When we began rehearsals on December 4, 2005, we had no script-which is standard practice for APTP. The most significant changes when APTP transitions from Play Development to Rehearsal are that (1) the performers learn who they will play, and (2) we give ourselves a deadline, an opening night. In particular, the actors' responsibility shifts, from imagining and inventing the production as a whole, to applying the ideas conceived during Play Development to their specific characters and the territory of the dramatic world they inhabit.
As rehearsals for God's Work began, directors David Feiner and Laura Wiley, and music director Colby Beserra, led the actors in exercises designed to accomplish three goals simultaneously: (1) to develop each actor's sense of his or her character, both psychologically and physically; (2) to develop the various relationships among characters (the siblings as a group, specific sibling pairings, the two husband-wife relationships, Rachel's relationships with each of her parents, etc.); and (3) to generate possible text, choreography, and music.
Take, for example, the scene toward the end of the play when Rachel's aunt, Irina, comes to persuade Rachel's mother, Ioana, to let Rachel live with Irina. When we began to rehearse this scene, it was unscripted. David and Laura adapted to rehearsal a physical theater exercise called Colombian Hypnosis (created by Brazilian theater innovator and activist, Augusto Boal). In Colombian Hypnosis, one actor leads the other actor, who is "hypnotized" by the face of the leader's hand: as the leader moves her hand about, the other actor must move her body so that her forehead always remains six inches from the tips of her leader's fingers, and her chin always stays six inches from the base of her leader's palm. A talented leader can move a willing partner throughout a space and maneuver her into a range of contorted positions, all without breaking the "hypnosis." We combined Colombian Hypnosis with a modified version of an acting exercise created by Sanford Meisner, in which two actors must perform an entire scene using only one given word or line of text any time they wish to speak. In our rehearsal, Sarah had to improvise a scene in which, physically, she led Ana in Colombian Hypnosis; as Irina, Sarah could improvise any text she needed to convince Ioana, who could only reply, "I'm a good mother." Sarah's goal, through improvised physicality and text, was to convince Ioana to drop this defense and concede, "Take Rachel". Ana was instructed to hold her ground until she felt Irina had persuaded Ioana, and also that Ioana could seize control of the Colombian Hypnosis from Irina, turning the tables physically and shifting the power dynamic between the two women. David and Laura intended the Meisner adaptation to frustrate Sarah, producing for her an acting challenge that hinted at the challenge faced in the scene by Irina, and pushing her to find a solution that would get her (as both character and actor) out of the scene. Meanwhile, the Boal adaptation inspired the two women to develop a physical manifestation of their relationship, and particularly its power dynamics. The physical component also increased the overall exertion required by the actors in a scene that, as we all imagined it, must have been emotionally exhausting for both characters.
We ran the exercise three times. The first time, it took Sarah half an hour to develop the strategy by which Irina would win over Ioana. Inspired by the emphasis on the hand in Colombian Hypnosis, Sarah brilliantly improvised text in which Irina asked Ioana to compare their hands, showing Ioana that her hands were worn out, while Irina's remained strong and capable of mothering. Ana used her only text–"I'm a good mother"–to test the range of Ioana's responses: defensiveness, anger, resentment, guilt, exhaustion, denial, ignorance, love. The second and third time through, David and Laura asked Sarah to employ the same text strategy ("Look at our hands..."), and they now encouraged Ana to improvise Ioana's text freely. We videotaped all three improvisations. The next time we worked on this scene, David and Laura brought in a script assembled from the three "drafts" that Ana and Sarah had written on their feet. We spent two more days rehearsing the scene, with character analysis, staging, and gesture inspired by the discoveries we'd made during the rehearsal when we "wrote" the script.
God's Work had a month more rehearsal than any previous APTP production. The extra month allowed us to devote a substantial portion of nearly every rehearsal to warm-ups–mostly movement exercises that prepared the cast to work so seamlessly together on stage. We rehearsed God's Work five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday, for 13 weeks. The siblings rehearsed once a week on their own, and once a week with their parents; each of the husband-wife pairs had rehearsal as a couple once a week, and an additional rehearsal each week with Rachel; D.J. and Sarah met weekly with vocal coach Ben Wilson to rehearse singing the Romanian lullaby that ends the play; several actors had solo rehearsal each week as well. Most actors were called for rehearsal two or three days a week, except for Jennifer who, as Rachel, was called to nearly every rehearsal for 13 weeks. For the last two weeks, the entire cast was called for every rehearsal so that we could assemble the various components of the show. During the final week before opening ("Tech Week"), we rehearsed a grueling but triumphant 30 hours as we added lights, sound, costumes, the finished version of the score, real paint and real water, and as we polished God's Work for its first audience.Continue to Chapter 4: Stage Return to Chapter 2: Play Development
This footage was all shot on one day of rehearsal for God's Work, as directors David Feiner and Laura Wiley and music director Colby Beserra worked with actors Jesus Matta and Ana Ovando. The rehearsal includes several hallmarks of the APTP process: a character interview with Jesus as Nicu Ursan, movement exercises through which Jesus and Ana develop the relationship between themselves as performers and between their characters as husband and wife, and an improvisation during which Ana invents a vocal approach to depict Ioana giving birth to Rachel. (Thanks to WTTW-11 and producer Dan Andries for permission to use these outtakes from Beauty Rises: Four Lives in the Arts).
The finished version of the Irina-Ioana scene described above.