Waltzing Mechanics

Chicago's Home for Documentary Theatre

Filtering by Tag: Line One

Line One - Live Callers

With some insight on rehearsing with live callers, ensemble member Christine Worden: Christine WordenDuring past this week we began to run full-length “practice shows” using a to-the-minute schedule with live callers. This exciting addition required all actors and directors to be engaged for a full 70 minutes. These practice shows mimicked show conditions and allowed us to identify some of the challenges that could arise during our performances.

Line One is a verbal collage, so often the audience will be hearing several voices at once. Sometimes these voices will be inaudible, overlap, or interrupt. Often when given a prompt, the speaker will answer the question and pause for a few minutes to think. It’s these moments of silence that are particularly fun to channel.  If you watch carefully, you will see actors embodying these silences, remaining engaged even when the person on the phone has run out of things to say.

Another challenge that we have faced is the inevitable unreliability of cell phone reception. Occasionally, a call will not come through. At these times, the onstage directors will adjust (and sometimes scramble) to cover the time lost in our tightly-planned show. When a call does come through and the signal is poor, the channeler is still required to repeat verbatim whatever she hears through her earpiece. Every burst of static and bit of word fragment becomes a part of the verbal collage.

While these technical snafus may initially seem frustrating, it is our job in Line One to simply accept what comes through our earpieces. Everything is exactly as it should be!


Line One - The Secret Mission

Cast member WarrWarren Swartwouten Swartwout provides some insight on a key piece of each Line One performance: We had another great week of rehearsal for Line One this past week.  We started working with more callers and running the entirety of the show, including my favorite portion, the “Secret Mission.”  One actor calls another actor on stage, gives him or her a mission, and is off.  The actor who stays behind relates the entire experience of the other actor to the audience.  My mission was to order as much food as possible from a pizza joint with only $5. I ordered a fruit punch iced tea and an Arizona iced tea and as much garlic bread as possible with the remaining money. I never thought as an actor I’d be going to a pizza joint to rehearse, but I can’t complain. It was a strange feeling to tell my experience with another actor over a phone, knowing that the audience on the other side was in some way or another experiencing what I was.

I almost felt like I was a tour guide. I wanted to be as clear and descriptive as possible, so that the audience could visualize every step on my pizza mission.

Another layer to this that I hadn’t thought of before is seeing how is other people navigate a common activity, like purchasing food, perhaps a little differently from yourself.  It brings a lot more meaning to a somewhat mundane experience when it is shared in this manner with so many other people. I have noticed when I am channeling another person, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in their story and walk away at the end with almost the same feelings as the person on the other side.  There is little time to evaluate a story as you are channeling, so there is little to do but feel.  These shared experiences are what make this show so exciting.  I am looking forward to sharing more journeys with audiences to come!

Line One - Lighting Design

Continuing on, here is some insight on the particular lighting challenges Line One poses, from out very talented lighting designer, Eric Van Tassell: How do you light a play that is different every night? That's the main challenge as I work on the lighting design for Line One.

First, let’s take a step back. If you aren’t familiar with normal theatrical lighting design, the way it works is that every time you, the audience, see the lights change that is a pre-recorded cue in a computer. While a typical show is in rehearsals, the director and actors finalize the movement that will happen on stage—when each person moves and says what where on stage. The lighting designer watches those rehearsals, then aims lights at the necessary locations, and records cues in a computer that tells the system when to turn each light on and off. This coordinates with the pre-set movements of the actors on stage resulting in there being light on an important actor in a given scene and less light elsewhere on stage. That’s how lighting a typical show works.

This is not a typical show. The actors don’t know what their lines will be each night. They don’t know where they will go on stage. They don’t know how long they will stay wherever they walk. And they should feel free to use the space in a way that fits with whatever dialogue comes their way over the phone each night. My lighting should not limit their movement.

At the same time, I’m not interested in lighting this like an improv show. Improv performances give actors complete freedom of movement by putting absolutely no emphasis on lighting. The lights are on at the top of the show and they stay on, all at the same intensity, over the entire stage, until the scene is over and the lights all turn off. This works, but it also discards lighting as a tool in a theatre’s box of tricks.

So we don’t want lights that turn on and off randomly and aren’t coordinated with the actors, but we also don’t want boring lighting that comes on and stays on and doesn’t support the action on stage in any active way. This is the puzzle for this project. How to theatrically light a play in an interesting way without ever knowing what the play will be.

My plan at this point is to program a series of cues for the beginning of the show and a series of cues for the end of the show. Those cues will be the same each night and, along with the actors and directors, we will make those moments at least somewhat pre-planned. Everything between those opening and closing cues, will be improvised by our very talented stage manager, Amy Hopkins. I’ve worked with Amy many times before at Oracle Theatre, where we both often work, and I have complete confidence in her. She is very good at seeing my work, understanding the intention, and then executing it appropriately. Plus, she’s done some lighting design of her own in the past, so this world is not foreign to her.

In an effort to set Amy up for success, I will be programming the lights that I hang in such a way that they can quickly and easily be manipulated in groups. This will make it easy for her to bring lights up and down "on the fly." During our tech rehearsals, when the process for a normal show we would be finalizing each cue down to the fraction of a second when it will happen each night, instead we will be experimenting. I will be running the lights for the first few rehearsals. I’ll find what works and what doesn’t. I’ll make changes accordingly. Then, when I’ve gotten the system figured out, I will get to teach Amy how it works. She will have a variety of lighting “toys” to play with to make these actors look fantastic and support what they are doing on stage.I'll turn it all over to her and she'll get to navigate the rest of the performances.

How do you light a play that is different every night? You give yourself options and then play along with the actors.

Line One - The Group Mind

Some insight on the ensemble building work, from cast member Ross Compton: For the first couple of weeks, going to Line One rehearsals felt very much like attending a voice and movement class. There is no script. So each night brought a new plethora of exercises, goals, challenges and opportunities for me to make smart ass comments to try and make people laugh. (I’ll be seriously lucky to be cast in any future productions.)

What I have gleaned the most from this process is the importance of being connected to the rest of my cast mates, and how the success of Line One hinges upon that idea. We are working towards becoming a unit, to the point where we will instinctively know each other’s actions or movements without having to discuss it beforehand.

The exercise that I think will best describe this sense of unity for the purpose of this blog post is a simple one that we’ve done every week now. The eight of us will stand in a circle. After a few deep breaths-and perhaps a brief time of checking in with each other using eye contact- we will begin counting to a number given to us by Zack, one of our directors. Only one of us can say a number at a time, and there is no pre-set order or pattern. I remember attempting this counting game in college with minimal success. And true to those memories, we had a pretty rough go of it during our first week. We were supposed to count to 30 and it took us about seven or eight tries. By the end of the second week, we counted to 50 in two tries. What was remarkable to me was how easy it had become. Like second nature. It’s as if we had planned the order of when each number would be called out. But we didn’t. The delighted surprise at our swift completion of the exercise result in an impromptu hug-fest.

That’s right Virginia. There really is Group Mind.

Line One - Vocabulary

Continuing our efforts to document our rehearsal process for Line One, cast member Claire Reinhart shares some of the key vocabulary words that have developed over the past couple of weeks:

The third week of rehearsals revolved around a couple of LINE ONE vocabulary buzzwords: "channeling," "focus," and "shoop." I'll break them down for all you lovely Waltzing Mechanic blog readers, so when you see the show, you'll be able to recognize some of the work we've been doing!

CHANNELING: This is one of the most important things we do in the show. During every show, we get calls from new strangers who tell us different stories from their lives. Our job as actors is to "channel" that person to the audience. We speak the stories coming through our headsets and let their words do the work. It's not like anything you do when you have a script in hand or are doing an improv scene. The ensemble has been practicing with storytelling podcasts, and it's been an exciting challenge to try to honestly express what we're hearing, while still keeping the energy out for an audience.

FOCUS: Our rehearsal director, Zack, talks a lot about "focus" to our ensemble. This show takes a lot of trust. All the actors onstage need to really commit to the action and to each other. If you let your mind wander or get upset about tripping over a word while channeling, you aren't engaging with the group. Focus is important in any show, but this show has so many variables that we really need to stay alert and listen to each other.

SHOOP: When one of us is channeling, the rest of us stay onstage and listen. We've been using the term "shoop" to describe what the ensemble does when we aren't speaking. Ask me if I've ever heard the word "shoop" and didn't immediately start singing Salt-N-Pepa's "Shoop." The answer is: it's what I do EVERY. TIME. Shoop-ing is really useful, because it keeps the non-speakers actively engaged both physically and mentally. We try to move as a group decisively and shift our focus to whatever story needs our attention.

For some expert insight on Shoop, please watch the instructional video below:


Introducing Line One

Waltzing Mechanics is thrilled to present our next prime time documentary play, Line One.  Originally conceived by John Kaufmann, Line One is a unique theatrical experience, incorporating live actors, live callers, and a new theme every night.  As Kaufmann describes it:

Actors enter with cell phones, not knowing what the night will hold. Their job: to speak aloud whatever they hear through their earpieces. The phones start to ring and the real-time adventure begins. Spontaneous conversations, narrated journeys, and unique experiences overlap as each night’s theme emerges.

Each week, we will be documenting our rehearsal processing by posting blog entries authored by cast and production crew members.  This week, we begin with cast and Waltzing Mechanics ensemble member, Maggie Scrantom:

I attended undergrad at the University of Iowa with Line One creator John Kaufman, who was a grad student at the time. He provided me with the opportunity to participate in a Line One rendition during my time there. And this past Sunday in a cold room in Beloit WI, I viscerally recalled my love for this show as I was reintroduced to channeling. Channeling is the central conceit in Line one: a person calls the actor during the show, the actor answers, the person is given a prompt, the person answer the prompt, and the actor vocalizes everything they hear coming in on the call. Thus, the actor channels the person on the phone in order to share that person with the audience without that person ever stepping foot in the theatre. As an actor, I must trust my voice and body to be a vessel instantly filled with the thoughts and stories of another human. I have no time to prepare, I can only be. And as the caller sorted through their answer to the given prompt, I felt as though I too was sorting. We were taking the thought journey together, though none of the thoughts were actually my own.
This past year I was blessed to venture into the depth of some amazing female roles on stage and film. Tireless yet exhilarating, I felt that I hit a stride with my acting process and character development. I suppose I should never get too comfortable. After this first week of Line One rehearsals, I feel confronted with a new and exciting challenge. I have no character to discover or script to pour over. It is not about isolating and specifying parts of myself to bring a role to life because I do not know my role. I do not know who I will be channeling during any performance. All I can do is trust the group and be open. What a beautiful gift. I am supremely grateful to John Kaufman for dreaming up this mystical journey and the Mechanics for their bravery in leading us though the adventure.
Below are photos from our first rehearsal, a workshop with John Kaufmann in Beloit, WI: