The tech week began after a terrific weekend of final run-throughs in the rehearsal hall. We came into the 850 seat Albert Theater on Tuesday, moving into the dressing rooms, and getting onto the stage to get a feel, check props and then begin the process of layering in the sound and lighting cues, work out the quick changes, determine how the props work, where they need to be for best fluency. Truly, a technical process, and, to my mind, equally valuable and important as every moment of acting choices.
I have to say that the design team and crew for RED is just terrific. I had worked with the sound designer/composer Richard Woodbury before on King Lear, and it was great to be with him again. He has written a beautiful haunting score to drive us through the transitions, and chosen wonderful internal pieces for the scenes. Todd Rosenthal, set designer, has created an artists studio, strongly based on the actual Rothko Studio at 222 Bowery, rented for the Seagram’s mural project. Although I have not worked with Todd, I did see his work last season at The Arena. He designed Steppenwolf’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” An incredibly detailed environment. His RED studio is no less detailed and realistic. An amazing space to live and work in. Lighting designer, Keith Parham, had his work cut out for him in that Todd had built a box set complete with ceiling, so no lights could be used from above, but rather all front light. Part of Keith’s design s to use several practicals to great effect, including work lamps, large scoop lights inspired by the photos of Rothko’s studio. The real expressionistic effect is the lighting of the canvasses that Rothko and Ken look out directly toward the audience. Keith has created a “wall of light” that acts as the inner luminosity of the paintings. Brilliant, really and takes the play out of the ‘realistic’ practical light driven world into a layered abstract space that is world of Rothko’s art. Finally, Birgit Wise, costume designer, has created a costume design that is realistic to the needs of the work at hand, but also expresses the journey of the characters. Rothko moves from lighter work clothes to a darker palette, while Ken begins more formally and slowly loosens up and become more workmanlike, almost a next Rothko by the time the play closes. Subtle and expressive.
For days, they and Bob worked together as a strongly collaborative unit, responding to changes of cues, timing, shaping the look and the feel; growing the piece throughout. Non of that would have been possible without the implementation of the incredible crew, headed by Production Stage Manager, Joseph Drummond and Stage Manager Tim Lynch. Joe has been calling shows at the Goodman for an incredible 38 years. There is only one word I can use to describe Joe: unflappable. He calmly goes about the job of organizing, keeping rehearsals moving forward, always wearing his blazer. This is a job after all, and we are pro’s. His stage management partner, Tim Lynch, supervises and liason’s between the crew and cast with Joe in the back of the house., a kind of floor manager. A great, efficient, supportive team that keeps the work moving forward with a deft lightness. Remarkable. We managed to get through the play, with all cues in two days, allowing us to begin runs by Thursday. Our first audience would be the invited dress rehearsal on Friday night.
Here’s a photo essay of the put in of the set over a course of 4 days before tech.
It’s a delicate time to finally transition from the hermetically sealed rehearsal hall to letting stranger come into the world we have been exploring for a month and be judged. It’s the beginning of letting go for the director and letting go of the rehearsal process. That was mitigated by a very successful invited dress. It came as a relief to put the show up in front of an audience and begin learning what they had to teach us. First, there were more laughs, some unexpected, than I had anticipated. But that is always the case. It was a great relief to know that those 400 supportive folks were following our journeys, and not taking sides in the conflict. That was enormously encouraging.
After the invited dress, we had extensive notes on Saturday before the first preview that evening. I think that was the toughest day of rehearsal for me. Having felt pretty good about the run the night before, I got the lion’s share of the notes the next day; specific and extremely detailed. All made sense, but I confess, I felt a little disoriented. Much of it was about tone and attack, but I felt a bit unsure about how it would play, notes swirling around in my head, and not yet integrated into the body. I was nervous. Bob gave us the chance to have a run-through before the evening for pace. What has become a 90-95 minute production was up and over that afternoon in about 75 minutes. We flew.
The performance was very good, notes incorporated and by Sunday, we had the audiences leaping to their feet for both shows. One of the most useful and unusual thing at The Goodman is that there is no schedules performance for the first Tuesday of preview week after a three show weekend. That is designed to support new plays, so that playwrights can change, rehearse rewrites and so forth. That extra 8 hours of tech gave us the luxury of doing incredibly detailed tweaking, polishing cues, timing, etc. The audience reactions from the changes implemented from the weekend was palpable and so was the excitement about the show. It has taken leaps forward every preview. By the time this past Saturday came around with only one show, Bob was confident enough to not call rehearsal and begin the process of letting us take over the show. It’s a delicate time. But the audiences are responding so strongly, encouraging us to move forward and offer them the fruits of our collective work.
The process has been remarkable for me. It seems to have flown by. On Sunday, the critics were in the house. And what was a wonderful twist, press night fell on Mark Rothko’s birthday. Serendipity? Synchronicity? Whatever, if felt like we were being watched over. After 10 previews, Patrick and I were locked into each other for the evening, as usual. Relaxed and all cylinders firing. I can’t thank Robert Falls enough for this remarkable opportunity and journey. I look forward to the run here and bringing it home to The Arena in January.
Here’s a taste of the finished product. The promotional montage of the production
Opening Day “Paint the Town RED Day” & Opening Night Gala