Wednesday, May 10, 2017
My craziest rehearsal
The Kaufman-Astoria studios took up a city block. But across the street were typical retail businesses – dry cleaners, Greek restaurant, liquor store, etc. It’s not like Southern California where the Warner Brothers lot is sprawled out over many acres.
Our filming schedule was this: We shot the show on Tuesday nights before a live studio audience. Wednesday we had a table reading of the new script. Thursday and Friday we rehearsed on the stage. On Monday the camera crews came in and we did all the camera blocking. That brought us again to Tuesday (shoot day).
In LA, after a Tuesday filming, crews arrive in the middle of the night, strike any swing sets, bring in the new sets for the upcoming week, and begin dressing and painting them. By Wednesday at noon the stage is ready for actors to rehearse.
Not in New York.
In New York, crews swap out the sets on Wednesday. I asked the producer if they had crews who could do that in the middle of the night and he said, “Yes, but you don’t want ‘em.”
So to accommodate that I would hold table readings on Wednesday and just send the actors home. I had a terrific cast so two days of rehearsal was more than sufficient.
But one week the script called for a guest actress who had a very pivotal role. One lady really stood out in casting but had a conflict. She was not available that Thursday. Our choices were to go with someone else or rehearse on Wednesday that week instead. I opted for the latter. I just thought this actress was way too special to let get away.
All sound stages have what is known as an “elephant door.” That’s the door that is essentially a wall. You need a door that size to move fully erected sets in and out. In Hollywood studios, those doors open to the interior of the lot. Here it opened to the city street.
So picture the scene. I’m rehearsing the actors. There’s all the hammering and banging as crews are dismantling sets and wheeling them loudly across the stage. Since the giant elephant door is open it’s now 35 degrees. We’re all wearing parkas and gloves. We can see our breath. And since the open stage door was on a city street curious bystanders were free to just saunter in to see what was what. At one point I turned around and there were eleven strangers standing behind me just watching.
At that point I just wrapped for the day. I figured, end this before someone in my cast gets frostbite, someone in my cast gets laryngitis from yelling over the jackhammers, or I start getting directing notes from bystanders.
The show came off great and Allison Janney was amazing. I’d like to think that episode caught the attention of NBC and maybe paved the way for her to get THE WEST WING. Or star Al Franken said, “This is too crazy. I should get into something else more sane... like politics."