This is Penny's fifth blog entry from the 2005 production of The Winter's Tale in which she talks about tech week, costumes and open rehearsal.
Transcript of Podcast
We’ve started technical rehearsals this week. Getting to work on stage is the best bit of the tech, and at the moment we’re working on entrances and exits. At the Globe, the tricky bit is hearing your cues. Most theatres have a cue light (red for standby, green for go) but here you get down to the tiring house and it's up to you to make sure that you go on at the right time. It's much harder than you’d think! Once you get down into the tiring house to wait for your cue, there are huge heavy doors between you and the action on stage. There are little grills cut into the doors and if the door that you’re about to go through is closed, you can stick your ear to the grill – but you’ve still got to negotiate the door being opened for you. If the door is open as you wait for your cue, it's really hard not to be seen by the audience. You have to stand quite a long way back in the tiring house which makes it quite hard to hear your cue. The technical and the dress rehearsals give us time to get those things right.
The cue that's proving difficult for me is when Paulina comes back into the Trial scene [III.ii] and says ‘Cut my lace…’ But there will be a solution. During technical and dress rehearsals, there's more noise backstage than there would be during a performance so when things quieten down I’ll no doubt find it easier to hear the cue. I just don’t want to leave everybody on stage looking like they’ve got something wrong! That's just a tiny little thing that I’ve got to sort out.
All Dressed Up
I’m wearing a beautiful dress – this is the first time I’ve played a female character at the Globe, so it's my first ‘original practices’ dress. Getting into it takes some doing: first I put on a shift, then a petticoat, then a corset (which is pretty tight) and a huge bum roll is laced onto that. It's so big that I can’t get my arm round to lift the back of my dress when I walk backwards! As the skirt rests just above the ground, reversing is not too much of a problem. A skirt comes next, followed by a jacket which is again laced; like a second corset. It's beautiful – I don’t know how to describe it. The fabric is patterned with grey and silver flowers and delicate leaves against a black background. I’ve actually got two sets of sleeves; very puffy sleeves for Paulina's first three scenes and then smaller sleeves for the last two scenes which come after the 16 year interval to reflect changes in fashion. I also have two partlets (that's the lacy piece of material that goes over your chest): the first one is cream and the second one is black for the scenes where Paulina is in mourning. The skirt and jacket are made from beautiful light silk and the bum roll is stuffed with hair, so overall it isn’t uncomfortable to wear. Original practice shoes are not so comfortable; apparently Elizabethans didn’t make left and right shoes, so the balance feels very strange. I’ve got a heel on my shoes and it throws your weight down to the edge of your toe in the most peculiar way. I’ll get used to them: they’re so pretty, I want to wear them! Getting on stage and into costume does help me with characterisation. I don’t know how and I don’t know why, but it does make a difference. During rehearsals, you know that you don’t look like the way you picture your character… but, for me, the costumes give me that extra confidence which helps me commit fully to being Paulina. I feel that the audience will accept who she is.
At the moment I don’t know how many people will need to help me get dressed because we haven’t actually done a full dress rehearsal to work out timings yet. This morning Hannah and Debs helped me get ready. Hannah is my dresser and Debs is Head of Wardrobe. They’ve done it so many times I’m sure they could almost do it in their sleep, but it still takes 45 minutes to put me into my clothes. Then I need 15 minutes to put on some makeup and have my hair done. The Wardrobe team at the Globe is unlike any other – their expertise is extraordinary. Jenny Tiramani [Associate Designer, Shakespeare's Globe] designed my costume for me in collaboration with Hattie. Melanie actually cuts the fabric and then there are so many people who sew it together and make different buttons and braids and lace. As ‘original practices’ explores clothing as it would have been in Shakespeare's time, every stitch is hand-sewn. It's such a privilege to wear something like this extraordinary dress that has been made just for you.
Sitting down is a bit tricky because the clothing is so bulky and doesn’t allow you to bend in places where you normally bend! The sofas in the green room have been raised on wooden blocks so actors wearing original practices clothing to sit down without having to bend so much. My bum roll is so enormous that I can’t sit on an ordinary chair without being perched on the very edge because the bum roll hits the back of the chair and there's nothing there for you to sit on!
We had an open rehearsal yesterday, where people sat in the middle gallery to watch part of the tech. It was lovely to get the odd reaction from them – little laughs at certain moments reassure you ‘This might possibly work!’ Tours usually come in and out of the theatre too, and I find that a bit more difficult because it's quite distracting if there's a mass exodus in the middle of one of your scenes. That won’t happen during the performance, so it's really fine. We’re all straightening out little things… that's what technical rehearsals are for!
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.