This is David's third blog entry for the 2006 production of Titus Andronicus, where he talks about key moments in rehearsals, developing his character, and costume.
Transcript of Podcast
A Typical Rehearsal
Of course there is no such thing as a typical rehearsal session, but there are some things which are common to most of them. We don’t usually start with warm-up exercises, but we do have a handball court marked out in the rehearsal room, and we often play before we start, each person takes a square and you bat the ball to each other, trying to get each other out. I’d love to say that it has some sort of resonance with anything dramatic, but not at all. It's just a bit of fun, and it gets us warm. Once or twice we’ve done a couple of warm up games, but generally it's been straight into the text. Some directors use them more, and some less. Either way is valid.
When we come to a scene for the first time, we’ll sit round in a circle with our scripts, and we’ll read through the scene. We’re not really trying to act it particularly, just to read through so that we’ve all heard it. Then we’ll talk in a fair bit of detail about what happens in the scene until we’re all clear about what each of our characters actions and intentions in the scene. We might paraphrase in modern English what each of the characters says.
We discuss any textual problems, and language we don’t understand. It's quite useful that we’ve got people with the Arden Shakespeare, and people with the Penguin Shakespeare, and we’ve also got a copy of the First Folio on hand to refer to. We were all issued with a copy of the Penguin at the start of rehearsals, but some people by then had already started using the Arden. There are different things in each edition, and even though it can be tricky when the line references are different, which they are a few times, it's also quite useful because you get two sets of notes.
We figure out exactly what everything means and where everyone is meant to be, and what they are thinking and feeling and then we’ll get the play up on its feet. Most people have been off book [not needing to use the script] for most of what we’ve rehearsed so far, which has been great. People have done the work beforehand so there's not too much flapping around for lines, which has saved quite a bit of time. Then we just plod through it. Lucy [the director] will stop us very regularly, to discuss relationships or intentions in more detail or even just technical things like where we come on, what we are carrying and things like that. Then towards the end of the rehearsal we’ll run everything we’ve been working on.
Developing ideas about Lucius
I’ve had a bit of a tough week with Lucius. I had a day of doubts on Monday. It was just one line that got stuck in my head. I just thought that I didn’t know how to say it or what to do with it. It was all because I was approaching it the wrong way. I got home and it's amazing how quickly you can go from just doubting one little line to thinking maybe my whole approach is wrong. Within ten minutes you are doubting what on earth you are doing with your life! You spiral down very quickly. Without wishing to get too deep and heavy about it, part of the nature of acting is that you do have to question things like that, in order that it can come out well. You have got to be a little bit vulnerable. You have got to ask yourself questions all the time.
So I spent Monday night but just thinking about how I was approaching Lucius. I got up very early on Tuesday morning and went and had a coffee somewhere and thought further. I think I’ve said in previous interviews that I wanted to avoid imposing anything on Lucius and I don’t think I was working hard enough at that. I was imposing quite a lot. This is a learning process, and that's fine. So I really, really, went back to basics on Tuesday and Wednesday. Very much back to basics. I didn’t try to do anything – I concentrated on what happens if I just stand up and say the lines.
Tuesday and Wednesday I had much better days. I’m not hugely experienced, but I guess I’ve done this a fair number of times now. However, I don’t think there is one set process that I’ve yet found. Other actors have their set ways, and that is great for them, but I’m still finding different ways. It's happened before, in each of the parts I’ve played, this moment of great doubt. Knowing it has happened before lessens the doubt; but only a little bit. There's still the feeling that I’ve actually got to get up and do this in front of fifteen hundred people in a few week's time. If you jump at something, if you really commit to it fearlessly, one hundred per cent, then you might make it. As soon as you start doubting that jump, wondering if you are going to make it, then you tense up, you get inhibited, and you fall short. That's not unique to acting; people experience that everyday in all walks of life, but that was my experience of it earlier in the week. It about trust really, trusting yourself. But there was on time on Monday night when I thought, this is a really strange profession, a strange way to spend your life.
Out of this doubt came the knowledge that I really need to prepare very well. I was very happy with my preparation before rehearsals started but last week I didn’t work as hard outside of the rehearsal room as I should have done. That is part of where these doubts came from as well. If I stand up in the rehearsal room without a really strong foundation of preparation for that particular scene, then of course I’m going to start questioning what on earth I’m doing.
There needs to be a relationship between the time spent in the rehearsal room and the time working outside it. It is different for the different parts. I don’t think there are any rules; it's a very personal thing and there are some actors who can just learn the lines and get up and do it, but I think they are few and far between. It is common in the British theatre for directors to like actors to thoroughly research, and indeed actors like to thoroughly research for their own peace of mind. An iceberg is a good analogy: the tip is what you see on stage in performance and below that is an awful lot of work, most of which won’t come out directly. So what if I know how a Roman centurion would line up his troops? I doubt an audience member is going to look at me and think, ‘he knows proper troop formations’. Of course that's not going to come out directly, but the more information I can take on board that's relevant to what I’m doing, then the more comfortable and confident I’ll feel on stage. Effectively we are pretending, and you can pretend better if you have something to back that up.
Yesterday we worked on Act 3 Scene 1 which, for Lucius is the most difficult scene in the play. An awful lot happens: Lucius sees his father talking to stones and thinking he's talking to Tribunes; Lavinia comes on and it is the first time he sees Lavinia since she's been raped and mutilated; Aaron comes on with the offer of ‘one of you cut off your hand and I’ll free the two brothers who have been condemned’; Titus cuts off his hand; the sons’ heads arrive; and at the end I’ve been banished. So that's a huge scene.
There are a couple of key lines, one to do with Lucius's relationship with Titus, and one about his own journey. When Lucius enters that scene he's quite cold towards his father, who he just sees talking to the ground, and he says:
My gracious Lord, no Tribune hears you speak.
Even though he calls him gracious, and he also refers to him as ‘noble father’, he is quite stark. He is saying, who are you talking to? You are talking to the stones, there's no one around. That's quite cold. Then, through the course of the scene and as a result of all the tragedy that happens, they become united again as a family. There are increasingly few of them, Titus, Marcus, Lucius and Lavinia, but it's a really tight family unit at the end; brought together by the tragedy that occurs. So I think Lucius experiences a turn around in his feelings for his father, so in his final speech he says, ‘My noble father’, but you feel he means it more. I think that the first time he says noble, Lucius is thinking about what Titus had been in the past, but feeling Titus is waning slightly. Right at the end of the scene he says:
Farewell, Andronicus, my noble father
And you really feel that Lucius still feels his father is a noble man. That is really quite lovely. Then Lucius really invests in the revenge idea, he exits the scene saying:
Now will I to the Goths and raise a power,
To be revenged on Rome and Saturnine.
That starts his journey for the rest of the play.
The designer is Bill Dudley, who is concerned with the total look as well as just the costume. He and the costume department have the ideas which are fairly well set, and the wheels are in motion before we even go and have a costume fitting. I had my first costume fitting on Tuesday. You go in and they dress you in what they have come up with so far. They encourage us to give them feedback on how it feels, what it looks like, if it seems right for the character. If any actor had really strong objections then I’m sure some notice would be taken of it. It was exciting – it's a pretty cool costume, heavily armoured with a cape or cloak. I’d like to sound more mature about that but I can’t: it's great!
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.