Since I don't attend every rehearsal, Jim's been keeping me updated on what's going on with the process, especially in terms of what's happening with each actor. Generally, I just serve as a sounding board - it's a way for Jim to process the work, and on occasion, I can offer some perspective, either because I've worked with that actor before, or maybe I can suggest another approach that he might not have thought of.
I try not to offer unsolicited advice, and that's something that I've had to learn over the years. There was certainly a time when, upon hearing about any little bump in the road, I would want to jump in and fix things. Turns out that's not so helpful. Turns out the process is usually better served if I trust the director to do the job I hired him for and offer assistance when asked.
So, after the first week of rehearsal, when Jim asked for a little help, I was more than happy to pitch in. Since Winnie has so little stage experience, Jim suggested it might be useful for me to work with her privately a bit, just to give her a little extra attention. He made it clear to me that she was not in any way falling short; rather, she was doing just fine, but there was a level of detail that he wanted to help her reach, and he just didn't have the time. I did have the time, so he asked me to work on a few specific things with her to bring her up another notch.
It's a tricky thing, working with an actor on a show when I'm not the director. I have to be sure that I'm fulfilling the director's vision, rather than taking the actor off in some completely different direction. That only confuses the actor, and can make the situation worse. So I made sure I was very clear about what Jim was looking for before I started.
Winnie has the difficult job of playing 5 distinct roles in the play: four characters, and herself. And this is where acting training and technique come into play. The actor has to be able to make very clear physical and vocal distinctions between each of the characters. According to Jim, Winnie had been successful with most of her characters, but he was hoping for a clearer difference between when Winnie was playing the character of Kay and when Winnie was playing herself. Jim suggested Winnie think of Kay as a big Southern woman with sort of an earth-mother energy to her. Winnie had been trying that, but not quite getting there.
So, I started my work with asking Winnie how she was feeling about getting in touch with that earth-mother side of herself. The first thing I learned was that Winnie never saw Kaye in that way. In fact, she had a completely different view of who Kaye was: a repressed, quiet, conservative housewife.
Immediately, I'm stuck. Jim's asked for one thing, the actor is comfortable with something completely different. So I go to Jim and describe Winnies idea to him. Turns out he's fine with this - he had only suggested the earth-mother image as a possibility. He thought it might be a broad enough type for Winnie to be able to use for a strong characterization. But, he told me, if Winnie can make this other type work, and make a clear enough distinction between this version of Kay and Winnie, that would be fine with him. With new marching orders, I go back to Winnie.