Summer and Smoke is a very dialogue-intensive play, especially for the two main characters – John (Justin Deveau) and Alma (Erika Conway). Dialogue-intensive plays are always challenging, but add the fact that it’s Tennessee William’s complicated prose which the actors are committing to memory, and it adds a whole new level of difficulty to performing the play.
The actors of Summer and Smoke have been starting to go off book (not holding a script during rehearsal) since November 22 – about three weeks after the first read. Going off book made a surprising difference for me in observing the rehearsal – I saw a lot of differences between reading the play to myself versus hearing the actors read it versus seeing a rehearsal where the actor was on book versus seeing a rehearsal where an actor is off book. Going off book allows the actor’s movements to become much easier to perform, and look more natural. It also seemed to allow the actors to have more access to their “actor’s intuition” about their characters, once their hands were unencumbered with the script. When the actors went off book, it allowed me to catch more of the subtleties of the script – the intentions behind the characters words or actions, or another meaning the words might hold. I think going off book also allowed the actors and director to “play” a little more with the scenes – to try adding a gesture, changing the vocal tone, or varying the blocking.
Another really interesting thing I’ve noticed about seeing off book rehearsals is that even though the actors don’t have all of the lines committed to memory at this point, when the actors called “line” it was done in the tone the character was supposed to use to say the line. This made me start thinking differently about the dialogue of a play and questioning whether our intent and feelings might sometimes be more important than what we actually say. I’m not saying dialogue isn’t important, but in thinking about this observation, I realized that plays are taking us on journeys – and more often than not, those journeys are emotional ones. Since dialogue isn’t the only way to convey emotion, it would be really interesting to see if a play could be as effective if performed using the other production elements & gestures to communicate a story, and perhaps substituting another language or even gibberish for the dialogue.
Next up: Going on deck
Read more of the Behind Summer and Smoke series.
– Jenna Marynowski