This is Ann's first blog post. This week she discusses her previous acting experience, her first perspectives of her character and the first week of rehearsals.
Transcript of Podcast
I started acting when I was quite young – I remember my first part as one of the Pied Piper's rats in a National Theatre production! Sylvester McCoy (who used to play Dr. Who) was the Pied Piper and the casting people came to my primary school to invite us to be his rats. That was my first experience onstage but I’d only really acted in school plays until I went to The Brit School in Croyden, which allows you to do a BTEC in performing arts alongside A levels. The combination means you get a really good opportunity to do practical work too. I went on to university and drama school; since I left drama school almost two years ago, I’ve been acting for a living.
I was a member of the all-female company at the Globe in 2003 – it was an amazing experience to work with that group of women and it's good to see that there are lots of familiar faces in this season's company. I played Catesby and the first murderer in Richard III, and originally I was cast as Christopher Sly for The Taming of the Shrew but we decided to cut the induction and I read a prologue by a living playwright instead. I was hugely pleased to be asked back for an audition this season: I got a recall after my first audition and Tamara asked me to prepare some of Claudio's lines. I had my second audition with Tamara [Harvery, Master of Play], Mark [Rylance, Artistic Director], Claire [Van Kampen, Artistic Associate] and Siobhan [Bracke, Casting Director]. I wasn’t too nervous because we had all met before. Experimenting with Tamara's suggestions about Claudio also helped me to relax during the audition because I was concentrating on the character instead of thinking ‘This is an audition. This has got to be good.’
Claudio: First Impressions
When I first read through the play, I was really attracted to the part of Claudio. I wanted to audition for him. My first impression was of a person who doesn’t have a great deal of control over what happens; he genuinely mistakes Margaret for Hero and responds accordingly. He constantly tries to do the right thing and is very much in love with his fiancée; to see her (or believe he sees her) with another man hurts him deeply. However, I try not to make to many presumptions about the characters I play because I know my initial response to Claudio is the result of looking at him in isolation, and that impression will begin to change as soon as I start work with the company. Other peoples’ reactions will feed into the way I play Claudio – without dictating anything, of course. It's a mistake to make a presumption about a character and stick with it to the bitter end regardless, because obviously you learn so much about any character during rehearsals.
I saw a couple of productions before I read Much Ado About Nothing and each time Claudio denounced Hero, I found myself wondering ‘what on earth was he doing?!’ I hated him in the wedding scene when he seemed to go absolutely crazy: I couldn’t see why he was acting in that way and the illogic of it made him look absolutely ridiculous. I think I disliked that Claudio so much was because the reasons why he did what he did were unclear: the character's journey wasn’t made clear so it felt like he exploded out of nowhere in the wedding scene and started raving like a madman. I want people to understand his motivation. I want Claudio to be liked… I think showing his journey in a very clear way – what actually happens, what he does and why he does it – is going to be very important if I’m going to play him sympathetically.
Claudio can be seen as a bit arrogant or jumped up, but you have to try and explain that characteristic rather than just stating simply ‘Okay, he's arrogant’. Don John says of Claudio:
That young start-up hath all the glory of my overthrow; if I can cross him any way, I bless myself every way. (I.3.61-2)
I think that a start-up is someone who has done incredibly well for themselves in a short space of time (probably the wars they’ve just returned from, in Claudio's case). Suddenly this very young man finds that some of the things he has done have earnt him respect; he's amongst the big men now. There's a sense that Claudio is quite proud that he's playing with the big boys. The arrogance about him seems to say ‘Well, now I’m a man’. I think I’d rather play Claudio as the boy who says ‘Now I’m a man’ (though he's still rather anxious about his position), instead of someone who is flatly arrogant. I think people will follow Claudio's journey more closely if they can explain his arrogance. I don’t want to play someone whom people just can’t be bothered with!
It sounds over-the-top, but I really do think that you have to love your character from the start of rehearsal. I mentioned that presuming too much in isolation was a bad idea because other people influence you when you start working as a group: the flip side of that is that you take on too many of these influences… unless you love your character, you can lose them in amongst other people's opinions. You get to hear other people's views in rehearsal but these are often rooted in the characters those people are playing. Almost without knowing it, they react to your character in character - there is all sorts of back-history influencing what they say. It's hard to take a neutral point of view. I try to find a balance: I’ll go into rehearsal and listen to my natural instinct as well as what other people say. I also try to look carefully at other peoples’ ideas: ‘Well, what elements of that are going to make me play this character sincerely as a human being?’ You can’t assume that a character is necessarily to be hated. Last season, Kathryn Hunter's Richard III made me feel like that – there were moments when you felt you understood why Richard is as he is. That doesn’t excuse anything, but it makes the character more human and the play more interesting. No one is perfect and Claudio does make some huge mistakes, but I want to make audiences see that he wasn’t aware of Don John's trap and from where he's standing, he hasn’t done anything wrong. He's truly shocked when Leonato accuses him of villainy (V.1). You have to keep these central things in mind and take from other people's ideas what is most helpful to you.
Back at the Globe
The first day back was very strange. Meeting all those new people at once is quite nerve-wrecking. Initially a Meet and Greet feels a bit like a school disco – you want to sit down or stand around the edges, but you can’t because you would look very odd and miss out on all the introductions. The awkwardness wore off quickly though and we had a really good day. We all got to know each other and had a tour of the building and learnt about the roles of all the other people in the building. We got together as a company at the end of the day and held a small ceremony or ritual where we blessed the play, the theatre, and ourselves … we touched base with our personal aims for the season and said thank-you to everyone who helped us to get here. By the end of the day I don’t think anyone could wait to get started on rehearsals.
First day of rehearsal
Tamara got us working on our feet straightaway; we didn’t do a normal read-through with everyone sat still, going through parts in a very static way. Instead we did lots of physical exercises. For instance, we put all the chairs in a circle and the middle of the circle was the stage. When it was your turn to speak, you went into the centre of the circle and whenever you mentioned another character (even if you just said ‘he’ or ‘she’) everyone had to point at them and they had to stand up. It stressed that the whole play is full of people who are constantly talking about other people: there's lots of gossiping and that made me realise how important the relationships in this play are going to be. In another exercise, we had to interrupt each other: we couldn’t let the person before us finish speaking and, in turn, we weren’t allowed to finish our lines by the person after us! Overlapping like this made some lines some much more realistic – in real life you don’t always wait patiently to take your turn in conversation, you anticipate and interrupt. Then, still interrupting each other, we ran the lines at speed: I thought that was great because it really highlighted which bits of the play work well spoken fast, with lots of interruption, as well as the bits that you had to wait for another character to get out properly before you spoke, because your response depended on hearing them out in full. The exercises also helped get rid of any nerves; whilst I was concentrating on pointing or interrupting or running across the room, I wasn’t getting up tight about what other people were thinking. After the first day, I think everyone just relaxed and thought ‘right, let's do this’.
As well as rehearsals, we have group sessions scheduled with the Masters of Voice, Word, Movement and Dance. Today my group had a session with Stewart [Pearce, Master of Voice]: we concentrated on bringing a stillness to our bodies so our breath came naturally – it feels great, as though that's just where it wants to be. We had to try and centre ourselves not only vocally, but also spiritually because a lot of how you breathe is connected with how you feel and your state of mind. Then we went out onto the Globe stage and counted how many breaths it took us to get from one end of the stage to the other, then how many to cross the diagonal, then how many to get downstage from upstage. This is important because we’ll need to know how much breath we need to get where we’re going, whilst saying what we have to say in a way that actually reaches the audience. It's harder than it sounds! I did find a lovely point in the centre of the stage, right at the front. When you stand here and speak, it feels like the sound vibrates around the whole theatre …. I don’t know, it's almost as though the ‘O’ is an instrument that you can play using your voice. It sounds really nice.
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.