When I went back to school ten years ago (I can’t believe it has been that long ago!) I quickly discovered that my favorite thing about the college experience this time around was listening to the discussions. In class we would really get into talking about plays or characters. Even in history class we would have discussions about whatever world event the lecture had been about.

I had a directing class that only had four people in it. After class, the professor would leave and since the 4 of us didn’t have a class for awhile, we would sit and talk about almost anything and everything. It was probably the best part of that semester, to sit and discuss the short plays we were each directing, current events and what was happening in other classes we were taking. I am sure somewhere in there we even gossiped a little!

Getting into in-depth discussions is not something people really care about doing these days. I have to say I am not a fan of small talk. Recently I was in a social setting where I had to talk to a lot of people. After the event my husband told me how proud he was of me for being so outgoing and chatty, which is so not me. I took it as the ultimate compliment of my acting abilities!

However, get me in a “real” conversation, a true discussion of something of substance, and I am in for hours. My son and his radio cohost talk about “deep dives” into different topics on their podcast and that is something I can get behind. Really analyzing a topic, listening to different views and going a little deeper is what I enjoy. If I ever go back to college for my MFA it will be for the discussions!

Last night the rehearsal process took us to one of my favorite phases and that is some character development and discussion.

I always hesitate to do a night like we had last night. The first show I directed, I kind of skipped this step. The first read through was so amazing that I just moved right on. However, later into the process we had a moment when I saw a spontaneous character discussion starting so we stopped in our tracks and talked.

My last show had a very disjointed rehearsal process due to some of the cast being in other shows and unavailable at first. So we had a read through and then split up for weeks. It was not the best process, but the show turned out fine.

This time I added an extra week to what I would have normally scheduled, so that we could have a gathering of everyone involved and then a night to “deep dive” into our feelings about the play and the characters.

While writing my notes for the evening I began to get nervous about having a night full of only discussion. While I love to listen to other people’s views and am willing to ask off the wall questions to get people to open up, I know that a lot of people don’t enjoy situations like this.

I also worry that the actors who are more experienced, which my cast definitely is, feel that they have done their research and thought about their characters and they might see this step as a waste of their time. Nothing upsets me more than wasting time whether it be mine or someone else’s. I don’t find this as a waste, but I never know what to expect from others.

I considered playing a game to begin the night so as to loosen everyone up, but I decided this cast would indeed walk out on me if I did. When I asked about pre-rehearsal/show warm ups, I realized that skipping a game was probably a good move!

In college, you are taught to do group warm ups, but as you get more experienced everyone seems to just do their own thing. Some time ago, I was part of a cast that had some younger members and they kept asking about warm ups. Eventually, the director gave in and told the ones who were pushing for the exercises to lead us in a warm up. After one very ineffective stab at warming up as a group, people began to slink away and we never did it again.

Most of us have a routine that we have found to be helpful and far be it from me to interfere in what works! I know I stretch a bit before I head to the theatre and sing all of the way to rehearsals to warm up my voice. I usually walk the stage when I get there just to get comfortable with the space, the same reason I like to get anywhere early so I can become used to the place I will be in.

At this point I need to say that being a part of a cast is like being part of a family for the span of time we are working together. Part of the work we do is getting to know each other. With this cast I am fortunate that most everyone knew each other prior to this show, there are even two married couples in the group! In a family, some things are private. Although I am blogging about this process, I will NOT share anything about specific actors, what they say or do during the process. Rehearsals are a safe place to talk, explore and experiment. I would never want to make anyone self conscious about the work they are doing because they are afraid of being blogged about!

After our long, in-depth discussion of the show, the relationships between the characters and how everyone sees their character and their story, I was walking an actor to the front door, telling him how much I love listening to people have deep discussions. I waited for him to say, “whatever!” when he said that he had also enjoyed it. He commented that you don’t get that opportunity with every rehearsal process.

I told him that to me, an audience needs to connect with the characters in order to really enjoy a play. In order to connect you have to see some depth in the person, the humanity of the character. He agreed and we parted ways.

All night I thought about that. How when we meet people, we tend to become friends with the ones we can relate to, that we have things in common with, that we feel something for. Watching a show, the same thing happens. Whether you feel sorry for the character, identify with them or decide you really can’t stand them, having some sort of feeling for them makes you enjoy the production more. Having a character that you wonder about, that you are curious about what happens to them after the end of the play, means that you have gone beyond the superficial and delved into the world that was created, the story you were told.

I have to say that I adore my cast. I heard such wonderful ideas, such sensitive insights and I could tell they had given the whole play and in particular their characters so much thought. I could tell they are learning to care about these people in order that the audience will hopefully care as well.

People that think acting is memorizing your lines and spewing them back to the audience has missed the whole point. While waiting for my cast last night, two young guys from McAdory High School wandered into the theatre. One was a senior and one was a freshman. They were there grabbing dinner during a break from some band workshop they were attending across the street. Both said they were interested in theatre.

I gave them a short tour of theatre, then stood near the door with them to ask a few questions about their theatre aspirations. It soon became clear that they were in it for all of the wrong reasons, they admitted as much. They also had very strong opinions about the subject of theatre that I fundamentally disagreed with completely. I just nodded and listened, thinking how much they had to learn and how I hoped they would eventually learn the lessons that theatre can teach you.

Each show is a new chance to learn, to share, to discuss. It is an opportunity to grow as an actor and a person. It teaches you empathy for people who are different from you.

One of the actresses that I have worked with before does a great job of relating to and becoming characters even though she realizes how they are so different from who she really is. That translates into being more empathetic when you actually meet someone different from you. Becoming that character means that you have literally walked in their shoes, which gives you a better perspective of life in general.

I truly hope that no one felt that our discussions were a waste of their time. I truly hope that they enjoyed thinking and talking about their characters. I know as a director I got great insight into what they are thinking about the upcoming process and it all made me rethink a few opinions I had on the story we are going to tell. I only wish that people could put away their phones for a few hours and have these kinds of deep dive discussions on a regular basis. That the average person could listen to other opinions, share their own ideas freely and that we all could discuss what is going on within and around us. It makes me grateful that I get to hang around actors who are willing to do that!

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Marietta is a graduate of the University of Montevallo with a BFA in musical theater. She has been performing for over 50 years on the stage and continues to perform, direct and teach. Marietta is married to Tim, has a son named Jon, and a cat named Penny.