James Joyce’s The Dead, rehearsal blog 6 | Quotidian Theatre Company

Steve Beall

Quotidian Theatre Company opens its 15th Anniversary Season with its first musical, James Joyce’s The Dead. Richard Nelson and Shawn Davey adapt Joyce’s story about a family Christmas party and marry the story with music that draws from Irish tradition. Here to discuss the sanctity of the rehearsal space is Steve Beall, whose performance as Gabriel marks his fifth appearance with QTC:


A rehearsal space is sacred. Rehearsal time is time out of time — a moment in eternity.  A rehearsal is a sanctuary, as in “a place that is sanctified.”

Somewhere in some book I probably never actually read, David Mamet — himself a failed actor by some accounts — tells us that we should always wipe our feet before we enter the rehearsal space. Of course, I had no idea what that meant. I just assumed Mamet had one of those disorders and was afraid of germs or old chewing gum on people’s shoes or something, but someone suggested to me that wiping our feet before entering the rehearsal space was a metaphoric ritual. Cool, right? I looked that up, metaphoric ritual, and… whoa! …you wouldn’t believe.

So I went back to the person who told me that and asked for some detail and was told that the risks people take in the rehearsal space make that space special. Actors and designers and people with pretty much everything at stake commit acts of outrageous courage when they gather in the rehearsal space and take direction.

They find ways — some of them hard to understand, hard even to see, harder to explain to anyone from “outside” — of showing their respect for each other and for the way they are all going to trust each other and fail and trust each other again, and then again. And again.

In rehearsal, people put themselves forward with new material, half-understood… and stretch the limits of their skills, their training, and their comfort. They risk ridicule and failure over and over again — so that they can be there, and be ready, on opening night.

Who knew, right?

It’s a safe place, with no audience but each other, where artists can try it on, over and over, showing everyone their own probably incredibly stupid take on the play, on their character, on this line, on what this word means, on when to look at that other person and how, and when to look away. Everyone is equally exposed and… somehow, here, as in very few places — it’s okay.

It can be harrowing. In fact, the word “rehearse” is from roots meaning “to repeatedly harrow,” to break up the ground that’s just been plowed. Harrowing. Over and over. Breaking it up so it can be smoothed out; so things can grow.

When actors talk about why they act, and about the rehearsal process and what it means to them, they never talk about all that stuff. So it’s probably not true. But it was an interesting thought. Or maybe they just don’t want to seem to be taking it all too seriously. I mean, after all, there’s got to be a reason why we call it “play.”

Now that I think of it… maybe it wasn’t Mamet.

Preparing for James Joyce’s The Dead, though, has had me thinking. Not a lot, of course (it’s not in my nature, and I’m prone to headaches), but it’s had me thinking a little about all of this.

On my own, by myself, I couldn’t even try to step into the life of Joyce’s characters, or to sing the sweet, joyous and aching music of Nelson and Davey’s brilliant musical rendition of Joyce’s greatest story — a story I’m sure I don’t understand. I just don’t measure up, and that’s a fact. My understanding of the story and the characters goes only so deep. Likewise, my technical skill as an actor is… well. My singing? My dancing, for the love of god? No. I cannot do this — except in the rehearsal space, where for me, freedom exists as it exists in few places. I am not bound by things here as I am in the rest of life.  My limitations don’t disappear — on the contrary, they are all too obvious, impossible to conceal. Everything is painfully obvious here. It’s not that I suddenly sing any better, or dance even half acceptably, or can act the way I’ve always wanted to. It’s just that here, when I wipe my feet and enter the safe, sacred place of rehearsal, I am leaving the world behind and entering our world — the sanctuary, the world I share with this handful of people who have everything at stake that I have. And it lifts me up.

That’s rehearsal. I lust after it. The technical term for that is “rehearsal ho’”.

May as well face it: I’m a rehearsal ho’.

Lord have mercy on a rehearsal ho’.

~Steve Beall


Quotidian Theatre Company’s production of James Joyce’s The Dead runs Nov 16 – Dec 16. Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm, with one added 2pm performance on Saturday, Dec 15. All performances are held at The Writer’s Center: 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815. There is ample parking across the street (free on weekends), and the theatre is just five blocks from the Bethesda Metro Station on the red line. Tickets are $30, or $25 for students or seniors, paid for at the door by cash or check, please. Call 301.816.1023 or email quotidiantheatre@comcast.net to reserve.

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