This is Michael's fifth blog post. This week he discusses the transition from rehearsals into performances, the effect this transition has had on his character and the pros and cons of interacting with the audience.
Transcript of Podcast
From rehearsal to performance
It has been fascinating, troubling and relieving going from rehearsals into performances. We have had to go from a small working space to a large one and from indoors to the outdoors. The rehearsal room is marked out with the floor plan of the theatre. However, in the rehearsal room what would be the corner of downstage (on the main stage) was right next to a wall, so you ended up avoiding it even though on the actual stage it is one of the best places to be. The downstage corners are useful in getting maximum access to the audience, but you do not get a sense of this in the rehearsal room. When you work indoors, you are aware of the inner landscape of the character and the world of the play. In the rehearsal room, ‘performance energy’ is not required, as you are still trying to explore what is going on inside the character, scene and story as a whole.
As soon as you get into the theatre you have to start confronting logistical issues such as where you should be in order to maximise the audiences’ viewing of the play. Audibility has been an issue. Barry [Kyle, Master of Play] has become more aware of stage ‘glitches’, after seeing us work on stage. He is constantly encouraging us to explore the depth of the stage.
After the first few previews, I started to think about the ‘valley of death’ [the corridor space between the two pillars]. This is not a good place to be. If too many actors stand there, the scene can become very flat; it has the worst line of sight. Upstage centre is a good place to be and you can feel that. When you are in a rehearsal room you cannot appreciate this.
From Edmunds’ point of view, the transition has been great. During the last ten days of rehearsals I had felt that I could not go any further. Most of the scene work had been done, and previously scene work was the only work we had done. There was a character missing from the play as there was no audience and Edmund has a relationship with the audience. Other characters also like Kent and Edgar also speak to the audience, but because Edmund is placed in the yard, his relationship with the audience is unique. Edmund is a ‘yard’ character, and we can characterise the yard as the base.
The audience and the theatre
After the first preview, I was totally seduced by the audience. I felt I wanted to speak to them all the time, they were like a new to toy to play with. I think that the audience may have responded a little too positively to Edmund. They seem hungry for me to talk to them.
This theatre is unique. You can perform Shakespeare indoors and the actor can pretend that they are talking to the audience. At the Globe, because you can see everyone, you feel as though you are cheating them if you do not speak to them naturally and properly. In a speech if there is a question, I feel that it should be addressed to the audience. They do not necessarily have to respond to the question, but they should consider it. If they do want to answer, I would be happy for them to. The indoor theatre tradition is to say speeches in an introspective way. In an indoor theatre you can get away with this, but at the Globe you cannot. I am very encouraged if they do talk back. The difficulty is stopping it from becoming like a pantomime. However, I am confident that the text can handle these situations. People were afraid that I might go off text due to situations where the audience would answer back and I would not know what to say in return.
There is a particular speech when Edmund is asking which sister he should choose. The audience answers ‘both’, ‘none’ or they say a particular name. The line that I say is "Which of them shall I take?" and the next line after that is "Both?" If the audience shout ‘both’ it is great, as it seems as if you are questioning what they have said. If they say ‘Goneril’ then you have the line "one?" Once the audience has committed themselves to a view, I say that I cannot have both and one sister will inevitably have to die. I enjoy the fact that the audience feel engaged with the problem, and then also have to face the consequence of their solution.
Edmund is an outsider and I have to play him like that. The audience is outside of the world on the stage and Edmund sometimes seems to join them there. Sometimes I think that the audience grows too close to Edmund because he interacts with them. I hope that this is not detrimental to the play. Edmund is tricking them; he has no friends and is outside of the world. He is a law unto himself. In the last speech when I say " stands on to me to defend, not to debate", I am rejecting the audience, telling them I do not want anything to do with them because I am going to be king. It is a bit like Richard III. You can play him in a way that is very seductive, he can woo and cajole the audience to get them on his side, but then is a menace. I am trying to find ways to explore this. I do realise that I am not liked at the end of the play, and it sometimes feels very real. I don’t want them to start throwing things at me, but I do want them to realise that they have gone along with an evil scheme. From a political point of view, they have behaved as badly as he has. They have not supported Edgar.
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.