Production Journal – Trial By Water: Part I

First Rehearsal

At about 6:00pm, Katie, our stage manager excused anyone who was not equity (Me, JGR, Qui) out of the room so they could discuss equity contracts with their Equity Rep. At 7pm we were let back in. Their equity rep did not show up, so they elected one amony the group as acting deputy and signed their contracts.

Read Through
After a long time (I’ve been attached to the process since November) it was finally great to reach this point – where all the actors get together for the first time to read the play. I’ve seen a few of them before at callback auditions. I really have to admire actors, even though I am one myself – these people are different. This is their job. They take on temp work to support THIS and only THIS. I look at their faces and see the sense of excitement in their faces for starting a new project, but I also see a look of relief. Their almost saying “Thank God I made it.” You have to understand, even thought this is New York, there still are only a small number of Asian Theatres producing Asian plays.

Table Work
After the read through, we did some table work where John talked about the play at length, sharing his ideas with the cast and crew. I emphasize the word SHARING as opposed to TELLING. These are all professional actors and there was a sense of group collaboration. All the actors contributed to the discussion, all risking being wrong, but nonetheless risking something, all for the sake of the play. These actors are all wonderful, asking questions, and trying to fill in the gaps for themselves and the characters they are going to play.

Jojo Gonzales plays the father and he is asking very interesting questions, trying to discover the essentials of his character. We are going to be together for 5 weeks of rehearsals. A very long time considering we rehearse 6 days a week.


We started at 6:02pm, reading from the script again and we would read a few pages and John would stop and discuss the pages and give notes to the actors. John gave Dinh (Hung – Older Brother) a bit of direction, telling him to slow down during a particular section. When he did, John was so connected, watching him and whispering “Thats it” to himself. John sets rules. “After father says this, you are no longer allowed to ask questions” he tells Dinh, setting up parameters for his character.

We spent 1 and a 1/2 hours on 10 pages. The work is painstaking and John is very meticulous. He says we’re already running out of time, but he never rushes. His mode of conduct in rehearsals makes us feel we have all the time in the world.

Karen (Pham – Mother)sits quietly, very still, almost as if she is meditating. When she participates in a discussion, she becomes very animated, very much alive.

John says this to one of the actors…
“That was a good adjustment in the first section”

An important part of directing is not on the stage, but what happens at the table. Now I see the necessity for it. It clarifies the script for the actors and pulls out nuanced performances even before the cast gets up on their feets.


We had a design presentation. The set looks fantastic. The space is very deep and I’m excited to get in there. John inherently knows where the beats of the script are without marking up his script. John talks objectives and obstacles becuase of the structure of the play – heavy on flashbacks. John has been able to articulate clearly events that have happened in a non-linear way to make sense for the actors.

“You’re getting a sense…”
“I just want to try and track how he’s behaving…”
“I don’t think he’s thinking in these terms…”
“It serves you to do this…”
“There is an interpretation available for everything you do…”
“I think that’s rights… the only thing that I would add to that…”

Another thought on Table work. I can see where it forces actors who have doubts about the play to ultimately buy into the play, becuase this is where the questions are asked and answers are found. This is where discoveries are made and actors start to own their characters.

FEB 10

We went to Jane Stein’s tonight for Puppet work. Jane is the puppet maker for this show. The elevator taking us up to her studio was straight out of a movie – hand operated, with a folding gate. Her studio is humongous! She’s very exact and very experienced. I have a newfound respect for puppeteers, because it is hard physical work, but also I’m awestruck by their ability to transfer life from their own body movements into their puppet(s).

Production Meeting
John Gould Rubin (JGR) was the last one to show up at the production meeting. He came walking in with sunglasses, like a celebrity would. Once he sat down, and took them off, he was strictly business. Jamie, the productiom manager did a whiz-bang job of keeping the meeting short but discussing everything that needed to be discussed. She started the meeting off by giving everyone a smiley sticker. She has great people skills, never talking down to people, always smiling at them and treating them like they are the most important person at that moment. Jamie however was still authoritative and commanding. I looked around the room, and there was about 18 people there. The scenic and costume designer, his assistant, the lighting designer, her electrician, sound design, marketing, the technical director, stage manager, reps from Queens Theatre in the Park, Rob Urbinati, Suzette, the associate artistic director of Ma-Yi.

I suddenly felt very small. Then I told myself, I am here to learn, to soak everything up and that is exactly what I am going to do. There were lots of scheduling talks and back and forth banter between Jamie and Katie (SM) regarding Equity rules and how many hours are allowed in rehearsals, etc.

After the meeting, Katie said this to me “I’m glad to be finally starting this show. I feel like I’ve been on this project forever now.” I asked her when she signed on to do the project. She said “Oh, they called me up two weeks ago” I quickly got the sarcasm.

Everyone seems to be on the ball. EVERYONE.

During a break, John said to me “As a director, you should always be the very last one to show up at your first production meeting. That way everyone knows who the dick is.”

Ah, words of wisdom.
Friday Feb 24

What I find interesting is the amount of prep work John does before and after each rehearsal. He doesn’t seem to rush anything, yet he’s amazingly efficient, always planning out the right amount of time to rehearse certain sections. There have only been a few times where we have had to adjust the schedule due to unforseen overrages in time. After rehearsal is over, John spends some time with Katie the SM to plan out the next rehearsal. It’s a very good, keeping the rehearsal schedule dynamic and flexible, yet there is structure to it.


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