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We were continuing “runs,” though the piece was still very much in the process of forming. Yaël was pulled between three tracks—trying to review scenes she’d already created, trying to blend them together, while also trying to introduce new material for the crucial end of the show. Since our revelatory run-through at the end of week two, which Susan Hilferty termed a “witnessing” of the show, we all began to realize that there were no proper scenes such, rather one seamless whole. It meant everyone was called at all times, and that everyone had to focus on where they were at each moment. It’s a cliché that’s often untrue of most directors, but Yaël really does have a cinematic process. Every moment has to work before she can move on to the next one.
Tuesday (September 20) we tried to pick up where we left off, running back over the new structure for the show. Every run of a show is an instructive one, especially the runs that don’t “work.” Invariably, they tell you what parts of the show need fixing up or re-shoring. It’s a little bit like making sure a boat is seaworthy—taking it out on the lake and trying to spot holes in the keel. Before you make your big voyage, you’ve got to try it out. You don’t want to be out to sea in a boat that starts springing leaks.
In this run, however, something became clear. The company was able to yoke together all the disparate narratives of the show last week when they were turned inward, forming a circle. But something about opening outward and presupposing an audience turned the story back into a series of narratives, without a binding centrifugal force. In other words, we were losing Salomé. We really needed to be telling her story, and there were moments when we were losing her. Yaël was fascinated by the idea of Pilate addressing the Roman Senate, but it would become a play about Pilate if we stuck in that mode for too long and didn’t use him interstitially.
On a slightly different note, we were also still figuring out the precise nature of Olwen’s (the Nameless Woman’s) relationship to Nadine (Salomé). And, for that matter, Nadine’s relationship to the rest of the cast when Olwen was speaking. We were falling into a kind of pantomime/story-theatre mold for the sections when Nameless narrates Salomé’s memories: of the ancient city, of the temple, and so on. The ensemble was meant to create the world, but Yaël disliked the show-and-tell quality. She called it “Disney” theatre. Similarly, Olwen (who has done her own adaptations of James Joyce and others as a solo performer) had an excellent barometer for when she was doing too much exposition and not driving the story forward in an active way. It was a tricky balance: whenever we were telling, we couldn’t be showing, and vice versa.
We kept going back over the first two movements of the piece up to Salomé’s entrance into the cistern, clarifying all of these tricky little storytelling moments. Yaël had to juggle the physical life of the ensemble and also track the textual storytelling. I tried to help as much as I could by focusing on redundancies: how many times were we introducing Iokanaan? What were the crucial bobs of information? How many lines simply got repeated in different scenes?
As a result, we didn’t get to a crucial scene until the very end of the week: Herod’s birthday banquet, in the tent, at Machaerus. Yaël had taken to calling it “The Last Supper” for its apocalyptic, Tower of Babel feel. We got to it on the last day of the week, and the actors felt their way through the new material. We hadn’t run it yet, and we still had no idea about The Dance, but we had a show. We had one more week, and a lot more work to do.