While this post will closely examine As You Like It‘s first full day of rehearsal, the process actually begins when the stage manager distributes the daily call sheet to the cast and production team. These sheets are sent out before every rehearsal and performance, detailing how the next day will be broken down by time slot and which actors are expected to be in attendance. As this was the first rehearsal, all actors were listed or “called,” but future schedules might include costume fittings, fight calls, dance or music rehearsals, or specific scenes that need particular actors or require the cast be split up into separate groups. They are an invaluable tool for organizing the rehearsal process.
Then the big day arrives! There is a special buzz around the first rehearsal of any play, and that’s especially true here at the Folger, as we see it as a chance to come together and celebrate the beginning of a new production. In addition to the actors, director, and the stage management team, the first rehearsal is also attended by designers, crew members, and Folger employees who will spend the next six weeks bringing the production to life and providing the administrative support it takes to create a piece of theater.
This informal audience is faced by the cast, who sit behind long tables and cards that have both their names and the names of the characters they will be playing. A welcome speech was given by the Director of Public Programs, Janet Alexander Griffin, followed by director Gaye Taylor Upchurch sharing her ideas about the play and what she sees for the production. One of the beauties of Shakespeare is the huge amount of freedom directors can have in setting the play, from The Taming of the Shrew in the Wild Wild West to an Edwardian Twelfth Night. For this production, Upchurch has used the city of New Orleans as an inspiration and is drawing on her production for the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival to bring As You Like It to the Folger stage.
Scenic designer John McDermott presented his design for the production, showing how the world of the court would give way to the Forest of Arden, and how it would all interact with the Folger Theatre’s Elizabethan architecture. A model set was brought in to help demonstrate movement in the space, including scene/location transitions, while a projected image of the design allowed everyone present to have an overall picture of what the stage would look like. McDermott previously designed the innovative, rolling set for Sense and Sensibility, and you can read more about his experience on that production here and here.
Costume designer Charlotte Palmer-Lane then took everyone through her costume designs for the production. This is Palmer-Lane’s first production with Folger Theatre, but her career has spanned a huge variety of projects including time at Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, movies such as Guarding Tess and Quiz Show, and even work on Doctor Who!
Now that the actors had a sense of what kind of story they were telling and the world that their characters would inhabit, it was time for them to test-drive the play with the first company read-through. From the beginning it was clear that this was an energetic cast, ready to have fun with the twist and turns of Shakespeare’s complicated romantic plot. Especially strong chemistry was evident between Lindsay Alexandra Carter‘s Rosalind and Lorenzo Roberts‘ Orlando, as well as the deep friendship between Rosalind and Antoinette Robinson‘s Celia. It was an afternoon filled with laughter, and we can’t wait to see the final product!