Kaeleb asked me an interesting question as I was giving him a ride home from rehearsal last night:
“Are there any shows that you have done before, that you wish you could go back and do again, knowing what you know now?”
I surprised myself–and I think also him–by realizing that no, there aren’t. I think a lot about the idea that you can’t step in the same river twice, and I think the same applies to plays. It’s not the same show, and I’m not the same artist.
I actually have done a number of shows twice. I may even have directed David Ives’ The Universal Language more than twice, I hardly remember. But it never feels like going back to the same show or getting it right this time. Because the actors are different and their energy is different, it changes. In some ways, the story itself seems to shift and rearrange itself under the energy of the actors. I didn’t do two-and-a-half Much Ados in two years to get anything right–the work presents itself, and I don’t turn it down–but because the story responds to the energy of the actors. Even in the recent remount, where we had about half of the cast returning and only five nights of rehearsal, we made new discoveries. The story was a different one, ever so slightly.
The do-overs that I wish for are rarely about the play and more about the work. I still wake up at three am on bad nights thinking about a note I gave years ago that the actor took badly. I think about times when I should have pushed more or less, offered a different approach, demanded more precision in a movement.
For those moments, I do sometimes get another chance. Sometimes, a moment arises in rehearsal when I feel deja vu, a memory in my gut of an identical moment when I took a wrong turn, and this time around, I’m able to right it. Sometimes I get to work with the same actors again and again, and I get another chance at being the collaborator I need.
The kind of do-over I wish for the most, though, is the kind that happens within a short timeframe, minutes or days. Actors can do a thing and have it go a bit off the rails, and we just say, “Let’s try that again, but different. Don’t worry about it, that’s what rehearsal is for.” As a director, I feel like I don’t have the leeway to do that. I have to be pretty good in the moment, every moment, because people take what I say a little too seriously. I have to leave a mistake by the side of the road because more moments are coming and I need to pay attention to those immediate ones. I’ll stumble if I’m looking backward as the work drives ever forward.
I wish I could say, “Hey, that note I gave you last night–I fumbled that. Let me try again.” But the ones that I end up regretting are the ones that are hard enough the first time around, for me and for the actor. Do I want to revisit a hard place?
I am not afraid of doing hard things. I’ve been joking that start-and-stop rehearsals are the hardest for me because I’m pathologically averse to interrupting people. I always say, “It’s an aspect of my craft that I’m working on. We all should have some piece of our craft that we are honing every day.” But honestly, I’m getting over that. I’m getting better at catching the moment where we need to stop and adjust something versus letting it roll on and trust the actor to fix it. Last night, I even shouted HOLD at a particularly intense moment (my go-to is usually, “Hey, can we pause there for a second?”)
Maybe this is the next thing I need to start working on–how to go back and fix fumbles within shorter timeframes, instead of waiting for the wheel of time to bring me a second chance.