A question from an audience member at Sunday’s Talkback – how much guidance the actors received from movement coach Jen Johnson – got me thinking about the unscripted bits of business that actors put into a performance. Things that aren’t specified in the script or even suggested by the director, but that the actors come up with as appropriate for their character and the situation, usually when they are not speaking or the focus of attention in a scene.
For example, if you’ve seen Così, did you notice what Roy (Mike Vitorovich) is doing in that moment near the beginning of the play just after social worker Justin (Sean Speake) has entered and is talking to Lewis (Jamieson Child)? They are not paying attention to him, so Roy circles behind them, taking in the burnt-out theatre that he hopes will give birth to his dream of performing Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte. Like a dog, he sniffs a charred red curtain hanging from a fake pillar at the back of the stage, and squirms in ecstasy.
This is not in the script; it’s just something Mike started doing, and those of us backstage at the time find it hysterically funny. We hope the audience does too.
Then there’s the interaction between sociopath Cherry (PJ Hammond) and me as Ruth. Cherry knows that crooked chairs drive counter/arranger obsessive compulsive Ruth crazy (wait – they’re already in an insane asylum…) So during the rehearsal of the opera scene when Lewis tells Ruth to just “walk and talk as you would in real life”, Cherry continually moves the chair from which Ruth is marking the counting of her steps. On the other hand, there are several times when Ruth pisses Cherry off by picking up Cherry’s dropped script or bag and re-positioning them just so!
The moment when Zac passes out on the piano after accompanying Henry in his audition for the opera (as Roy matter-of-factly states, “He’s broken into the pharmacy again”) is specified in the script, but not what precipitates it. So actor James Warner has been surreptitiously popping pills when nobody is looking!
And at the end of the play, Justin is helping Lewis clear the stage after the opera performance, and Ruth is the first of the patients to come out from backstage. Her line “Thank you, I really liked it” always seemed to me like something rehearsed – like a speech someone had told her to make. Only last week, I realized that Justin was the logical person to have done that, so Sean Speake and I discussed it, and now Justin gives Ruth a “now it’s your turn” kind of nod after handing Lewis his pay packet. I wait until Justin leaves and then deliver the speech.
Many of these bits of business are discoveries that the actors have made late in the rehearsal process, or even partway through the performance run. That’s one of the joys of live theatre: you can continually ‘discover’ things!
There are 4 more performances of Così so you can catch these little moments. Tomorrow (Wed April 25) tickets are 2-for-1, only available in person at the theatre. Reserve at firstname.lastname@example.org. For Thursday, Friday and Saturday, tickets are $20 at the theatre or online (with service charge) via www.totix.ca. If you’re in the downtown Toronto area Thu – Sat, drop by the T.O. Tix booth in Yonge-Dundas Square, where you can purchase ½ price tickets on the day of show. Catch the madness – come join the crazies!