This is Shaun's second blog entry for the 2006 production of Titus Andronicus, in which he talks about working with the text, cultural references in Shakespeare, initial impressions of Aaron's character and rehearsals so far.
Transcript of Podcast
Looking at the text
There are all kinds of exercises you can do when looking at the text. I suppose you do start with the iambic pentameter. If you’re like me you read two or three lines of Shakespeare and you cannot understand what they’re saying at all! Some people can read Shakespeare and get a sense of it, some people will read it and know exactly what it's saying, even if they didn’t know it before. They can look at it and say ‘Well, that must mean this and this must mean that, so I think this means this.’ I’ve never been able to do that. So the iambic helps because at least you’ve got to go ‘de dum de dum…’ and that helps you pick out some important words. It helps if you know the state of mind your character is in because if you don’t know their state of mind you’ve got no chance, just forget it! If you know that this character is fuming, is really upset, is crying, is happy, is whatever then some of the words that Shakespeare uses make sense. So if you know that your character is furious with something and you’re reading these lines and you’re reading the iambic, all of a sudden you will just hear things and you will begin to understand.
Sometimes, however, Shakespeare uses references that we don’t know. Nowadays, someone could a mention a line in a Tarantino film and we understand what he's talking about, and Shakespeare uses cultural references that I haven’t got a clue what he's talking about, so you do have to do some research because he rarely puts anything in these lines that mean nothing. He's always using these cultural references in relation to what you’re talking about. So sometimes when you read up on the cultural reference that also helps you with your speech as well. The specifics of the actual exercises that you can use with Shakespeare are literally reading from full stop to full stop, comma to comma and getting a sense of the thoughts and the specifics of the actual words. It is very difficult. I’ve had help with this one, I’ve literally had someone saying ‘that means that and that means that’. It's very difficult, Shakespeare in this day and age. It's like if I haven’t read a novel for three years and I sit down every night and try and read one I’m knackered by half a page, because I’m not used to reading a novel. You’ve got to get the muscles working again, and with Shakespeare you’ve just got to keep reading.
Rehearsals so far
So far, we’ve done lots of games in rehearsals: bonding games, lots of tag, a couple of ball games just to get in the mood. We’ve had some movement classes where we’ve had to pretend we’re Roman soldiers. We’ve had shields and we’ve been taught an understanding of how these guys would stand and how they would fight. It makes you think about the very basic fact that these guys didn’t have guns, they had shields and swords and therefore it's a very different kind of combat. Even though we’ve seen it on films and stuff like that, it's still very, very rare that we see anyone fighting with a shield and a sword these days. Another thing we did to get us into our roles was an activity about the Romans and the Goths. I’m part of the Goths, although I’m not a Goth, and then there are the Romans. We had to pretend that we were going to do our first battle charge. So the Romans went off and worked out how would they charge the Goths, and then we had to go away and work out, as Goths, how we would charge the Romans. The reason why that was specifically interesting was because when you work it out and break it down the Romans were very pragmatic and obvious in the way that they march, they’re not very cunning, whereas all that the Goths have is guile and cunning and the ability of using our instinct and nature. So we had to go away and think of the way we might do things compared to the way the Romans might do it. That was interesting in itself, beginning to think like a Goth, to be thinking like these people who are more of the land, I guess, more of the tribes and villages as opposed to the conquering Romans. Obviously the Goths would rape and pillage as well, but there seems to be something a little bit more instinctive and cohesive, coherent, consistent and together with the Goths, than the Romans in this play.. Our strategy was to be more like animals - we thought if we’re talking about being more instinctive then let's be like animals. So we tried out our strategy and we got killed - we got mauled! But there were only four of us and there were loads of Romans!
Discussions about the play
I think this week has just been about bonding and talking around the play. We’ve talked about what's happening around the Court and the Palace politically at this time, and what happens when we, as the prisoners, arrive. Talking around the psychology of that and trying to break down what Shakespeare is trying to do is helpful because this play is very difficult and isn’t as straight forward as some of the others. It actually leaks, there are holes in it, there's bits in it that don’t make sense, little bits. For example, I’m a moor, I’m a slave but I’m brought into this court and I’m kept alive. I’m given my own offices it would seem. There are a lot of odd choices that we’re finding in the beginning of Titus Andronicus that the characters make, that are, if not alarming, then difficult to comprehend. For me, practically, I have to understand where these people are coming from and why before I can get into the speech.
First impressions of Aaron
My first impressions were that his character was clearer than most other characters in the play and in Shakespeare's plays. It just seemed clear tome because from the every beginning he has intent and he carries that through from beginning to end and doesn’t get swayed. There is nothing that happens that knocks him off his balance until his baby comes along. What I love about this character is that you can be very, very clear with him and strong and be confident with that.
Going through Act One
All we did with Act One is sketch out where we might be on stage when we say these lines and that's pretty much it. The start of this play is like the end of some plays. It's a big court scene and someone comes home, someone gets killed and the biggest prisoner - it's quite amazing, it's like Saddam Hussein - gets captured and then not only gets freed but gets made into this kind of royalty. Tamora, the Queen of the Goths, who the Romans have been fighting for ten years, has been captured and she is the prize and is paraded in the streets and within ten minutes she's made the Queen and Empress of Rome. Again, a very odd choice for the Roman man to marry the nemesis, the enemy, but that's what happens. I imagine if it was a man – the king of the Goths - that he’d be killed but she's a very beautiful, charming lady. So we’ve been mapping out the blocking for Act One because a lot of people go off stage, come back on stage, go back off stage and for the story of the play we need to know where we are and what we’re thinking at the very beginning, and we’re not too sure what we’re thinking yet. We’re not sure if we see that person being killed, we’re not sure if we see that person say something to that person, which is quite important but not that important to us. It's very difficult the beginning, so today we’ve just been plotting through where we’re likely to be.
These comments are the actor's thoughts or ideas about the part as s/he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his/her own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsal process progresses.