Sallie Bingham Projects: Aviva Neff, Ohio State University, Part I
Aviva Helena Neff and Caroline Hill each recieved a 2018 Sallie Bingham Grant to apply to their directing projects, which were part of a single evening and a larger celebration in Columbus, Ohio of the Harlem Renaissance. Here is Part 1 of Aviva's account of the experience!
Rehearsing in a Radically Playful Space
The mountainous task of casting was the first obstacle for Caroline, my co-director and me to summit. It is always daunting to work with the shifting schedules of college students in order to find a free evening or two that can be spent in a windowless rehearsal space in the basement of a forty-year old building. Caroline and I sent emails to various departments across the Ohio State University in the hopes of attracting a wide pool of interested people; some originating from theatre backgrounds, others from gender studies, history, or African-American studies.
After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, we started hearing from hopeful actors. Heaps of emails, texts, and word-of-mouth scheduling commenced, and as luck would have it, the “right” person came to audition for each part. During our auditions, we asked actors to read a little bit from each script, and after evaluating how they worked with the difficult dialect in a cold reading, we asked them a series of questions regarding the topic of the plays, the characters, and the difficult emotional labor of mounting a production. Because A Sunday Morning in the South, confronts the topic of lynching, it was important to me that each of our actors understood the heavy historical context as well as how the play relates to contemporary politics. As an educator and historian, I love working with actors who think beyond learning lines and finding their light, and about the socio-political contexts of the play and its author.
It took very little bargaining or fussing with our cast lists before finding the perfect fit for each character—in short, it was a quick and blessed process. Despite rarely having the full cast at rehearsals, I still managed to squeeze in time to do character work alongside the daunting task of practicing a Southern dialect. The actors dove into the work enthusiastically, finding time to laugh, practice, and most importantly PLAY! One of the most memorable rehearsals involved using gesture to communicate character secrets, fears, and alliances. My group of “nonactors” took risks on par with professional performers.
There is no such thing as a “long enough” rehearsal process, but this was undoubtedly one of the most fun and invigorating experiences I have ever had as a director. In the hours we spent in our little basement studio, I witnessed a wonderful transformation in the people we cast, from a group of strangers, to a family.