Director's Notes: R&J First Blocking Rehearsal

Monday night was something big as we began the process of blocking this year's Shakespeare in Central Park Plaza's production of Romeo and Juliet. Present at this blocking rehearsal were: myself, Assistant Director, Mary Bird, our rehearsal assistant Alyssa Rosselli, and actors Dan Matern (Friar Lawrence), Kat Lutze (Juliet) and Tom O'Neill (Romeo). 
During the process of directing a show I think it's important to take time to reflect on what parts of the production are going on and a blogging about it is a nice way to let others know about the creative process. Hopefully Mary and I will be able to do spots about Romeo and Juliet as we work toward our July 11 opening.
For those who aren't familiar with the term "blocking", it's when directors and actors work out where and how the actors will move  when they are delivering lines. We create a make shift set mostly comprised of tape marks on the stage floor and benches or chairs. We follow a map called a ground plan from the set designer that informs the actors where doorways or walls or items to sit on or stand on will be. 
This will be the fourth set that I have designed tis season and it will be very different from the last production Rabbit Hole. Because the set has to be multiple locations throughout the play blocking and lighting will determine when the location is different than the last scene. Since I'm also the set designer for the production, we have an even clearer understanding of how the stage will be used for the production.
Mary and I generally have an idea of what areas of the stage will be used for what. To start, we decided that the Stage Right areas of the stage will primarily be used as the Capulet's zone. Center Stage will be used as more of a community area like the city of Verona and Stage Left will be used more by the Friars and the Montagues. Having established these three areas as a starting rule will help establish it in the minds of the audience. When directing Shakespeare, we try to make each play as accessible as we can for the people coming to experience it.
With script in hand we tell the actors what area of the stage they'll be using and what doors they'll be using to get in or out of the scene with. Because we are doing our park performances without intermission, we have had to cut our production to 100 minutes running time. With this in mind we are collaborating on edits with the cast and rather than starting at the beginning at the beginning of the show, we are working only scenes where our three actors appear. In fact for this initial blocking rehearsal, we're actually starting at Juliet's last scene in the play.
I very rarely ever pre-block a show because I want the actors to bring their creative talents to the process. Theatre is a collaborative art form. By letting actors understand their whereabouts, they can create their motivations for the movements and bits of business we arrive at. Too many times I've seen shows that seem as though they've been pre-blocked so rigidly that it looks like the only reason an actor got up and moved was because he was told to. By letting actors work smaller portions of scenes it gives us the opportunity to try different things until we see what works best.
As we work toward making the play accessible, it is important that the dialogue be as conversational possible and that the movements of the characters come out of that organically. Each night we will be focusing on about six small scenes this week and working them several times so that the actors get comfortable with where they move. After we have blacked all the scenes in the show we will revisit these scenes again and then eventually put them all together in sequence like a movie. I think some directors work sequence too early instead of looking at the more difficult scenes that may need more work.
On Monday we tried to tackle some of the more emotionally charged scenes that we'll have to revisit to keep making better. So far Mary and I are very excited with what this cast is bringing to this material.
-Eric Brant, Member and Director