This is Mariah's first blog post. This week she discusses auditioning at the Globe, the first day of rehearsals and performing in an all-female company.
Transcript of Podcast
Auditions and mischief
I chose to do Hero's first scene with Margaret and Ursula for my audition (III.1) – they’re plotting to get Beatrice and Benedick together and there's a real sense of energetic joyfulness and playfulness there. For the first time we get to see Hero's mischievous side. It's also the biggest stretch of conversation she has; she doesn’t actually speak very much in the scenes until that point though she's often onstage, and I’m thinking a lot at the moment about why that might be. Silence speaks volumes with Shakespeare – it's never an accident when he brings someone onstage and keeps them silent – but I don’t want to jump to any conclusions about Hero's silence just yet. It's early days and I want to explore lots of possibilities. I also learnt some lines from the chapel scene (IV.1) because that's such a completely different situation for the character; tricking Beatrice is very light-hearted and fun, while Claudio's accusations are a matter of life and death for Hero. I enjoyed the audition itself: I really committed to the first scene I read, then Tamara asked me just to sit down and tell her about it… it's like Giles says when we’re working on the text – because the lines are Shakespeare and they are full of such beautiful poetry, people tend to text the text too formally and you forget that it's just you speaking. I fall into that trap myself – I’m aiming to bring it back and make it real.
Ideas about Hero
My first impression of Hero is that she would never do anything to hurt Claudio. I think that's what makes his accusations against her so painful – he is the person she loves most in the world and he has turned against her, whilst seriously misjudging the constancy and honour at the core of her character. She forgives him and her father for making her feel so small and awful because her love is unconditional and constant. That's the wonderful thing about the story: although things do go wrong, the possibility of tragedy only makes it more wonderful when everything is put to rights in the end. Without exploring darkness you can’t really appreciate light; unless you really believe that Claudio leaves Hero for good in the wedding scene, you won’t feel such wonderful surprise at the end.
I was really intrigued when I first heard that the all-female company would be doing Much Ado About Nothing. There seemed more obvious choices of play for a same-sex cast; As You Like It and Twelfth Night play around with gender roles in a more overt way than Much Ado About Nothing. The all-male company did Twelfth Night two seasons ago, so obviously that wouldn’t be brought back now, but I could see how the idea of a forbidden love affair in Romeo and Juliet could translate into something slightly different with a same-sex cast… whereas when I first read Much Ado About Nothing, it seemed to be so centred on heterosexual love: I just thought ‘My God, how are we going to do this with an all-female company?’ Suddenly I realised Much Ado About Nothing is very much concerned with the relationships between men and women… their attitudes to marriage and their conventional gender roles. The all-female company will allow a really interesting slant on those things – and I think it will also throw all the other important relationships in the play into relief. In some productions the Beatrice-Benedick relationship is a bit overwhelming: an all-female cast will perhaps channel attention onto the story of the play in a new and different way. Aside from the story of the play, I’m finding that there's something about a cast of women that has a real energy, like electricity… I can’t describe what it is, but if there had been one male actor I know the group dynamic would have been completely different. I don’t know how to describe it; there's a different quality to our focus… it's very unified and channelled, and maybe that's because it's all female energy? I don’t know [laughs].
I’ve only just left drama school, so coming to the Globe has been very exciting but also quite nerve-wrecking. At drama school you’re mostly working with people of your own age and experience, but here I’m walking into a rehearsal room with all these women who have such a breadth of experience. My first professional job was a children's Christmas play and this is the first piece of professional Shakespeare I’ve done; I feel very … new! [laughs] It's not only the range of theatrical experience in the Company that I find impressive – it's the life experience too: they ‘ve experienced more and they carry a certain power with them that you don’t get with people my age. I’d sort of forgotten that I’ve only been experiencing a really narrow spectrum of experience and to come here into a pool of experience that is so rich – well, I’m trying not to be too scared. The Meet and Greet was great; it really helped me find my feet and everyone was so welcoming. You don’t feel like you’re just being shipped in to play a part then after that's over you leave. Everyone wants you to learn something more lasting from the production (be it the Masters or whoever), and grow in yourself as an actor. It's a powerful manifesto. We ended the first day with a sort of ritual that was a welcome and a blessing: it just brought us into the space and set out our hopes for the production. I feel more secure because of that, which is really important as some of the most electric acting comes from taking risks and, in doing so, making yourself vulnerable. Playing safe all the time isn’t interesting for anybody, but to play around and take risks you have to feel comfortable enough to fall over and make mistakes in rehearsals: you have to know that other people will catch you if you fall, and if you do something that involves a real exposure, you’re not going to get prodded whilst you’re still raw. I’m really going to enjoy the security here because it feels like I can take more risks with my character.
We didn’t just sit round and do a formal read-through on the first day. Straight away we were up on our feet doing different things with the lines. One exercise involved a speed-run where we had to interrupt the character you were speaking with, and that really takes your mind of any nerves because you had another task to focus on. Sometimes you can get really tense if you’re just concentrating on saying the lines – you feel like you should be performing or showing something straightaway … instead we had fun. I enjoyed making things physical from the beginning – it's so important to get the play off the page. The text on the page is just the beginning of the story, like the tip of an iceberg, and there's a wealth of things underneath but you have to use your imagination and remember it's a play to be performed not a novel to be read. It's about the actions of physical bodies in a space and how they affect each other.
Another exercise I found really useful involved lots of pointing. We did a run-through where we sat in a circle and everyone had to point at the character to whom their lines referred, then that character had to stand up. Hero gets talked about a lot! In the wedding scene, I felt so vulnerable with the whole room pointing at me – how Hero must feel when everyone is accusing her. That scene [IV.1] was a real contrast to V.1 when I’m supposed dead; Claudio avoids talking about me when nearly all the other characters talk of little else. I just kept standing up when I was pointed at and stayed silent. It made me think of Hero as casting a shadow over that whole scene, which I suppose she does in an emotional way. This exercise also reminded us that we weren’t acting in our own little bubbles. It's easy to get lost in your own ideas and images with such beautifully poetic language: you can forget that the scenes involve you in an active relationship with someone else… at the heart of the play, there are people doing things to other people, not passive insular reflections. I think in play especially, characters are always talking about each other and gossiping and eavesdropping – Antonio's man overhears Claudio and the Prince in the orchard, the Watch overhear Borachio and learn about the plan to dishonour Hero, and Benedick and Beatrice overhear talk of how much each loves the other. It's as though there's a whole chain of people listening at keyholes and the truth gets scrambled along the way, either by mistake or on purpose.
What I’m finding quite tricky to get my head around at the moment is all the disguise and deception. I’m finding it hard to understand why the Prince woos Hero as Claudio in the masked ball [II.1], and that's just the beginning of a whole string of deceptions and disguises. Margaret is taken for Hero, Borachio is taken for a criminal called Deformed and at the end Hero is brought back to life as her uncle's child. I haven’t really got the bottom of the reasons for this. I think the idea of disguising an outward appearance also feeds into the language: Giles [Block, Master of the Words] was talking about how much of the play is written in prose and that often happens when people are hiding their true feelings. All the witty banter is layered on top of something quite raw. The banter also often means that you can talk about everyone else without ever having to reveal much about yourself or how you’re feeling inside. All that will have to be explored.
The pointing exercise also made me realise that it's important to look at how characters refer to themselves and each other: nothing in Shakespeare is an accident. If a character keeps referring to themselves ‘I, I, me, me, me, I’ that says something about the character and how they feel; in the wedding scene, Leonato says …
Grieved I, I had but one?
Chid I for that at frugal Nature's frame?
O, one too much by thee! Why had I one? (IV.1.125-27)
He's breaking up inside and the repetition of ‘I’ hammers home his personal suffering at Hero's dishonour. I’m also going to look out for the terms of address ‘you’, ‘thee’ and ‘my lord’. I noticed that Hero refers to Claudio as ‘my lord’ for the first time in the wedding scene: ‘Is my lord well, that he doth speak so wide?’ That she should claim him in that way just before he disowns her makes the way he behaves towards her even more shocking.
I’m always in two minds about learning my lines prior to rehearsals. When I found out I’d got the part, I actually started learning the lines (it's something I nearly always wish I’d started sooner and one less thing to worry about in rehearsals) but then I stopped, because if you learn them without really understanding what they mean, then you could just end up shooting yourself in the foot. If you discovered a different meaning in a line having already learnt to say it one way, you’d have to break out of that rhythm which could be quite tricky. I find it easier to explore a part without having the lines set in my head. Sometimes you find that you become so well acquainted with the meanings behind the lines, that only those words will do. Basically I’m still undecided about where line-learning comes in the process of preparing for a part; I haven’t learnt my lines yet but I’ll have to get on with it soon!
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.