Week Three’s rehearsal diary should start with a brief panegyric to Director Lyndsey Turner, the wizardess who is pulling together the million elements that make up Chimerica. There are a hundred moving parts (and with the rehearsal set built in the rehearsal room this week, there are literally moving parts; but I will refrain from spoilers). Twelve superb actors are playing more than thirty idiosyncratic characters, and each needs to be wigged, dressed, panted, shod, coached in accents, taught a new language, and choreographed into ugly fights and surreal movement. There are more than forty scenes, each needing sets and props, to be moved on / off / between scenes while the stage shifts beneath our feet. Each scene is broken down into 'events', each event uniting different character 'intentions', creating shapes of actions as fine as filigree: the final product will be a gem, reflecting and refracting continent-spanning ideologies and trenchant humanity.
Every day I am reminded why I love this job, by the evidence that a human being is a complex, changeable, fragile thing, not an economic digit, not a data point. I see this evidence in the way the actors shift from thought to thought, emotion to emotion, act to act, sometimes in wrenches, sometimes in barely perceptible clicks. More than that, there is delight in seeing the actor’s craft, in transmuting the words, or allowing the words to transform them. There is delight in seeing the director delicately pinching a moment into just-rightness; it’s like looking at a well-done sum, or at an Italian grandmother making pasta: a vision of hard-won simplicity.
We were given fine ingredients: and if MasterChef has taught us anything, it is that we have to treat good ingredients with respect. The rhythm of Lucy Kirkwood’s text is precisely judged, and is as key to the sense of each moment as the semantic value of the words. She uses commas as much to indicate breath units as grammatical divisions; her text has an “actorly” quality, and was clearly meant to aid the ear of the performer, rather than the eye of the reader.
The rhythm of the play, in terms of varying lengths of scenes, and the beading together of multiple subplots, is just as judicious. We ask, as we begin to make each scene: When was the last time we saw these characters? What did we leave them doing? What have they been doing in the interim? What have the intervening scenes prepared us to think and feel? And what have the suspension and resumption of the several threads of actions made us feel?
The final goal is to tell a story that is clear and compelling, and perhaps fundamental to that is creating a map or schedule of which moments should grab, which should back off in preparation for the next grab, and which moments in tandem would deliver the big pay-off.
The principle of 'many moving parts' operates on all levels of making the play. An actor makes his character based on how other actors make theirs; a scene is made looking at what has been made, and what will be made. So much of the director’s work now is as simple and as difficult as watching and listening, and choosing the right words to say at the right time.
Where does one find a book to teach that?