This week Alex discusses voice work, feeling like he can "own" the Globe stage, and the difficulties of playing the final scene, even without any lines to learn!
Transcript of Podcast
This week I’ve had some Alexander Technique sessions with Glynn [MacDonald, Master of Movement], and we also had a Voice session on the stage. It was marvellous to get out there. There were still tours going on in the theatre, so we had bits of audience coming in and out. That was odd, because we were having a private lesson and concentrating on personal voice work – if you don’t think you’re doing it right, you can feel quite vulnerable with lots of people watching. But actually I was quite pleased the tour groups were there, because it helps you get used to the space with some people in it. Just being able to see people watching you is strange. When we did finally get ‘on voice’ and talk, as it were, to the audience, it was great to have actual people standing in the yard instead of having to imagine them.
We discussed the levels of sound in the theatre: Stewart [Pearce, Master of Voice] said there are ten levels of sound and the level you use depends on the area you want to reach. He said he wants our voices to be like boulders slammed down in the middle of the Globe, causing sound to reverberate down through the floor and then up to the galleries. Sometimes it's tempting to pitch your voice upwards and outwards; words might get lost that way because there's no roof over the yard. The sound we make has to be resonant and grounded. We want it to travel through the floor almost, rather than through the air. I haven’t been told that before so I found that interesting. We also paced the stage and measured it in terms of our breathing: how many breaths it took to get from one side to the other. Once we did that it was much easier to actually to breathe the size of the stage. It's hard to explain what that means, but it's something to do with feeling like you own the space. If you can almost walk across the stage in one breath then it doesn’t overwhelm you.
Owning the space
The stage seemed smaller than I remembered from the William Poel Festival, in that I felt I could own it. Although it is a big stage, it's not so big that you cannot command it. You can own it and feel that it is vocally yours, which is extremely important. During the William Poel Festival, we had a couple of hours working with Stewart which was great, but it was more like a whistle-stop tour of his ideas and methods rather than something that you can really take away and use to the extent that we are doing now. We found that there's a little hole that's been drilled into the very front of the stage in the middle, at the exact centre of the Globe circle. If you stand on it and speak, the reverberation is amazing. The echo you get when you stand in that position is brilliant: you could be in a tiny room, which is very strange. I realised that it's much easier to be heard in that space than you expect; you don’t have to yell. Obviously, you wouldn’t be yelling, because that's not the way you project your voice. One assumes that because you’re performing in the open air, you really have to go for it, vocally. But that's not necessarily true. As long as my intention is clear and the support in my ribs is working, I don’t think being heard in the space will be a problem, even when I speak more softly.
Stewart and I also discussed posture. I used to do lots of ballet when I was younger and he noticed how that has affected my posture. You might not think that the position of your feet could affect your voice, but it does. Obviously I don’t make actual noise from my feet or hips, but your organs and your body need to be in the right alignment for your voice really to resonate throughout your entire body. If the alignment is not quite right, then it's not as easy to get the resonance. I have a dancer's posture which means I turn my feet out, so my pelvis turns out too. That has a knock-on effect: my pelvis is in a different place, so my belly is in a different place too. That means my chest is in a different place, and my neck is in a different place! I push my hips forward, as well, which again is a ballet thing. Normally this posture is fine, but for this stage it would be helpful to “clear the channel” for the voice as much as possible, really from the ground upwards. I want to be in a position that allows me to use my voice most effectively, so that's something to work on. I went and did an hour of movement work based on the Alexander Technique with Glynn, who was amazing. She's doesn't pull the body about – she just manipulates it to relax parts that usually hold tension, and that really helps line up your spine. Afterwards I felt very aligned, and my voice was really resonant. I’m trying to take that into everyday life without constantly thinking about it as something I should be consciously doing. I know where my body should be; I’ve just got to remember not to get in the way of that alignment!
Final scene [V.1]
I’m finding the last scene really difficult – well, I find a lot of my part quite difficult, but this particularly so because I don’t have any lines. The way that we’re doing it at the moment is that I come out thinking that I’m going to be executed. I’m ‘muffled’ [V.1.478], which at the moment we are taking to mean that I’ve got a hood over my head, so that I can’t see them and they can’t see me. Obviously, it's extremely important for the story that they don’t know it's me: I’m supposed to be dead. From Claudio's point of view, I’m going to be led out and killed, and then suddenly the hood is taken off and everyone's there. That's a huge shock and then there are a couple of lines before I’m actually pardoned [V.1.490-501]. It's just such a lot to try and take in. Act five feels like that in general - especially the last part of it. There's a lot of tying-up to do in terms of the story. At least attempts are made in that direction. There's not really any time for Claudio to grasp the magnitude of what's happened; or if he does have time, the play drives on without bothering too much about his struggle to get a grip on the situation. The writing doesn’t particularly give any focus to Claudio – how he feels about escaping execution and being reunited with his sister, for instance – so that's really hard to play. Isabella doesn’t have any lines to say how pleased she is that I’m alive, and I don’t have any lines asking forgiveness of Isabella. I think this is probably something that Claudio is concerned about because of what happened the last time they talked [III.1]. He's really seen the depths of his shame: in Act three, scene one, he had to ask his sister to win his freedom by sleeping with Angelo, even though it destroyed a part of him. There doesn't seem to be a resolution for him at the end [V.1]: he doesn't get to apologise for what he asked her to do, and he doesn't get explicitly forgiven for that. Also I get reunited with Juliet - we’ve decided she’ll come on holding our baby as well, because the timeframe in the text suggests that she would have given birth by the end of the play. That reunion is also extremely important. Generally, the scene is so difficult because there's so much going on and I really have to know what I’m thinking. Of course, I should know what I’m thinking in all of my scenes, but clarity is even more important at this point, because the only way to communicate my feelings is to physically show the audience my thoughts. Those thoughts have to be very clear in my own mind first. But it's hard. I wish I had some lines!
Mark [Rylance, Artistic Director & Vincentio in Measure for Measure] said something interesting in rehearsal the other day: when Claudio is ‘unmuffled’ in the last scene, no one ever says ‘this is Claudio’. Instead they say
This is another prisoner that I sav’d,
Who should have died when Claudio lost his head,
As like almost to Claudio as himself. [V.1.487-9]
In a sense, he is a different person. Obviously he's still Claudio but he's a new person too: he's changed as a result of everything that's happened. When the muffle is taken off, it's not the same Claudio of act one, scene one, that is revealed. I think that's a good idea, but I’ve been trying to work out why and how he's different. I think I understand the 'why', but I’m still confused about the 'how' : again, the difficulty comes back to the lines – he has no lines to express any changes in his character. I’ve found it's quite hard to get at his journey because the biggest change would probably come after the scene with Isabella [III.1]. He asks her to sleep with Angelo; after that I’m hardly on stage until the last scene. It's important for me to be very clear what happens in the interim [between III.1 and V.1] so I know where I stand in the final scene - hopefully I can communicate any character changes to the audience. I don’t really know how I'm going to do that... I'm not even sure what it is that I should be getting across in the last scene yet!
There are so many different emotions that Claudio feels in Act five, scene one: fear, surprise, disbelief, thanks, regret, and elation, and then Juliet comes in. I just feel at the moment that I’m hugging and kissing Isabella and Juliet, and that's all I’m doing. It's alright, but we’ve only done the scene once and I never really know what I’m doing until I’ve done a scene a good number of times. I’m still really finding out about Claudio. That doesn’t worry me: we’ve still got a couple of weeks’ rehearsal left. I still don’t know who he is, though. We’re trying out different things. It was interesting actually, in another scene today, when I put my own leather jacket on, and that helped me to get at the sort of person that perhaps he is, like we were saying about Han Solo. It's just that this jacket is kind of cool – if I can talk about my own jacket in such a way [laughs] – and it makes you a feel bit rough and ready somehow. I put the collars up so it was a bit like John Travolta in Grease, and it just helped get a sense of this cocksureness that we’re looking for in him…
I mentioned about the complexity of the language in Measure for Measure – I wondering how readily understandable the audience will find some of my lines. For instance
Thus can the demigod, Authority,
Make us pay down for our offense by weight
The words of heaven: on whom it will, it will;
On whom it will not, so; yet still ‘tis just. [I.2.120-2]
It's very difficult to act something that is so convoluted in terms of language. To understand the logic of it, intellectually and emotionally, and to then communicate that to an audience is certainly a challenge.
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.