This is Juliet's second blog entry for the 2005 production of The Winter's Tale in which she talks about continuing rehearsals, accents and working with the Tudor Group amongst other things.
Transcript of Podcast
This week we’ve continued working through the play. We’ve been all the way through once and now we’ve started to go back over the scenes in more depth, really looking at the relationships between characters on the stage. For example, we stopped in the middle of Act four, scene four to discuss the relationship between Perdita, Mopsa and Dorcas (they’re my two best friends), and also her relationship with the young shepherd and the old shepherd, my brother and my father.
My relationship with the old shepherd is a key one, because he's brought me up from birth. But we worked out that Perdita has never quite fitted into his world, so although I absolutely adore him and he loves me very much, I’ve never fulfilled his idea of what he’d like his daughter to be. I’m not like his wife was – at the sheep-shearing, he describes her as being able to dance and sing in the thick of the gathering and do all these other things that just don’t come naturally to me:
Fie, daughter, when my old wife liv’d, upon
This day she was both pantler, butler, cook,
Both dame and servant; welcom’d all, serv’d all;
Would sing her song, and dance her turn; now here,
At upper end o’th’ table, now i’th’ middle;
On his shoulder, and his; her face o’ fire
With labor, and the thing she took to quench it
She would to each one sip. You are retired,
As if you were a feasted one and not
The hostess of the meeting.
We delved into that relationship quite a bit. And then we talked about ways of showing that Perdita is Leontes’ daughter, in terms of the similarities between us as characters – how I can portray that in Act four, scene four so it's clear that I’m his daughter at the end of the play? At the sheep-shearing, everyone is full of compliments for Perdita; ‘she dances fleatly’, she's full of grace, she sings well and everything about her seems to have innate nobility. Somehow, by birth rather than instruction, Perdita has a courtly awareness that none of the shepherd folk have and that sets her apart a little. I’ve been trying to portray that and explore her similarities with Leontes. Obviously, as a King, Leontes has a particular way of being and talking in Court… suddenly in the middle of the sheep-shearing, it's as if Perdita is holding Court without even knowing it. She speaks in a way that echoes Leontes: suddenly, despite herself, her true nature comes out. I think that's the clearest way to think about.
I think act four, scene four is the longest scene I’ve ever been in! It's incredible because there are so many different things going on at the same time: there's the relationship between Perdita and Florizel, then Autolycus and his ballads, there's the young Shepherd with Mopsa and Dorcas, there's the arrival of Polixenes and Camillo in disguise. It's really picking up speed now and I’m noticing how quickly it moves through these situations. I’m also discovering how many complex changes the scene involves for Perdita. At beginning of the scene I’m terrified that Florizel will be found out; I’m scared that my father will find out that my boyfriend is actually a prince in disguise! And Florizel begins by persuading me that it will all be okay… we’re going to get married. Then everybody in the community arrives and the sheep-shearing festival begins. Suddenly in the middle of the festival, Florizel turns around and says we’re going to get married right here! So we’re about to get married when King Polixenes reveals himself and ruins everything with his wild rage. I think Perdita's journey will become clearer when we do a complete run-through of the scene.
Two people from the Tudor Group came into rehearsals yesterday, which was just brilliant. They spend part of the year living as Tudors would have done (at least, as far as possible). They taught us all about etiquette and status: as we’re an ‘original practices’ production, we’re learning how to bow and who would carry a sword. If you’re a servant, for example, you would do a very quick bow, whereas if you’re a lord you might take a very long, gracious bow. It was really interesting for Perdita because she's been brought up as a peasant but is royalty by birth. There's a lot of room to play around with questions about how much I know; when I get to the Sicilian court at the end of the play, would I have been taught very quickly how to do all of that, or would I have no idea? So there are so many things to play around with as Perdita because of the fact that she moves between the two worlds – the court and the countryside, Sicily and Bohemia. The Tudor Group also told me about sheep-shearing, which was fantastic!
I also found out that Elizabethans stood for far longer than we do today – they wouldn’t have sat down every five minutes. We’re trying to get used to that a little bit in rehearsals by standing up more in breaks, and sitting down as Elizabethans would: no crossing the legs, keeping a rigidity in the back. The corsets meant that you wouldn’t have been able to slouch like we do today; you have to sit up straight. In fact, we have to try and keep our backs straight no matter what we do! It was tricky to remember at the beginning of the week because we’re so used to modern mannerisms. You just have to re-train yourself and say, for instance: ‘I’m an Elizabethan, I’ve been working since dawn in the country, and I’ve been standing and looking after a flock of sheep.’ If you change your mindset, your body soon adapts. If you can get it right in your head your body will follow.
I had a wig fitting yesterday and we discussed how my hair might have been worn. I didn’t know that all Elizabethan women would have had their hair up and capped from the minute they got married; it was never shown in public again. I had no idea – I had imagined Perdita wearing a cap, but obviously I’m not married yet, so I think I’m going to have my hair down. I play the 2nd Gentlewoman (in Act two, scene one) as well, so maybe she’ll have some kind of headgear. The costumes are incredible. Apparently as a shepherdess, I would wear the same outfit throughout winter and summer; I would wear the same outer garment all year round and never wash it, which is quite shocking! My skirt is made from coarse wool. That would have been quite standard, I think. As shepherds, we would have access to lots of wool so the fabric would have been something that we can make quite easily, and we wouldn’t have the money to employ a tailor so the design would have been quite simple.
I’ve worked on my accent a lot this week. In the beginning, we were going for something quite ‘Mumerset’, but John [Dove, Master of Play] quickly moved us away from that because he wanted something subtler that didn’t signpost ‘Now you’re in the country’ so obviously. We tried a kind of Hertfordshire accent, but there wasn’t enough differentiation with my accent so now I think we’re going to put in some rounded ‘r’ sounds and alter a couple of the vowel sounds to get a greater differentiation. I found that easier and it sounds more rural without being obvious. I’m changing three sounds for Perdita in the country; hopefully I’ll be able to drop them when I get to Court without anyone noticing.
A closer look at verse
I’ve been working with Stewart [Pearce, Master of Voice], and Giles [Block, Master of Words] too. They’re just incredible! I had a session with Giles this week and he taught me all about finding the ‘real thought’ in verse. In everyday speech, we normally have an idea of what we’re going to say, but we don’t know how to say it and that's exactly how Shakespeare wrote his verse. So we’re trying to get away from speaking in a regulated way and find out where the thought is, in what might be a long passage of speech. The thought may be right in the middle of it, and the whole of the beginning of the speech may be a preamble to get to it. You suddenly realise that you don’t have to emphasise every word in every line just because it's Shakespeare; in everyday life, people sometimes rush to get to their point and that can happen with Shakespeare too. For example, there's a speech that I have when I first come on:
Sir, my gracious lord,
To chide at your extremes it not becomes me:
O, pardon, that I name them! Your high self,
The gracious mark o' the land, you have obscured
With a swain's wearing […]
Now, all of that beginning speech, I don’t have to say any of it; my main point is ‘Look! You’re a prince, and you’ve put yourself in a shepherd's costume, that's ridiculous, you can’t do that, you’re a prince.’ That's all I’m trying to say, but because I don’t know quite how to say it to Florizel, I’m putting in all of this ‘Sir, my gracious lord etc.’ at the beginning as a way of getting into the thoughts themselves. So actually all of that can be far more ‘throw-away’ – when you say it like that, the lines sound much more like everyday speech.
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.