Initially, we had one read through, one rehearsal, and then one show. It was exciting and challenging, scary, and so we kept doing it. Eventually it started to feel a little too manic, and like we needed to grow. So at the beginning of 2017, we started having meetings once a week for four months, leading up to a three day retreat we had together in an effort to consolidate all of our brainstorming from the former months, and establish a more accountable, intentional approach to this experiment. Ultimately, we made a few huge changes to the way we work.
The idea in the beginning was that the core ensemble of actors would play in each performance for the year, rotating roles. Remaining roles would be filled by actors we invited to play, but essentially the core actors would play in most of or all of the shows during the year, developing more understanding of the story and the characters with each performance. Today this remains the same.
Not only have we added more rehearsal days, but we work with a person we call the Shaper. We have never worked with a director. Last year we started inviting a theater person to our one rehearsal, to act as an outside eye and offer notes on how they saw the shape of the story going. We found this so useful and valuable that we established a permanent role for this. The Shaper is part director, part outside eye, and part another player working on the performance just as the actors are. Artistic license for each individual actor is crucial in this process, and the Shaper never stands in the way of that. They exist to help every player tell the story better, with all voices involved, rather than to manifest their own vision of what the story should look like, which reflects a more traditional director approach.
Today, along with having the Shaper in the room, and a different musician to score each show, we have one read through, four rehearsals, and then one show. Whereas before Uncle Vanya would have been played by a man, and Sonya played by a woman, we leave it up to each individual actor to decide where on the gender spectrum their character lies. Above all we stress inclusivity among our actors, and collaborators. We still get the anxiety of an incredibly tiny amount of prep time, but we get to feel more supported and in sync with each other as we give it a stab on performance night.