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Blocking it in

Directors, it turns out, are just like people, at least insofar as they are different one to another. Our Director for Lady Windermere’s Fan (which I suppose I will refer to as LWF, because Lady is insufficiently specific, as is Fan, and if I’m going to type out all of Windermere, I might as well type the whole demmed title) has a different process of blocking than I have experienced before.

Blocking, as y’all know, is just telling the actors where to stand and what to do while spouting our lines. Generally, the first rehearsal is a read-through, for which the actors sit around a table. Nearly Legendary Director had a second read-through around a table where we discussed the text and some vocal stuff before the actors got up on our hind legs, but I think that was the only time I have had that. Otherwise, from the second rehearsal we begin blocking.

There is a spectrum, from my perspective, that runs from on the one side the directors who say get up there and see what feels right to the directors who say as you enter, cross UL and then turn, ending your line CL, with one hand on the back of the settee. One can think of the first side as lazy, or the other side as puppet-masters, but it’s (wait for it) more complicated than that. A director who begins by letting the actors roam free may simply be hoping that they happen on the blocking that they will eventually be forced into. If they don’t, it’s simple to say that looked a bit awkward from there, why don’t you try putting the settee between you and see how that feels? Or the director may genuinely have nothing in mind beforehand, but will accept or reject each of the actors’ feel right choices until it forms a coherent whole that is as much the director’s vision as if it were all worked out in advance. Or, alternately, the director who has carefully orchestrated a stage picture, built up move by move, may decide it doesn’t work at all and throw the whole thing out and start over from scratch. Or the director may find ways to incorporate the actor’s ideas later in the process, particularly as the relationships develop and there are differences in what stage pictures are effective. Or, of course, a director may be a puppet-master throughout the rehearsal process, or may leave all of that blocking work to the actors’ feelings throughout.

The Director for LWF is one of the more prepared sort, at least this far in the process. He worked out the blocking in advance, working with toy soldiers on a drafting board—he claims that he broke both the board and several soldiers whilst attempting Act Two—writing down each individual move on a yellow pad. For our blocking rehearsal for Act Three, then, we began by sitting down with our scripts and our pencils and writing in the blocking as he told it to us, asking about anything that was unclear, and getting an idea of the staging while seated. Only after we had finished going through and writing down did we rise to our feet and begin walking through it. I have never worked like that before; it was a surprise to me.

Not necessarily a bad one. It was tedious to sit through the first part, where he read off other people’s blocking, and I’m not sure it was an efficient use of time, but on the other hand, when we did get up on the stage, we mostly went through the scene quickly and coherently. And our director made at least one major change (moving my character from the chaise to the settee, in fact), which indicates to me that he is willing to adapt to what the rehearsal process brings forward. So that’s all right.

So the problem isn’t the process. The problem is that so far I don’t like the blocking. It’s too static, and it isn’t centered, and I can’t figure out what the director people to focus on. Are we focused on Lord Windermere? On Lord Darlington? Are we focused on the two offstage women? What story are we telling?

Actually, that’s a problem with the play: why on earth are we listening to these gentlemen piffle for twenty minutes before we get back to the plot? The answer, I would say, is that we are heightening the tension. There’s a scene of comic relief, before the thing we all know will happen: the discovery of one or both of the women hiding in Lord Darlington’s rooms. We don’t know who will discover them, or what the consequences will be, but the story is that Lady Windermere’s marriage is on the precipice, and Mrs. Erlynne’s future is at risk, and these self-satisfied fellows are piffling their way closer and closer to them. That’s the story we’re telling, and it doesn’t feel like the blocking emphasizes that at all.

On the other hand, I am not very good at judging these things before the audience sees them. And, then, it’s early in the process. It may all come out right on the night.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,