This is Juliet's fourth blog entry for the 2005 production of The Winter's Tale in which she talsk about technical rehearsals and the first full run-through amongst other things.
Transcript of Podcast
This week has been fantastic; our tech has gone very smoothly. The biggest changes we’ve made since moving from the rehearsal room to stage involve blocking. Coming into the tech, we suddenly realised that we’ve got very ‘proscenium’ theatre: everything is rather pushed down to the front, so this week it's been a case of reorganising ourselves so that we use the rest of the stage (the full depth, the sides, the downstage corners). I think those changes are normal for tech week; John [Dove, Master of Play] said that a similar thing happened with Measure for Measure last season. So nothing to worry about!
I’m trying to become more aware of the audience all around me. They stand on three sides in the yard and sit on three levels all the way around in the galleries; to engage different parts of the house in the action, I need to get upstage and use the pillars – to go behind the pillars rather than get stuck in the ‘valley of death’… that's what the area in the middle of the pillars is called, because if you’re standing in line with the pillars, you disappear from view for a lot of people. We also changed the dances. Yesterday we reworked most of the jig because it felt too long. The live music really makes a difference; once the musicians came on stage with us, we felt we needed to pick up the pace. We also realised that we needed to get off stage faster and incorporate how the musicians get off the stage too, so we did some reblocking which was quite intense. Those are kind of the adjustments that I’ve noticed, alongside work with exits, entrances, cues and the music. And seeing everybody in their costumes obviously makes a huge difference; we’re beginning to see the world of the play.
Right now I’m wearing the most enormous princess dress ever seen! It incredible; when you put it on it makes you feel so different. You hold yourself differently, for one thing: the corset doesn’t let you slouch and you bend in different places! I think the most exciting thing for me today is the fact that we practised the eleven-minute costume change from Perdita as a peasant shepherdess to Perdita as a princess. Eleven minutes might not sound like a very quick change, but it is for such an elaborate original practices dress! I come off stage before the end of Act four and straightaway four dressers help me get out of one costume and into the next. I don’t know how they managed it: I literally just stood there whilst everything went crazy around me. There's somebody doing your stockings and shoes, someone unlacing your corset and getting you out, somebody else doing your cuffs, somebody else doing your hair… it's just incredible. The cuffs are actually pinned on although funnily enough the pins don’t get in the way at all. When I put this ‘princess’ dress on, a lot of the bottom of the dress needs to be pinned up too, to create a beautiful tucks and folds of the right length. That's done when the dress has been put on: once you’ve got into the corset, you put on the outer dress which is then pinned all the way around. My skirt has beautiful flowers embroidered all the way around the hem too, and I love the way that brings in the earthy, natural side of Perdita. It really does feel like my dress! It's red and white to reflect the marriage of the heart and the mind.
The first run felt good. It was the first time we saw the whole play all together; we were all in the same room at the same time and there was quite a buzz of excitement. Seeing the whole thing helped make the journey of the play clearer – how each scene fits into the story – and a through-line for Perdita started to emerge within that. But then the second run felt so static; I felt like I was standing throughout the whole thing thinking ‘I really don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing next!’ That was quite scary so I came in over the weekend with David [Florizel] and we worked all Sunday evening on the stage after the performance of The Tempest. We re-blocked a lot of our scene [IV.iv] and continued to work with John on that this week too. What was so wonderful about Sunday was to be on stage in the evening, when the theatre was completely empty and it had a magical kind of energy that lingered after the performance. We found a new lease of life after that, so I feel much more positive now. I feel that we’re getting there!
I talk about the changes of objectives that I play as ‘turns’ and what I’m finding difficult at the moment is making ‘turns’ in each scene quick enough. For example, at the beginning of Act four, scene four, I’m starting with the fact that Perdita does not want to host the sheep-shearing because she knows that there's a prince hiding in the midst of it and that's just utterly wrong in her mind. At the beginning there's such a reluctance to go through with it whilst Florizel is there, but when her father says ‘Come on, you know you’ve got to do it,’ there's sort of a turn: she decides ‘Ok, I’m going to go for this!’ So I put on a garland of flowers and enter into the sheep-shearing. Then Perdita is thrown off guard during the offering of the flowers – two very odd figures in incredible black gowns appear (Polixenes and Camillo in disguise) and there's another ‘turn’ when she's faced with a huge debate about nature and art. She responds to Polixenes’ argument and for the first time clicks into a very courtly style of debate. The ‘turns’ get faster and faster as the marriage is agreed and Polixenes reveals himself… all the way through the scene there are these sharp zig-zags. When you read it on the page, the story in the scene can seem quite linear – this happens, then this happens, then this happens – but really there are all sorts of turns and twists. The characters don’t know what's going to happen next and neither should the audience! I’ve got to try to find the different turns in Perdita's journey and play them fast enough. And there are different levels of response within each of those turns. For example, the subconscious level: of course I can slip into this courtly form of debate because it's in my blood as the daughter of a king and of course I’d know about the flowers. But I think Perdita feels so out of place for most of that scene, so how might that come through? It's a bit like a roller coaster; you step on and the sheep-shearing twists and turns are so fast that you just have to keep rolling with it. I feel like I’m on a roller-coaster and in the sheep-shearing Perdita must be feeling like that too, so at least that's quite useful!
For the first time people have been able to sit and watch some of our technical rehearsal, which is lovely, because it reminds you of what an audience might be like. During rehearsals I didn’t really give any lines out to the audience because it feels silly to turn out to the four walls in IJ3! [Globe rehearsal studio] But when you get into the theatre, it suddenly feels very natural to turn lines out and you realise there are all sorts of opportunities for that. There's a point when Perdita says ‘Oh Lady Fortune, / Stand you auspicious!’ [IV.iv.52-3]. I always said that upstage with my back to the audience, waiting for guests to come in for the sheep-shearing. When I got to that line in the theatre, I suddenly realised that I could turn it out – there's even a picture of Lady Fortune painted on the panels of the canopy over the stage. Lady Fortune could be somewhere up in the sky… there are so many choices to be made about who or where I can direct those lines, and actually having people sitting there watching really made me think about that. It's really exciting: suddenly there are so many different ways of playing lines or words: I kept thinking ‘Oh, of course that can go out!’ And the people in the galleries responded as well, which was great. We’ve got another open tech today, then a dress rehearsal tomorrow before the first preview. In the dress rehearsal we’ll make sure that everything has been pieced together properly and can run at the speed we want.
I’m not really nervous yet – just very, very excited! I’d like to be able to play as truthfully as I can and stick in the world of the play for the entire time. I think the hardest thing is to focus on the world of the play when you’re fretting about the bit that's coming next or whether you’ll be able to do a quick costume change… I just need to think ‘This is my world; I’m in it this minute and I have no idea what's going to happen next.’ Those are my aims for our first preview on Saturday!
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.