"This way, Doc. This way! Come on, come on!"
Footsteps, creeping across the floors. Huddled shadows move through the empty church.
"Shhhh! Quiet, quiet." Suddenly, a loud bang is heard. "Ow. Dammit!"
"Anyone have a light? Where's a light..."
Suddenly, the lights go on. The ten men look around, slightly shocked, adjusting to the sudden brightness. Like field mice in the dead of night, they cautiously scan the area.
The leader of the group stops, places a finger under his chin. "Okay, so where's the best place to hold this game..."
One of the gangsters scans the altar, points to it. "Hold on, hold! I see a table over there. If we just remove the big book, we're all set!"
The rest of the group hit him on the back, shaking their heads.
A message from my musical director: Have bronchitis. Can't talk. Sound like Harvey Fierstein. Won't be at rehearsal Thursday.
Well, shit. Now what am I supposed to do? My choreographer's gallivanting around in New York City with her daughter, of all people, so that means that I can either cancel the rehearsal or face all my gamblers on my own.
I coud block out a scene with them. Heh. As if. That would pre-suppose that I had all my blocking down.
"Ted, don't waste a rehearsal, whatever you do," warns my friend, Hunchback Mike, on the phone as I drive home that night, thinking about what to do with the guys from "Guys and Dolls" the next day.
So, what am I going to do with these characters? Wait! Characters...characters...hey!
Suddenly, it dawns on me. One of the things that always gets pushed to one side during the rehearsal process is any focus on character development. Between the rush of blocking, choreography, and music, there just never seems to be enough time to set aside any time to really work on it.
Maybe this is the perfect place to actually do something about that. The rehearsal had been targeted for all of the gangsters to learn "Luck Be a Lady," along with Sky. And I love all of the names that they've been given...things like Tobias the Terrible, Brainy Baxter, Big Hearted Charlie, The Lemon Drop Kid...all character names from other Damon Runyon stories or movies. Maybe this was a chance to actually bring those names to life.
So, armed with my script, a pair of dice, and a wad of counterfeit cash, that's what I walk into the rehearsal space looking to do on Thursday night.
We start by having all the guys introduce themselves by their character names, and then launch into a discussion about what character consists of. The way they dress, the way they speak. They way they move, how they perceive themselves. How they interact with others.
And then, we launch into a short improv. A dinner party, where each has been invited. What kind of host would invite these rascals to a dinner is beyond me. I have them stand outside and file in, one by one, and introduce themselves, to us and to themselves.
Then we sit down to play a game of craps. This becomes the most enjoyable part of the evening, I think. Craps is an important part of the show--the musical all centers around the "Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game," after all...so, making sure the guys have an understanding about what craps is all about is pretty damn important.
It takes about thirty minutes. The play goes to each guy, all around the room. each one plays a round of craps while the other guys place side bets, comment on the action, roll away.
Then, the final exercise. A big part of the show centers around the gamblers taking over the Mission for a game of craps, and it had occurred to me the night before that our rehearsal area, which literally is held in a church, is the perfect place for an improv about what happened.
So, I place the guys downstairs and turn all the lights off in the church. And then, I have them creep up the stairs to play their crap game. Then, at the end, I have Brannigan burst into the room, along with the pastor of the church.
And I have Annie, who's serving as my stage manager this time around, tape the whole thing. It's hard to hear and dark in a lot of spots, but in the video, you can hear the laughter, you can hear some of the wiseass comments that the guys came up. It does make me smile, every time I view it.
And then, one last exercise: go out to the local watering hole and have a few drinks. Very, very important exercise.
"You just moved these characters ahead ten rehearsals with what you did tonight," said my Brannigan, nodding his head appreciatively.
Well, I hope so. And I have to admit, it was a lot of fun, turning the lemons I had been handed into some damn sweet lemonade.