Opus Rehearsals Begin
We started rehearsals for Opus last Tuesday, so by Saturday I figured it might be time for me to go take a look.
Actually, the actors started musical rehearsals in August, but the acting rehearsals with their director, Jason Jacobs, started last week.
David Gusakov , a violinist with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra , has run the musical rehearsals and it has been his job to make sure the actors looked like they were really playing the stringed instruments they were holding.
As you know, Opus is about a world-class string quartet preparing for a concert at the White House. As you might imagine, there are very few actors that are able to play a stringed instrument at that level, and there are even fewer world-class musicians who have acting experience. And yet the playwright has the characters actually playing on stage. How do we make this happen?
David is teaching the actors the correct bow movements, but not the fingering. And since the bow actually touches the strings, we've learned that if you rub the bow with soap (yup, plain old Ivory soap) instead of rosin, the strings remain nearly silent. Then it's a matter of synching the actors' bow and body movements to the music, having a really good sound system in the theatre and counting on good old theatrical suspension of disbelief. We know they're not playing, but it almost seems like they are, so we allow ourselves to believe it.
Now, I knew this was the deal when I went to look in on a rehearsal. But when I watched the scene where Elliot, the leader of the quartet, hands Grace, the newcomer a very old and very valuable viola (think Stradivarius), and she starts playing Bach's first cello suite (transposed for viola), the effect was truly magical. (Here's a link to the piece if you're unfamiliar with it )
Maybe it was that the actors treated the viola with so much reverence. Maybe it was the ease and fluidity and mastery that Taryn Noelle (playing Grace) had with the instrument. And maybe it's just that I love that piece of music. But I have to tell you; the effect was truly mesmerizing, and indeed quite moving.
The remarkable thing, I learned after the scene had finished up, was that this was the first time the actors had actually run this particular scene. Jason has chosen an somewhat unusual rehearsal technique in which he lets the actors run the scene on their own first, without giving them any direction, and then he works from there.
The effect is that the actors seem absolutely organic, even as they are still reading from a script. And I got to see one of the things I truly love about this play: a group of artists, all at the top of their game, engaging in the creative processes as a cohesive, finely-tuned team. And I'm talking about both the actors and the musicians they were playing - it worked on both levels and it was truly thrilling. I can't wait to see more.