In her fourth blog post Mariah discusses rehearsing the Wedding Scene [Act four, scene one], developing ideas and working on the Globe stage.
Transcript of Podcast
Wedding scene: points of concentration
Our rehearsal on Saturday was rigorous. We rehearsed Act four, scene one, which is a very intense moment in the play. Tamara [Harvey, Master of Play] gave us points of concentration to focus our intentions; the one I found most useful came out of her suggestion that I don’t fall back on my ladies-in-waiting for support during the wedding scene. The gentlewomen are not actually in the script for that scene but we couldn’t see any reason why they would not be there, so we tried a run-through with everybody which seemed to work. That meant there were a lot of women in the scene, so we decided to divide into two processions, one from Leonato's house (with bride's friends and family) and the other with the groom's friends and family, because that's how it would have happened. Anyway, I realised that my procession is predominantly female and Claudio's is predominantly male. He had a posse of men over his shoulder and I had all my waiting gentlewomen. The most obvious thing was to fall back on them when I’ve been accused by Claudio. Tamara suggested that I didn’t let them look after me, so I tried to take my concentration away from all the other things in the scene and just focus entirely on standing on my own two feet. When we came to do the scene, this independence opened up an entirely different aspect of the character. It is amazing how one sentence can unlock so many other things! Hero might be going into the wedding with the attitude that she wants to do it properly, she wants to be a real woman. I think that's an important; she really does want to grow up and she really does want to be accepted as a woman. If that's a strong want from the beginning, then the wedding scene is going to be a day for the fulfilment of that wish. The fact that it all goes so wrong is difficult for an actor because you want to give in to your obstacles, but what you need to do is concentrate on fighting them. In real life, you would want to do everything in your power not to fall apart. It was quite helpful when Tamara suggested that I didn’t accept help from my ladies-in-waiting.
When we played the scene in this way, I felt that I tried harder and harder to hang on to my dignity as the wedding went more and more awry. I also realised that I’m not expecting this to go wrong, so it's a shock when Claudio starts acting so strangely. That gave me the idea that perhaps Hero thinks Claudio has gone mad when he accuses her. I have such belief in my own good name that I’m not going to crumble if someone suggests otherwise because I know their accusations to be untrue. I hang on to the fact that I know all of this to be untrue and that leads me to think that something is very wrong with Claudio. Generally, this approach made me fight to hold things together. I tried to keep the whole wedding going until it really had reached the point of no return and I couldn’t continue: when Leonato asks ‘Has no man's dagger here a point for me?’ [IV.107], I do fall back on my gentlewomen. The scene changed slightly every time we went over it. I think it will be difficult to do the scene again in our next session, because in a way you have to keep finding new points of concentration. The temptation is to go for the end result rather than go through the actual process of getting there. I think I’ll have to find something else to concentrate on next time we do it. Theoretically you should be able to go for the same intention every time, and if you’re really engaging with it, then you will be telling the truth. I’ll keep trying different things at this point, I think...
We’ve reached a weird stage in rehearsals. I sat down last night and I tried to write a bit about Hero's life. I found that if I had to write about what I do all day, I wouldn’t know at this stage, which is a bit scary. I’m still slightly confused about what I do with my time: I know I’m being trained to run a household but I don’t quite know what that involves, so I’m thinking of emailing the Tudor Group. They’ll be able to help with questions about my daily routine. Basically, the difficulty is that Hero would have led such a different lifestyle and I don’t feel like I’ve engaged with that yet. There are so many grey areas, and there are also grey areas in my ideas about who she is. You think you know until you start asking yourself questions, for instance ‘Where exactly do I live and what's my history?’ I realised I haven’t sorted that out, although I think that's probably normal at this point. You leave all the doors open… it's not good to make sweeping decisions. However, there does come a point in rehearsals when you have to start making decisions. I just want to sit down by myself for a bit and think it through. I find it quite useful to write biographies for my characters – that's what I started to do the other day. I worked with one director who said ‘if you do nothing else, just write and write and write about your life.’ Even if you include what seems to be ridiculous detail that you’ll probably never use, you come on to the stage with a whole life behind you. Sometimes you think ‘Oh, I don’t really need to know that,’ but you do: you need to create something you believe in. Shakespeare is slightly different because so much of the detail is in the text that it feels odd to add anything in your own head. I’m at a stage where I find it difficult to talk about character, to be honest.
The point about not accepting any help from Beatrice, Margaret and Ursula was good because it made me think that Hero could be a lot stronger than you might think she is at first. In one sense, that discovery is a bit difficult because we started working on individual scenes ages ago: my ‘Hero’ jigsaw has become more complete since we first started. In those first initial scenes I thought she was so young, and that she doesn’t speak because she doesn’t know how to or perhaps she isn’t given the chance. Yet she keeps everything under control in the wedding scene [IV.1] and at that stage it seems as that her role has changed. It will be really interesting to see what happens when we to go back to work on the first scenes again, and how the latter half of the play informs the beginning. There's always a change in Shakespeare's characters – they go through something that changes them and my task is to find out what that change means for Hero. How is she changed and why does she need to change? It's odd that just when you think you’re figuring this person out, you realise you actually don’t know anything!
What else this week? I also had a voice session on the stage with Stewart [Pearce, Master of Voice] which was really good. We went up into the balcony of the Theatre and listened to each other. We played around with the vocal levels, and I found that you can actually speak quite quietly as long as you speak with power. You can bring the volume right down as long as your voice is supported. So gradually I’m learning more about the space.
Work on stage
Lucy [Campbell, Ursula] and I decided to rehearse a scene by ourselves on the stage. There were lots of people in the auditorium, taking a tour of the theatre. I found it quite intimidating; I'm at that stage of the rehearsal process when you’re not ready to expose yourself. To have people watching whilst I tried out ideas actually made me feel quite vulnerable, but then again it was good to start imagining what an audience might be like, how they might respond. When Lucy said ‘Do you want to do the scene?’ my initial instinct was to say ‘Oh no, I don’t want to.’ Then I thought to myself ‘Oh, come on.’ You should be able to mess up in front of people and it shouldn’t matter. What made me nervous was that the people watching didn’t know the circumstances, and it was my second time in the space. Maybe it would have felt more comfortable if we'd been working with Tamara or Stewart in that situation, because, in a funny kind of way, it would have been more obvious that this was a work in progress. I started to make some progress, but I wasn’t ready to bash on into a huge chunk of text. I ended up shouting my way through the whole thing because I didn’t want to engage in it – I felt too exposed. That made me realise what I do when I’m frightened: I just shout my way through and avoid engaging with the text. That's good to know! It is very tempting to give everything out to the auditorium because you’re surrounded by an audience, but I don’t think you need to do that. You can be really intimate and trust that people are going to want to listen to you.
Thinking about change, in the final scene Hero says:
And when I lived, I was your other wife;
And when you loved you were my other husband. [V.4.60-1]
There's something in that; both Claudio and Hero have changed and are completely different people. They both fall in love so crazily without really knowing each other and they’re both going through a phase where they do see each other in a totally different light. They go through a lot of heartache before their reconciliation, and that in itself can cause some huge changes in a person. I think falling in love with someone, having your heart broken, breaking someone else's heart, or falling out of love (although I don’t know if that's possible?) – all of those experiences change you so much. Those are the kinds of experience that make you grow up more so than anything else... maybe that's what Hero's journey involves? She does grow up, not so much through a marital rite of passage as her own internal experience. I’m not sure though… I haven’t gotten to the end of the play yet, so it's all speculation!
I dug up a strange form the other day. Word went round about this sheet of questions that you fill out for your character and they somehow grow from that... of course, no one believes that just filling out a form with your character's details will work miracles, but it is good fun and it also makes you think about things that you just hadn’t considered. The sheet included things like character's name, character's address, date of birth, nationality, star sign, education, occupation, family, social class, politics, habits, vices, virtues, hobbies, preferred literature, music, why are you called by your name, person you’re closest to, role model, greatest fear, greatest sorrow, most significant moment in your life, happiest moment in your life... it went on and on. There were some bits that made me think though - for instance when I got to the question about ‘person closest to’, I thought ‘How do I make that decision? Am I closest to my father or am I closest to Beatrice or to Ursula, who dresses and undresses me every day. I am close to Beatrice, but that's more like admiration (she's older and perhaps I want to be a bit like her). Ursula's the person with whom I would spend every waking hour, although I sleep with Beatrice [IV.1.147-8]. Perhaps in the last year, I’ve become closer to Beatrice than Ursula. However, my father is probably the person with whom I have the deepest bond; my mother's dead so he's my closest blood relative. I do think Hero and Leonato have a close relationship. I suppose the questions on the form were interesting because you know you can’t really answer them, but as you try to answer them, you go deeper into the character and the text. It made me realise I don’t know anything about the politics of the time... At the moment, I think Hero is a bit black and white, and I haven’t filled in all the colours because I couldn’t say what her habits are and so on: I have no idea! The same goes for her vices: right now I don’t think she has any, but that can’t be true. She must do things that she considers vices – staying up after half past eight, or whatever – well, she must have something like that. Sometimes you get stuck in amongst the detail and you think ‘Oh this is ridiculous. I’m sure Shakespeare didn’t care.’ But it's hard to come on stage without that background.
I think sometimes you have to go through difficult patches. For instance, when you start writing about a character and you think that what you’re writing is absolute rubbish - but if you write through this barrier, often you'll suddenly find yourself with something interesting. It's always worth writing a big biography of your character. There are so many ways into the process of creating a character... I was talking to Bette [Bourne], who's playing the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet. I think he's absolutely brilliant and I said to him that I can’t believe those words were actually written on the page. I wanted to know how he created the Nurse's character, and he couldn’t really explain his process. He tried to, but at the end of our conversation he said ‘Does that make sense?’ and I thought ‘I don’t know what you mean at all!’ Then I realised that everyone has their own way of doing things and my way is probably individual to me - it might sound strange when I try to explain to somebody else. And it's always evolving, because I’m just finding my way. I hope I’m still saying that when I’m sixty because you’ve always got to stay open to new ways of working and there is no absolute answer. Personally I like to listen to music of the era that the play is set in; somehow you get in contact with an aspect of the time that you can’t read about in a book. I get more of a feeling for that culture. I also find that a song can fill you with that character; one of the directors at Guildhall asked us to find a song to sing and dance around to before we came on to play a character. I think I’ve found a song for Hero...
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.