by Tulis McCall
An Equity actor can work 10 consecutive hours in a 12 hour period during the rehearsal process. And anyone who has ever pulled one of these days can tell you that they feel more like 20 hours squeezed into a 12 hour period. (Unless you have worked with Alan Ayckbourn, who has worked out a mathematical formula for tech rehearsals that reduces them to a few streamlined hours.) With 10 Out Of 12, now playing at Soho Rep, Anne Washburn has created a detailed and magnified look at a technical rehearsal of an unnamed play that is equal parts empathy, boredom, pity and frustration. And that’s just for the actors. What the audience experiences is a whole different kettle o’ fish. Sort of.
What is obvious from the start is the overlapping communication that is going on. Sound checks are happening while the Stage Manager checks to see that everyone is signed in, people are in place, missing tools are located etc. etc etc. Some of this happens with people on the stage that is the set of the unnamed show. Some happens over the speaker system. Some happens just on our headsets as we, the audience, eavesdrop on what people are saying to one another backstage. Sometimes this format works for us. And sometimes it doesn’t.
Another element that is obvious is the care that the tech people are putting into each moment – not that the actors aren’t. The actors are simply in another universe. About 15 minutes into the evening we are finally ready for the Technical Run Through to begin – yes it does take that long to get started – and the Stage Manager says Actors, you already know this, but this is your time to say “I can’t see”, “I need help”“I’m terrified” which pretty much gives them license to each slow down the process while they examine what it is they are questioning. Bruce McKenzie as the Director is the one constant in this process and delivers the exact right amount of indecision, patience, and fortitude. He is nearly resigned that the show will go on no matter the glare of the EXIT sign and the improvisation of an actor who feels his ideas worthy. His job is to maintain equilibrium until opening night, no matter how stretched his last little nerves are.
Not a lot happens over the course of these condensed two hours of our time and 10 hours of theirs, and a lot happens. There is talk of food and coffee. Musings by the director on what he loves and what he doesn’t. Blackouts are timed and actors’ places marked. All the teeny tiny moments that go into knitting the sweater of a production together are played out. The conversations drift in and out as people are waiting for – well, it could be anything. A missing actor. A sound cue. A temperamental lighting instrument. The conversations on the headsets begin to blend together both from content and due to the fact that single voices play more than one character. Onstage, the “actors” – become like sea otters drifting in a pool. Loosely tethered by touching each other’s foot or tail, spinning as one unit. And on and on we go.
To add to the sense of being adrift, the set we see appears to be backstage and onstage as well. Plywood walls were not always backstage. Forests came and went. Tables were set up and taken down. Doors opened and closed. It was difficult to tell where the actors were supposed to be. Confusion added to confusion.
Finally Thomas Jay Ryan as the actor Paul, and the character Carstairs, appears. He gives everyone a poke in the eye by being unctuous and condescending, and the play takes on a human scale. Paul sucks the congeniality out of every minute he is visible – and undoubtedly those in which he is not. We actually begin to yearn for him to show up and question his costume, other actors’ integrity, or the way a scene is being played. He throws everyone off kilter. He decimates the ensemble spirit. He gives us onlookers something to grab onto. And ultimately as the rehearsal comes to an end, it is Paul who laments the job of an actor before joining a union. When time meant nothing, and there was no such thing as 10 out of 12 hours. They just carried on until they dropped. Ahhh the good old days.
We leave exhausted, respecting actors and tech crews (the performances here are equally excellent) in a whole new way, and very grateful to be released from their hold. The streets of New York never seemed so uncomplicated as they do when exiting the theatre after this show.
WITH: Quincy Tyler Bernstine (Stage Manager), Jeff Biehl (Technician 3), Gibson Frazier (Ben/Charles), Rebecca Hart (Costume), Nina Hellman (Siget/Old Lady/Lucille), Sue Jean Kim (Eva/Marie), Bruce McKenzie (Director), Garrett Neergaard (Technician 2), Bray Poor (Sound), David Ross (Jake/Richard), Thomas Jay Ryan (Paul/Carstairs), Conrad Schott (Assistant Director), Wendy Rich Stetson (Lights) and Leigh Wade (Assistant Stage Manager).
Sets by David Zinn; costumes by Ásta Bennie Hostetter; lighting by Justin Townsend; sound by Bray Poor; props by George Hoffmann and Greg Kozatek; choreography by Barney O’Hanlon; music arrangement by Dan Mackenzie and Mr. Poor; production manager, Jeff Drucker; production stage manager, Amanda Spooner; technical director, Sara Morgan. Presented by Soho Rep, Sarah Benson, artistic director; Cynthia Flowers, executive director; in association with John Adrian Selzer. At the Soho Rep, 46 Walker Street, between Broadway and Church Street; 212-352-3101, sohorep.org. Through July 18. Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes.