My name is Emily Sutton-Smith and I’m the Development Director and one of the founders of the Williamston Theatre. But I’m also a professional actress and, in addition to working at many of the professional theatres around the state, once a season I usually get the chance to be on our stage. This year, I’m playing one of the characters in the dark comedy The Smell of the Kill. I’m excited because this is the first time I’m working with our director Kristine Thatcher and my co-stars Teri Clark Linden and Laura Croff.
We’re on day four of rehearsals, but amazingly we’ve already rough-blocked the whole play. Basically what that means is that we have walked through the whole play on the set and come up with a basic idea of what it looks like – who sits, stands or moves where for what, and basic key stage pictures that the director wants to achieve at pivotal moments in the story. Now we start the fun stuff… re-working and fine-tuning. We’ll go through the play, section by section, and work to clean and set each moment. Often in this process, one of us will stop because we’re confused about something or need to go deeper behind the meaning of a certain line. Always we return to the text. What did the playwright mean? What’s our interpretation of the meaning? How many interpretations are there for any given line? Which one works best to tell this story? The final decision is always the director’s, but it’s a very collaborative process with everyone chiming in their thoughts and ideas – not only the actors and director but the stage management team as well, because they are an integral part of the development of the show. Because this show is about three women who are presented with a unique opportunity to change the course of their lives, a lot of personal revelation has been happening in rehearsal. So not only are we getting to know our characters well, we are getting to know each other very well, which is always a treat. And what’s said in rehearsal stays in rehearsal, so we know it’s a safe place to reveal intimate details of our personal lives.
People often ask me how I memorize my lines. I don’t really have a good answer for that question. It’s different for every show based on how the play is written. For The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds, I had huge chunks of text just by myself, often for 3-4 pages at a stretch. Sometimes I was talking on the phone, sometimes just ranting to anyone who would listen. For that show, I tried to sit down before rehearsals began and really commit those big chunks to memory by rote. That was helpful because then we could work through the business (I move the walker on this line, I pour the coffee on that line) without fumbling with pages in my hand. Before rehearsals began for this show, I read the play a lot, but I didn’t really commit anything to memory by rote. There’s too much back and forth for my character – no big monologues. For my brain, it’s always easier to memorize lines like that with action and with my scene partner right there. The first day and a half of rehearsal we read it together at the table to talk through the story and who the characters were, so I was really familiar with the script when we got on our feet, but I still had the pages in my hand. Then as we went through each section, I found that by the second or third time through I could leave my pages somewhere on the set and keep going for a large section before I needed to go back and grab the pages again. Tonight I’ll get on the set without any pages in my hand and try to stumble through off-book. Luckily, I’ll have our Assistant to the Stage Manager Matt on book in the house in case I forget anything… which I most definitely will.
This show is definitely funny. But there’s also a lot of painful truth in it. That’s always the best basis of comedy, because there is a universality of experience that all audiences can relate to. Sitting in the house, you may not have experienced exactly what these women are going through – actually, I hope no one who sees this show has experienced this! But you will undoubtedly see something that’s familiar and you’ll be able to relate to something that Nicky, Debra and Molly are feeling. It will definitely leave you asking yourself the question, “What would I do in that circumstance?” If you care to share your answer – I’d love to hear it after the show!