The Road Back: A Return to Rehearsal

Posted April 28, 2021

Book Of Will Rehearsal Tim

Rehearsals this year won't look much like this one from The Book of Will in the simpler times of 2019. Director Tim Ocel returns this season to help An Improbable Fiction. We'll see what's changed and what's the same in this week's "The Road Back. Photo by Hannah Jo Anderson. 

As “The Road Back” we’ve been traveling these past months winds towards its conclusion, the road forward has just started to reveal its promise. Case in point: rehearsals have begun at long last, feeling so familiar, and at the same time, like a completely different reality from the one we’ve known. And one that fills us about to bursting with joy, with relief, and with hope.

Yesterday (Tuesday) was first day of rehearsal for An Improbable Fiction, the first play to be mounted on our stage under the stars after what's felt like an interminable absence. The first half of the day, the cast stayed in their now-familiar Zoom boxes for the official welcome and company business. Several artistic staff members also joined these actors and artists for this session via Zoom, with the thought that it would be best not take the chance of having too many people in a physical room.

The first days of rehearsal are always high energy, and even higher anticipation. There’s a buzz in the air that doesn’t manifest in that exact way at any other time. Even the housekeeping portions like signing late-breaking paperwork and approving bios feel a little more lively these days. In addition to these other bits of business, the first day of rehearsal always includes reading and discussing the APT values. Artistic Director Brenda DeVita emphasized that we’ll need to lean in on them more than ever this year: “We have to be flexible and we have to forgive each other. We always do, but we’ll need to double down this year.”

But for the second part of the day, the cast came together in person in Echo, the rehearsal hall that will house their endeavors for the next four weeks. Since the entire company is vaccinated, rehearsals will probably feel more normal than not (see last week’s The Road Back for more on APT’s new vaccination status). For instance, director Tim Ocel no longer needs to worry whether Mistress Quickly (Sarah Day) and Falstaff (Brian Mani) maintain 12 feet of distance between each other when they dance (which would be a stretch both physical and metaphoric). Another item scratched off the list of COVID rules is having to sanitize every prop after an actor handles it, before it’s touched by another actor. Those are just a couple of the changes that have eased the work and the minds of APT’s company, who have embraced rules and changes and do-overs with good grace and open hearts over the past many months.

The Mountaintop on the other hand, has been at it for more than two weeks and the cast and crew have gotten the hang of the COVID-safe rehearsal process. It’s a small group inside the rehearsal room – just six people: Director, Ron OJ Parson, Actors Gavin Lawrence and Sola Thompson, Voice and Text Coach Jacqueline Springfield, and Stage Manager David Hartig and Assistant Stage Manager Devin Christor. They have finished the initial staging of the play, and are going back to dig in on it scene by scene.

This crew is fully vaccinated also, allowing an important plot point – smoking – to be realized. The script calls for Gavin Lawrence, playing Martin Luther King, Jr., to smoke cigarettes periodically during the show. Actors’ Equity Association had said no to that, but has since deemed it safe. (Let’s just pause here to let you all know that the cigarettes Gavin will be smoking are tobacco-free, and the periods of smoking will be brief. The props department is working with the production team to find the least intrusive way to do this and still be true to the script.)

To look at The Mountaintop rehearsal notes, it all seems remarkably routine: “Props: Could the napkin be a little smaller?” or “We think we’ll only need a cue light on stage left.” In fact, if the crew wasn’t masked (except the actors) during rehearsals, and the full-time understudies (La Shawn Banks and Samantha Newcomb) following along with rehearsals via Zoom, it may even look like business as usual.

And yet, there will be facets of the season, both on stage and off, that will be different for the APT company. Gone this year is APT’s company picnic, an expansive annual cookout where staff gets acquainted and reacquainted; awards are presented for years of service and a general air of good will envelopes this eclectic cohort on the eve of the first rehearsals. In its place this year was a virtual meeting to talk about logistics. Where to get your groceries? What staff tickets were available? And safety, safety, safety. It wasn’t as much fun, but at the same time felt like a miracle. Everyone is grateful just to get started.

Just as we are grateful for our audience, who has, over the past week-plus, begun to purchase tickets in a wholly new way. We can’t wait to see your beaming faces in the seats once again! And as we look to close The Road Back series around the time The Mountaintop begins (real, glorious, in-person) performances, we’ll be reporting whatever seems most vital over the next couple of weeks. See you soon!