In his fifth blog post Alex discusses technical rehearsals, getting used to his costume and using tour groups as makeshift audiences.
Transcript of Podcast
I’ve finally got my costume on, we’re on the stage, and we have all the props. Lots of people in tour groups come in and out of the theatre as we rehearse, so we’ve got some audience too. Now we’re attempting to make the leap from the rehearsal room onto the stage, which is huge. It feels so different to be in a massive, open-air theatre as opposed to a small indoor rehearsal room. There are certain things that I was doing before that I’ve realised I just can’t do in this space, and also in these clothes, which make me feel different. I’m starting to realise how much audience there is, and that you need to include them by opening things up.
It's hard to explain how things change when you move onto the stage. Technically speaking, you need to find reasons for not always looking towards the person to whom you’re talking, because you’re just not in that kind of space. That sort of focus is rather exclusive. But also, as Liam [Brennan, Angelo] quite rightly said, audiences can get tired of your looking at them too much. They also want to see the tension between two people without their being personally included. I think there's an important balance between those scenes which include the audience and those which do not.
For me, tech week is all about getting used to the space – it feels so different in the rehearsal room. The floor of the rehearsal room was marked up with an outline of the stage, so we have the same floor space, but there are so many other elements to the theatre itself. For instance, most of the rehearsal room was taken up with the size of the stage, so the experience of watching scenes in the rehearsal room was very different from watching scenes from other parts of the theatre. I realised how much more space there is that I need to fill – not just vocally, but in terms of clarity of focus.
Trying to work with the costumes and the space instead of fighting against them is important. On the one hand, there are moments that feel very different and difficult in the costume, but there are things that the costume does them for me – things that I couldn’t do in my own clothes, somehow. I think of Claudio as the knife-fighter that I mentioned earlier, and a gambler. He's the kind of person who tries to keep his cards to his chest, whereas normally I tend to express things very physically. The restraints of the costume have helped me to keep things on the inside, to be a bit more reserved instead of showing what I’m feeling on the outside. The clothing has also helped with Claudio's nobility – it makes me stand in a very upright way automatically and it's very flash, so I look and feel noble before I even get onstage! That changes things. For example, I hope that the scene when I’m in the prison looks different (in the theatre as opposed to the rehearsal room), because you’re presented with a person in these clothes who has been chained up, a person who is clearly high-born and noble and very conscious of himself. There's a greater contrast, visually, between the character and his situation. Claudio in this situation rather than other characters in shabbier clothes, who would look more… well, not at home, obviously, but they wouldn’t look out of place in prison, whereas I think Claudio does look out of place. It's quite a shock to see him there.
When I first put the clothes on, I felt that they might break if I did something wrong. Actually they’re very tough, and they yield quite a lot too; they’re obviously meant to last and to be lived in. The costume just makes you stand and walk in a different way, and move in a different way. I’m not sure how I can describe that. When I wear a suit, I automatically feel like a businessman because suits are what businessmen wear, so I act more a bit more like a businessman. Dressing the part helps you play the part. In Elizabethan clothes, I don’t want modern-day idiosyncrasies; the mannerisms I connect with a modern street-life will hopefully disappear because they feel completely unnatural in a costume like this. Although I still have to be real and natural, the clothing automatically cuts out certain (modern) modes of movement. That disjunction between now and then is what I find is so strange here: in the green room, we all sit eating and drinking coffee in these costumes. It feels so bizarre.
Funnily enough, I feel Claudio has become more masculine in these clothes, despite the fact that it's tights and ruffs and stuff like that. That essential element of the character was missing before, so I’m pleased. It's an encasement of the character that I’ve been trying to work on and create, and suddenly that encasement now has a very distinct look. I very much know now when I’m being me and when I’m being Claudio, because the costume underlines the difference automatically.
I suppose it's as if you’re playing a clown and you wear your own clothes in rehearsals, then when you put on the clown costume, you really are a clown. I become Claudio – well not Claudio, he's a character – but I am a Shakespearean man, because I look exactly like one… I don’t have to actually do anything, because I become that, to a certain extent, by putting on the clothes.
I find the tour groups very useful. It's distracting when they have to get leave, because I’m desperately trying to hold their attention and they’ll just walk out on you! It feels like you’re not holding them there, although that's not necessarily the case; they’re just being asked to get up and go because they have to keep to a timetable. So their leaving is quite disconcerting, but I think it's fantastic to have them there because we’ve been discussing the idea that it might be good as an actor to think of the audience as another actor in the scene. I’m very glad that there are other people moving round the space; if I had no idea what an audience would be like, on the first night I would feel as if a new cast member was coming on stage that I’d never worked with before. It's great to have people to look at, to recognise that they are looking at you, and to interact with them in the moments that you’re supposed to. The plays are written for that space and part of that is the assumption that there are people to be in the space, so the play automatically feels different when there are people there. It comes alive, because instead of gesturing into air or talking to empty seats, you’re talking to human beings who react to you. I think that's why this space is so exciting and very different from theatres with a proscenium arch, and other “new” modes of theatres, because you really are in contact the people in the audience.
Run-throughs and jigs
Running through the entire play made such a difference. I started to realise how each scene affects the next, how the ball starts to roll, and how important – in my case – the character obviously is to the entire story. Run-throughs are also useful just to get an idea of the flow of the character: it's much easier to remember how the last scene affects the new scene if you’re doing it all in one go! The jigs, which we’ve been rehearsing separately so far, really add to the storytelling in terms of my character, too. [There are short jigs interspersed throughout this production of Measure for Measure]. The very first jig, which happens before I’m imprisoned, is the only opportunity I get to do anything before I go to prison, so I still haven’t quite worked out how I should be… basically I'm free in the world of the play, so it should show Claudio before anything goes pear-shaped! That's a great opportunity. Though being shackled – or rather roped – in the following jigs is interesting too. Dancing is often a very free thing and in these instances I can’t be free. I’m manipulated by other people quite a lot, which is usually symbolic of justice or public opinion during the events of the play. The jigs tell the story of my character's journey in that way, in between the scenes which I’m actually in. This is useful because I’ve only got a short amount of time in the scenes themselves and there's a lot of information I need to get across. The jigs remind the audience about how the plot relates to Claudio, so that helps put my scenes in context. It's funny just having jigged before going into the big Isabella scene [III.1]... hopefully the jig will fuel the scene, and I can use the dancing as a way to get into it. At the moment I’m just trying to remember what I should be doing in the jig! That's slightly distracting but hopefully it will sort itself out.
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.