This is Sophie's first blog post. This week she discusses her first impressions of how character, the first week of rehearsals and how preparing for her role is similar to cutting veg.
Transcript of Podcast
At the Globe
The casting director for Measure for Measure is Siobhan Bracke, who funnily enough cast me in one of the first Shakespeare plays I did with the RSC [Royal Shakespeare Company] quite a few years ago. So perhaps she put my name forward into a suggestion box. A meeting with Mark Rylance [Artistic Director] ensued and we talked about Shakespeare and Measure for Measure along with other bits and pieces. One of the things we talked about was acting out of doors. I had only done it once before; we did Hamlet in Elsinore, by the walls of a castle, which I found most challenging. I was a bit afraid about playing outside so Mark took me out onto the Globe stage, and I must say, I was arrested. I thought ‘Oh, it's not like the castle at Elsinore at all, it's really round and rather magical’. I was very taken by it and all those fears and trepidations dissolved – I thought to myself ‘I’d love to have a go if he would have me.’ We spoke again later on, when I had started to read the play, and I remember saying ‘I can’t understand a word, so I’m going to need a lot of help because I’ve forgotten how difficult it is to understand.’ But the more I read it, the more I realised there is a very clear story somehow. I felt a connection with Isabella and felt that I liked the part and the play. I met with John [Dove, Master of Play] and he agreed to let me have a go. When I arrived here on the first day I realised that I’d got a job at the Globe, where everyone is very passionate about the building – I feel humbled by the fact that I’m surrounded by people who are connected with and have a passion for this building. I haven’t got a connection with it yet, but I hope I will have.
The period before rehearsals start is a funny time because you haven’t met everybody, so you don’t really know your environment, the lie of the land as far as your fellow actors are concerned. That means that the preparation you do is very personal and it feels a bit like chopping veg – you’re getting ready to cook something but you don’t quite know what it will be exactly, or what will go into the mix. It might taste awful! All I do is read the play over and over again, and I keep looking at it and thinking about it – not necessarily consciously, because I think a part of you plugs into an idea or notion the minute you know that you’re going to be working on something. It's hard to know what that notion is; you just start to find yourself thinking as your character, looking through their eyes and feeling with their heart. I carry the play about everywhere and keep having a look. I don’t do anything fancy – sounds quite dull, doesn’t it? [Laughs.] So I chop veg, but I don’t quite know what the recipe is or what the results are going to be. You get things ready: you might not need any carrots to begin with, but the more you think about it, you might decide that maybe you will need them after all. Suddenly you think ‘Oh, I’m going to need some leeks.’
She's about to become a nun. That gives you a lot of clues about her commitment, focus and belief to start off with – there are all sorts of bits and pieces there – and then the story takes a turn: Lucio comes rushing in and says ‘Hang on a minute, don’t get your hair cut off yet. You need to come quickly and persuade this rather tricky customer that he doesn’t need to kill your brother.’ So Isabella's on the threshold of becoming a nun. I think there are quite a few thresholds and moments of birth and rebirth (as John [Dove, Master of Play] says) in Measure for Measure. Suddenly characters on the cusp of doing something that they thought made sense go ‘Oh, I’ve got to do this now – help!’ Then they have to make it up as they go along. Isabella is faced with the prospect of persuading Angelo not to kill her brother: she has never been in a situation like this before and, rather hideously, she's in it now. She says to Lucio ‘I’ll see what I can do’ [to persuade Angelo, 1.4.84]: she seems to be thinking ‘Oh, what can I do?’ and feeling that she hasn’t got the tools for the job. What ensues – and I think this happens to quite a few characters – is a voyage through extreme circumstances. The characters must quickly get to grips with things inside themselves that they didn’t even know were there, and how that adjustment is handled is always very revealing about somebody's real self.
Playing a nun
As I said, Isabella is about to take orders. In all honesty, I can only begin to imagine what that kind of commitment and belief is about. It's something that's always fascinated me, not adhering to a particular religion myself. Feeling that I’m not entirely without religion, but not adhering to one in particular, I’ve always found the belief system of individual religions fascinating and also frightening. When people say ‘I believe’ and they believe to the extent that they’re capable of doing something quite extreme – for me, that conviction is pertinent to this play and obviously pertinent to the world at large, at this moment in time. Usually one finds, doing a Shakespeare play, that it does all start to marry in like this because it's all about humanity and our deep flaws: about how difficult it is to be human and flawed. People try to find a way through, a way to cope with the world. At the beginning of the play, Isabella is just about to make a choice which will decide her way through the world, then suddenly her situation changes and that same route isn’t going to be her way through. Her belief and that aspect of the play generally just grabbed me, particularly in the context of a world with so much conflict rooted in extremist belief. When I read the play, wonderful little moments jumped out and were imbued with such feeling already – they connected to one's individual thoughts about everyday life in the world at the moment. I thought ‘Wow, there's a lot in here we need to listen to.’ That's Shakespeare for you!
First week of rehearsals
The Globe is run with fantastically deep passion and commitment – that's how Sam Wanamaker started things and it has continued. You arrive at this place as a new actor and, to begin with, you’re met by this amazing building. It's by the river which I find quite exciting, and you’re right in the midst of London at the very centre of the city. This week has been an introduction to that building for some of us – though lots of people have worked here before and are returning to the Globe. Mark [Rylance, Artistic Director] has a very unique way of involving you immediately in the building: you’re shown around the entire thing, not just the theatre, and introduced to everybody which feels as though you’re being welcomed in. You also get your little identity tag that tells everyone that they can let you in, and you get a discount at the shop [laughs] – all these things have to be taken into account!
So you get your pass with a horrible photo that you’ve done in the booth. Then we had a wonderful talk with Giles Block [Master of the Word], who I had in fact worked with years ago at the RSC. He was working with the director Peter Hall, who I worked with there on All's Well That Ends Well. It was lovely to hear him in his own right – I hadn’t the pleasure of his whole take on things, which was really enlightening actually, because you start to concentrate on the verse as a very exciting form of language. It is an enabling form and I find that a bit thrilling, particularly in a world of buzz-words and sound-bites, which is something we touched on today with Stuart [Pearce, Master of Voice]. The voice work is another area I find fascinating because you’ve got so many different voices within you, and you forget that on a day-to-day basis. It's fascinating to have the opportunity to be a room with people bothering to think and talk about these things which go deeper than superficial appearances, and which are connected with your heart and soul. So we’ve had introductions and our first sessions. Of course, we’ve also had talks with John [Dove, Master of Play] but I haven’t stood up and uttered a word as Isabella yet. I might do that this afternoon.
As I said, Voice is fascinating, though when I was at college I used to think ‘It's such a silly class, you just have to talk loudly’. My favourite definition of an actor is actually someone who shouts at night! Obviously, that's not all there is to it; there are other aspects too! Stuart [Pearce, Master of Voice] is the man for the job because not only has he got a wonderful voice and it is lovely to hear him speak, but he talks about Voice in a way that is very important. You wish that the importance was more widely recognised: your voice is the sound you make in the world. One fascinating thing he said today was that ‘persona’, the word describing your self, means ‘through sound’. I hadn’t thought of that before. I suspect I would have if I had done Latin, but I didn’t because I’m not a scholar of any shape or form. I think when one does speak in the outside world, often a myriad of emotions can ensue, and these are things within a context that you have the chance to explore, which is wonderful. Thinking about your sound and where your sound sits is so connected to who you are and how you will connect with other people. There are various places a voice sits and these are connected with different elements, going up from your groin (which is Earth), moving up to your chest (Water) then around your throat (Air) and up around your head (which is Fire). Stuart said that all these images are mirrored in the Globe; there are areas in the building where all the elements are depicted in some shape or form. I find it really fascinating, a wonderful connection to oneself and to the outside world, to see how things link together. There's somehow a beautiful symmetry to it.
Lucky with verse
We’ve got lots of verse in this play, which I think makes us really lucky because it cuts to the chase in terms of emotion. Giles knows all the percentages of verse and prose in the plays: in Much Ado About Nothing they’ve got about eighty percent prose and twenty percent verse and we’ve got about the opposite, about eighty percent verse and twenty percent prose. Verse and prose are wonderful in completely different ways, but I think that prose is somehow more consciously constructed than verse. Giles believes that verse is spoken when the feelings are released and you get to the heart of the matter, whereas prose has more to do with wordplay, social mores and wit, people making jokes, thinking about what they are saying and perhaps being a bit clever. I’d never thought about it that way before – I’d always thought that verse was the slightly mathematical, restricted area – but it really does make sense.
All the talk about ‘iambic pentameter’ and ‘feminine endings’ … you can get a bit stuck in that and go ‘Oh, dear, we’ve hit the verse now’ whereas actually you can think of verse as a liberation, particularly if you’re working on a text and get a bit stuck. That's when people really start to say what they mean; they start to connect to the string that holds the balloon, and they start to tell a few more truths. Prick your ears up if you hear anyone speaking verse. If you think about language and just listen to how people talk when they’re trying to get something across, you hear verse rhythms. The minute Giles [Block, Master of the Word] drew our attention to the rhythmic similarity, I listened to everything more attentively and thought ‘Oh, he could start talking in verse any moment now.’ Iambic pentameter is actually a really natural rhythm – it relates to the pulse and the heart beat, and the beats in a line are usually enough space for a full thought. That enables you to come out with poetic things because, when you’re chatting, you don’t often articulate a full thought. So all of that is part of the feeling of everything being linked together here, which is fascinating for a newcomer like me.
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.