A rehearsal diary: Blocking on the fly while preparing for ‘Matilda’

“Your track coach will thank me for this,” said John Kaasik to the cast of “Matilda” as they ran through a musical number that involved jumping jacks.

The rehearsal of Matilda on Friday, Jan. 17, was the first run-through of an important early scene with Franny Regan as Matilda, Emma Martinez as her mother, Zeb Mundy as Matilda’s father and Tyler Gulluscio as Michael, Matilda’s TV-addicted brother. Director John Kaasik was working on blocking, the art of positioning and moving actors onto, across and off the stage as they deliver their lines, sing and interact with the other characters, preferably so that the audience can see their faces. He was giving Emma notes for a particular type of dramatic departure stage right, a false exit.

But there was a problem. Franny, playing a five-year old girl, appeared to be a couple of inches taller than her father. Drama Coach Susan Cincotta suggested standing with one leg straight and one bent slightly at the knee, a tried and true method for taking inches off an actor: “Nicole Kidman has used that trick her whole career; straight torso, one leg straight, one bent, you immediately lose two or three inches.” Amelia practiced it once or twice and presto, she was short.

With encouragement from their director, the actors were trying new things. Tyler, sitting on the living room couch facing an invisible TV screen, leaned forward to peer between his parents at the TV, a sight gag improvised on the spot. It worked.

A few nights later, the entire cast was on stage breathing hard as they executed jumping jacks, leg lifts, a squat and something that looked like a plank. That didn’t work so well, so John Kaasik and choreographer Laura Dickerson made some quick adjustments and the show went on.

This is part of a continuing series on the school musical. Read part one here.