My friend and VOS photographer Ken Hurford took the above photo from an Oklahoma! rehearsal last week. This is from the smokehouse scene, and while Jud is in costume, I, Curly, am not (except for the gun and the neckerchief), and neither on of us is wearing stage makeup. I think it’s a great low-light photo, from a pretty powerful scene.
Steve Shortt (who plays Jud) has a much different job as an actor in this show than anyone else – his character is dark, brooding, and Steve preps for it pretty seriously. It’s pretty intense to share the stage with a guy who has that much focused energy. And yet, it’s somehow a positive energy that you can easily play off of an react to. That to me speaks volumes to how Steve’s approach to character is tempered by his own personality and under control.
For my prep before a show (although we’ve only done rehearsals so far, I treat them the same as a show, why not, right?) I like to spend oodles of time thinking about all of the things that I don’t want to have to think about during the show itself. One of these things is lifts – and I have several throughout the show, with a few different actors, one of them over my head, with an inverted flip to get out of it. Look for that one near the beginning of Act 2, for those of you keeping track… but the hardest is during the ballet. Hopefully it ends up being the lift that looks the easiest.
Another thing I spend time on is first notes – the first note of every song tends to be one that either sets the song up for awesomeness, or puts you in a hole that you have to dig yourself out of. If it’s effortless and on key, the audience will be on your side for the rest of the piece, I figure.
Which leads me to diction. I never EVER think about diction during a scene – it should be automatic, shouldn’t it? Maybe, but having read a ton of theatre reviews in the past 18 months, not being able to hear or understand lines is the number one thing I’ve picked out. Practice it before – get your lips off your teeth, open your mouth, think about where your sound is going, bounce it off a flat surface instead of letting it get absorbed into the wings or a traveller.
And, lastly, I practice knaps.
A “knap” is something you do to make a sound during a stage fight. Sometimes you do your own knaps (when you are throwing a punch or a kick), and at other times you do a knap when you are the one getting punched, kicked, slapped whatever. The thing is, when you are in the moment of stage combat, doing the knap is kinda secondary to making sure you don’t actually punch the other person in the face. Our stage combat specialist, Daniel Levinson, spent quite a bit of time with us working through the mechanics of our fights and the techniques involved with keeping it safe – this is a lot to keep in your head in the heat of the moment on-stage. Obviously, someone with a ton of stage combat experience has an easier time keeping all the pieces of the choreography top of mind all at once, but this is all pretty new to me. So I like to practice knaps by myself and as part of a warm-up before a show. It’s kinda funny, I think, to see some guy standing backstage slapping himself loudly in the chest (pectorals, come on!) or the rear-end, trying to get a decent sound.
But if you hear the decent smack sound as a fist appears to make contact onstage, you know something went right.
More later – joel