This is Peter's sixth blog entry for the 2005 production of The Winter's Tale, in which he talks about the techincal rehearsal, the set and the fourth wall, amongst other things.
Transcript of Podcast
We’re into our tech week now and it's going very well. Just getting on stage is lovely; it all begins to make sense there. It's fantastic to see everybody in their costumes too. I’m wearing a doublet and hose in black, cream and gold, some black silk stockings, velvet shoes with gold embroidery and little gold spangles, a couple of rings, lace cuffs and a ruff, and a splendid hat with a egret's feather on it!
We’re working through the show very slowly, going back over sections again and again to work out things like entrances, exits and cues. It's great to hear the music and sound effects for the storm. There's much excitement about the famous bear too [‘Exit pursued by a bear’ IV.i]. You only ever see the bear's paws; one claw comes up through the trapdoor and grabs at Antigonus’ leg, then he backs away off stage. As he reaches the tiring house doors, more claws grab him! Yolanda [Hermione] and Paul [Leontes] are our bears, and Yolanda also does a very realistic baby cry when the old shepherd discovers Perdita. So it's full of joys. After we’ve put all the cues in place, we’ll start running the play again – it becomes a question of developing a familiarity with the stage and finding your through-line within the arc of the play.
Stage Dynamics with Mark
We had a very interesting talk with Mark [Rylance, Artistic Director] about the dynamics of the stage from an actor's point of view. He shared some of the things he's discovered during ten years of playing here, which actually reinforced a lot of my instincts about the space. I’ve worked a lot in theatre in the round and the Globe reminds me very much of that. You really do have to think of audience all around you – the ‘back’ view of a scene has to be as interesting and expressive as the front. Normal rules about upstaging and down-staging don’t really apply; if you imagine a figure of eight drawn around the pillars, the long diagonals across the stage are very powerful lines to play.
Good positions help the other players around you too. For example, upstage centre is a very strong place to be, as it allows people to play to you in a variety of ways. Downstage centre is good because you can be very intimate with the audience and then just turn your back to direct focus towards entrances. Downstage corners are very strong as well, although Mark said that if we go down into that area, we should go right down and not hover around the pillars, because you can get stuck in what they call the ‘valley of death’ – an area between the pillars where actors ‘disappear’ from the majority of the audience. Draw a line from one pillar to the other, and you’ll have marked out the valley. Of course you can use that area but you mustn’t stay there too long. During the tech there's a lot of jockeying for position as we find our feet on stage!
I’ve been thinking about what Glynn [Macdonald, Master of Movement] said to me earlier in rehearsals: ‘It's not so much how far you move on stage as how you move in relation to each other.’ That might be moving off one foot rather than the other or a slight turn of the shoulders which opens up the action to another section of the audience. You’re constantly ‘opening up’ to as much of the audience as you can.
There will be times when an audience member at the Globe might only be able to see the face of one actor in a scene with six or seven people. Because of where they’re sitting or standing, that member of the audience has to read the whole scene off one face. It might be the face of a character who's hardly involved in the scene in terms of lines, so it's really important that every character is immersed in every scene. Through your facial reactions, the audience read what's happening to the protagonists – you’re a filter. You can’t relax and go ‘I’m just playing a courtier in this scene.’ That's the excitement of playing at the Globe: everybody has a slightly different perspective on the action depending on who they can see.
Watching a play at the Globe is a bit like watching a tennis match – not everybody sits on the same side to watch the action. If you interviewed people as they came out of a Wimbledon final, they’d all have slightly different impressions of the game's key points depending on where they were in the arena. That helps to make plays at the Globe a very ‘live’ experience; you feel that you’re actually witnessing rather than watching in a passive way. When I’m not rehearsing scenes on stage, I’ve been watching the play from different positions in the theatre to find out how your perspective changes as an audience member. Watching from the back of the yard, you’re not as aware of depth on the stage. The middle gallery feels like a very royal position because you have a privileged view of everything and there's also a lot of intimacy with the actors. Watching from the upper gallery is a bit like being a bird sitting on top of a tree! Every part of the theatre has a very different feel for an audience member and that's really exciting to explore.
The nearer you get to the edges of the stage, the closer you are to the groundlings – you can play off them and develop a really close relationship, but if you focus on them too much then you exclude the vast majority of the house. Your head goes down and most of the audience can’t see your face. Polixenes doesn’t have any soliloquies to the audience; I’m going to try to allow the audience in on the scenes without ‘playing out’ to them. I need to draw them into the situation, whereas if you have a soliloquy you can take the situation out to them.
Fourth Wall with lots of Windows
Mark talked a lot about the fourth wall, which is the idea that the set forms three walls on a proscenium stage and then the fourth wall is the wall between you and the audience. In naturalistic drama, you’re effectively pretending that the audience are not there. The agreement between actors and the audience is that the audience don’t exist; it's as if they’re watching through a see-through wall in the set. The fourth wall isn’t so sharply defined at the Globe. Mark said that if there is a fourth wall here, it's full of windows and doors. You can open those and play out, or you can close them and turn the scene back in to focus completely on the characters.
Very little things can open and close the windows and doors in the wall. You can share your thoughts just by looking out into the audience and you can close off by turning your back, making them focus elsewhere. There's no stage lighting at the Globe so the actors become the lighting in terms of focus: you highlight each other. That means playing here is very much a team activity; it's like watching a football team adapt a set piece to score a goal or touchdown. Every member of the team has a part to play in that manoeuvre to achieve the end result. It's the same when you’re playing a scene.
We’ll continue to work out those patterns of movement during the tech. John [Dove, master of Play] hasn’t blocked the play. Instead of giving us set moves, we’ve experimented with different moves every time we’ve rehearsed scenes. That makes the action very flexible, very fluid. Obviously there are some set-piece scenes like the Trial scene [III.ii] and the Statue scene [V.iii] when everybody's on stage because you need certain patterns just to get everybody on and off and make sure nobody's blocking anyone else. But within those patterns there's still some freedom for the protagonists.
From an actor's point of view, a lot of the tech rehearsal is about working out exits and entrances and props… we don’t have to worry about lighting cues at the Globe and there isn’t much of a set. Our production is ‘original practices’ so we basically have the theatre as it is, with some hangings and drapes. In the tiring house doorways, we’ve got some hangings that look like big tapestries but they’re actually beautiful trompe l’oeil paintings. They act as doors; Stage Management just pulls the curtain across to let you through and then closes it again. It's actually quicker than coming through the normal tiring house doors which are so huge that it takes a while to get them opened and closed. The advantage of the hangings is they can be whipped back very quickly.
There's also a big drape that comes down to suggest a court for the trial scene. And we’ve got a snow effect which we are experimenting with at the moment! That involves lots of bits of paper but they blow off to one side depending on the direction of the wind so they’re looking at alternatives. But there's very little in the way of set; tables and props and punch bowls and silver cups are more like stage dressing. I find that very liberating because every time a group of characters comes on stage, they create their own environment, their own set: they are the set. The fantastic costumes and music are really important in terms of setting the scene and suggesting atmosphere.
Feels Like Home
I think I’ll probably be very nervous for our first few shows. The Globe is quite exposing – because we’re dependent on natural light (or special light that recreates daylight for our evening performances), we can see everybody in the audience and they can see us. Hopefully what will happen is that the Globe will start to feel like home as we settle in. Once it becomes your home, the audience are the guests in a way. At the moment it feels as if we’re in somebody else's home and there are very big shoes to fill… not just because the Globe is a fantastic place to work but because there are 400 years’ worth of history feeding into the space. I sat up in the upper gallery to watch some of the other scenes; there were three actors just sitting round in costume having a chat on stage and I had to pinch myself because it felt like I had been taken back 400 years. I thought ‘My goodness, this is what it really might have looked like.’ It's very moving actually… a little daunting, and very exciting too.
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.