Rehearsals for the 2010 Season will begin in 15 days. Our Company Management staff has arrived and they are making the travel and lodging preparations to welcome the 2010 Festival Company to Shepherdstown, West Virginia. We are expecting 84 theater artists from around the country to arrive in the next two weeks. Our Equity Stage Management Staff arrives next week to prepare rehearsals for our five play rotating Repertory. So I have been thinking about the rehearsal process:

Behind every successful production is a rehearsal process…a process of thought…a process of exploration which is based on the given circumstances in the script. And this process transcends the production/performance process. If you work in the theater–you are constantly engaged in the rehearsal process. Rehearsals are about curiosity. Because curiosity is one of the most important and certain characteristics of a vigorous, creative mind.

Rehearsal is all about exploring. And exploring builds an inspirational bank account to spend when facing the intense deadline of performance. Rehearsal is a place for “creative roaming.” It is an opportunity to expand the free-range territory of the creative process by listening, watching, sketching, writing,  researching and studying the script.  There is always room for “creative roaming” in the rehearsal hall. I believe that strong ideas begin with risk-taking and free-range exploration. Free-range exploration is about filling your work…and your-self…with life. Artists bring to the work who they are.

What is central to the rehearsal process is the joy of creating. I love rehearsing a new play…it is an exhilarating experience. I am most happy when I am in rehearsal…”making believe”…”creating belief.” Theater artists are “makers of belief.” We create truth and belief on-stage. And this process begins in the rehearsal room.

Theater artists are: tolerant, independent, curious, witty, persistent, observant, questioning, optimistic, energetic, passionate, flexible, intuitive and perceptive. My role as a director is to create an atmosphere for these artists to take risks and create dangerously. I encourage these artists to” listen” and “look”…the more you look…the more we will find in rehearsal.

“Once in a while 

you get shown, the light,

In the strangest places

if you look at it right.”

—The Grateful Dead

 Ideas sprout in the strangest of places. And the next idea may be growing between the lines. In the theater we call this the subtext…the meaning between the lines in a script. We help the audience to see the subtext in a play. Exploring and discovering the subtext in a script leads to understanding…and understanding leads to inspiration. An observant artist sees things overlooked by others…a really good artist for that matter, anyone whose mind and soul are capable of some extension…sees what is going on…sees the patterns…and asks, WHY? What underlying forces are at work in the script?

I am constantly surprised by how the words in a play tend to be visceral rather than academic. This reminds me that our job is to create an emotional experience for the audience. I never underestimate the power of words. I never underestimate the power of story.  I never underestimate the power of observation. I never underestimate the power of listening.

“An artist has to keep one ear to the ground and one to the heart.”—-Bruce Springsteen

I would say that listening to the characters and their emotions in a play; and listening to the actors in rehearsal may be one of the most important things I’ve learned in 30 years of directing theater. This often means  putting aside my own ideas and views and getting inside the actor’s and playwright’s thoughts and words. When I am truly listening to the actor, designer, playwright completely and attentively, then I am listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not part of it. Listening in rehearsal is a magnetic and strange thing…it is a creative force.

“It takes two to speak the truth–one to speak and another to hear.”—Henry David Thoreau

For example: Jazz players praise a fellow musician by saying he or she has “big ears”…meaning…the person actively listened to another’s playing and built on the rhythm, lyrics and tempo. I try to have “big ears” in the rehearsal room. And I encourage the other artists in the rehearsal to listen with “big ears.” 

For me the whole aesthetic of directing a new play is telling a really incredible story that people are moved by. Stories help us make sense of our world. On June 8th we will begin our exploration of five original contemporary stories. I am looking forward to sharing our repertory of new stories with you this summer.

 “The web of our life is of a mingled yarn”—William Shakespeare 

Ed Herendeen