BBBD: The joys of tablework

Like many of you, I’m waiting eagerly to see Firebringer. This is the first time I’ve missed the opportunity to see the dress rehearsal, due to a conflict with an event at my child’s school. It’s true that the show must go on, but it’s also true that family comes first. So I don’t have any reflections about the show yet. 

However, Firebringer is the also the first time I’ve had the opportunity to do some tablework with a cast that wasn’t mine. I’m a huge fan of tablework; for Dover we did a solid four weeks of it, three sessions a week, meticulously working through the process laid out in Katie Mitchell’s The Director’s Craft. For Sister Cities, we did a slightly abbreviated version, working through the process in five sessions instead of twelve. So of course I was going to jump at the opportunity to cut to the chase in a single session. 

So what is tablework? It’s a dedicated time to work on the text as a group and in breakout sessions. Beyond just a read thru, while you’re reading the script, you’re discussing the characters, their relationships, the world around them, and their objectives in the scenes. At the end, everyone has a shared understanding of the world of the play and what each character is trying to do from beat to beat. It helps prevent scenarios like Bob locking himself in a room with the script and constructing an elaborate Main Character Energy backstory for himself that doesn’t really… fit with the lines and stage direction. 

Dee and the cast wanted to dig into the motivations of the wacky tribe of stone age misfits that populate Firebringer, so asked the Show Support committee for help. Caro and I tossed around some ideas on Slack and she developed some exercises. One of the risks with motivation work, of course, is that when you ask someone to explain their motivation in a script, they’ll quote back the thing that the character said about why they did the thing (“I want to dance because I don’t want to do the work today”). But there’s typically a “because” underlying the words in the script (“I want to dance instead of doing the work because my talents don’t have enough freedom to shine when they’re weighed down with so much responsibility”), and it’s tablework’s job to find it. Once you find it, that underlying motivation informs how you say that line…. A Zazz motivated by the need to let her talents burn brighter is going to be very different from a Zazz angry that Molag always liked Jemilla better and determined to make it as hard as possible for Jemilla to lead. 

And the cast absolutely rocked it. They had so many questions and ideas and willingness to explore. You can tell when a cast trusts each other because they’re willing to share their ideas and head cannons, and that was the very strong sense I got from the afternoon I spent with them. I haven’t seen the play yet, but I’m going to make a bold prediction that the kind of trust and cohesion they’ve built is going to shine through in their performances, too. 

And, after you’ve watched the play and are mingling with the cast to tell them how awesome they are, take the opportunity to ask Maria about her head cannon for Chorn, because it’s legitimately genius. 

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