by Abram Yarbro, dramaturg
This week included a curiously fun rehearsal. We’ve gotten to what I think is the funnest part of the rehearsal process. The cast has their lines memorized, which frees them to explore more of their characters. Last week our director asked each actor to associate their character with an animal and research that animal. Tuesday night, everyone acted like their animal while exploring each other and their environment. This exercise is meant to find the different energies of the characters in See How They Run.
With everyone calm and relaxed on the floor, Director Barta Heiner gently asked them to imagine their chosen animal and impersonate it. The key is to let go of normal human reactions for the animal’s impulses. The actors were asked to explore the animal’s primitive emotions, how they react to the other animals in the room, and the environment (the rehearsal room randomly set with blocks, chairs, and pads). The room became very active and started to look something like this:
Can you guess any of the animals by how they’re acting?
Eventually the actors stood and started speaking, using their lines and occasional improvisation to interact with each other, but still channeling the animal they had just explored. There was one final calming exercise before we gathered around to talk.
This exercise provided some fascinating insights into the characters. In the play, the Reverend Lionel Toop and his wife, Penelope, are often at odds with each other. The actor for Lionel was a Meerkat and noticed that his animal and the animal for Penelope (a Golden Retriever) initially did not mesh. He thought, “This isn’t going to work. Is she going to eat me? What is going to happen?” Eventually it became playful between the two of them and he concluded, of the characters, “we’re an unlikely pair, but we can get along.”
Miss Skillon is the town busybody and stirs up some trouble at the vicarage. The actress for Miss Skillon decided that her character closely resembled a Rooster. “They are very territorial and very necessary in the chicken realm but nobody likes the rooster. Miss Skillon is necessary to the parish (church congregation) but nobody likes her.”
Most of the actors had realizations about their character as a result of this exercise. As we ran through Act III, the actors brought elements from their animals into their characters. Each actor had an unique energy they were portraying with their character, grounding them better in their role.
The exercise was a success, however, it did result in our biggest injury yet. During the animal exercise, one of the actors hit a sharp edge and sliced his eyebrow open. Our very helpful Assistant Stage Manager took him to the Urgent Care. Four stitches later he was back in rehearsal and ready to reprise his role as the Russian spy. We think the scar will give him the sinister look he needs as the show’s bad guy and he thinks it’s a great addition to his Halloween Costume!