The Rehearsal

This blog post is included in:

No Time to Spare
Thinking About What Matters

by Ursula K. Le Guin
Introduction by Karen Joy Fowler

December 5, 2017
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt











Left Hand of Darkness rehearsal: Jonathan Walters, Theo Downes Le Guin, UKLby Ursula K. Le Guin

Sitting in on a rehearsal is a strange experience for the author of the book the play is based on. Words you heard in your mind’s ear forty years ago in a small attic room in the silence of the night are suddenly said aloud by living voices in a bright-lit, chaotic studio. People you thought you’d made up, invented, imagined are there, not imaginary at all — solid, living, breathing. And they speak to each other. Not to you. Not any more.

What exists now is the reality those people build up between them, the stage-reality that is as ungraspable and fleeting as all experience, but more charged than most experience with intense presence, with passion….

…until suddenly it’s over. The scene changes. The play ends.

Or in a rehearsal, the director says, “That was great. Let’s just take it again from where Genly comes in.”

And they do: the reality that vanished appears again, they build it up between them, the doubts, the trust, the misunderstanding, the passion, the pain…

Actors are magicians.

All stage people are magicians, the whole crew, on stage and behind it, working the lights and painting the set and all the rest. They collaborate methodically (ritual must be methodical, because it must be complete) in working magic. And they can do it with remarkably unlikely stuff. No cloaks, no magic wands or eyes of newt or bubbling alembics.

Essentially they do it by limiting space, and moving and speaking within that space to establish and maintain a Secondary Creation.

Watching a rehearsal makes that especially clear. At this point, some weeks before first night, the actors wear jeans and t-shirts. Their ritual space is marked out with strips and bits of tape on the floor. No set; their only props are a couple of ratty benches and plastic bowls. Harsh lights glare steadily down on them. Five feet away from them, people are moving around quietly, eating salad out of a plastic tub, checking a computer screen, scribbling notes. But there, in that limited space, the magic is being worked. It takes place. There another world comes into being. Its name is Winter, or Gethen.

And look! The King is pregnant.


Portland Playhouse & Hand2Mouth Theater present a new stage version of UKL’s The Left Hand of Darkness, 2 May – 2 June 2013.

Left Hand of Darkness rehearsal 731

Julie Hammond, Liz Hayden, Allison Tigard, with choreographer Noel Plemmons

Left Hand of Darkness rehearsal 718

Liz Hayden, Julie Hammond

Left Hand of Darkness rehearsal 753

Damian Thompson and Allison Tigard

Left Hand of Darkness rehearsal 767

Director Jonathan Walters with Lorraine Bahr, Jason Rouse, Jeb Pearson



The Rehearsal — 2 Comments

  1. I like how Ms. Le Guin mentioned acting as a type of magic. It reminds me of something Bernard Cornwell wrote in his historical fiction The Pale Horseman. One of his characters said that writing is a kind of magic. The character’s less educated companion expresses astonishment that someone would say that. The first responds saying in effect, when someone writes something down it is there as long as the paper lasts making it, in a way, permanent. I have read a fair few of Ms. Le Guin’s books and they are in and of themselves a type of magic. I am sure the play will be great.