Out of the Depths: A De Profundis Diary

As the De Profundis creative team begins its short residency here at PRC2, we’ll be using this post as a De Profundis Diary, tracking the show’s development from first rehearsal to opening night. Creators Brian Mertes and Jim Findlay will work with actress Nicole Villamil to take De Profundis from concept to embodied performance, all in only sixteen days.

This is our first go at a workshop like this, so we hope you’ll find the process as exciting as we do.

Day Eleven

The storm was a bit lighter than originally anticipated, only dropping two inches of a wintery mix on campus. As a result, rehearsal was able to continue today until UNC shut down the campus at 5:00, fearing dropping temps would freeze the melted snow on the roads and make the impassible. The team was able to run the whole show again, then a cue-to-cue. A cue-to-cue is the type of tech rehearsal that focuses on the production crew. Instead of running the entire show, the actress will only speak the lines or perform the actions directly connected to each sound or lighting cue. This enables the production crew to get used to the rhythm of each cue.

Day Ten

A winter storm is bearing down on Triangle, promising 2-8 inches of snow that won’t have a chance at melting until late Monday. Knowing that campus cancellation policy might call off rehearsal tomorrow though Monday infused the room with a sense urgency during tech. The cast and crew managed to tech the entire show twice, eliminating time where possible and troubleshooting problem areas.

Day Nine

Even though the entire rehearsal process has taken place in the same space that will be used for the performance with many of the technical elements in place, the rehearsal process still calls for tech rehearsals, where most of the elements of the piece have been decided on, all the props, costumes, and lighting is more or less in place, and the entire production team can practice running the full course of the show. With these tech rehearsals slated to begin tomorrow, today’s rehearsal was the last chance for large changes to the script or additions to production elements. The day was spent working each sequence in depth to ready the piece for tech rehearsals.

Day Eight

Brian, Jim and Nicole spent the early parts of rehearsal building a headdress for the final “New Self” costume. Before moving on to work the show from the top. Costuming continues to develop as the creative team works out what it means to be Him and Her and how that develops into a New Self. Rehearsal ended with a “speed through” of the entire piece, which served to both solidify the changes made and reinvigorate the performance before it becomes labored.

Day Seven

Because the first run of the piece clocked in at over two hours when shows at PRC2 usually run about 90 minutes at the longest, it was necessary to make some cuts before rehearsal this morning. Most of the cuts were made to aid the flow of sequences, eliminate repetitive material and to remove or tighten sections that caused Brian to “check out.”

Day Six

While building the piece and rehearsing it on the set itself is a great luxury, it’s also brought challenges. Nearly half of the sixteen florescents being used for the show have either burnt out or begun flickering after less than a week of work. The production team is looking into other options that will give the same lighting quality, without the quick turnover.

As the piece stands, it clocks in at 2 hours, 14 minutes and the creative team has expanded the structural sketch into an actual script. This script—which consists entirely of selections from Wilde’s text itself—is still subject to cuts and revision.

Day Five

Today brought a lot of technical work: sequencing of the elements in the show, transitions between sequences, and ensuring that the beginning and the end are as well-constructed as possible. Such technical work inevitably got “interrupted” by the need to discuss the thematic elements of the show. Rehearsal ended with an hour-long discussion on women’s aggression and rage. The results will be woven into the piece tomorrow.

Day Four

The show now comes in four parts: Forensics—a kind of examination of Wilde’s text itself, then moving from Her to Him through to the New Self. The costuming is coming along wonderfully. Some of the costumes are being built in the PlayMakers costume shop and some are built on stage by Nicole. This required a sewing lesson.

Day Three

Now that the sketch of the “script” is more set, today’s rehearsal brought a first full “work through.” It took nearly four hours from start to finish, but was illuminating and allowed the creative team to see where themes need to be brought out more, as well as what works visually and resonates emotionally and what doesn’t. Today also saw the implementation of a long-awaited dance section.

Day Two

The set props have moved around a bit. Most of them now live in the pit surrounding the playing space. With the stage itself less cluttered, Nicole seems even more isolated than before. Brian and Jim have hung a line across the width of the stage, with pages of Wilde’s manuscript attached, but Brian is not sure he wants to keep it. Nicole and the crew worked a lot with projections and played around with use of water and makeup to the the story they want to tell.

The style and purpose seem to have narrowed since yesterday, so there’s less wait-and-see from Brian and more direction, who is concerned that the text should remain separate from the action, at least for a time, before Nicole becomes Wilde himself. The energy behind the piece, according to Brian, is that people can change, and must change. And that this applies to the audience as well. Authoritarian structures and institutions are always resistant to change, and there is our dramatic conflict.

De Profundis Diary: Day One

After a meet & greet with the cast and crew of Intimate Apparel—who also began rehearsing today—we started off rehearsal with a brief discussion of Oscar Wilde’s letter. Brian, Jim and Nicole made it clear to our in-house dramaturg that Wilde’s meditations on suffering, isolation, morality and the gender binary in his day would be used to meditate on the same concepts in our own context. It will not be a staged reading of his text.

Since all in the room were very familiar with the material itself—and Nicole even had key sections of it memorized—Brian suggested Nicole set the script aside and simply begin to explore the space given: a six-foot wide platform spanning the entire width of the Kenan Theatre, isolated from the audience by a pit, four feet deep on three sides, with a wall on the fourth side, looming high above the stage. Scattered across the playing space are an assortment of props, including set props like a rough bed, a small table, a chair, and a waterproofed section, should water come into the picture sometime in the future.

Today was largely dedicated to exploration: exploring in silence, exploring with words, exploring one phrase repeatedly, exploring the abilities and limits of the human body. After some time, Brian and Nicole began discussing the nature of speech. Why do we need it? How do we use it? Why might one speak if no one is there to listen? He and Jim then began working with the outside material of the classic short film The Perfect Human, which may yet end up being used as a framing device for the piece as we move further into the residency.