In Alex's fourth blog post, he discusses how running acts help his performance, inferring facts about Claudio from oher characters' speech, and rehearsing on the Globe stage.
Transcript of Podcast
It's been a good week. I’ve taken some big steps, or at least it feels that way. I’ve become very aware of the fact that we haven’t got much time left. Until now, I felt that we had lots of time, but we haven’t! [laughs] So that has lent a bit of urgency. I’ve been getting nervous and therefore I’m probably working harder. My thoughts about the character are starting to fall into place, as they usually do towards the end of the rehearsal period. That's when you start to understand a part – after working at it for weeks. Also, I’ve now had the opportunity to watch the other scenes that I’m not in, and we’ve run some scenes together too. This makes a massive difference, because it helps you better understand the world of the play and how your character balances up against the other characters.
There are a lot of reasons why it's helpful to run whole acts rather than specific scenes at this stage. I find that it helps me understand the pace of the action; if one scene which I’m not actually in is of a certain rhythm and speed, I try to use that to understand where I should pitch the scene that I am in. Is it supposed to be the same sort of speed, so that the action carries on in a flow? Or perhaps there should be a change in the pace, because different kinds of things happen in the scenes (in terms of the themes etc.) Maybe a different pace at this point would just make the play more interesting and varied to watch. For example, my scenes more serious than some of the others: if a scene deals with weighty issues like death and honour, the pace might slow down. On the other hand, if a sense of danger is important to the action, then the pace might speed up. It's important to find a balance then juxtapose that against the other scenes.
Obviously, it's important to know what happens just before and immediately after my scenes. If a character has to come out of one scene and go straight into another, they might have to act a different state (they might have been confused before and now they’re angry, for instance) and that transition is hard to find if you haven’t just done the scene beforehand. It's hard to remember what the character was like in the previous scene: what's he changing from, what's he changing to? This doesn’t make a huge difference to me because Claudio isn’t in any scenes one after the other. My scenes are very split up, but it's still nice to get a board idea of the other characters’ journeys.
I like just seeing more of the other characters as we run the acts. When I see Lucio and the two gentlemen in Act one, scene two, that helps me infer things about the sort of character that Claudio must be – to be friends with Lucio, Claudio must be a certain way, otherwise they just couldn’t be friends. Seeing more of Lucio increases my awareness about the kind of character that I should be… likewise, seeing more of Isabella makes me realise what kind of character I should be, and the same goes for Juliet. I also find it helpful to hear what other people say about me. Although I know that from the text what is said about my character and I’ve written all of those things down as a reference, it's a different thing to actually hear those things said – you find out whether the other characters mean what they say, for a start, and just how they feel about my character offers a guide as to about how he might be. In the same way, I’m sure that the way I’m playing Claudio will guide them as well. I’m enjoying finding out more about the world of the play, the type of people that inhabit the world of the play, and the type of place that Vienna is in this play.
Session on the Globe stage
I had a great session with Mark [Rylance, Artistic Director] earlier this week. Aside from two voice sessions, this was our first session on the stage. We talked about the space, basically how to use the space and sightlines. Mark [Rylance, Vincentio] and Colin [Hurley, Lucio] and Paddy [Brennan] were on stage; they’ve worked here a lot before and they know how to use the space, whereas I’m still finding my feet in that way. The Globe is a bit unusual because, firstly, we’re practically in the round, and secondly, the two massive pillars mean that some positions which you would expect to be very strong are just no good. Mark talked through the patterns of the stage and the different ways of making entrances and exits – going diagonally across the stage or taking more of a sweeping arc, for instance – as well as the various impacts those movements might make on the audience, and what it might mean about your character.
We also how found out how the impact of any movement varies if, as a member of the audience, you’re in the upper balcony, or the rogues gallery, or if you’re a groundling. The spatial relationship with each of those sections is different, therefore each segment will respond slightly differently to any given movement. That's hard: you can’t do much about it because of course everyone's watching at the same time. I don’t know how I’ll deal with that. It was certainly very interesting though, and now I know absolutely where are the good places and bad places to stand. That will be very helpful for rehearsal.
In the session, those of us who weren’t actually on stage went into different parts of the theatre and kept moving around, because the space looks and feels extremely different depending on where you’re sat or stood. Mark, Colin and Paddy demonstrated different angles and lines and spatial relationships on the stage, so we could see what they meant to different parts of the theatre, and how some parts of the stage are not as powerful as others. There's ‘the King's spot’ for instance – I think that's what it's called – just underneath the sign of the zodiac in the heavens. There's actually a little circle drilled into the floor, so you can tell where it is. This is the most powerful place to stand because it's very onstage, if that makes sense… you’re surrounded by stage and very much become part of the circle of the globe. Having said that, it would be quite difficult to stay there because the position feels so far away from everyone. If I come further downstage, nearer the audience, then I’m in a more vulnerable position. It's intimate, as though I’m sharing something with them specifically.
The work around the pillars was interesting too: we explored how they could be used to conceal and hide, or to reveal. I also found there are dangerous places around each pillar; they can cut out a lot of the audience's sight. On the other hand, the corners of the stage are brilliant positions because lots of people can see you, and it also feels like you’re completely surrounded by people, which is quite exciting. Another interesting that Mark talked about was that if someone is in a bad position onstage and the audience has to move around to see them, then the audience on the other side of the auditorium sees them shifting around trying to see you, so not only would the people who can’t see you would be distracted but also the other members of the audience who could technically see you, if they weren’t watching what all the shuffling was about on the other side of the theatre. Hopefully that will be quite a useful gage in the previews as to whether you’re in a good place or not – I’ll know if I’m in a bad position because people will start paying less attention.
One can do things to avoid problems with sightlines, in addition to standing in the ‘right’ place. If the view of one character is restricted, it's all the more important to make sure that every segment of the audience can at least see how other characters react to that person's speech.
Mark said that if a particular character can’t be seen by some segments of the audience, another character's reaction to what the hidden person is saying can act as a window into the scene. That's very true, even when the obscured character carries the bulk and weight of the scene. And that's why I think being on this stage is so exciting. In a film, the camera will normally be fixed on the person who's talking so you don’t really get to see the other person's reaction. You get the camera's point of view from the word ‘go’. Here there are so many choices to be made about where you look, and on whom you focus.
At drama school I was taught that people in the audience should be looking at the person who is reacting onstage: one constantly wants them to think that they could answer at any point. Actually, they should feel able to respond in any way at any point, because the reason you’re speaking is to have an effect on them. So acting is as much to do with the person who isn't speaking as the person who is, which is why things aren't necessarily lost if you can’t see the actor who's speaking; you can gain something by watching the person who reacts to the visually obscured character's speech. Or at least, you don’t fall away. Of course, you don’t want there to be a time when the audience can’t see either of you.
Back into the rehearsal room: positions
When I got back to work in the rehearsal room, I felt very conscious of being in bad places, so that was hard at first. Sophie [Thompson, Isabella] and I did a scene, Act three, scene one, and we were both trying to act etc. but at the same time we were both thinking, 'oh, no, that's a bad place, can I move? How can I help Sophie? How can she help me?' But when we got over that, the scene certainly played much better as a result of being aware of those optimal positions. I realised that I don’t really need to be really close to Sophie to get a powerful kind of intimacy. The guidelines about powerful positioning and the places that were more ‘alive’ on the stage really opened up the scene in a way that I hadn’t had thought possible. It's interesting that often you have to start off as if you were acting in a studio or for TV in order to understand the intention, to understand that it is perhaps an intimate scene, and then – having achieved that intimacy by being intimate – it's easier to find that again in a big void of space.
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.