Shakespeare's Globe

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"For six weeks, I practised on those stilts every day to get as natural with them as I possibly could. My first test of going up the ramp in the rain on the tech, I fell over for the first time...I immediately thought, 'I have to get up and come straight back up the ramp again'. Because there was a seed of fear born then and I had to squash that there and then..."

As performances begin on stage, Steve takes us through the highs (and quite literal) lows of Tech Week.

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Time: 4 minutes 33 seconds

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Transcript of Podcast

Rona Kelly: We have literally just finished the matinee performance of Much Ado About Nothing…

Steve John Shepherd: We have! Literally, I’ve just come off! That’s why I’m sweating all over your lovely microphone.

RK: And we are joined by Steve who is playing Don Pedro in the production. 

SS: Yes, hello! 

RK: And we haven’t caught up in a little bit. So, why don’t you take us through how Tech Week and everything went?

SS: Right, okay...well that seems like a distant memory now of course! But it was good, it was good. Normally tech weeks can be really fraught. But Matthew [Dunster, Director] was really cool about it, and really he kind of eased us into it, eased us into previews. He steered the ship very effectively I think, because people get really tired, the days are really long. You know, 10 till 10 every day, they are a bugger. People can get quite tired and slightly worried about things, and you’ve got previews coming up and press night coming up. Matthew was really good in that regard. 

It’s also a very good time for an actor, that’s the first time you are really in the space with the set. You’ve never seen it before (you’ve seen the model box, five weeks ago). But to actually see it all and then just to see the actual space, and the space you take up in that space, particularly here at the Globe. It is such an extraordinary thing, because it’s got this huge hole in the roof, sonically you have to really change the way you work your body. You really can’t be small vocally, because no one will hear you. And when there are people in, it’s like a huge sponge and of course you’ve got that, coupled with the hole in the ceiling. It’s a graft actually, a real graft, but not a horrible one it’s really enjoyable. You feel like you have really done a thorough day’s work when you have done a show here. You certainly can’t ring anything in, not that I’m the kind of actor that would do that! But I’ve heard there are some!

RK: [Mock gasp.]

SS: It is very challenging and that is the thing: audibility and annunciation. Being able to actually understand. Because the stuff gets lost if you don’t pitch it right out, it just drops, it drops before you. Because we did that when we went and stood in the auditorium or out in the Yard. Out in the Yard is slightly better, because there’s an intimacy with the Yard which is really interesting. It’s a lovely sort of relationship you can build up with them, it’s almost conspiratorial...well it’s not almost, it is! They really respond to you and every house is different. So it is very exciting.

RK: Yes. And I guess in Tech Week as well, you were really not just getting a feel for the space in terms of speech and vocally, but also you guys are on stilts and you're getting in there for the first time, getting used actually to walking in and out of the Yard. How have you found that?

SS: For six weeks I practised on those stilts every day to get as natural with them as I possibly could. And my first test of going up the ramp in the rain on the tech, I fell over for the first time and fell from that height onto my knees. And I thought I had broken my knees. I thought, 'That’s it, I’m buggered. That’s it, I’m out now. They’ll have to recast'. And miraculously, I have no idea [how I didn't]. And Glynn [Macdonald] the technique lady and the physio have no idea how I didn’t break my patellas, because I just fell flat on my knees because that’s the only way you can fall. So I did that and then I just immediately thought, 'I have to get up and go back downstairs and come straight back up the ramp again'. Because there was a seed of fear born then which I hadn’t had, and I had to squash that there and then. Because if you are going to be doing it every night, with people, you can’t have that fear. And because I'm the first one through the door, I’m the first one up the ramp, so I really had to correct that as quickly as possible. So I went up and did it again, and luckily the second time I didn’t stack it. But yes, that wasn’t great. But also, when it is absolutely tipping it down, we have a sort of call when the house opens. If it is still raining, we will just come in on foot.

RK: Oh, is there?

SS: There is, yes. Because it’s just too treacherous. Even walking up there in boots, you could slip. But with the stilts and then doing the turn onto the stage off the stilts, as I found out to my cost, you can really sort of fall over. And you’ve got nowhere to go, because you’ve got a horse’s head in front of you. You can’t put your hands out, so you just have to take the weight on your legs

RK: Jeez. So for those people who haven’t seen it yet, this is the opening to the play. You guys come in on your horses which you hold out in front of you, and the stilts are kind of like as if you are on actually on horseback. It’s like something out of Avenue Q where you look at the horses head you don’t look at…you imagine the horse there with you. 

SS: Yes that’s right, that’s great. I’m quite fond of my horse, you know? I mean, I kind of know him. It’s almost like he’s moving independently of me...that sounds really sort of poncey, but I don’t mean it like that! 

RK: Have you named him yet, that’s the [question]? 

SS: Well I had to name him on the first day. 

RK: Did you?

SS: That’s what the Fight Directors told me, so I named him Pancho obviously (after Pancho Villa). 

Thanks to Gemma for the transcription of this interview.

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