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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Watching the Playwright

Lauren Thomas and Ken Baltin
In theatre school, I've been exposed to a range of classes from playwriting to dramaturgy, but this has been my first opportunity working on a new play as an actor. The script, even during tech, was constantly changing. I've worked on devised pieces where designers, actors, writers and directors work closely as a team, but there is a heightened level of communication required between these groups of people while working on a new play...especially with only three weeks before opening. Usually when I work on plays, the playwright is this God-like ghost whose brain I have to pick through the exploration of the text. What was so wonderful about the rehearsal process for The Sussman Variations was Richard's presence throughout, further exploring what he had written along with us.

I was amazed how Richard attended almost every rehearsal, starting with our first read-thru. Having taken a playwriting class, I remember feeling self-conscious having my work read aloud, so I admired Richard's ability to accept so much feedback and change of his play throughout the process. Richard's flexibility and willingness to release control over his play helped everyone in the process to take ownership of the production. His generosity to hear when us actors were confused about something in the play, or wanted to speak more about a certain issue that arose in the text, made the process so exciting and rich. From the start, I was impressed by how vocal the other actors were about the wording of certain things in the text, the exchanges between characters, etc.

There was one point in the process when Jeff had two of the actors improvise off script for one of the scenes, because the actors felt a bit stuck in the text. He recorded the actors improvising, and then Richard wrote a new scene. Witnessing this was important for me as a senior acting student, because it reminded me how necessary it is to have a strong point of view about the characters we play and the world in which they live. It also emphasized the power of collaboration. Through the collaboration of everyone involved in the process, the world of Richard's play became even fuller and the characters gained new depths. As I've learned throughout my college experience, in order for the things we hold most dear to grow, we need to release our control over them.

Lauren Thomas, actor
The Sussman Variations

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