Saturday, July 20, 2013

Tempo Tempo

By Victoria Chatfield (Executive Director)

I wasn't at the rehearsal where the Clipped cast created this tempo chart. (I was sitting at home waiting for UPS to deliver costumes. Way to destroy all of my fun, UPS.) However, I'm familiar with tempo charts thanks to Francis Hodge's Play Directing: Analysis, Communication, and Style. (Future Directors: This will be one of the most boring textbooks that you ever read. It will also be one of the most important.) Tempo charts help directors and actors to create a visual representation of the play's pacing. Where does the action speed up? Where does the action slow down? Benjamin Viertel always says that a play needs to be a series of "peaks and valleys." If the entire play only consists of "peaks," then nothing's going to pop out at the audience. If every scene is packed with drawn-out, tension-filled moments between your actors, then none of those moments are really going to matter.

I had a graduate acting professor who told us that we had to create "pearls on black velvet." One of the worst classes that I've ever taken. One of the best pieces of directing advice I've ever received. If all of the moments are "big moments," then the audience won't take anything away from your play. You need to pick out one or two "big moments" in each scene. Those are your pearls -- the moments when your audience has to sit up and take notice. Maybe they're the moments that expose a major theme running through the play; maybe they're the moments when the relationships between characters shift dramatically; maybe they're the moments when the protagonist learns something life-changing about herself or the world around her. The rest of the scene makes up your black velvet. Still interesting, still entertaining, still thought-provoking -- but not the "big moments" that are your pearls.

While Ben created a tempo chart in his rehearsal, Lio did Italian Runs -- speeding through the entire play as quickly as possible. It's all about doing instead of thinking. It's interesting to see what the actors believe is "too fast for the stage." More often than not, their Italian Run ends up looking similar to what the tempo should actually be during a performance. In my opinion, helping the actors gauge the tempo of their performances is one of the director's most important jobs. It's so easy to get caught up in the moment that you're sharing with another actor; sometimes, you need a director to remind you that the play just needs to keep moving!

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