This season we are, for the first time, revisiting work that we have already done. This first instance of this is this month’s re-exploration of The Bacchae – a production we first mounted in our fourth season and which, in many ways, shaped the path we were going to follow in terms of heightening the physicality of our work while decreasing our reliance on design elements.
Due to actor’s schedules and commitments, we are remounting the show with only two (Jen O’Connor and Melissa Barker) of our cast of five returning. The other three actors – Scott Sweatt, Aimee Rose Ranger and Mac Young – are Whistler stalwarts and intimately acquainted with our process, but were not involved in the first version of the piece – and indeed did not even have the chance to see it.
This is actually a boon to us. Given my own ambivalence about remounting a piece without re-exploring it, this new casting gives us the opportunity through these fresh eyes to explore different aspects of the piece that we might have missed last time. At the same time, we benefit from all the experience we had with the play and start this process at a much higher level of knowledge and understanding. The rules and world of the piece remain largely unchanged – a cast of five, with all of the actors rotating at one time or another into the mask of Dionysos, a bare stage with four drums and a single box, and the most basic of costumes – so we have less to figure out in terms of technical solutions, and can focus more on the arc and story of the play.
As we set about planning how to re-explore this play inside of a two-week process (the standard Whistler process is closer to five weeks), it became clear to us very quickly that we would need to start our two weeks completely off-book, and with the actors having made as many strong choices as they could about their respective characters. So, last night, at our first rehearsal, we started with an off-book, on our feet run of the play in the space.
And now I want to start every rehearsal process with one of these.
It was messy – obviously. This company of five had never even gotten the chance to read through the play together sitting down, and now they were on their feet, responding to each other and the space and the fact that having something memorized in your kitchen is a lot different from having it memorized on your feet. But for all of the moments that the play completely escaped us, there were even more moments where the play came together and worked. Really worked. Scott and Aimee Rose as Cadmus and Teiresias had everyone cracking up, Mac’s Pentheus is wildly compelling, and Jen and Melissa each found new depth to their gods.
Because it was so immediate, we all learned so much. Reactions came honestly and roughly, and the quality of the listening onstage was amazing.
I remember hearing about this style of work from my friends who had done work with Shenandoah Shakespeare Express – although in that case the first day run-through is not only off-book but also often the first time you are meeting a large portion of the cast – so you meet your fellow actors as artists first and then as people later. We don’t have that added level – these five actors are long-time collaborators. Part of our work at Whistler is to gather all of us in a room once a month to work together at generating work, so we are all used to each other, and feel safe challenging each other more than we might feel with unknown energies.
I’m so excited to be able to re-explore this gorgeous play with these five actors, and then to present it to you. In just two short weeks!