On Thursday May 31, Directors’ Circle Donors were invited to sit in on an early rehearsal for the first show of the summer – Miss Julie. They observed as Director Matt Cahoon worked through several pages of the script with actors Rebecca Tucker (Julie) and Nicholas Wilder (Jean), and Stage Manager Zach Glennon.
Sitting in the darkened theatre watching a production, it is easy to forget how much work goes into the careful crafting of this art, not only in the actual rehearsal process, but in what each of these professionals brings with them on the very first day. What you eventually see on the stage is more than just lines learned for the show. Everyone brings their years of experience and training, their history, their interpretation, and their research to the stage, complemented by the set, the costumes, the lighting, and sound that professional designers use to tell the story.
Miss Julie was originally written in Swedish in 1888 by August Strindberg, and there have been many different translations. Matt uses those different translations to his advantage, sometimes offering the actors a line from one to highlight a more nuanced motive behind a line or referencing a footnote to help guide them. It isn’t about changing the dialogue of the translation they’re working from, but rather using another translation to help infer the emotion behind the words.
Zach takes careful notes regarding prop options, occasionally going over to a pile of period props and rifling through them to find an item being discussed without stopping the process. He also notes what Matt says about some of the lighting, sound, or set, and what action may happen upstage or downstage. These will be sent to all members of the production team to keep everyone in the loop and involved in the process.
It was fascinating to watch everyone work through this part of the script with movement and blocking for the first time. There were moments they were sitting down for a section and then realized the script had direction in the dialogue of “you sit here and I’ll sit there.” Suddenly it dictated that the characters have to stand up at some point before the dialogue tells them to sit again. Then there was a discussion about when Miss Julie should be on the floor and when she should jump to her feet to make a point with a particular line. These are all a part of the process involved in crafting the production, and it was wonderful to see this glimpse of the work being done.
There were also frequent interruptions to discuss motives, character interactions, and reactions. At one point, the action stopped to discuss Miss Julie’s alcohol consumption over the course of the day and how that influences the intensity of her reactions to Jean. Several conversations took place between the actors and the director to help clarify the script and how certain parts might be perceived by audience, and what choices each character would make based on their upbringing and backstory.
Nick and Rebecca are so talented that even wearing street clothes and standing in the bright light of the Upstairs Rehearsal Room - on just the third day of rehearsal - their emotions and expressions are real and palpable and they brought Miss Julie and Jean to life. They've already managed to elicit feelings and reactions from their small audience. While this show may have been written in the late 19th century, there are many parts that have stood the test of time and are relatable by a modern audience.