Saturday, February 20, 2010

Back in the (Savile) Saddle

It's been about four weeks since we began rehearsal for Lord Arthur Savile's Crime at the Washington Stage Guild, though it hardly seems so. I had every intention of chronicling each step in the rehearsal process, but those good intentions fell to the wayside as outside forces (ie: SNOW, REPEATEDLY) intervened.

It was quite a while ago when our first week of rehearsal set the tone for the rather loosey goosey scheduling we have been dealing with. The cast for the show was finalized very, very late, barely a week or two before the first rehearsal. This is phenomenally unusual for the DC area, where shows are cast months, or even a year, in advance (I have an audition next week, for example, for a show which begins rehearsal a solid year from now). Because of the late casting, everyone had scheduling conflicts which had to be accommodated. Nobody can help this, it's just the way the cookie crumbled this time.

Our first week of rehearsal, we met several nights at the home of our executive director Ann Norton, where we did a bit of table work, and enjoyed full dining privileges (this is not unusual for Stage Guild productions, where the company believes a life in the theatre includes, you know, real life). A few days later, we gathered in a small rehearsal hall at Catholic University to begin blocking. Lord Arthur Savile's Crime is an adaptation of an Oscar Wilde story, so the emphasis here is on the language rather than the physical action. We completed sketching out the movement of the play before we adjourned from Catholic and moved to the new theatre.

I may have mentioned that the Stage Guild's new theatre is new to them, but is actually a pre-existing space. The Mt. Vernon Place United Methodist Church in downtown DC has had this stage for years, but only recently renovated. Apparently a community theatre or two worked in this theatre, but after the renovation, the church offered the new and improved space to the outside world, and after seeing the spot, the Stage Guild snapped it up.
If the Guilders had designed the building from scratch, they would have done a few things differently (they probably would not have used stained glass in windows, for example; no word on how effective we will be in masking outside light during matinees), but as a found space, it has some charm. Truth be told, it has provided a long-deserved sigh of relief for the Guild, which has been homeless and largely dormant for more than two years. WSG will be producing at least two full productions here, and if all goes well, may settle in for a longer spell. The theatre has some challenges, as it's incredibly short in height and thus difficult to light, and the acoustics have yet to be fully tested by the Guild's customary spoken word plays. The company has already installed a new lighting grid and new flooring, which should help ease some technical problems. (The bigger problem may be, the landlords don't allow alcohol anywhere on the premises, so WSG's opening night party will be dry. )

The acting company has been in the space for several weeks now, so we have some idea of the challenges we face. The auditorium is fitted with theatre-type chairs which are quite comfortable, but are positioned on the slightest of rakes, which may prove difficult for the audience's sightlines. (The theatre was clearly imagined as a lecture hall as well as performance space, as each seat has its own fold-down desktop.)

Onstage, the proscenium is very wide, but not very deep, and provides much more space than the troupe is accustomed to. No problem here: the Guilders have never had a problem with, um, filling the space. Let's face it, they're some of the biggest hams in town, and I'm proud to be joining them again.

We are heading into our final week of rehearsal, with preview audiences showing up Thursday. We have seen no costumes, no lighting effects, and only one or two props which are not facsimiles. But the acting company seems to be in very good shape, and I have no doubt we will soon be chomping at the bit to get in front of an audience. As we head toward Opening Night, I am sure I will write more about the talented folks with whom I am sharing this stage. Stay tuned.