Read part one of this interview.
Claudio Raygoza, artistic director of Ion Theatre, and Glenn Paris, the producing director, stage plays in a 49-seat theater, with obviously special demands. They include others for the plays they select.
“We don’t choose plays with easy answers,” says Raygoza, “and don’t pick themes, or plays that push for one. We’re more about what’s happening in the world right now.”
They tell their actors never to judge a character, as in melodrama, where X is good and Y, evil.
“There is no bad person in this play,” Raygoza tells his cast when rehearsals begin. “You don’t have to love your characters. But you must understand them.”
Raygoza adds: “Don’t ever play a character unless you can respect the point of view.”
“Actors are often taught to be followers - and not always to trust their instincts. They want certainty. Right now.” Some expect the director simply to hand them the role.
Raygoza and Paris prefer a different approach. “‘I’m 41,” says Raygoza, “and have learned to say ‘I don’t know.’ So I won’t force ideas into the back of their brains — and won’t give them the answers — ever.”
Some directors prepare every moment — blocking, set, lights, costumes, definite character choices — in advance.
“The scariest thing for me would be to walk into a first rehearsal with a ‘vision’ of how it all will go. Everything set in stone.
“Glenn and I bring ideas and a passion to do a play but never fixed details. We’re more like a roadmap to, say, Chicago: just squiggly lines that won’t become 3-D until we hit the road in rehearsals. And assemble the best ideas in the room.”
Along with an openness to the text, the directors never cast to type, or even the most obvious choice for the part.
“It’s not about who’s merely right for the role, but how this could be a great challenge for a certain actor. It’s more about stretching them — giving them the opportunity to surprise themselves.
“You have to have an actor that can scale the heights of a role, though, and that is the secret of casting: knowing what an actor is capable of doing even if they don’t know it.”
Raygoza and Paris draw on their own intuition and the actor’s previous work to determine “the extent and depth of an actor’s imagination. Then we work to create a safe environment where they can play unsafe.
“We ask actors to trust their instincts, values, and beliefs, and to take responsibility for their roles. We admire directors who encourage this approach.”
Raygoza and Paris meet privately with cast members. The directors ask: how do you work best? They also encourage actors to rely heavily on the given circumstances and to “trust their imaginations so deeply that no adjustment given to them is outside the realm of possibility.
“Because actors have varying degrees of training and often different vocabularies to describe what they do, we meet with them individually at the onset of rehearsal. To facilitate communication, Glenn and I learn to speak their language about acting.”
The one hard and fast rule of their approach: they will never find the role for the actor. They never give line readings, and rehearsals are an experimental lab where actors can make mistakes — “in a safe environment” — and make the discoveries on their own.
“I will work for hours to help them find it on their own,” says Raygoza, “and will try to close as many doors as possible, but I am not going to give it to them. They need to grow and maintain ‘imagination’ muscles. Just handing the role to an actor will weaken them in the long run.”
“We don’t give them the answers, ever.”
Claudio Raygoza: the acting process at Ion Theatre, part one