Thursday of last week was spent with the Policemen “When the Foeman Bares His Steel,” “A Policeman’s Lot is Not a Happy One;” and Friday was spent with Policeman, Pirates, Major General: “With Cat-Like Tread,” “Sighing Softly to the River.” Nice work from all concerned. There are moments of clock-like precision as well as rollicking free-for-alls. Marching, creeping, sleepwalking, flitting, scurrying, hiding, peeking…. It’s all there.
Sunday was a full-cast rehearsal. We ran all we have staged so far in Act II, staged a bit more, and then ran it all again. We fixed some problems, did some remedial work, and identified problems to be fixed in future rehearsals.
But, for me, the highlight of the day was the final forty-five minutes. We spent this time addressing the extended fight sequence we’re inserting near the end of the play. This will be framed by original music our Music Director and Conductor Alan Riley Jones composed a few years back for G&S’s incomplete libretto “Thespis.”
I had some general ideas for this section, but had by no means outlined the staging in great detail. I saw it as a sort of Keystone Cops silent movie madcap free for all. But it had to have structure or it would just be chaos. So we listened to the music and identified sections based on the musical themes. I then outlined a possible “action” for each of the sections. We then played each section one at a time with the cast improvising the action of that section. Here’s the gist of what happens: 1. Policemen chase Pirates around Girls. Pirates chase Policemen around Girls. Pirates chase Policemen offstage right. 2. Girls run offstage left. Chaperones chase Pirates offstage right. 3. Major General and Pirate King back onstage from opposite sides and collide. A chase ensues. Frederic and Mabel back onstage from opposite sides and collide. A reunion ensues. Ruth enters and sees Frederic and Mabel. A chase ensues. 4. Chaperones chase Policemen across the stage. 5. Girls enter warily. Pirates enter behind, stalking them. Girls see Pirates and attack them. Girls chase Pirates offstage right. 6. Major General enters stage left, out of breath, sits on a crypt. Several Pirates enter upstage of him and stealthily advance. Chaperones enter and fight off the Pirates. Major General stands and obliviously exits stage right. 7. Policemen enter in formation and take positions on crypts. Girls enter and shoo Policeman off crypts to replace them. Frederic and Mabel enter upstage center. Major General joins them. Chaperones join them. Pirates enter stage left and stage right and corner the Policemen downstage center.
And then we re-join the score for the Pirate’s (short-lived) victory.
That’s pretty much all the direction I gave them. It took a little while for everyone to loosen up and to feel comfortable with the sense of play this required. No notes, no scores. Just an intent and a timeframe and the direction to just do it.
The sheer adrenaline of it all was amazing. By the end, everyone was laughing, and panting and exhilarated. It was delightful, infectious fun!
It’s not often we get to have this much fun in rehearsal. We spend much of our time focusing on notes, rhythms, footwork, timing, lines, achieving unison (or canon) movement. We enjoy the work, and we do try to maintain a sense of play throughout the process. But fun on this level is rare before we’re actually in front of an audience.
We’ll keep the work going through the final weeks of rehearsal. But we’ll also try to remember to keep the joy.