First readthru, Equity meeting, vote for the deputy, all that stuff last night. Meeting the other cast members, working through all the scheduling stuff and taking a tour of the labyrinth facilities. A typical first meet of a new show.
There are nine in the cast, five men and four women. Needless to say, everyone comes with a solid theatre background, it would appear.
Last night was simply a table read so we could hear the material out loud. However, we didn't use the music. Which is a tad awkward because the show is musically driven, to say the least. Ron Sossi, the director, wisely chose to steer clear of discussing the 'meaning' of the piece. The play upon which this is based, Elmer Rice's groundbreaking The Adding Machine, was cutting edge material at the time of its release in 1923, exploring Hindu reincarnation while mixing it with Judeo-Christian views of 'morality.' This aspect of the play is fairly cut and dried. Instead, Ron chose to simply offer images and preliminary ideas about how to physically play this stuff. The old 'cart before the horse' approach, which, fortunately for me, is exactly the way I like to work. At the end of the day, it really doesn't matter what we, the actors, think the play is about anyway. This is true of all artforms, not just theater. No, Ron, again wisely, was more interested in pushing us toward an eye for performing this thing. The inherent message in the play, which is there regardless of our efforts in performing it, is for the audience anyway, not the artists. This is the underlying truth of any allegorical material. So I was oddly relieved that he chose not to open a forum about 'what we're trying to say.' That is self-evident, and if its not, well, the rest is for nought anyway.
However, we didn't have the extraordinary score to guide us last night. A couple of the cast members hadn't heard it yet, in fact. I can only imagine what was crossing their mind. It's not a good 'read.' Ninety percent of the plot and theme are in the lyrics and music. So to simply read them out loud as dialogue can be incredibly misleading in a piece of this sort. I, of course, have listened to this score ad nauseum already, and each time I'm impressed all over again. Imagine having the first table read of Sweeny Todd without that magnificent music to lend credence and weight to the evening. Same thing. So as I looked around the table last night, I could see that a couple of the cast members simply didn't quite grasp the scale and gravitas of the piece. Which is okay. They'll catch up soon enough when they listen to the score and we start hearing that angry, twitching, soaring music in rehearsal.
The complex itself is really quite amazing. The Odyssey is really three seperate theaters. All three are state-of-the-art houses in one building. Essentially it's a live theatre cineplex. We were taken on a comprehensive tour of the houses. Very impressive. The theatre, incidentally, celebrates its 41st year of continual operation this year. Again, very impressive. The average shelf life of most smaller, non-profit theatres in this country is more along the lines of ten years. Forty-one years is somewhat of a minor miracle.
Today I plug this incredibly difficult music in and start to work. I've already, during the protracted audition process, listened to it quite a bit, so I'm somewhat prepared to begin work on it in earnest. I had a few ideas last night as we were reading through it, nothing in concrete, just a place to start. Gotta start somewhere. Sometimes one has to go back and start over a few times, but I've discovered it's best to at least make a beginning.
So there you have it. First day down, back in today to begin the long 'nuts and bolts' part of the journey. I am uncomfortably aware of how far the journey is, too. Because of the inordinant challenges in this particular piece, we've been given a far longer rehearsal period than is usual. I'm glad of that. So very much to do. So very much to learn. It is, to my way of thinking anyway, the most beautiful part of the process...the clean, white, uncluttered, bare stage in front of us. The exquisite moment when nothing exists until we make it exist. Admittedly, the nightmare moment for some actors. For me, my favorite moment. The moment of endless possibilities.
See you tomorrow.