“And remember, this will all change once we get into tech.”
I’m sure I’m not the only director to have uttered these words. It is a common refrain in my rehearsals. Partly because that’s the way things work in Chicago storefront theater. The rehearsal room in a church is often far different than the actual performance space. Once I misread the floor plan wrong so not only was the blocking backwards, but inverse as well. But because the actors were already on board with being flexible, we adjusted quickly and went on with the business of performing the play. Some of my regular collaborators have even coined a loving term for this notion: Yoga Theater.
Taken out of context, people often laugh. The idea of doing a show in “Yoga Theater” style, the way we would do a “clown show” or a ‘View-Points show” seems a little ridiculous. And indeed it is. But the idea of Yoga Theater extends beyond the practical definition above.
For me, the deeper meaning of Yoga Theater is to remain flexible to what is really happening around you. Blocking should be dynamic and responsive. Don’t just cross to your mark because that is what you've been rehearsing for weeks. If someone forgot their blocking or, heaven forbid, their lines, it allows you to play along with what they are doing rather than doing what you've rehearsed because that’s as deep as you've thought about the scene. Seems like common sense, but it is something that trips many actors up.
Now this doesn't mean that you have liberty to change the blocking every night or that every night is a new exploration. An agreed upon foundation of what is happening and why is essential for the whole ensemble’s understanding of the show. But the nuances often change.
It is something that has to be agreed upon and built into the process from day one. By working with this understanding and this permission, the ensemble will develop trust and an understanding of how their partners work. To call it something else, it is the Clowning idea of “the partner’s perfect.” But you also can trust your partner is not going to leave you onstage without generous proposals to respond to. The rest – the things constructed in rehearsal – is simply constructing the safety net so you can take more daring risks when you get in front of an audience.