Thoughts while watching a play rehearsal

Today I observed a play rehearsal. It was the first rehearsal of this production in which the actors were working “off book”. In other words, in this rehearsal they all needed to have their lines memorized, rather than looking at the script.

The director was excellent, and as I observed her at work, I learned a lot about process. Not only does a director need to have a clear overview of the arc of the play, but she needs to have an acute understanding of the tone of each scene, as well as the dramatic function of every moment in that scene.

It becomes clear when you watch a the process of a great director watching with a talented cast that much of a the meaning within a theatrical script is implicit. It is not until a good play is performed that all of its layers of meaning begin to reveal themselves.

And this presents a striking difference between a play and a movie. When you watch a film, all of the artistic choices have already been made. No matter how good a movie is, at the end of the day, there is only that one movie.

But a play can change dramatically between one production and the next. This variability opens up the possibility that the same play can convey many different meanings — even contradictory meanings.

In this way, theater is far more generative than cinema. Although it is the older art form, in some ways theater is far more radical, since a good play has the ability to continually reinvent itself, even across a span of centuries.

One Response to “Thoughts while watching a play rehearsal”

  1. Makes me wonder if you could write a play that had many different possible interpretations based only on how it is presented – perhaps it could be a comedy at one performance, a dark drama at another. Same cast, words, costumes, just different emphasis and perspective. You would have to watch it multiple times to experience it properly.

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