ZHAO BUSINESS: THE ORPHAN DIARIES OF BD WONG FIRST DAY IN THE THEATER - PART 2

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

ZHAO BUSINESS: THE ORPHAN DIARIES OF BD WONG
FIRST DAY IN THE THEATER (FRIDAY, MAY 30) PART 2
A WEEK THREE-STORIES UP

BD WONG
Photo by Julius Ahn
The third week of rehearsal was eye opening. This was the week Stage Management moved all of the props and personal items that had accumulated in the 30 Grant rehearsal room and transported them to the scene shop on Florida Street, where the entire set was already erected and ready for us to explore. Carey tells us that early in the planning of the production, she was rather despondent that the play could not be properly rehearsed in the Grant Avenue rehearsal rooms because of their lack of vertical space (Dan Ostling’s set is three stories high), and it was A.C.T. production manager Andrew Nielsen who introduced the inspired notion of pre-building the set with the goal of bringing the rehearsal to the actual scene shop, so the actors could become properly accustomed to climbing around on it.

This is not a generally common practice in my experience—the one place I remember reading about this happening was in Ted Chapin’s book about the making of the legendary musical Follies, directed by Hal Prince: lots of old gals in the shop wobbling around in heels on a slanted floor that the famous Broadway set designer Boris Aronson rightfully found visually arresting, but it was not particularly practical. Security and comfort are crucial for actors to give confident performances, as is safety. A good friend who recently performed on a multi-level set in an off-Broadway musical endured several minor injuries and an ongoing sense of trepidation and mistrust of management because the actors were not properly introduced to the challenging scenery and its various elements—this can cause discomfort, fear, and inhibit someone’s performance.

Phil Estrera and Jessica Ivry
Photo by BD WONG
The process of rehearsing in the shop was as productive as anticipated, and is emblematic of what seems to be true A.C.T. style: good producing and thinking ahead. Whatever this might’ve cost, it is worth it to me as an actor and I am grateful for it and think it should be acknowledged. I am a big fan of people who think ahead and I feel that all too often actors are put in a position where things gets compromised unnecessarily because something was not properly anticipated. It’s definitely another of my favorite qualities in a person, someone who aggressively binds the paws of Disaster before she even has a chance to grow them.

After nearly a full week in the scene shop (which was not without compromise—dear Sab Shimono has a severe dust allergy and could not continue rehearsing at the shop, so he rehearsed separately back at “base camp” by running some of his more difficult speeches for memorization with an A.C.T. intern and then joined us later), we went back to the 30 Grant rehearsal room for fine tuning on the one-level structure. Yes, Dick Daley and his diligent stage management team moved all of the props and personal items back to the rehearsal room, like the shoemaker’s elves did.

Our process was now greatly informed by what we knew about how the set accommodated (or encumbered) our performance goals. Adjustments continued to be made and the staging refined. On Thursday, May 28, after the two weeks in the room, the partial week in the shop, and then back to the room, we did our first real run-thru of the entire play for key crew, designers, and a handful of close friends. It was after this that one could begin to see the potential of the play and its affect on the audience. I felt that, for a first run-thru, it “threaded through” rather well and that it was potent emotionally. Carey later said that various members of the crew were quite moved.

To learn more about A.C.T.'s production of The Orphan of Zhao and to buy tickets visit act-sf.org/orphan.
 
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