Rehearsals are odd: Cartoon cats, gorillas and diving boards


Rehearsals for West Side Story are continuing apace, as well they should with less than 2 weeks before we descend upon the paying public.  My role in the production has expanded somewhat since my last blog post from Doc to both Doc and Officer Krupke, with a side order of singing in the wings during ensemble numbers.  Playing two different named characters in the same show is an intriguing challenge and Wednesday’s rehearsal demonstrates the lengths that the director and acting coach are going to in their attempts to help me do this.

For me, the rehearsal started with work on Officer Krupke.  Finding two different ways of speaking for the two characters was proving tricky, particularly since both are supposed to be New Yorkers.  So, from the depths of childhood televisual memories, somebody recalled Top Cat, and the phrase “OK, T.C.!”, which gave birth to a wonderful way of speaking which the Jets should have no trouble imitating.  With lips pushed forward and the sound sitting somewhere in the back of my throat, poor old Krupke sounds very dumb indeed.  Which is fair enough, since he really doesn’t have that many brain cells to rub together.  It’s also not an easy voice to sustain, so I shall have to practice reciting nursery rhymes, memory verses and the like in Krupke’s fascinating accent.

Moving on from the vocal, there is also the physical.  Krupke is intimidating.  Or rather, Krupke thinks he’s intimidating.  And he also idolises Lieutenant Schrank to an extent, for the plain clothes man clearly commands some sort of grudging respect from the ‘punks’ on the street, something with Krupke cannot really claim.  He walks with chest puffed out, arms dangling somewhat (unless clutching his whistle).  His gait is rolling and his legs are slightly bent.  He could be compared to a gorilla, only his arms do not reach quite so close to the ground.  The true challenge came in transferring this walk to a run (for Krupke enters and exits one scene at a gallop and has to negotiate steps at speed).  A portion of the rehearsal time was spent running around the outside of Whitstable Castle in character, either alone or chasing the acting coach, which was a spectacle enjoyed not only by other cast members but by innocent members of the public as well.  This is, again, something which needs practice, but even as a fairly dedicated performer, I have no desire to run through the streets of Canterbury in character.  And certainly not in costume:

The Singing Librarian as Officer Krupke

The Singing Librarian as Officer Krupke

Voice, posture, walk and run settled, we worked through Krupke’s scenes, setting some character moments to show how he looks up to Schrank, how he fails to live up to Schrank, and how the kids can run rings around him.  All of which may well pass beneath the audience’s notice, but such is the way of things.

Then it was Doc’s turn, a complete change of gears.  The focus was the scene where Doc has to tell Tony some very bad news indeed.  He is already shaken, having witnessed the young men of the Jets going too far and having been (falsely) told the news that he now has to pass on.  The beginning of this scene worked well, but the moment when the new finally has to be imparted was, quite simply, not good.  So we played a little game.  Telling bad news is something that Doc knows he has to do, but also doesn’t quite have the nerve to do, so this was transferred to a similar sort of feeling – attempting to jump off a high diving board.  Approaching the edge.  Retreating.  Breathing deeply.  Steeling nerves.  And finally, finally, taking the plunge.  Back to the scene in question and much the same thing happened.  A long pause, perhaps even a very long pause, while Doc considered his words, tried to say something, failed and tried again, before the words came out in a rush.  Much better.  The messenger was thankfully not shot, but fulfilled his purpose properly.

So there we have it.  Two hours of rehearsal with two characters, which involved old cartoons, apes and a less than Olympic athlete to get the desired effects.  This acting lark is a strange one, but it’s a wonderful feeling when a scene suddenly feels right, no matter what route took you there.

  1. Gosh – I really can’t wait to see it!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: