By cast member Chris Elston
Two important things have happened this week as we continue to build the reality that will be Twelve Angry Men. We tried on our costumes for the very first time and we also began using the stage.
Costumes are a very crucial element in preparing one’s character. In my last chronicle, I talked about how important rehearsal was in the focusing and development of characters. But costumes are an equally valuable tool in creating another identity. Whenever I try my costume on for the first time and look into the mirror, I see a whole new dimension to my character spring to life as well as countless possibilities for interpretation.
When I first put on the guard’s uniform, I could feel myself stand a little straighter, my shoulders pull back, and the smile leave my face as I slowly transformed into a no nonsense agent of the court. And that was just my first instinct. I honestly believe the typical theatergoer would be amazed to learn just how much physicality can play into the creation of a character. The way an actor sits, stands, walks, and carries himself or herself all dramatically alter the way a line is delivered. As the no nonsense agent of the court, my lines are delivered crisply and briskly and matter of factly as this interpretation is focused solely on his duty. But with a droop in my shoulders, a slower gait, a reaction to the heat, and a brusque turning off of a speaker, suddenly my guard becomes someone who doesn’t really like his job and my delivery becomes short and blasé. Two nearly opposite interpretations and driven completely by how I use my body.
And now we’re using the stage. And this is where the fun truly begins because now the cast can truly begin acting since we’re off book. . .more or less. On the stage, we now have an idea of the space we need to fill with our volume and can begin honing our presences or the “look at me factor” as I like to call it. Presence is one of the most difficult things to define in theatre. It’s not about being showy or upstaging others. It’s an it that spectators merely sense and that an actor grows organically, almost unconsciously. When an actor develops his or her character to the point of perfect presence, the audience zeroes their attention in on the performer and keeps it there. It cannot be forced. It just happens through the continual discovery process of rehearsal. After all these years, I am still amazed when I see other actors reach and when I reach that pinnacle of presence.
Now we’re also in the tedious side of the work. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. But great theatre requires constant repetition of scenes and very minute, detailed work in those scenes to create something great. Last night, we worked mostly on scene 2 of the show. During shows, the scene will be performed in a matter of minutes. But we spent several hours on it so we can make it something great. New line interpretations. New blocking. New discoveries. Repeating the scene over and over again to polish it. All these things are what we do to be our very best so we can best entertain you.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be adding lights and sound as our world ever evolves. I look forward to sharing these stories with you so when you come to see Twelve Angry Men, you will be able to appreciate it from both sides of the stage.