By Zahra Alnasser
Two weeks. Four hours of rehearsal every night. No director.
To the average thespian, this may sound like a horrendous dream. Not only are you responsible for memorizing pages of Shakespearian dialogue, you also better be prepared with your own costume (or costumes, since you’ll most likely be playing multiple characters), props, makeup, set pieces, and marketing ideas for your show. Okay…but what about the play in itself? Who’s in charge of blocking? Helping actors make character choices? Developing a tone or concept for the play?
You are, my friend. Yes, you. Welcome to the Grassroots Shakespeare Company.
My name is Zahra and this is my first production with GSC. Never in my limited theatrical journey have I ever encountered a process such as this, and never again will I find another one like it. Here I will explain to you what it’s like experiencing Grassroots for the first time as a young and naïve actress entering the terrifyingly spectacular world of theater. But before we begin, let me give you a run-down of what EXACTLY we do here at Grassroots Shakespeare…
As mentioned earlier, Grassroots allots about two weeks for rehearsal time dedicated to blocking scenes and then cleaning the tough spots while also incorporating costumes, makeup, set, and music. Two weeks. TWO WEEKS. But it’s possible! How? Lots of dedication. Our actors go into this knowing exactly how much time in and out of rehearsal they will spend on making sure they are up to date on all of their personal deadlines (costumes, props, memorization…) so that rehearsal time is spent purely on working the acting and technical aspects of the production.
My ExperienceAre you stressed out yet? Well, you should be! It’s extremely stressful, but it’s also challenging, which is exactly what every actor needs at some point in his/her career. Grassroots teaches you to consider every ingredient in the baking of a production—you’re not JUST an actor, you’re not JUST a designer, you’re not JUST a director. You’re all of these and more. You are a parent, a coach, a mentor. You push your cast just as hard as you push yourself. You come to rehearsal with all of your deadlines met, your lines memorized, and a positive attitude. The cast becomes your family, which means that while you’re constantly surrounded by unconditional love and support, times can get tense… You might be wondering: so how do a bunch of actors manage to successfully direct each other every night without tearing at each other’s throats by some point? Well, it’s easy, really. It’s all in the way you phrase what you say. Instead of using authoritative phrases such as:
“You should…” “Don’t do that…”
“I want you to do this instead…”
I was introduced to using kinder critique, which includes:
“I wonder if you could …” “Could you consider trying such and such…” “Maybe you could explore this rout…”
This is the ideal way we go about directing each other. Of course, as we are humans, every so often feelings can get hurt, which weakens our binding as a team and slows our process. However, the amount of love and reassurance I’ve given and received as a member of this cast has been so overwhelming to the point where petty things like this are incapable of phasing us. This is one of the most tightly-knit casts I’ve ever had the blessing of being a part, and every single thing we’ve done together adds to the beautifully weird production we’ve created. This, what I’m learning, is the spirit of Grassroots. The stress, the dirty jokes, the late nights, the tears, the fake blood, the real blood, and the unity among the cast. This is Grassroots Shakespeare, people. And have we got a show for you.