Since I last wrote we’ve spent a few more hours on our little scene from Pinter’s The Collection. Quite a bit’s changed and although I was concerned we (or, at least, I) weren’t getting anywhere, I think we’ve now made progress.
On Wednesday we had another run through for the teacher, this time asking him to interrupt as we went along, rather than giving us notes at the end. This was much more useful and we ended up with a load of new activities to do. He’s very big on giving people activities to do while saying their lines. This is, I think, a Meisner technique, to kind of distract you from acting, to make things more real. If you have to concentrate on, say, sewing a button on a shirt, it changes how you deliver your lines. It will sound more natural and less like acting.
Well, that’s the theory. We’d now acquired a lot of activities based around the props we had on stage: eating grapes, throwing grapes, breaking breadsticks, stuffing fruit in our mouths, juggling oranges… We understood the point, but, well, it didn’t seem very Pinter. We went away and rehearsed, ditching some of the more silly things (but keeping the juggling, which, surprisingly, seemed to fit). Everything was more difficult now, suddenly lots of technical movements to remember — “I’ll have to move all the grapes at this point, as I need them to be over there later.” A whole fruit-based choreography.
I understood the point, giving us things to do, making it more interesting to watch, but it all felt a bit silly. Maybe this was because it was new to us. We were having to think about bloody fruit constantly but perhaps an audience would only see the occasional, quite natural, activity. Meanwhile, I was still having trouble with my character, or lack of it. I just felt like me, with little real emotion, throwing grapes at Mark.
Yesterday we rehearsed again and began to master the fruit movements. Another couple from our class came to watch us, to give suggestions. We’d done the same for them on Wednesday. They had an inevitably serious scene from Bent. Just the two of them sitting there, eating soup, talking. No fruit circus involved, and it was effective. Their comments on our scene were very useful, and reminded me how frustrating it’s been to develop a scene with no director. I have no idea how what we do appears to an audience; it’s impossible to be in character and see the performance objectively.
They suggested that I should be more threatening and we should have more variation in mood and pace throughout. The fruit worked well. Mark decided he should be less glib all the way through. We’d been playing the scene with our idea of what Pinter should be: understated, everything beneath the surface, constantly ambiguous. But the constancy of this meant the audience never had any idea whether Bill had actually slept with James’s wife. It would be more interesting if it seemed like he must have done it at some points, didn’t at others.
We ran through the scene again, on our own, and it suddenly seemed more alive. With me, James, being more threatening it gave Mark/Bill more scope for being worried at one moment, then shifting his status to out-threaten me the next. Suddenly we both cared more about what happened and it was, we hope, more interesting to watch. There is the worry that it was only more interesting because it was new to us, but hopefully it will still work next time.