Get down to brass tacks
Nobody is going to have a recipe for how to do this. Nor are we making the same cake. The kind of tools you need and the process you need to develop will depend on the work you are trying to make. Are you working online towards an in-person experience or towards a virtual one? Will some of the collaborators always work remotely or will some of them come together later in the process? Is your online time together about laying the collaborative groundwork, or arriving at concrete results? The answers to these questions will determine what strategies are useful to you. Much of the guide to this point has been about creating relationships that make artistic production possible. In this section, directors offer strategies for advancing creative results that require rehearsal.
Things to try on: tools, activities and resources
Adapting from the physical rehearsal hall to the digital room:
Create a ritual: Claudel Doucet suggests that everyone have a notebook associated with a particular process/ project because A) that way you know everything is going to be in that same book — a note you made, a question you wrote down, and B) when working online you don’t go someplace to “enter” your rehearsal, but picking up the book can be like arriving somewhere. A routine and a ritual.
Create a system and, if you have the capacity, source the technical tools that will serve you, to help keep everything as clear as possible. Here are some strategies from directors:
- Go full screen, and hide “self view,” so you can just watch the work.
- Give singular focus to the performer on a big monitor, so you can regard the body in space. Try standing quite far back from the monitor and look at the work, just like you would do in a rehearsal hall.
- Use a laptop, paper or another screen for your script, separated from the monitor where you’re watching the work. And have a separate note-taking device or paper.
- Try a separate mic right next to you, so you can mute or unmute yourself quickly and better the quality of the sound for others.
- Get a good camera for the performers(s), so that your eyes aren’t always trying to focus on a low quality image. You can hook up a DSLR camera on a tripod, or it can be a little external small clip-on camera that has a little bit of a wider frame on it — what’s important is a high resolution camera and you’re able to look at a consistent image.
Probably the hardest part in rehearsal was for the actors to be able to subtly communicate with each other in a way that felt at all useful. (And let me clarify – they did amazing work given the circumstances.) I think there’s a double factor when we’re using this visual thing. When we’re talking online there’s an implicit need to be visibly performing, versus getting into the text. Now, since Zoom has added a “Hide Self View” this may be a bit less – some folx actually were putting books over their screens so they didn’t have to look at themselves all the time. What we found is that it got better (became easier to have a connection across distance) once we cut the video, and so we just rehearsed it listening to each other. The text started to actually get to something with a flow and developed some sense of logic. (The piece draws on existentialism and the absurd somewhat – so we really needed that internal logic.) With video you’re just not getting biofeedback from each other. Or if you do, the lag is too substantial to keep at a connected pace. So despite all the technology available these days, just reading with each other over the phone is what we found to be the most effective way to understand the piece.
— Jivesh Parasram
Ways of working online to advance IRL work:
- Make rehearsal documents, and divide creative elements of the work into distinct parts. Here are some strategies from Sarah Garton Stanley:
- Re: Everybody Just Calm The Fuck Down written and performed by Robert Chafe with sound and video design by Brian Kenny, directed by Sarah Garton Stanley.
- We did a presentation of the piece, really focusing on the text, for some friends on Zoom and recorded it. And since then, we have been trying out different design ideas on top of that recording. So we’re working on an archival document, to test different ideas, and that’s been really helpful. Because it allows for everyone to have a way to see an idea realized, even if the script is still in development.
- The designer is responsible for bringing in new content. The homework is very much about creating sound and video content so that we’ve got a huge selection of potential content so that we can just slot it in when we’re eventually in the space to do it.
- The goal is to have all of the content or all the potential choices for the content available to us — we’re trying to move that part forward. Using OBS, the designer is able to put visual ideas behind the performer’s head in the archival recording. We are working with OBS to introduce visual placeholders for what would be there live, to allow us to see the performer in context with those visual design elements. And while it’s really not what it will look like, there’s enough shared language for everyone to be able to understand. It has been a pretty good way to move the bar forward a little bit. Even though the text has shifted quite significantly since the recording and we’re working with an out of date archival document, a designer can still work on it. And a director and playwright and creators can see it, and you’re all sort of speaking from the same page so it does actually provide some pretty significant stepping stones and – given we aren’t physically together – it’s a great way to work.
- Through this process, the performer and I are also working on performance moments, as the text evolves.
For this solo show, we meet for far shorter increments of time then we would in person, like 90 minutes. And there are expectations that the piece will have moved forward in between those meetings. And we tend to meet, at this point, twice a week. It’s a very real process that we’re working with online.
- Re: Marigold, by Fatuma Adar. Composer/Lyricist Ben Elliot. Music Supervisor/ Music Director Bob Foster. Director/Dramaturge Sarah Garton Stanley.
The four performers, who are in all different places, have to learn all the tracks, and ultimately sing all the pieces together. But as we work online, everything works best when we separate it out entirely. We record each singer separately to make our rehearsal documents.
What’s different, rehearsing online, is that while often we all come online for a four hour call, the singers will sometimes be working on recording their songs or learning the music, I’ll be working with the creators on some of the dramaturgical questions, or working with one of the performers on some staging ideas, but it’s rare that everyone is in one room for big collaborative talks. It’s much less control, in a traditional sense for the director, because it needs to be separated out in break out rooms, for the different conversations.