Next to Normal – MTC – Week 2

Time inside and outside of rehearsals passes very differently.  Inside it feels like we’ve been piecing together the story of the Goodmans for a while.  The methodical work, discoveries and many, many meetings give a density to the time spent on the show.  But when you say to a friend outside, “We just ran Act 1”, it seems crazy that you could be at that point already.  Directing is such a balancing act of moving between the detail and the complete picture, the artistic and the functional, from deciding whether Matt or Bert should hand the consent form to Diana on the pause before the end of “Light in the Dark” and computing whether we’re moving at the pace we need to complete the first block of Act 2 in time to get the safety beams of the upper level while the crew is still in the workshop.  You have to be able to sense how any decision will ultimately affect the overall production.

The cast is the most even I’ve had the pleasure of working with.  Their temperaments as people and actors are as matched as I’ve seen, studious, focused and taking the work seriously without getting too bogged down in the often-dark subject matter.  We worked a mammoth amount of material this week, essentially all of Act 1, bar the opening number (Number sounds a bit wrong…Priscilla has numbers, Next to Normal really has musical scenes.)  The basic process we’re following here is we sit around the table and talk the dialogue and lyrics, making sense of everything sans music, talking about where the characters are at this point, what’s happened before this that we’ve seen, what’s probably happened that we didn’t see and where we’re at in the overall structure of the show.  Then we take those discoveries onto the floor and move between music and speaking, whatever best serves to shape the moment.

One of the tricks of rehearsing this particular production is the scenes on the upper level.  I don’t like being away from the actors at first block, so tend to go up there (we can’t get the furniture down) and shape it with them from a metre’s distance, then return to the floor to amp it up accordingly.  Again, it’s an absolute gift to have both levels in the rehearsal room, especially for contrasting scenes like “Psychopharmacologist” and “Catch Me I’m Falling”.

Because of the flow of the show, I schedule mini-runs every second day or so, so we can feel out how each 20 minute section of the musical goes into each other, and so the actors won’t be so daunted by the runs when we get there.  Learning how to piece together a show so that it makes emotional sense in real-time for actors is a process and one that can only happen with repeated “doing-it” for real.

And then there’s the departments that are crucial to the success of the show, but aren’t on the floor.  With set, I’ve been working with Richard for months now, and the results of our collaboration are on the rehearsal room floor, but still mostly in our heads and the model box.  I swear, nary ten minutes passes without me fiddling with that thing.  There are so many variables on the set that I need to constantly refer back to it to make sure that-

  1. It looks good.
  2. It makes sense of where we are.
  3. It lives by the aesthetic rules we’ve set up.
  4. I haven’t trapped the actors with no way to get up to the second level, or behind a screen somewhere.
  5. Variety.
  6. That it follows the laws of physics as set up by Newton.  If I could follow Einstein’s, it’d be easier.  Relatively.

The big discussion this week has been the video projections that we’re using.  Video in theatre is such an overused device now that you really want to be clear about why and how you’re using it.  For us, we’re going for a textural approach, using black and white abstract videos almost as a lighting feature, doing some location work but mostly doing atmosphere and helping create the ‘haunted house’ feel of the family dynamic of the Goodmans.  So aesthetically we’re very happy, but physically it’s quite challenging to figure out how it’s going to behave in the real world.

Props turn up, one by one.  The most coveted thus far is the Eames lounger with matching footstool.  The Goodmans are architects and we’ve posited that they live a very design-driven life, especially regarding Dan trying to control what he can in his world.  So we bought them a beautiful Eames chair.  Already the black-market dealings have begun for who is going to claim that after the season finishes.  My bet?  No-one.  That beauty ain’t ever leaving the props room of MTC.

Then there’s costumes.  Paula is working overtime (especially with her new son, Felix) to dress this naturalistic but complex story.  Most of the costumes are buys, which requires X amount of hours of shopping with the gorgeous MTC team, and then tailoring to the actors, but some pieces are special and need to be makes, even in a naturalistic show, like Natalie’s school dance dress, for example, which is so specific it should be created.  I love working with Paula (she did Once We Lived Here) as she can do that thing of finding the perfect ‘normal’ clothes that will tell you volumes about the world of the characters.

Then there’s the voice work, accent work, lighting planning, crewing, production management, automation, marketing and everything else going on busily behind the scenes, getting Next to Normal ready to be seen for it’s season.  But there is real excitement about the show, both in at MTC and in the greater community – tickets for the under 30s are going gangbusters, everyone I run into is talking about it and everyone in at work is tireless in getting this show on.

Act 2 next week!


Published by bryantandfrank

Dean Bryant and Mathew Frank make musicals. And other things.

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