But while that electric, initial thrill is an old friend to me, something was different this time around. I’m not actually involved in The Killer Angels; I wasn’t there to rehearse. I came for Page to Stage, an event that Mother Road hosts at least once per season, wherein the company opens an early reading to the public. “This is what we normally do at a first rehearsal,” (minus the pizza and beer and live audience) says Julia Thudium, Mother Road’s artistic director. “The actors will get a designer talk and dramaturgy, depending on what the show is. We’re just opening the doors to the audience and having it in a more convivial place.”
The Killer Angels opens on Sept. 7. Exactly a month before opening night, Thudium, who is also directing the play, greeted the crowd with a little background—It’s an adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Michael Shaara about the Battle of Gettysburg. She began the evening with a quote by the author: “In the presence of real tragedy you feel neither pain nor joy nor hatred, only a sense of enormous space and time suspended, the great doors open to black eternity, the rising across the terrible field of that enormous, unanswerable question.”
Thudium’s introduction was followed by talks from the designers who discussed the challenges the script presents (How do we re-create these epic battles? How do we costume the full cast in historically accurate Union and Confederate uniforms?) Dramaturge and actor Michael Dolce concluded with a brief history lesson on the broad cast of real-life characters the play depicts. Then the first read-through began.
Witnessing the start of the journey toward turning simple words on paper into a vibrant, three-dimensional experience is a thrill for any theater lover. But the event is not for the casually interested theatergoer. It’s a dense and lengthy look at the theatrical process and the history and content of the material. After all, a rehearsal is hard work, and though we were encouraged to come and go as our schedules allowed, all told the event lasted nearly four hours. What’s more, Angels is a beast of a play—stuffed to bursting with historical specificity, elaborate battle tactics and the many soldiers who played a part in the fate of Gettysburg.
It will be a daunting task for Mother Road to maintain the gritty humanity of the war in the face of such dense historical detail. How will they communicate the sense of real tragedy that Shaara speaks of? How, in just four short weeks, will they answer that “enormous, unanswerable question”? We left wondering and talking, imagining how the company will showcase the play’s strengths and handle its challenges.
To Vic Browder, Mother Road’s technical director and an actor in Angels, that’s what the Page to Stage series is for: “It’s about finding ways for the audience to be invested in the work.” And Browder is right; we are invested now.