This is Bruce's first blog post. This week he discusses acting on the Globe stage, his costume and how he prepares for the role of Kent.
Transcript of Podcast
The Globe stage
The cast of King Lear has been finding out about each other this week and the common ground that we share in the play. We are using the Quarto edition of the play whereas the Folio is most usually used for productions. It is also the text that is used for most editions of the play.
The most important thing about working at the Globe is about finding out about the space. Usually, when you rehearse a play, you feel that the stage is something that can ‘take care’ of itself. However, the Globe is such an unusual space and Shakespeare's plays were written for playhouses of this sort. It is very unusual for modern actors to have to grapple with idea of having to tell a story for a particular space.
We are all thinking about how this works. There are certain things that the stage dictates about the play. Usually, when you see a Shakespeare play, it is like a picture being presented to the audience. There is then a sense of distance between the actor and the audience, and the production presents a carefully designed picture. There is a huge scope for design at the Globe, but the focus is really on the words themselves and the cast's ability to tell the story of the play. At the Globe you realise that your job, as an actor, is to be a storyteller, not to be part of a moving picture.
One of the very first things that Mark (Rylance, Artistic Director) said to our company was that the audience of the early 17-century went to hear the plays rather than see them. The word ‘audience’ comes from the Latin word ‘alderi’, which means to listen or to hear.
One of the things I remember from my gap year was a visit to North Africa, and Algeria. I remember coming across a man in a market who was being paid to tell a story. That was his job, he was a storyteller. He unrolled his carpet, which was his stage, and stood on it. He told his story to the crowd who just naturally stood around him in the shape of a horseshoe. He got everyone involved in his performance and it was terribly exciting. I didn’t understand Arabic, so I didn’t understand what was going on, but I knew that there was something compelling and wonderful about it.
The same thing happens at the Globe. You have the audience in the shape of a horseshoe around you. On other stages, you are concentrating entirely on playing a scene, allowing the audience to ‘eaves drop’ into a situation. It is as if the audience looking through a keyhole. However, at the Globe, the performance is more about coming up to the audience, involving them and being bold.
When you stand on Globe stage it seems huge and can be daunting. You are much higher up than you would think. As a member of the audience, in the yard and on the seats, the place becomes a very intimate space. As an actor I feel I will need to draw the audience into my character. To do that I will need to ensure that I tell the story of the play.
I have seen King Lear before, but had never been involved in it. I think that the character of Kent seems to be a good man, quite boring, like everybody's favourite uncle. I have been asking lots of questions about the role such as what happens to Kent, where does he go after he is banished? Actually, it is when you start reading the play that you begin to realise what an amazing journey Kent has and what a startlingly ‘oddball’ of a brave man he is! He just stands up and defies Lear, an autocratic monarch, and tells him that he is wrong.
During the 17th century, that would have been like inviting execution. However, Kent is given the next worse thing to a death sentence, he is banished. That does not mean that you go and have a holiday in the Seychelles, it actually means that you are outside of the law. It means that anyone, who may hate Kent, for any personal or private reasons, can stick a knife in his throat if they wish to do so. Lear is saying that Kent is outside his law and protection. Therefore, Kent goes away in order to be safe. When he comes back in disguise it is an amazingly dangerous thing to do, because he is ‘fair game’ for anyone. And of course he cannot reveal who he is, because Albany, Cornwall, Goneril, Regan or anyone else who ‘has it in’ for Kent could take this opportunity to murder him.
We have started to look at costume. Kent has got to be established as an Earl in the beginning of the play, equal in status to Gloucester. He is possibly one step down from the dukes, who through their marriages with Lear's daughters run the kingdom. When Kent returns, he says that he will change his voice and he says that he "raz’d my likeness" (I think most people would say that he shaved his beard off). I am thinking about the type of disguise he should adopt but feel at the moment that probably the best disguise would be to appear to be from another class, no one then would associate Lear's new companion with Kent.
I am working on the basis that when Kent returns to the stage dressed as somebody completely different and says that he is Kent, the audience are not sure of his purpose. If he were a really nice man, which he is at heart, you would know instantly that he has come back to protect Lear. However, I thought it would be quite interesting if it flickered through the minds of the audience (if they don’t know the play) that Kent may have returned to take revenge on Lear for exiling him. I think that we should try and keep the ideas of rebellion, revolution and anarchy predominant throughout the play. As Lear abuses his power, anarchy does break out. I don’t think that an actor or audience should start off thinking that Kent is a ‘pushover’ and that he will just be sweet natured.
Researching the role
To prepare myself for the role, I have been reading the play again and again, trying to fully understand what it means. As an actor you are a detective. You have to get to grips with the script and try to find out what everything in the storyline means. All of the answers are in the text.
We have also been talking about various items of research. I started thinking about what happens to Kent and looking at the stocks scene. Stocks are actually a very violent form of restraint. When you were in the stocks you were completely paralysed, and anyone could do anything they wanted to you, from throwing a tomato to cutting your ears off. It is a way of imposing law by humiliation. Through rehearsals we are finding out what a dangerous world the world of the play is, there are so many potential different life or death situations.
What is tricky, is when people know the play beforehand and come with preconceived ideas about the play and what it might be about. That makes it much more difficult for us as actors to tell the story. What we have got to do is grab the audience's attention and make them experience the story in a way that they never have before. The production can’t be different just for the sake of being different; it must serve the story. It must be so immediate that people think that it is the first time they have seen the play.
These comments are the actor's thoughts and ideas about the part as s / he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his / her own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsals progress.