Homburg Biography: Final Rehearsalsposted on March 10th, 2009 by Neil Baldwin
On the eve of Homburg’s opening, production dramaturg Neil Baldwin shares journal excerpts from the final week of rehearsals.
Mar. 3: One week to go. I noticed afresh the motif of freedom. So many times through the play this thread appears, as it does throughout the aesthetic of Romanticism. We are only as “free” as we think we are—or as others with (ostensibly) more power decide we are. Freedom, in this Kleist-world, is relative and interdependent; one person’s freedom is another’s consternation/inhibition.
As when, in Act IV, Princess Natalie goes to see her uncle, the Elector, to plead for the release of her lover, Homburg… Tonight was about the contesting nature of the dialogue, the fact that Natalie comes to present a case and therefore needs to maintain her composure within a certain range, whereas the Elector, because of his finely tuned consciousness of his station, has likewise to keep some reserve even as he struggles with empathy for his beloved niece. “Heart” battles with “mind” within both characters—”Fatherland” vs. “blood,” leaping back and forth as the advantage is seized then relinquished, by one and then the other.
Mar. 4: Director’s notes. Everyone was sitting around the polished table…. Jorge proceeded to talk through the entire first half of the show, moment by moment, scene by scene—without one pause, without any actual “notes” in front of him. Much of what he spoke about concerned guidance in how and where people should look while in performance. The rules of eye contact and focus were laid out imperatively, the rules of gazing offstage without connecting to the audience, the rules of watching a distant battle as if it were really “out there.”
…the rules of living in their own world for two hours in such a way as to lend credence to the additional “reality” of the rest of their world that is invoked, even if not literally seen by them or by the audience.
…to live in a poetic construct made for their presentation over the course of five days, only to disappear, to be “struck,” starting at 10 a.m. on Sunday, March 15th…
Mar. 6: 3:00 p.m. [The Kasser Theater’s stage] was a hugely cavernous world, a seemingly unpopulated space, silent except for the occasional “snap” and “crack” of what sounded to me like a staple gun and then the occasional “slap” of wood being tossed to the floor. I stepped deeper in and saw the outer sides of the constructed walls, wooden sections about six feet wide extending upward more than twenty feet. I walked around toward the steps leading down into the house, and as I did, the vista of the stage set revealed itself, all cerulean/powdery/textured blue canvas with white highlights, as if I were inside a cloud or ascending toward the heavens. The floor beneath was tilted, raked—it looked to me, precipitously—flecked with paint. Three or four carpenters hammering and cutting barely looked up from their work to acknowledge me. Up in the booth someone was testing the huge moon image, and I saw it dimly glowing against the back wall.
Mar. 8: Arriving at 6:00 p.m. on a rainy Sunday evening, eight hours after everybody else on this “10 to 10″ day, I spent three hours last night at tech, sitting next to set designer Erhard Rom and costume designer Jessica Lustig, behind lighting designer Peter West and stage manager Alisone Alcordo (murmuring into their headphones), and forward and to the right of sound designer David Lawson…. not a night for dramaturgy in the usual sense—it was all sound cues and light cues and missing buttons and loose neckerchiefs and charcoal-smudged cuffs and additional blocking and moving spikes two feet upstage…. The Swiss banners flowed effortlessly, deep blue with silvery crosses mounted upon black staffs. Erhard’s battle clouds raced in two contrapuntal layers back and forth across the graying sky, and the arced, blood-red, stained-glass window at the conclusion of Act I came in to resonate hauntingly with the bottom half of a massive full moon…
Neil Baldwin, Ph.D., cultural historian and author, is Distinguished Visiting Professor in MSU’s Department of Theatre and Dance. His Web site is neilbaldwinbooks.com.