You see, theater is all about re-purposing. In any one playhouse, costumes from The Importance of Being Earnest might appear in a ten-minute play; props from Tartuffe could inhabit the set of Death of a Salesman; gobos from the Forest of Arden might display a moonlit walk in Central Park. Do the viewers know any different?
Probably not. If the performance is successful, it doesn’t matter because a world without connections to any other has been created on the stage.
I started thinking about this during rehearsal. My friend Abby was about to enter, so she was holding the bags she had to carry on. They were supposedly shopping bags. I noticed, however, that one was a quilted bag that had been used in last spring’s production of Stop Kiss; in that show it was used as a carry-all by an actress playing a young teacher in New York, and it had contained clothes. Now Abby, who plays a mentally ill mother, had it filled with groceries and sordid other items.
But who else would know or care about the history of that hand prop? I only cared because I stage managed Stop Kiss, and I remember going over all the props with great care before the dress rehearsals and performances. The bag had served its purpose then, and now it was serving a very different one, in a very different character’s hands.
That, I think, is one of the beauties of theater. Very few things, whether they are bags or wigs or set pieces, lose value after one use. But this kind of recycling is not solely the method of designers.
If the actors can trick the audience, then they too did their job right.
For those of you who don’t know, the rehearsal process is both long and repetitive. Actors say the same lines innumerable times and in many different ways. Angry, annoyed, defiant, weakened, fearful, nervous, unsure–what is the truth of the scene? When they hit upon the most genuine expression, they try to imitate that with every run of the show. A danger of the process is that once something like the words and the feelings are learned, the actors can go into autopilot and not give the performance the energy it deserves. If, though, the actors can still manage to live in the moment, then the audience will never know that those words, gestures, and inflections were practiced.
I hope that you, reader, come to see The Walls and test out this theory of re-purposing. Can we convince you that our world is its own? Can we tell you our lines like we’ve never said them before?
Give us a chance to show you that we can.