Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Performance Notes 1

In his third and final blog post Paul discusses the first performance, how he involves the audience with his characters, and the importance of wearing the right shoes onstage!

Transcript of Podcast


One of the biggest issues for me in tech week was finding the right shoes! I’d rehearsed in trainers and suddenly had to find the same sort of mobility in bare feet on thick oak boards. I found bare feet on the Globe stage just excruciating – unlike Duthy Hall, the stage here feels as hard as concrete. After some experiments, we decided on jazz shoes fitted out with extra rubber soles like trainers, which gave us some spring. Puck and I both have these shoes – though Simon [Trinder, Puck] did try to play the first night barefoot. Overall though, I got used to the stage quite quickly; the transfer from rehearsal room to the stage didn’t seem too hard. If you focus and concentrate on getting yourself seen, you can enjoy taking what might feel like a risk or a leap of faith. That’s an important thing – the space at the Globe is so different, and so vast … I think that’s something that can become a hindrance, or you can approach it as a challenge to be enjoyed.

First Night

Our first night was extraordinary. I’ve never seen an audience reaction like it – there was just wave upon wave of laughter, especially at the end when the mechanicals are performing before Theseus and the court. The company sits around the edge of the Globe stage at this point, breaking the boundary between actor and audience, and defining that relationship in a different way. The actors become part of an audience onstage. But there were such waves of laughter. One of the big anxieties I have is the feeling of not knowing whether you’re performance is funny or not. I’ve been trying to reason things out – you can say ‘Oh look, I know that scene I’m playing is a serious scene. That’s fine, I’m playing it fine’ but until people laugh at our funny scenes, you’ve really no idea whether the way you gauge these things has any relevance for the audience. The play is themed around bedtime and its rituals as the precursor to sleep and dreaming, and the mechanicals use props from the toilet. At the end Snug plays the Lion wearing a toilet seat headdress painted with a lion’s face; when he speaks his lines, he lifts the lid. A particular worry was whether this humour would read or not. Ultimately it did. The mechanicals did a fantastic job with that; the actors conceived that section without any help at all.

Involving the audience

I’ve definitely become more secure in my performance and audience reaction is reflecting that. Oberon is not a funny part as such, but I can tell that an audience is following the logic of the lines when the laughs do come – laughter can indicate the audience heard a line in the previous scene that illuminates the present one. As Theseus I don’t speak directly to the audience. Perhaps this is because Theseus is more restricted by his position as King, whereas Oberon is completely free but much less mature. He’s rash and selfish. Anyway, he’s often on his own when he’s not talking to Puck, so he explains to the audience ‘Having once this juice/ I’ll watch Titania when she is asleep’ [ii.1], and also at the beginning of III.2 ‘I wonder if Titania be waked’. I think the audiences have become increasingly responsive as the play evolves and matures. It’s much easier to have a focal point in the audience rather than talking to thin air. On the first night I singled out a woman for the part when Oberon is explaining about love-in-idleness and refers to the love-shaft aimed ‘At a fair vestal throned by the west’ [II.1.158]. I thought she would smile or give some sort of positive reaction, but she just got more and more frightened at being singled out. So while a focus really helped me deliver my lines, I don’t think she enjoyed it very much! Generally, I find the audience appreciate the greater level of involvement that the Globe stage allows, as everyone being able to see each other and the groundlings are so close to the stage. It’s fantastic when you manage to establish that relationship, as its draws the audience into the play more directly. Instead of sitting back in a dark theatre, they’re being spoken to by actors on a stage that’s only feet away. They really become part of the production.

Continuing Rehearsals

In the first week of performance, we don’t do any matinees and rehearse during the day. We don’t know who is going to be called or when. Mike [Alfreds, Master of Play] decides what he’s going to do after he’s seen the show the previous evening. We began this morning at half past ten this morning for a twelve-hour day, and it’s hard to do a twelve-hour day and be at your best at the end of it. The last three hours are the most important. I’m just going through the text now, just sitting down and reading the text to regain a sense of the play as a whole. However, the long run doesn’t really bother me. Every performance here is like your first night; you have to work and think hard to keep it fresh towards the end of the run. I think that the play should be changed in order to prevent it from getting stale. That’s the cue to do it another way. You can get stuck if the director doesn’t want the production changed, whereas Mike wants you to change all the time. By taking a different point of view on the play, your intentions will change, affecting your actions and the reactions of those in contact with you onstage. All it takes is one line said in a different way for your colleagues to respond differently and for everything to change.

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.

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