Beyond the stage

It’s opening night. The set has been built, lighting and sound cues are ready to make their debut, costumes that have been carefully altered are draped perfectly over each actor, make-up has been slathered on to accentuate (or disguise) specific features and actors are eagerly awaiting their cue in the wings. The play is ready for its audience. But how did the actors get here? Let’s rewind to when the plucking and polishing was just about to start… the rehearsal process.

“The art of what we do happens in the rehearsal hall.” Enter accomplished actor Jamie Williams. Having worked on countless shows across the country with an array of talented directors, creative teams and actors, Williams has witnessed his share of different creative processes. While he loves finally welcoming an audience in to his character’s world, he admits that his favourite part lies in rehearsal.

Williams explains that during the (often very short) rehearsal period is the time that actors and directors can be most collaborative, take risks and discover. “That excitement, being intent in a scene with another actor, feeling that dynamic or tension, it can be intense. Whether it’s a drama, comedy or romance; they’re all different, but when that spark is happening for the first time in rehearsal it’s probably the most exciting bit.”

For Williams, his preparation starts weeks before he steps foot in the hall. “You’re not required or expected to come in off-book, but everyone wants to do the best job he or she can.” One of the most frequently asked questions Williams, and probably most actors, receive is how do they memorize all those lines? But for Williams, his process doesn’t involve “memorizing”. “I want to be familiar with the whole play, before I even start looking at the specifics of my character.” Williams tries to discover the answers to questions like “Who’s the hero or the protagonist and what’s going on there? How does my character feed in to that? If I’m not the hero, how do I help them? How do I hinder them? What are the obstacles I need to overcome? What am I trying to achieve over the course of the play?”

After considering all of these questions, and more, Williams brings what he’s discovered to the rehearsal hall. “You try them out and start marrying them to the blocking of the show, the movement of the piece and suddenly the lines start to drop in after that,” Williams believes that lines come to you far easier once this process takes place. “It’s less of I’ve got to learn this, and more of really putting together all the pieces that feed in to the scene. By the time you figure all of that out, the lines the playwright intentionally wrote are really the only thing the character would have to say.”

Rehearsal days are typically eight hours, however Williams admits that the work doesn’t end there and it takes discipline to sit down every night. “I try to give myself a break and empty my mind by going for a run. Thoughts about my character will usually drop in, of course, but often those are good thoughts,” he shares. “I’ll then review and put into my memory bank what we did that day, and get familiar with what we’re going to do the next day so I can come to the hall with ideas I can contribute.”

Acting is unlike any other job in that you are under constant scrutiny from day one, always being watched and judged. “What I’ve learned, is that you have to be willing to make mistakes in rehearsal hall so that you can learn from them and therefore be more confident about the choices that you’ve made by the time you hit the stage,” Williams shares. “If I’m being too vulnerable, or nervous about pleasing the director, I’m probably not going to take the risks that are required and therefore not be set up as well as I could be for the performances.”

“I won’t say it’s fun all the time, because it isn’t.” Williams half-heartedly laughs. “At the beginning of rehearsal, it’s moving along well. In the middle you feel like you’ve gone two steps back and it can feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. Then you figure out the pieces and think ‘yes, this is great’. When you leave the hall and finally hit the stage during tech week, you feel like you don’t know what’s happening again because you’re incorporating the reality of the space and all the moving bits, the lights, sound, costumes, make up… Finally you get a hold of that, and you’re ready to open.”

Jamie Williams stars as Dr. Watson in Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery on stage until August 12. For more information, visit the show page by clicking here.

By Nicole Campbell