by Michael Karl Orenstein, playing the role of Steve in Looped
Okay, tomorrow I start rehearsal for Looped for the third time. Two points to clarify – one, Arena Stage is the third leg in Looped’s journey toward Broadway, and two, I say "I start" rehearsal because everyone else involved in the show has been rehearsing for the past two weeks – in Hartford, Connecticut. Not being one of the leads (that distinction goes to Valerie Harper and Jay Goede) – I’m not needed for the full three weeks of rehearsing, just the last full week of intense preparation leading up to preview week.
I must say, I’m always curious as to what they’re doing up there in CT. As you may or may not know, a play is a living, breathing thing – not only is each night’s performance a slightly different experience than the night before – but the playwright also works on the script throughout the play’s pre-Broadway run. Every couple of days, I’ve been getting new versions of the script – a line change here, a new line there, an old line removed – never big changes, but changes. Maybe Matthew (the playwright) saw a better way of saying what he wanted to say; maybe through rehearsals he saw a new shade of one of the characters, a new facet he could expand upon, or maybe Rob (the director) or one of the actors made a suggestion that Matthew liked. Whatever it was that precipitated the change, a change was made and it’ll be tried before audiences during preview week to see if it works.
Now, about me: I love the process, I love the conversations, suggestions, arguments, inspirations that shape a play in progress. And yet, I’m here, in DC waiting for the rest of the cast. With each new script I sit and wonder what went into each new piece – why a line I loved is gone, how that great new line (or sometimes entire scene) came about, or what were they thinking with this line? I don’t know, but I have a lot of time on my hands and a vivid imagination, so by the time I meet up with the rest of the cast, I’ll have made up all my own reasons for the changes. And, of course, I have to incorporate any of my character’s changes into my performance. Sometimes, having thought that a change was for one reason, I come into rehearsal with the interpretation that what my character is going through at that moment is X, when really it’s Y. Of course that’s what the director’s there for, to fill me in on his and the writer’s vision of the scene. But, man, I hate being wrong. Hate it – even though, of course, it happens – has to, that’s part of the play’s life – various interpretations being brought together, discussed, and incorporated into a fully realized performance.
I’m nervous about tomorrow – everyone else has had two weeks to get all chummy, and I’m going to step in, new. Even though I’ve been with the play from the beginning, there’s always shared experiences that the rest of the cast has had that I haven’t shared, so it takes a day or two to get back up to the feeling of ‘family’ we actors like to talk about during E! interviews about our latest movie or the sitcom we were in twenty years ago – how all of the cast and crew were really a family. It could be from the dysfunctional families that we all came from that made us get into to acting to begin with, I’m not sure – it could be the heightened intensity of the relationships we all share when compared to, say, working at Footlocker – we see the best and the worst of each other – sometimes everyday – just like a family. And whatever happens, we make up and keep going, because, like a family – we need each other – to make the play work, to make the next six weeks of practically living together work, and to get us through the trials provided by you – the audience. Because without you…
Well, I could go on forever – and probably will over the next few weeks. Keep reading for more backstage happenings on Looped. Oh, and if you can, try and come out to either a preview performance or a first week performance, and then come to one in the last week – you’ll see what I mean about a play being a living thing – it’s so interesting to see how it’s changed.