After the first week of rehearsals - thoughts from actor Pearce Bunting
Throwing ourselves in, heaving our selves out, remembering
Just finished our 1st week of rehearsal. The space we rehearse in is an empty restaurant across the street from the theater. It’s got wooden floors and wooden booths and it feels strangely like a ship. Every day starts with a warm-up- stretching with staccato exhalations- fire breaths, every inch of our bodies from the head down or from the feet up- waking up the outside and the inside, making sound, sometimes into each other’s backs, chests, heads, and ears, the floor, the world, sound from breathing out, sound from breathing in, reaching for impossible things. Blanka is right in the middle of it with us, rolling around in the shit, getting messy, taking and being taken.
A little background- it’s been 17 years since Blanka and I worked on a play together- Quartet, by Heiner Muller- Merteuil and Valmont from Les Liaisons Dangereux (Janis Dardaris and I), fighting for power, playing nasty games in and around a big, deep bathtub. The Wilma was still on Sansom St. and I was a little too young to fully understand that part.
A year before, in 1995, we did Road, by Jim Cartwright. A play, set in Lancashire, England, in the remains of a decrepit, forgotten neighborhood, full of desperate, brutal, funny, completely human characters trying to hang on to their humanity. It was presented as a kind of circus and I played Scullery, the drunken, homeless, clown who was the ringmaster, your tour guide through the streets and lives littered with blood, piss, shit, and broken glass.
That role changed everything for me- working with Blanka, I pushed myself farther than I ever had out of my comfort zone, but push isn’t really the right word- it was the first time I let myself get taken to another place on stage, completely. My body let go, transformed- I even got shingles, but I made peace with the pain, our stage hand, Chris Lippa, smearing goo on my welts and bandaging them up every night. I loved living in that hell. I felt more alive than I ever had.
Now, years have gone by (close to 30 since we first met), and Blanka and I are playing together again. What’s different? I don’t think we’ve changed that much, we’re just more ourselves. We’ve both been through a lot in our lives and we’re more settled in. Life has happened, people we love have died, kids have been born, economies have collapsed, wars have been fought, the ocean’s cod population has been depleted, and we’re older.
I think Blanka’s throwing herself into the work more- literally. She invited me to play in a 2 week intensive voice workshop with Jean-René Toussaint (who’ll be working with us this coming week in Whaleback rehearsals) last summer and we were rolling around on the floor together, vocalizing like monsters, crying and laughing, letting things move. Blanka’s not asking anyone to go anywhere she’s not willing to go herself.
Another big change from the last time we worked is how we approach the play in the first few days of rehearsal. Something Blanka borrowed from Cicely Berry at the Royal Shakespeare Company - we no longer start the whole thing with a formal reading, in character, but we sit in a big circle of chairs with music stands, where anyone in the room who wants to join in- not just actors- can read the play as we say a line and pass it on, reading all the characters, talking about it, letting the play be the most important thing. It takes your ego out of the process, so from the very start, we’re making it about the play, listening to the story. We didn’t even do a formal reading, in character, until Friday.
When I was younger, Blanka intimidated the hell out of me (She’s Eastern European, she’s cooler than me, more talented than me, she can see the world in a way I never will, she knows herself better than I do, she’s smarter than me, maybe she doesn’t really care about actors, we’re just her tools) all these obstacles my ego threw in the way to justify my hard, passionate and anguished process blah, blah, blah…
What is my point here? In these last few years, I’ve grown up (a bit) and I’ve stopped looking for excuses. I want to collaborate with talented people and ask the questions that take us to a place that’s bigger than me, what I can imagine. There are more than a few “actor-y” fears that I could care less about anymore.
When my day off is over and I go back to work, I’ll forget all this stuff and go back to the job of stretching myself and sweating with my beautiful cast mates, pounding the Hull dialect into my body until my jaw falls out, and start feeling the sea in my body
Time has passed and life gets richer. It feels right to be here now.
We’re getting to know the play, trying to find ourselves, all of ourselves, in these characters, Blanka included.
Blood, piss, shit, joy and sadness- the work’s still the same.