In his second blog post, John discusses the use of improvisation in rehearsals, time spent rehearsing on the Globe stage, and how to speak Shakespeare's lines most effectively.
Transcript of Podcast
At the moment, we’re steadily working through the play. I’ve had a few days off to do some TV work with Dom Joly (it’s a spin off from Trigger Happy TV) and I’m playing his agent. That’s been quite fun, but it’s nice to get back.
We’ve started to use extended improvisations to help us with our character work. This morning, we (the mechanicals) all got together and made one improvisation last for a solid two hours! We were imagining what might have happened when the mechanicals met each other for the first time, and especially what their initial reactions were to each other, which was very useful. We are also improvising the mechanicals’ "rehearsals": we walk into the rehearsal room in character, "rehearse" the play, then come out of character and discuss what we’ve done. Except it doesn’t always work like that – we’re meant to stop after 14 minutes, which is roughly how long the relevant scene from the play takes, but the other day, we went on for over an hour. Improvisation is a useful counterbalance to working with the text. I know my lines now, pretty much, and as we go through individual scenes I keep trying new things, new ways of approaching the lines. Occasionally, I find something that works, a flash of character that seems to fit my idea of Bottom, but other times I am way off the mark. Improvisation throws up even more ideas that I can play with to see if they fit.
The Globe stage
We’re having a little time on stage at the moment, and I’m much more comfortable and confident working there than I was at this time last year. It’s nice to have a little rehearsal time there at this point; as an actor, you have to work within the bounds of the theatre space, so it’s good to get used to working there at this point. The rehearsal room is a much more intimate space, which is useful at the moment as we’re concentrating not so much on performance, but on the truth behind the lines, the character themselves. The whole performance is very intimate at the moment, as we’re just performing for ourselves. Of course, the Globe is very different when there’s an audience there. In most theatres, of course, an actor on the stage can’t see beyond the first couple of rows, but here you can see everyone in the audience, and whether they’re interested, bored, tired etc. We’ve done some work in the theatre when there have been tour groups in, and a couple of us tried speaking some lines to them. It feels a bit funny, as they’re only giving us half their attention – they’re still listening to their tour guide, but at the same time, it’s good to get practice in speaking on stage. The worst thing we can do is not speak naturally on that stage, it sounds awful if we force our voices – it sounds like we’re overacting.
Mike [Alfreds, Master of Play] is very keen to encourage us to speak naturally. When you approach performing Shakespeare, you often have all these perceptions about how it should sound. This is often what leads to actors bellowing lines instead of saying them. You need to break all these perceptions down, and find a conversational manner that fits the situation your characters are in. At the same time, the mechanicals are obviously not totally naturalistic characters, and if we play them that way, it doesn’t really work. At the same time, if we play them as clowns, it’s equally inappropriate. Because comic writing is a construct, the way you have to say the lines is also a construct. There’s a rhythm to a joke – you say a punch line in a certain way because you know it’s exactly that, and if you ignore that quality because you’re trying to play it naturalistically, you lose the comedy. The way a character speaks is the end result of how you, the actor, think they should in a particular situation. In many ways, you can’t play a character; you just have to play what you believe to be the truth of a situation.
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.