Whispers from the Wings

Breathing together

November 21, 2013

Evangeline's book for the close of the showThe Antony and Cleopatracompany is almost a full week into performances. We're all settling in to our new rhythms and routines and the actors are learning what it takes to pace themselves through this show, eight times a week. I'm settling in to calling it (or, 'cueing' as my UK counterparts say).

Calling a show – especially this one – is an art in and of itself.

While we were still in tech rehearsals, trying yet again to get our opening sequence right (always the hardest part of tech, in my opinion), I had a conversation with one of my actors. She wanted to know what I was basing my call for the cue that initiated a major shift in the lighting – and hence the mood and feel and tone – of the opening scene.

It's a big moment during the opening ritual that is full of movement, music, rhythm, breath, and mystery (I wrote about it early on in the process, it's just that powerful).

Get called-out on my calling
Her question threw me for a split second. I actually dodged it at first by telling her what was supposed to happen. The lights would start coming up with a long vocal and tribal-sounding call that she makes. (Hers is the first voice that we hear in the space after nothing but breathing and footsteps and running water. A beautiful and exciting moment. One of my favourites in the show.)

The tricky part is, we wanted the lights to start coming up at exactly the moment that we hear her voice. When there are no spoken lines or specific blocking moves or set music counts for me to rely upon – when it is just bodies and movement and breathing - what am I basing my call off of?

As she went back to her starting place so we could try to run the sequence for what seemed like the hundredth time, I jokingly called out, 'I'm breathing with you Sarah!'

It was meant to keep the tech light and happy and it was a play on Tarell's constant reminder to the company to breathe with each other through the show. I may have said it in a joking tone, but there is a very deep truth to my statement.

Staying present in the moment
I am keenly aware of the nuances of each of the actors' performances on a moment-to-moment basis. I am discovering where they may take a shorter or longer pause depending on audience response. I am learning where they tighten things up if the scene seems to be losing momentum.

As my timing in calling of the show is intimately connected to their work on stage, it is imperative that I stay present and in the moment with them each night – I can't put mission control on autopilot even for a second.

I have to breathe with the actors in the calling of this show. I have to know their every moment, their every pause, every bit of blocking that I've learned and recorded over the six weeks of rehearsal and two weeks of tech and previews.

And then I have to go even further. High above the actors, in my little booth, dressed all in black, constantly calling out the word 'go' to my crew and flipping switches to initiate sound cues and send actors on and off stage. I breathe with those 10 amazing actors for two solid hours.

Conspiring to create
The word 'conspire' comes from the Latin com- (together) and spirare (to breathe). So when you conspire to do something with someone, you are literally breathing together to accomplish your task.

I like to think that this is what we get to do in theatre, and especially on this production of Antony and Cleopatra – we conspire to create. We conspire to give the audiences something new and fresh and exciting, night after night, eight shows a week, and for this show – across the globe.

As the calling stage manager on a show, I become an intimate and integral part of that beautiful and mysterious conspiracy each night – the breathing together that enables us to tell a powerful story and tell it well.

Come be a part of our storytelling – take a deep breath and settle in with us. It's hard to believe we only have a couple weeks in Stratford and I'm already prepping for Miami!

by Evangeline Whitlock  |  No comments yet

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