Ask any actor and they’ll tell you technical rehearsals are hell. The process of syncing every moment of a play to lighting and sound is exhausting for everyone involved. It usually means hours of starting and stopping and lots of sitting around. But often those long stretches of boredom can lead to something more meaningful.
Undermain Theatre’s second production of the season, 10 out of 12 by Anne Washburn, is a “love letter” to everyone involved in creating a play, says director and Undermain company member Blake Hackler.
The term “10 out of 12” refers to, by union standard, a 12-hour rehearsal day in which a maximum of 10 hours can be spent working on lights, sound, costumes and other technical elements. Often these 10 hours can start to resemble something like a high school lock-in: lots of sitting around in one place, getting bored, and maybe, says Hackler, even a little emotional.
Last season’s The Flick, also written by a woman and also directed by Hackler, channeled very similar themes: a small, tight-knit group of people working in an old movie theater and the world they create within their own small community.
“It’s about examining human behavior in a very different way,” says Hackler. Rather than the plot device of behaviors and secrets revealing themselves over a family dinner, Hackler says he’s way more interested in plays that look at personal dynamics through a different lens.
A good portion of the play is on headsets, allowing the audience to see a part of production they never see. This minutiae is critical. Like Mellville’s cetology chapters of Moby-Dick, or The Illiad’s catalogue of ships, these details are meant to create a very specific and fully formed world for the audience. The language will be unfamiliar to the audience, says Hackler, but Washburn lets them find their way into it. He refers to it as her way of giving the audience a “choose your own adventure” story.
Washburn is a master storyteller, and her plays often focus on finding community in unlikely places. Her Mr. Burns, a post-electric play, which had its regional premiere at Stage West in Fort Worth last August, follows a band of post-apocalyptic survivors recalling a very specific episode of The Simpsons. Again, there, the story is hyper-nuanced.
Not every audience member is going to be familiar with The Simpsons, but this is Washburn’s magic: She creates the world on the stage through the details. You won’t have to know a thing about theater or tech rehearsals to understand that it’s really just about being a human being sharing space with another human being.
Hackler says 10 out of 12 is really all about community. As with Mr. Burns and The Flick, the community is formed by people pulled together by circumstance, and they are simply allowed to be.
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The challenge with that is the lack of “main event,” says Hackler. It’s merely a span of time in which people are functioning. The story is about people just carrying on as they must, and those are the moments that make life meaningful, he says.
Hackler, who is also an assistant professor of acting at SMU, spent last spring in Bulgaria on a Fulbright scholarship. He says his time there showed him how different Eastern European theater audiences can be from American ones.
“If they aren’t being provoked or challenged in some way they get upset. In the U.S. we are accustomed to everything being handed to us. Undermain has built an audience that is willing to be challenged.”
10 out of 12 runs at Undermain Theatre, 3200 Main St., through Dec. 3. Tickets are $15 to $30 at undermain.org.