AYL: and let the blocking begin (or “nurturing Mother Nature”)

Monday night, we began blocking As You Like It.

A few words on process, and then the question of Adam’s importance.

There be spoilers ahead…

We worked on three sequences Monday: the opening with Orlando, Adam (now a gender-switched Anna), and Oliver; then the two scenes with just Orlando and Anna.

We spent three hours on just six pages of a 77-page script. I know that sounds like we’re wasting time, but there’s a method to the madness.

First, we walked through the scene, reading from scripts in hand (as no one is going to be [nor expected to be] off-book during these blocking rehearsals) and got a feel for movement on stage: entrances, exits, motivated movements throughout the scene. We stopped when we needed to discuss character, relationships, motivation and objective.

Then we did it again, with fewer interruptions.

Then we did it again, this time with the actors paraphrasing the dialogue, putting it into their own words. This is ironically the slowest section, as it’s filled with breaks and discussions. This is not easy. The temptation is to simply read it again, but I want to make sure they know what they’re saying… an opportunity to solidify meaning. More importantly–for me at least–is that I get to see what their emotional state is when going through the scene…we can then push to move that exposed emotion and attitude to their reading of the Shakespearean text.

Then we do it one last time with that Shakespearean text, with NO INTERRUPTIONS, and with my iPad camera rolling. We do a brief debrief after that run-thru, and we move on.

Then after the rehearsal, I watch the videos and come up with notes to email to the actor for improving the scene. As I told them:

as I’m video recording the final walk-thrus of each sequence, I’ll be emailing you notes from what I see. Please put these notes in your script so that as you go over your lines (you ARE going over you lines, right?), you can keep these things in mind. Remember, in many cases, we will not be revisiting these sequences in rehearsal until we begin to put the show together in January… it’s up to you to continue to work on lines and incorporate these notes.

Now, on to Anna (Adam in the original text) and possible spoilers:

Adam plays a minor but prominent role in the first half of the text of As You Like It, being Orlando’s confidante, aid, and travelling companion. It is he who is the catalyst for Orlando’s raid on Duke Senior’s encampment. He’s old, frail, and at this point starving.

And then… he disappears from the play. Never to be seen again. It’s like he dies–and I’ve seen some productions where this is explicit (and I’ve seen productions where the opening Orlando-Adam-Oliver scene feels like a placeholder until we meet Rosalind).

Not here, babies. One of the reasons why I was so open to making Adam a female character is that I want upend the concept of male-centric mentoring in the play. Duke Senior: woman. Corin: woman and now “Cora.” Adam: woman and now “Anna.” I want these figures to be maternal nurturers. Duke Frederick and Oliver are remnants of the patriarchal past… and they’re less than lovable. The beauty is this, though: even when those two characters enter the Forest of Arden, they are transformed, redeemed. Not to put too fine a point on it, but when they become one (again) with MOTHER NATURE, they are cured of their toxic masculinity and socialized misjudgments.

But back to Anna. As the actors and I discussed this gender change, we decided to make Anna the former nanny to the deBoys boys. This is crucial to her position in the first scene… she is peacemaker, she really tries to save both boys (Orlando by getting him away from Oliver, Oliver by trying to remind him of his father…a better man). This allows us to make this opening so much more than a simple biding of time until our heroine arrives; this allows us to front-load emotional themes.

And later, I want to make sure that we see Anna again after she joins Duke Senior’s band… the actor is already doubling the role with one of Senior’s pages… maybe we’ll drop the pretense and make Anna a new page. She is rejuvenated by the Forest of Arden. That’s why I want her at the wedding. She is Mother Nature, and when the second brother appears, I’m planning a big hug–prominent enough for the audience to get it–between nanny and her three (now reunited) boys.

Screw death, I want happy reunions and unions for the future.

And to that end–that marriage end–we’ve interpreted something a little different: when Anna tells Orlando to flee from Oliver’s homicidal wrath, she gives him money, and tells him “here is the gold”… she still gives him money here, but we’ve dropped the “the” and she will take a gold ring off her finger to give to Orlando. Orlando will put it on the chain that Rosalind has given him. And it will be this ring he will give to Rosalind at the wedding. Whether or not the audience gets it, who knows. But I know it, my actors know it, and it all ties into the nurturing of Mother Nature.

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