We are deep into rehearsals for the Rogue Theatre’s production of James Joyce’s “The Dead,” which will open March 23rd. When the cast gathered for a first reading I have to admit that I was excited to have a part in the show, but relieved that my handful of lines wouldn’t tax my increasingly leaky memory or challenge my ability to acquire a reasonably accurate Irish accent.
I conveniently forgot that I was a member of an ensemble theatre, that every one of the 17-member cast would be on stage all night, and in character whether speaking or not. Oh, yes, we’d be dancing, too, and miming an entire holiday banquet, and constructing our characters out of back stories that Joyce has not always provided.
All this requires focus and attention, which is why our director, Cynthia Meier, has us play games. In one of these we stand in a circle while she calls a name and throws that actor a ball. That actor, in turn, throws to someone else until each of us is throwing to one person and catching from another. Once the pattern is established Cynthia adds balls to the mix until finally ten balls are sailing around the circle. You focus. You pay attention.
The real challenge begins when the director starts by “throwing” a color and each of us in turn throws a different color to someone around the circle. Once that pattern is established she throws a different word, perhaps an animal name, to a different person. After that a third and fourth pattern is established…countries, rock bands.
Finally she starts the whole sequence going at once until we are “throwing” colors, animals, countries and rock bands at one another.Why you ask? Because doing this show is like having to rub your stomach and pat your head. The actors are always on, and here is always something to focus on, to pay attention to, to react to…even if you don’t have a line.