horse”, or “scold” – quite a semantic spectrum. And then there is the overall “melody” of a sentence in Mandarin…
There will be hardcore Mandarin speaking, but there will also be an aurora borealis of different accents: New York; New York (Brooklyn), Chinese accented New York, British, American-accented Cockney, Beijing-accented American-accented English, restaurant-accented Cantonese… the themes of the play – Chimerica – are world-spanning – the languages and the accents will be one of the many strands in that expansive fabric.
By now, the walls of the rehearsal room have been completely covered with images from the play: photographs of the 1989 Tiananmen protests, of Beijing now, of the smog in Beijing, of New York, of fish shops in New York’s Chinatown, of flower shops in Queens, of Mitt Romney and Hilary Clinton. Just as quickly as the languages and accents shift, so the play moves from location to location in a twinkling of the playwright’s eye. Everything we put into the rehearsal room, be they images, notes, video clips or props, are apparatuses to enable the actors to imagine themselves into the multifarious, multi-leveled world of Lucy Kirkwood’s text.
Next week, the rehearsal set comes into the room. We’ve all seen the model box – the life-sized set is going to be an adventure.