Actor Ian Merrill Peakes (“The Player”) continues sharing his thoughts on the Folger Theatre production of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.
I have done (and it’s true, I counted) 110 shows in my career, and out of all of those in only five or six cases have we been able to work on the set on day one as we have in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.
For an actor, it is the world handed to them. This crazy world that we are playing in is usually a dream that is realized once we get a week from our first preview and the set is loaded into the theater. The dream is upon us now. And has been since our first read through.
An actor tends to go through his rehearsal process knowing that it will be blown to pieces once you get on stage, and all movements will be changed for sight lines or clarity, or any number of reasons. So many problems can be addressed early on, if you have the actual set under and around you.
And boy, is this a set, designed beautifully by Paige Hathaway. She has also been there every day thus far making alterations, hearing actors’ thoughts, honing her already amazing design.
Today, it was decided that the look for the play’s third act wasn’t quite right. So we moved stuff around to alter the stage’s look. To narrow it. To make it look unlike the first act. You can’t do that in a rehearsal room. You can only do that on the actual playing space. Everything is made up in a rehearsal room. Fake props (“doofers”, we call them, as in, they’ll “do for now”) litter the room. Tape on the floor to represent the world –
Truth is what we are after. On all levels. Productions can break those rules, and create a whole new vocabulary into which a spoon can be a sword, or a couch cushion can be a shield. Our production breaks rules, but the stuff that is seen has to look genuine. And when you have to worry about fake props on a fake set, it can mess with your mind. Here we can handle the “doofer” props, because we are on the set and know how to move around and manipulate the fake that shall be real. One less worry.
We are called on to do a ridiculous thing. To make the audience forget that what they are watching is make-believe. Our job is to transport them to our world, have them buy in and say, yes, these are the rules and we accept them. That world can sometimes be as foreign to the actors as it is the audience until we step on stage. We are quick studies, by force of habit, but it is a huge help to have the set here, and built on day one.
Working on the set will help us tell the story better. It will make it a playground as we exhaust every corner and every hidden surprise that we will then share with you.