Prior to the opening of Quotidian Theatre Company’s next play, Brian Friel’s Irish drama Dancing at Lughnasa, several actors in the cast are writing here about various experiences they have during the rehearsal process.
Earlier this week, Laura Russell explained how a character’s shoes inform an actor’s choices. Next week, Alyssa Sanders will talk about her character Rose. Here, Steve LaRocque chronicles a dance rehearsal he had for the show.
It’s all about dancing, right? I mean, it’s right there in the title: Dancing at Lughnasa. So everybody gets to dance – right?
Well, yes and no.
First of all, there are a lot of different kinds of dancing. There’s the beautiful kind of dancing – strictly ballroom, Fred-and-Ginger, aren’t-they-a-lovely-couple dancing. That’s the kind that Doug Krehbel, who plays Gerry, the irrepressible Welshman, gets to do with Rebecca Ellis (Christina) and Laura Russell (Agnes). And there’s the spirited Irish folk dancing that all of the women get to do in this play.
And then there’s mine – which is totally, completely, unbelievably different from everything else.
I should explain that I play Father Jack, the oldest child in the Mundy family, who went off to Africa as a Catholic missionary twenty-five years ago and came back as… well, we’ll leave that for later.
I show up for my first choreography session, ready to meet our choreographer, Vanessa Terzaghi. I’ve never worked with Vanessa before. Craig Mummey, our director, has; you can tell right away that he trusts her completely.
Vanessa has two sticks, which I’m supposed to beat together as I stand in place; the sticks make a dry, clacking sound. Okay, I can do that; eight clacks, three cycles, 24 clacks in all. How hard can that be?
Ah, but there’s more. Now Vanessa is describing a dance step that goes like this: step with the right foot, close with the left; right again, then stomp with the left foot three times: stomp-stomp-stomp. Now, shift weight to the left foot, step with the left, close with the right, step left, stomp-stomp-stomp with the right; then back again. And, don’t forget, beat the sticks together on every step – like, in time, everything happening together. (Right; you try it!) Do all of this three times. And I actually do manage, more or less, to produce a pretty fair imitation of what Vanessa has in mind.
But there’s still more. Step with the right foot, close with the left; step right-close left, and continue with that pattern, making a circle (yes, beating the sticks all the while). Do this eight times, making a complete circle, then start all over again and make another circle, stepping, closing, clacking.
Okay, the circle is done. Now, stand in place and beat the sticks eight times on the ground (actually, linoleum in the rehearsal space, but suspend your disbelief), then eight times again.
And, finally, the big finale: standing in place, beat the sticks together and stomp with the right foot only, eight times, raising the sticks from the ground gradually as I go, finishing with them over my head. Then collapse in an exhausted heap on the bench. (That, I can do.)
And that’s it. Really.
Okay, so we go through all of these. I try to get my feet and my hands and the sticks to do everything all together: step right – close left – step right – stomp-stomp-stomp, step left, close right, step left — stomp-stomp-stomp, step right, close left, step right, close left (one), step right, close left, step right, close left (two, three… you get the idea), stand in place, beat-beat-beat-beat-beat-beat-beat-beat (once), then… (that’s right, again), sticks on the ground, stomp-stomp-stomp, sticks a little higher, stomp-stomp-stomp, sticks above my head, stomp-stomp-stomp — and we’re done.
I am now bathed in sweat – not genteel sweat, but dead-earnest, aerobic, 45-minutes-on-the-elliptical sweat. Fred and Ginger, bet you never had to do this.
Then, from the periphery of the rehearsal hall, somebody (Craig or Vanessa – I’m not sure who, because I’m too busy stripping off items of clothing and rearranging what’s left) notes that, all the while I’m doing my ritual, the narrator (played by David Dubov) has a long monologue, and wouldn’t it be a good idea if we timed my dance to see how well it meshes with that speech; the goal being to have my dance end at the same time as David’s lines.
So here we go again, and again; Craig narrates, I dance and clack, and finally collapse in a heap, and Craig notes exuberantly that, if I go through the whole routine twice, I will finish at exactly the same time David does. Symmetry – beautiful. In my sweaty, post-aerobic haze, I try to appreciate the beauty.
At some point in my workout, Laura Russell and Doug Krehbel have come in and are now sitting on the sidelines, waiting for their dance rehearsal session. Now we’re done, everybody’s satisfied. Vanessa turns to Laura and Doug, asking them if they’ve ever done a quick step. That’s what she has in mind for their dance to the music of “Anything Goes.” Gliding across the floor to Cole Porter, à la Fred and Ginger; aren’t they a lovely couple? They get into position; the music begins. I gather up my belongings and take my soggy self out into the night. Life isn’t fair.
Brian Friel’s masterpiece Dancing at Lughnasa is a drama about five unmarried sisters eking out their lives in a small Irish village in 1936. It won the 1992 Tony Award for Best Play, and Time Magazine called it “the most elegant and rueful memory play since The Glass Menagerie.” Our production opens April 20. Tickets and further information are available here.