Each day at noon, except when there is a matinee, the cast of Oslo gathers in LCT’s large rehearsal room for a session of notes. This meeting lasts for about an hour, after which the actors take to the Beaumont stage to rehearse. A note is essentially a directive offered by the director to the cast. Bartlett Sher, who staged Oslo, follows the tradition of delivering notes in the rehearsal room. The only recent dissenter from the practice at LCT was Jack O’Brien, who did notes in the lobby of the Beaumont. This space is on full view of plaza passersby, and I used to wonder as I walked past the windows: exactly what is Mr. O’Brien saying right now?
Notes sessions must remain audibly private. Even theater companies that offer every second of backstage life on their websites tend to shy away from streaming notes sessions. Acting is a profession that requires people to live at the edge of their nerve endings, and exposing what a director is urging performers to do could easily cause those endings to fray.
There is also individual note-delivering. In the daily groups, you are likely to hear directors talk about staging – make that entrance a beat earlier, or make sure you are facing the audience directly so that that punch line can be heard more clearly. Notes that have to do with acting choices – try to imagine reading that line as if you were less angry – are usually delivered by directors to actors in a one-on-one manner.
Tradition holds that notes are delivered to actors only by directors or, especially after a show has opened, by stage managers. An actor giving a note to another actor is frowned upon, although a performer is within rights, for example, to discuss a scene being played with a colleague. Yes, sometimes these requests are delivered through a director, but performers who have solid working relationships are more likely to talk them over amongst themselves.
Actors not in a production rarely give notes to actors who are. If you go backstage after a performance and do anything much more than offer praise you probably won’t be asked backstage again. There are exceptions, of course. Twice I have been backstage after final bows and witnessed the late Elaine Stritch arrive in a dressing room and offer notes to actresses. I suppose she was within her rights: in both cases, she had originated the role-in-question. The actresses involved reacted diametrically. After Miss Stritch sailed away, the first gave me a look that plainly said: Can you believe the effrontery? The second person was genuinely grateful for the advice and incorporated the suggestion into her next performance.
But to any actors reading this blog posting, I don’t recommend Miss Stritch’s approach if you value your nerve endings.
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com.