Bringing reality to the rehearsal process
During the last week of August, student actors Reese M. ’24 and Alice M. ’24 stood in the middle of a rehearsal space upstairs in the Woodman Center. The room was as spare as the script for Lungs, the emotional character drama they will be presenting later this fall. The only furniture was for the directors and a couple visitors, the only sense of a stage was the blue tape forming a square on the floor.
Reese and Alice play “M” and “W” respectively, a man and woman deciding if they should bring a baby into this world, thereby contributing to an already colossal carbon footprint. The subject matter is challenging, but so too is the process of mounting a show like this: it’s the school’s first mainstage production with only two actors — and they’re onstage for the entire show.
“The sheer number of lines that Alice and Reese had to learn — along with the intricacies of the language, which constantly changes directions and interrupts itself — is a massive commitment,” says Steve Kidd, head of performing arts at Moses Brown.
Kidd brought the script to Reese and Sophie S. ’23 this past spring to gauge their interest. A senior in the midst of applying to college, Sophie opted to become the student director instead of taking on the role of “W”; Alice was approached and found herself eager for the challenge of diving into a role with lots of text and lightning-quick dialogue.
“We committed to the play at the end of last school year, and then over the summer, we started working on lines and meeting in person for rehearsals in August,” says Reese, who has done a number of performances with both Alice and Sophie since sixth grade.
“Throughout the day, I might be inspired by how someone makes a remark during a conversation. I start thinking about how the tone or rhythm, combined with the language, makes the other person react in real life and how that can translate into my performance.”
With Sophie’s support, direction, and care, Alice and Reese are finding depths of character and a brand of personalized, naturalistic acting that Kidd believes is difficult to find on any high school stage. They engage in intimate conversations full of vulnerability and arguments riddled with profanity, making the audience believe that they aren’t juniors in high school, but instead adults 10 years older than themselves. It speaks to the actors’ level of craft and a maturity far beyond their years, says Kidd.
“We focus more on the why than the how,” says Kidd of Moses Brown’s approach to teaching drama; in a complex and nuanced play like Lungs, that requires additional attention from the actors.
“I can’t manifest happiness right now,” says Kidd, a professional and resident actor at the local Gamm Theatre. “I can pretend, but you can probably tell that I’m pretending. But if I can focus on an intention — such as ‘persuade’ or ‘comfort’ — rather than specific blocking or lines, the result is often behavior that is more authentically human. We, as human audiences, are then more likely to invest emotionally. It’s magical.”
“Throughout the day, I might be inspired by how someone makes a remark during a conversation,” says Alice. “I start thinking about how the tone or rhythm, combined with the language, makes the other person react in real life and how that can translate into my performance.”
Rehearsing a couple of times per week for three hours or more, Alice and Reese both devote at least 30 minutes each day outside of rehearsal practicing lines independently. In the summer, they’d also FaceTime each other periodically to run lines, practice with a friend or family member, and write lines over and over in notebooks to help with memorization.
“So much of the play is really fast back and forth conversation, a lot of times talking over or interrupting each other,” says Reese. “There are very few moments where you have a moment to breathe. The best and only way to get that down is to just run it with the other person.”
“No matter what show it is, you’re relying on your castmates in one way or another, but when it is just the two of us, there are moments when you feel sort of exposed,” notes Alice, who has not yet done anything as raw and dramatic as Lungs. “But luckily, if one of us messes up, we have this connection that is really, really wonderful.”
Speaking of feeling exposed, Reese notes that the intimacy and safety of working within a small and familiar group allows them to work with the whole script without feeling the need to cut out any strong language or mature content. And everyone wholeheartedly agrees that nothing should be taken away from the play.
“It’s incredible to tackle a work like this with three very mature and super-intelligent students.”
“I have known and worked with Steve for years and he’s worked with my mom, who is also an actress, in many productions over the years,” notes Reese. “Same with Sophie and Alice; we’re all mature enough and knew each other well enough to work with this text in a comfortable and constructive way, thinking more about the overall and deeper meaning behind the text.”
Back in the rehearsal room, the duo ran through the 90-minute show for the first time in front of visitors. Without costume, light, or scene changes, the rehearsal played out as it will on stage — in a bare space with just two people talking. It is as if the audience is eavesdropping on a very private conversation.
“It’s just so honest,” says Sophie, “The show is going to make a lot of people uncomfortable. When I read through it that first time, it was awkward. But to take language or scenes away would be subtracting from the truth.”
Kidd notes that it’s been invaluable for Sophie to have the experience of leading two students (both a year younger than her) and advising them on how to think about certain sections and motivations. She is the lynchpin for it all, he says.
“Sophie can reframe ideas in the text and — with wonderful grace and sensitivity — empower her actors,” says Kidd. “It’s incredible to tackle a work like this with three very mature and super-intelligent students.”
As the rehearsal concludes, Kidd celebrates with a few final words to his actors. “It is the language, your character, and the moment — those three balls that we keep up in the air — making sure you’re listening and responding in the moment. That is the trick for the magic.”
—By Jennifer Carmichael
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“Lungs” will be presented October 7–12. Tickets and more details. *Mature content: recommended for 9th grade and up.