The Art of Beginning

As we begin work on Cindy & Ella (SEPT. 22,23 & 29,30 @ Modern Studio) it occurred to me that we as theatre artists have to master a very particular skill in our work: the art of beginning.

As theatre artists the first way we practice beginning is the most obvious one: we have to start rehearsals. But, as we began our process for Cindy & Ella (SEPT 22,23 & 29,30 @ Modern Studio... learn more and reserve tickets here), I was really struck by how quickly and effortlessly the actors and production team all began moving toward a common goal. On the first night of rehearsal, after some brief introductory comments, and a few minutes for questions, everyone was fully prepared to begin our work. Compare that with the way things happen in the business world of memos, meetings, email chains, and committees, and it dawned on me that as theatre artists we habitually commit ourselves to the accomplishment of a very specific and difficult goals, complete with fast-approaching and immovable deadlines, often with people we've never met, and we don't really think all that much about it. We just call it starting rehearsal.

In fact, the entire rehearsal process itself is literally full of beginnings. Every night, if we're doing good work, we come to the room ready to make discoveries, to place our assumptions about the characters back on the shelf, and to start again with fresh eyes and open minds. We have to be ready to try new things, to 'take it from the top', to stop and start, to change and adapt, always keeping in mind that, whatever we discover, we should be ready to question, discard, and begin again fresh tomorrow night if need be. That is part of why in our rehearsals for Cindy & Ella (SEPT 22,23 & 29,30 @ Modern Studio) we start every night with warm ups, not only to bring the body and the voice in tune, but to mentally separate the events of the day from the work that we are about attempt in the next few hours. It's a very real and very special chance for a new beginning to the day, one that, over the years, I have come to love and even depend on for my spiritual well being. As artists, how many times have you been exhausted after nine or ten hours of work or school, only to then go and spend an additional three hours doing the legitimately difficult creative work required for making a play, and when you leave rehearsal, you find yourself feeling refreshed and invigorated? Why is that? I think its partly because a good rehearsal can in some ways create a new beginning, and a new narrative for your day.

Finally, there is the performance itself: the most important beginning of all, where the art of creation and recreation coexist in a completely illogical and beautiful way. The constant question of how to keep the performance fresh, how to make it seem to audience members (who obviously know otherwise) that the characters on stage are making choices and taking actions for the very first time, is one of the most illusive skills in all of stagecraft. The actors who master it, have mastered the ability to begin, not just once at the beginning of rehearsal, not just several times a night during the development process, but in every moment of every second that they are on stage. The art of stage acting is, in part, the art of allowing oneself to begin anew in every scene, in every interaction, to take all of the beginnings from your rehearsals and turn them into something new and exciting for the live audience tonight.

We would be thrilled and honored for you to join us for our new beginning with Cindy & Ella which runs - let's all say it together - September 22,23 & 29,30 @ Modern Studio!

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JP Schuffman is the Managing Artistic Director of the Knoxville Theatre Club. A playwright, carpenter, critic, and huge nerd.