Blocking & The Fleshing Business

7 Mar

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Last night we re-ran our biggest scene of Act I, after a full night’s rehearsal the evening before, meticulously part-and-piecing it out.  Running at 24 pages without a break, it takes place two months after their arrival in the attic, covering every inter-relationship combo possible, ultimately adding Mr. Dussel to the mix.

…It’s a bear, to say the least.  Yet runs surprisingly quickly once it’s on it’s feet, solidly.  Getting it to that point, of course, was an entirely different matter.

…For the sake of reference, I’ll give you the general layout of the set as it currently stands:

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1. Anne & Dussel’s room w/ desk and bureau
2. The 4th floor Van Daan room, w/ side table, double bed and bureau
3. Peter’s room w/ desk/bureau
4. First landing
5. The kitchen, w/ sink, hotplate, fridge, & cabinets under and overhead
6. The potbelly stove
7. Work table/children’s dinner table
8. Sofa (by day)
9. Fold-out Frank’s bed (by night)
10. Easy chair
11. Margot’s cot (by night)
12. Dining table
13. Door leading to lower landing and secret bookcase door
14. Bookcase
15. Bathroom

…We have platforms, stairs, and doors with frames, but no walls, leaving us on a 4th floor drop-off upstairs, (actually one story up) into oblivion, where we float above the kitchen and wood stove.  And everything from sleeping, and eating, to changing, takes place on stage in full view, wherever we are…save for the occasional escape to the off-stage bathroom.

…For the sake of showing the kind of traffic patterns we’ve set, (just in this scene alone), I’ll give you my own blocking, as set yesterday:

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…Now, multiply that by 8 (for a short term 9) people, and you start to get the idea of the kind of chaos this can be.  Everyone needs to be totally on their game, because with that much action, there is ample opportunity to forever be running into people.  And not only does the blocking and traffic pattern need to be organized and meticulously timed, but also the general “business” you are undertaking. 

…In my instance, everything from knitting, mending my coat, making dinner, setting the table, flirting, joking, mothering, fighting, having a total melt-down, recouping and returning, welcoming a new house-member, freaking out about news and politics, and finally…finally…retiring to our room where I change and go to bed.

That’s just 24 pages.

Because you are always “on,” there is no real break in any of your action. Not ever. Even the thing’s we’ve yet to figure out (as we are still minus our furnished bedrooms and have no practical props to deal with as yet — save the fur coat), will be fine-tuned in time.

…This is prob’ly my favorite part of character work, and with this show we are absolutely dripping with constant opportunity to define and strengthen them via endless silent “businesses.”  Attention to details…the fact that she knits “this” way, uses a knife “that” way.  The way she dresses and undresses, the way she styles her hair and the attention and time she spends upon it, the way she moves in the vicinity of an attractive man versus by one of the children or Mrs. Frank…and the biggest “tell” of all, her “mask work.”

…It is blatantly obvious, by how the role is written, that both the Van Daans are meant as the general comic relief of the show (if you’ll pardon the expression.) Their ridiculousness of constant bickerings, and flirtings and complainings, and preenings…their often garish and embarrassing lack of general “class,” is just there in print…it’s there.  And it is needed…to balance Anne, and spice things up in this forever depressing atmosphere. 

…There MUST, however, be a time for them to be “people” as well. 

I’m neither interested, nor content, with making her merely a money-grubbing, vain, flighty, cartoon character.  First and last of all for the reason that this was an actual person who lived through far to much to be disrespected like that.  In taking the role, I took up a responsibility to that person (as I see it),  and from what I have learned in my studies, she was made of far tougher, practical stuff, to have survived the things that she did for as long as she had.  That was all yet to come, of course…after their arrest. But, it is still THERE inside of her…it is already a part of her character, and general life-force, and deserves it’s place in the translation as well.

…The way I see it: much like Anne (which the diary constantly points out is freakishly similar),  Mrs. VD lives behind a mask.  It is a social “ism” of assumed cuteness, elegance, intrigue, flirt, and importance…which (upon study) you find was highly influenced and doted on by the fiercely close relationship she’d once had with her Father (much as Anne’s does.) 

…She was of a certain class, thoroughly spoiled and prized and petted and admired by him, (and men in general.)  She knew how to work what she had and did, to the hilt.  But she MUST also have another side to her…as Anne does…her “softer, kinder side.”

…Her “mask” is her safety net.  It bought her everything she wanted and needed in life.  It always did it’s job by her, and naturally, helped to cover any outward hurt or rejection or disappointment she ever had to face.  As it does now.  So she naturally defaults to it.  But “it” is not the real “her”…and with this much stage time, I have dozens of pockets of protected little intimate moments to show that.  Wide-open opportunity to bring her to a place (unguarded) where I believe the actual woman, probably spent a great deal of emotional time.  Hidden away, privately. 

“That damn coat!” Mr. Director had said, early in our first week of rehearsals.  “She’s always all about that damn coat.”

Yes.

She is.

…But why?

…The script and character set-up suggests: for material reasons.

…But, if you (for instance), dig a little deeper there, you see for every mention of it’s monetary value and pristine quality, she in the same breath mentions her Father in respect to it. 

“Father gave this to me,” “Father bought that,” “Father used to do this,” “Father said that.”

…She, like Anne, was very much a “Daddy’s girl.” And having left her entire home, (with every earthly possession she owned in it, save for the few articles she managed to pack in one suitcase with her on the day of her arrival), consider for a moment that this is quite possibly the only touchstone she has REMAINING of her Father. 

It is his memory, his essence…it is all that she has left of him, of her childhood, of her life as it once was. 

…What if she isn’t merely bringing vanity into the picture, with her handling of it, but bringing memories, bringing affection, conversations at her father’s knee, the house she grew up in, the friends she once knew? What if, for the sake of reason, it was the one piece of security she felt she possessed in these unbelievably shitty circumstances she found herself and her family in? 

What if it was her one escape? 

…And perhaps BECAUSE it was far too personal, far too raw, or real to admit to, she chose to flout it’s presence in a more materialistic way?  For a safety measure? Or whatever reason she may have thought best?

…So when she flies off the handle time after time with regards to the coat…it isn’t just “a coat.”  It isn’t just a monetary value.  This is life and death to her.  It is unreasonably personal and selfish and vain in the eyes of everyone but the one person who knows deep down, it’s true meaning.

Say the words as written.  Explode into hysterics. Go ape-shit with over-reactions. Threaten with intensity that seems absolutely outrageous!  Go ahead: commit to it!  Then: run upstairs, (as bid per blocking), slam the door of your room, alone at last.  Sink to the floor, and in the only privacy you own, in front of God and all those people out in the audience, allow your mask to fall and heart to absolutely, legitimately, break. 

…If I can do that, if I can build moments of insight into the REAL Mrs. VD like that…I’ll have done the job I set out to do.

You have to dig to understand. 

…It’s a lot of work, a fantastically knit-picking treasure hunt…to fight your way through characters like this…to make them human, to give them sympathy, to make an audience WANT to connect to them. But also, an ultimately rewarding enterprise for every new realization.  Because somehow, somewhere out in that audience, someone will watch that moment, small and insignificant, as it may seem…and understand more about who this woman was, than all the lines she ever speaks will truly tell you.

That’s how I plan on rounding and fleshing out what to some, is just a ridiculous woman with outrageous balls and an inclination to get on your nerves.

There’s a lot under that mask. And I’m gonna have a fun time, figuring it all out.

~D

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