One of the advantages of the Cohort Club at Merrimack Repertory Theatre is that those unfamiliar with the making of theatre can observe the process of a production from first read-through to the opening night production.

On Tuesday, Sept. 15th, the first read-through of the script was accomplished with the cast of two, the director, and two stage managers sitting at a double table in the rehearsal hall. Around them, in a large circle, sat about 25 observers—members of the technical team, company managers, and members of the cohort of observers, whose experience in theatre varied widely. (The actors have had the script ahead of time, and have obviously prepared their characters as much as can be done individually.) The read-through lasted for a little over an hour, and was done without interruption or comment by the director, Sean Daniels.

Following the read-through, most of the outer circle disbanded to go on to other duties for the day…the cast, director, stage manager, and assistant stage manager, however, stayed (observed by three members of the cohort) for “table work.” This is the process by which the play is closely examined, picked apart, analyzed for clues and patterns, and (in this case!) enjoyed for the quality of the writing and story.

The session was enhanced by a phone call with the author (who will be visiting next week); this is not always done, but with newer plays is more likely. The playwright was asked to speak about the creation of the play: her answers add depth to the actors’ understanding of the text, and the opportunity to speak to her brings some questions—some of these will be resolved in the rehearsal process.

Discovery can be is a process with many paths and possibilities—the director assures the actors that his task is to “hear the best ideas” as they work together to fashion the performance of the script.

Some of the “table work” is dramaturgical (having to do with the structure and history of the play); for example, why are the scenes in the play placed in this order? What do we know about the characters, and when do we know it? What do we NOT know?

“Table work” is a precursor to actors moving around on the stage—they are sitting at the table, reading, pondering, answering the director’s questions, engaging in discussions about their characters, and about their own lives as they relate to the events of the play.

The rehearsals will soon move to the more physical dimension of “getting on its feet” in the week to come, but the added elements of proximity, picture, movement, isolation—will come later, informed by some of the early discovery and decisions made at a two folding tables sitting on a taped floor.

Bruce Browne, Cohort

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