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Michael Nathanson

Michael Nathanson's Journal Entry: Day One of Rehearsals for the Upcoming WJT Play on Israeli-Palestinian conflict: DAI (Enough)

by Michael Nathanson October 5, 2012

I’ve been a baseball fan my entire life and there are few things that resonate for me like the thrill of Opening Day. Your team has been through Spring Training; they’ve done the drills, tested the rookies, and got the veterans back into game shape. Management has whittled down the roster to The Team, the twenty-five players who they think can produce a winning squad. And, on Opening Day, everything is possible. Your team’s record is a pristine zero wins and zero losses and you’re about to go on the journey of the season with them.
Perhaps this is why I love the first day of rehearsals so much. I’ve been involved, on and off, with theatre for a very long time. I did my first professional show as an actor at fifteen, enjoyed my high school drama involvement, and quickly switched from a double major in sociology and economics to becoming a theatre rat at University. At WJT, I’ve produced sixteen productions and directed four of those over the past five years. And the thrill of the first day is as potent today and it was when I did my first play.
There is no more preparation to do at this point. The many conversations about costumes and set and props will morph into the reality of working with the purchased costumes and set pieces and props. And there is no greater reminder of the shift to actual rehearsals than the presence of the actor.
For DAI (Enough), we have brought in a wonderful actress from Toronto, Rebecca Auerbach. At WJT, we always find a way to pick up any actors we have brought in to perform with us when they arrive at the airport. We try to make the out-of-town actor’s experience as haimish as possible when they work with WJT; a friendly face at the baggage carousels is a good place to start. On Sunday night, as I waited for Becca to deplane, the abstraction of prep time disappeared. The actor was here. Becca has the rather large task of bringing to life eleven different characters in the space of an eighty-minute play whose subject matter is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All the preparation has taken place based on our ideas of what we think will work for the actor and the audience and now we have that first piece of the puzzle in place.
The schedule for day one of rehearsal is a familiar theatre ritual. We ease into our existence with our new, temporary family. The day will start with the meet and greet, when the cast, designers, stage manager, director and some production staff will often meet for the first time. There will be coffee and tea and, as we’re a Jewish theatre, plenty of good nosh. After a bit, we’ll be gathered around tables by the stage manager and we’ll go around the tables introducing ourselves and what our respective role is in the production. The design presentations typically take place after that, with the designers visually illustrating what they’ve done. Usually, the set designer will have a maquette so that everyone can understand what the actors will eventually be dealing with once they’re physically in the theatre. The costume designer will either have drawings or perhaps a series of pictures so that we can see what the actors will be wearing as their characters. Often, the director will say a few words about the play, what their vision is or what drew them to the piece. Then, once the preamble is done, there’s time for a tiny break, because we’re really about to begin the journey. Coffee is refilled, a bathroom jaunt is run, and we reconvene. The reason we have all gathered is about to begin; the actor will read the script.
As a director, it’s the most exciting part of the process. Directors typically tell the actors to just enjoy themselves during the first read through. The notion is to deflate the nerves that might exist. The initial read is not a performance, far from it. It’s the first time that the words will be spoken out loud by those who will perform the piece. For DAI (Enough), there is only one actor. Becca will be out there, on an island, breathing life into eleven very disparate characters. 
There is a pause that takes place between the stage manager telling the actor(s) to start reading the play, in their own time, or the stage manager reading the stage directions and the first lines of dialogue being spoken. In that pause is the same reality as in Opening Day of baseball; everything is possible.
As a director, you don’t know what you’ll be getting. In auditions, you’ll see dozens of actors vying for the same role. You might see the actor you’ll end up casting doing two scenes from the play, one scene for the initial audition and one for the callback. The callbacks are when you’ve narrowed it down to those actors under serious consideration but you need to see more of what they will bring to the role. But that’s it. You cannot know exactly what it is you’ll be getting from the actor. You have to trust your directing instincts and say, “This is the person I will cast.” And when that actor actually starts reading the script for the assembled group on the first day of rehearsals, the process has truly begun. 
That is the joy of Day One. Many different people gather in pursuit of a common goal; producing the best theatre possible. We do it not for the high financial reward, because that doesn’t exist when you work for a small non-profit theatre. We do it because we love it. Baseball, despite its huge financial machinery, is a game; the players love it.   It is this love, a pure love that connects us back to those first moments when we encountered theatre and thought, “Wow, this is amazing,” that gets manifested on each and every Day One. We realize how lucky we are to be getting paid for putting on this show and we’re about to work countless hours to create an experience for the audience that we all hope they’ll find amazing, too.
Next week: Week One is in the books.
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