BroadwayWorld.com welcomes Clybourne Park to the Broadway neighborhood by offering readers an exclusive behind-the-scenes peek as the play gets ready for performances. Through this unprecedented access to the fascinating creative process of technical rehearsals, students from Fordham University will keep BroadwayWorld.com readers in the loop through daily updates and photography. Log on to follow along as this Pulitzer Prize-winning play moves into its new Broadway home and literally gets built from the ground up.
No one ever said that teching a show is an easy process. Or a fast process. To give a stellar performance to every audience every day takes an incredible amount of time and effort both on and offstage, even before these rehearsals begin.
Walking into the Walter Kerr Theatre, I thought for a moment that construction was still happening onstage. The set was covered with boxes and other random items and my immediate reaction was to think that these things had been put there temporarily as they continued work on the set. I realized a minute later that this is the set. It is supposed to be in disarray. I could not help but laugh at myself, yet at the same time, I mostly felt awed by how detailed the set and props are. I did not walk in and see “a set.” I saw something that looked straight out of real life. And the more I looked at the visual onstage, the more I noticed about it. Even though all the action takes place in one room, the amount of detail that expands the world beyond just that space is remarkable. For example, in act two, the door to the hallway is open. Not only can you see into the hallway itself, but into the bathroom that it leads to. And still beyond that, you can see individual items in the medicine cabinet. These are not things that every audience member will notice but I urge everyone who sees the show to really pay attention to the scope of the set and the detail put into it.
While at the theater, I was lucky enough to watch both the end of act one and the beginning of act two, which means I saw both sets. Though the entire play is set in the one physical location, the acts are set fifty years apart and the time lapse is most visible when examining how the house has aged. Though the structure remains the same and makes it obvious that both sets are the same room, act two looks almost completely different. This transformation affects everything onstage, yet can be done quickly enough to not prolong intermission. This set too looks like a room out of a real home. The light coming in from the window looks more natural than those lighting the rest of the set. Even the debris scattered across the floor was carefully placed to fit the designer’s vision. Yet it still manages to look completely unintentional.
I think that concept is the most visible to an outsider watching the tech rehearsal process. Every single element is carefully planned and based on many people’s decisions. Yet if done well, everything will appear natural enough that the audience will believe it just happened to be that way. Act two opens with the characters sitting on chairs in a circle. Though the plan for the chairs’ positions was obviously already made, these rehearsals are really the time to determine what works on this particular stage and to fix what does not. The chairs had to be moved a little here and there so that the actors could see each other clearly. But even just adjusting them half an inch meant that spotlights had to be refocused and tested on the actors while they moved around as they would during the scene’s conversation. Moving around this way may look a little ridiculous now, but if they had not tested these lights during rehearsal, perhaps they would have discovered later that the actors’ faces were in shadow. It would have just meant more changes later on.
The Clybourne Park cast has been doing this show for about two years now. They obviously know the material and their characters very well after this long. But that does not mean that their performances are set in stone. One actress was feeling that her movement across the stage was too unnatural so everyone agreed that she should not walk so far. Again, this meant that time had to be taken to readjust her spotlight. During this break in the action, the director went over to the other actor onstage and gave him a note on pronunciation to make a joke play better. There is clearly nothing completely static or set in stone at this point.
To me, that last sentence really encompasses not only this particular process, but theatre as a whole. Despite the fact that the people working on this production have spent years with the show, it is still growing and changing as they discover new things about it. Though the tech rehearsals are incredibly long and tend to stop and start, the changes and tweaks made during this time—from how far stage right an actor should walk to exactly where the plastic cup should be—end up creating a better final product for the audience.