Week 4: The anatomy of a play

From Dan Mousseau (John)

Miss Julie is as complex as she is beautiful, and the play isn’t bad either…

All dreadful jokes aside, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Rafaela Lewis and Jade O’Keeffe on this monster of a play over the past month and it has been a blast. Under the direction of Tim Chisholm, we’ve been exploring the vast psychological playground that is encompassed in one sloppy summer night.

Neil LaBute gives an interesting new context with his 1920’s reimagining of the play, setting it right before the Great Depression. This gives the play a grandiose context as well, with these people sandwiched between these massive world events. They just went through the Great War, or World War I in retrospect, and are on the heels of the Great Depression as well as World War II. Why everything is so “Great” is beyond me, especially when we get a closer look into Miss Julie’s manor.

Through our weeks of table work, we as a team uncovered some pretty cool things about these characters but were left with even more questions. That may sound like incomplete work but with any good play, you always want to leave with questions. Just like in life, there is no real completion, the characters are complex and constantly contradicting themselves and their actions, and their motives aren’t apparent right off the bat. A play without questions is like a car with no engine.

We took a few weeks to do the table work; what we called the skeleton of the piece. What we think is the intellectual framework: how the logic works out and why the characters do what they do and react how they react. This work is as tedious as it is invigorating and is totally necessary for the actors and the director to fully understand what is being said and what the story is really about.

It was then that we moved on to blocking. Blocking a new play is sort of like teaching yourself how to walk again. You have to manage to read your lines while achieving whatever it is your character is doing in that moment. Whatever is being done can range from wiping off that stain on the counter to seducing your co-star. Both of these actions have to serve some intention, what the character wants, in that moment and some overall intention of what the character wants in life. In any one moment there is usually only one. The intention can change moment to moment but the over-arching intention rarely changes. If it does, that’s a pretty big shift!

Needless to say it is quite hard to juggle all these things at once and still make some sense out of the lines. That’s why it’s so nice to have the guidance of Tim to help keep us making sense and to guide our movements into a semblance of logic as well as a visually pleasing pattern.

Both of these phases, building the skeleton and the basic muscle, are totally necessary but when the scripts leave the hands, the gloves really come off. In this latest phase, we’ve challenged ourselves as much as possible to drop the scripts and to go for the jugular. Once all the words are in your head, through diligent memorization, and the pre-work is in place, we are free to really play with each other; to say the words with spontaneity and a sense of exploration and to really hear each other and react in that moment.  This is the phase in which the exploration really happens and its so much fun. This part is where the play begins, and its only just beginning for us.