Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What a Stumble Through Teaches Us by Brad Harbaugh

Earlier tonight, the cast of Rebecca Gilman’s The Crowd You’re In With (Crowd), the next play going up at 16th Street Theater, did it’s first stumble through of the show. A stumble through is exactly what it sounds like. The actors start at the beginning of the show and stumble their way through to the end, without stopping, and without shame. They have a notion of their blocking (the movement their characters makes on the stage), they have their lines memorized, more or less (mostly less), and they try their best to do the show without causing injury to self or others or embarrassment to the playwright.

(Pictured cast members Skyler Schrempp and Joan Kohn with Brad Harbaugh.)

Stumble throughs are often angst ridden experiences for the actors. Moments of the play they thought they had down suddenly go up in flames. Whole chunks of memorized lines simply vanish. The actor’s desire to go slow and not force anything crashes up against the performers desire never to suck, and often the result is ugly. Nevertheless, as bad as a stumble through can be, it is a necessary step in the evolution of a play – a right of passage the artists must go through. Crowd director, Anish Jethmalani, said doing the stumble through is like assembling the skeleton, from which we can then hang the meat.

With those words in mind we took to the stage tonight…and the results were not bad. Nobody crashed into anyone else, the lines were said mostly in the order they were written and by the characters to whom they belong. And for those moments I was not on stage, I sat in the audience and watched, and I was transported into the world of this play as if I were an audience member seeing it on its opening night. It was wonderful.

Of course the set needs to be finished and the props need to be assembled and the costumes finalized, and many moments need tightening up to meet the director’s and the playwright’s visions. However, even in this stumble through – there was a living, breathing play that was lovely to behold. I’ve experienced that before in rehearsals, where I am able to step back and experience it the way the audience will…just rarely this early in the process. It’s a special cast, with a great production crew, and I think it’s going to be a very good show.

That’s not something I say or feel about every show. The truth is, like parents who secretly like one kid more than another, actors have favorites too. Sometimes we don’t know a show is good until it’s in front of an audience…but sometimes there is no denying that what’s taking place in rehearsal is something special. This is one of those times. Of course, no play is complete until the audience is there…and I can already feel my fellow actors itching for that connection with you; for someone to tell this story too, and from whom we will learn what is really important.

Still, what does it all mean? It means that instead of waiting until the show opens to invite friends and family to see the show (after we’ve had a chance to work out the kinks). I’m going to invite them now. Let alone the fact that the topic is one everyone can relate to on some level, I think this play is going to be a hopping good time. The only downside of this production, that I can see, is the limited number of seats. If you’re thinking of coming, my advice would be to get your tickets early…before every last seat in the house is sold to a friend or family member of the performers. If they have the same feeling about this show that I do, they are going to be inviting everyone they know to come see it. The old theater adage is “Bad final dress rehearsal, good opening night.” I might add another. “Not a terrible stumble through, very good play.”

Written by Brad Harbaugh. Brad plays Dan in 16th Street's upcoming THE CROWD YOU'RE IN WITH starting July 7. He also happens to be married to Julie Ganey (the blond dentist) in our winter production DENTAL SOCIETY MIDWINTER MEETING.

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