L to R: BD Wong and Marie-France Arcilla
Photo by Kevin Berne
On Friday, the day following our run-thru in the 30 Grant rehearsal room, we spent our first thrilling day in the theater. This experience is a little like Christmas morning. You start seeing the actual costumes that you’ve watched slowly materializing at every fitting (I believe most of the cast had three interspersed appointments with the inspired costume designer Linda Cho and her immaculate crew). You walk into the theater and actually see how the set looks on the stage in all its glory, and you can compare your reaction to it to the reaction you had when the set designer proudly presented his lilliputian model at the meet-and-greet on the first day. You go into your dressing room and start organizing the supplies you brought from the drugstore and from your personal arsenal and start picturing how your routine will go as you arrive every night. Gradually, you start envisioning how all the work you’ve been doing in the rehearsal room with your colleagues will translate, fully formed. It is a thrilling and always cautiously optimistic time, particularly when you like the people and the play that you are working with, as I do.

We then tiptoed through the play to work out all of the various physical challenges that rear their ugly head(s). Invariably, almost everything is at least somewhat different than it was in the room or even on the set at the scene shop: entrances and exits are all informed by any number of new variables, including whether or not a particular entrance you are making is going to be in the dark or not. Lighting designer Lap Chi Chu is experimenting with intense focus, creating lighting cues using his palette of a hundred-or-so lighting instruments like a mad scientist (working with his crew from an intricate computer setup on a temporary tech table in the middle of the house), while we are doing our spacing rehearsal, and we could start seeing the actual colors of the production’s world as he experiments, and that was rather exciting. Dick Daley, the production stage manager, is a fine captain. He manages every department of this complex endeavor with great strength and a reassuring sense of calm. This is no small feat considering all of the elements that need to come together so that a production like this can happen. I am in awe of a good stage manager like Mr. Daley even more than I am in awe of Meryl Streep.

I sneak out into the house when I am not in a scene and watch it all slowly coming together. Carey calls the creative shots with confidence, decisiveness, and a true sense of collaboration, meaning she is not closed to people in other departments making suggestions to help solve any of the problems that invariably arise (those directors who cannot or will not do this are “fatally flawed” in my book). Dick complements her by being appropriately spontaneous but keeping everything on track. Neither yells at me when I miss at least a couple of entrances because I am loving watching everything from my house vantage point in one of those gorgeous purple velvet seats snapping photos with my tablet.

I am feeling rather overwhelmed by all the converging sights and sounds, but at the end of rehearsal (about 9:30 pm) I feel encouraged that we are slowly but surely moving toward meeting this production’s potential. I always maintained that this play holds incredible promise, and that if Carey were to assemble the right team of Asian-American actors and a great creative team, the production could hit a home run. We are working one of the few long days that the union, Actors’ Equity, allows for technical rehearsals—10 hours including a dinner break. This first long day, we get through working out the spacing challenges throughout the whole play, which is quite an accomplishment. The play is not a musical but this production of it contains many musical elements, and working all of those out are much more time consuming than spacing a play that doesn’t have music in it. Our production has many actors all taking turns playing various instruments or making sound effects, and that complicates things tremendously: “Can you make it to the drum on time?” “Who is supposed to be doing the baby cry here?” etc. The actors all feel spent and exhilarated and eight of us go across the street to the bar at the Mexican restaurant for a drink. Over my guilty pleasure, a coconut mojito, and a small vat of guacamole, I survey and gather that everyone feels the same as I: So far, so good.

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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