First Rehearsal: An Actor’s Perspective

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This very funny account of our first rehearsal for Leaving Iowa comes from Bruce Bennett who, as you’ll see, had a very fun day! 🙂

“Leaving Iowa,” in an awkward state

Had our first read-through of “Leaving Iowa” at the Williamston Theater, and I almost messed up spectacularly. See, the reading was Monday, and I was very late getting there. Because traditionally, Monday is a “dark night” in professional theater, and my brain loves tradition. I thought the first read-thru was on Tuesday, and the kind of quick glance I had given the schedule that was sent me wasn’t quite convincing enough to make me feel differently. My brain is a little disordered sometimes. I got a call at 10:05 a.m. from the stage manager asking me how close I was to getting there. I was in my jammies, playing a video game, 15 miles from Williamston.

This could have been bad. I quickly shut down “Raving Rabbids” and dressed in some clothes in the area. I hope they matched and were mine. I had to deal with the dogs, briefly explaining to them why I was frantic and would be gone for a while. Our dogs need reassurance sometimes. They looked at me funny, though. Adrenaline pumping, I dove into the car and stayed just under the speed limit mostly, all the way to Williamston. I got there around 10:30. Running into the theater, I found the cast and crew sitting around a big table in the middle of the stage, handing in some paperwork.

“Hey, Bruce!” yells Tony, our director, “perfect timing!”

Seems they had just been doing all the Actors Equity Association paperwork that must be done at the start of any professional theater production. I’m non-union, and would have just sat there with nothing to do. >Phew!< No one was upset or hassled by me being late. Then they started rearranging the chairs for the read-thru, putting them all on the upstage side of the big table. I asked why this was being done. Tony explained that the members of the board of directors of the theater had been invited to attend the read-thru, and this way we all could be seen. Have I mentioned that the majority of the cast members had done this show with Tony directing a few years ago at the Purple Rose Theater in Chelsea? They already knew the show and the characters they were playing pretty well. I've never done the show, and I'm playing 14 different roles that all have to be unique. And I was planning to create those differences and unique qualities during the coming 3 weeks of rehearsal. Adrenaline started pumping all over again. The board members arrived and sat down, and Tony did a nice, friendly introduction, pointing out and naming each of the actors. This would help, I'm sure, when they talked later about which actor didn't seem to have a clue what he was doing and may need to be replaced. We started reading the show, and I noticed that Hugh, who plays the Dad role, was not really looking at his script, but seemed to have his role memorized already. Darn that Hugh. I hoped that no one would notice as I subtly thumbed ahead in the script to see what character I was playing next, so I could figure out how to play the danged parts before I had to start reading them aloud. It didn't help that one of the things I know Tony likes is naturalism- meaning I knew he wouldn't care for stereotypes or easy choices. No pressure, Bruce. I hoped I wasn't going to start shaking and make the script pages rattle as I read. I won't describe the brief moments of panic as each role appeared in the script, but I will say that I managed to give each a slightly different voice or rhythm of speech, a different attitude and something humorous about them. Luckily, I have done a little improv comedy in my time. One character, a park ranger, who wasn't supposed to be funny really, more of a straight man, I found a way to get a good laugh from, just from the way he said a certain word. One of the board members even collared me afterwards and told me to remember how I said that word, because she liked the big laugh it got. So, I squeaked by. I still have the role, and they still plan to pay me. >Bigger phew!< More interesting stuff on this very sweet, very funny show as rehearsals go on. For instance, the next day the new theater cat attacked me... -Bruce Bennett, actor, Leaving Iowa

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