by Karen Krolak
Continuing my Facebook interview with Rob Najarian, fight choreographer for Actors' Shakespeare Project's Taming of the Shrew and a performer in Sleep No More, a site-specific, immersive theater experience by Punchdrunk presented by the American Repertory Theater.
karen Krolak: Can describe how you developed one of the fights in Taming of the Shrew?
Rob Najarian: Developing the fights for Shrew were in process, during rehearsal. I like to get a lot of actor input since I appreciate that myself when I'm working as an actor. Also, having Melia there when we were developing the fights was hugely helpful. It's nice to know that a director has care and interest in the moments of violence instead of just having us go off and work something and come back and show it. The moves, quite honestly, are incidental. I just tried to get maximum coverage of the space - on the floor, near a table, around the pillar.
kK: Was it difficult to work around the posts in the center of the stage or did that just provide an exciting challenge?
RN: I won't lie, the posts were a bit of a pain, just because they had a lot of bolts that were protruding and we couldn't really "use" them in the violence because they had that fabric hanging there for the final scene. But usually, I dig pillars or any kind of odd architecture.
kK: How did you manage to juggle Shrew with rehearsals for Sleep No More?
RN: Juggling rehearsals were a it easier than I had though because Sleep No More rehearsals were just starting for me as tech week began for Shrew. There were some challenges and I must say that Tori and Melia were very understanding of my schedule. Also, the cast made things much easier on me because they were all physically capable and they picked up things a lot quicker than a lot of other casts I've worked with.
kK: How have you liked working with Punchdrunk?
RN: Working with Punchdrunk has been very rewarding artistically. It's been wreaking havoc on my sleep schedule just because they do expect people to be available pretty much all the time. It's the nature of the work really, because they figure out almost everything in process. It's one of the most truly collaborative experiences I've had during a show. Coriolanus was the other. It's also been great to be part of something that has generated so much buzz around town. We've met people who have come up from New York or even farther to see the show, which is a bit mind-boggling...
kK: How were rehearsals structured? Did you learn phrases or focus more on improvisations?
RN: Rehearsals always start with a group warm up (mostly a dance-like warm-up) which include an exercise on focus or a particular quality of movement they'd like to play with for the day. Then rehearsals are split between group time for the group scenes and solo work for individual moments. So it was a great combo of truly collaborative stuff, and intense individual work. I felt like I had a lot of freedom to mold my character which was really great.
kK: Although I haven't seen the production yet, I know that audience members are allowed to take their own path through the former school building where Sleep No More is set. Have you enjoyed being followed around by audience members?
RN: Being followed by audience was daunting in the abstract, but in practice I really like it. I dig it when they get close to me. I feel in a way that I can then experience my feelings as they happen and not have to worry about projecting them to make them read for a larger space. Also, I can concentrate on the intricacies of fine, subtle physicality for similar reasons.
kK: Have you had any noteworthy interactions with an audience member?
RN: No really noteworthy interactions. I usually connect individually with 2 or 3 people a night and it's different every time. It's strange and wonderful to feel how someone responds when I touch them after they've been ignored for an hour or two. It's one of the rare moments in my theatrical life when I've been able to connect with an audience member in such a personal way. It's hugely rewarding for me as an artist to see another human being respond to my performance in real time.
kK: Thanks Rob. I really appreciate hearing your observations on the creative process for both shows.
RN: Hope this is helpful Karen. Thanks so much for asking me this stuff and for your interest in what I do :)