Hunting the Beast: Shanties and scene work

Our second week of rehearsal began with an exploration of the sea shanty. Welles littered the play with calls for the sailors to sing, they sing sections of dialogue, usually ripper right from the novel Moby Dick and the script does not provide music. There are also multiple references to the sailors simply singing in the background. Delving into the research on sea shanties provided a large library to choose from. As is often the case with Iron Age Theatre, we turned to the company to focus the decisions.  Ray Saraceni, on of the most knowledgeable men I have encountered,more red to bring in a shanty or two that he particularly liked. Dave Fiebert, our resident music head offered to set some of the dialogue passages to music. I looked for something with a call and response, which I felt would be an interesting theatrically and was different that the expected choral work. We set to learning these pieces and the fun followed. Saraceni’s lovely voice, tuned to the period by his fascination with history become a lovely foundation. His choice of harmonies gave verisimilitude. Others sang with rough and rugged voices or voices with little practice.

There is something about a group of men, or people, communally singing these kind of pieces that binds. The songs are hearty and life filled, even when they are dealing with some measure of sadness. They are big, broad pieces. I am not surprised that they worked for their purpose on the ships, raising spirits and creating a rhythm for work.
The rehearsal flew by, lyrics bending and bobbing as they burst from our casts lips. Fiebert’s setting for the Hymn was wonderful. It felt like a shanty and still maintained the nature of a church sing. Having a crew member led the singing echoed the real way theses songs were passed along. Whalers taught the songs to new crew members as they worked. The lyrics learned by rote.
The rest of the first week was filled with scene work. Taking the time to table read, analyze, explore and enjoy the scenes helped to accent the quality of this particular text. The humor because clear, the pathos warmed and the actors began to see opportunities to take the world of theatre and transform it into Moby Dick. There is something really special about watching an actor get it. Our organic style of work, gives the actor many opportunities to share their ideas both with Randy and I and between each other. I love when one thought, often derived from an actor comment, blossoms in me and I am able to offer sincere and potent insight into a character or situation. I love positioning to the actors sharing their work styles in reference to a particular scene, hearing a verb by actor talking with a method actor, honestly collaborating as they move forward in a connected scene.
Wether in the small scene groups or the large ensemble settings, the journey to Moby Dick mirrors the life aboard ship. (Without the dangers)


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