In his first blog post Mark discusses the rehearsal process, developing his character, and beginning to get the play 'on its feet'.
Transcript of Podcast
The Cymbeline company is much smaller than I am used to working with at the Globe Theatre and we have all got to know each other quicker than we would have in a bigger company. This means that in rehearsal we get much further, more quickly because everyone is very focused. The energy in rehearsal is high, as are concentration levels. I think that this is because with less people in the company there is a lot less time spent watching others work and waiting for your turn.
We began rehearsing by talking about the verse in Shakespeare’s plays and how there is a difference between verse in the early and later plays. Later plays have more of a jazz beat to them and the verse contains more syncopation. We talked about the way that Elizabethan’s would have relied on sound for information, entertainment, justice and security. Elizabethans could think and speak in a more complex manner than we do. We were also thinking about how powerful men probably spoke with great eloquence. It is hard to believe that an individual could have power in Elizabethan times if they did not, particularly with the period’s focus on hearing in the auditory sense rather than the visual sense.
At the start of rehearsals we looked at what the characters are actually doing in the play and what was happening in the story, rather than thinking about how to play the characters. Mike (Alfreds, Master of Play) has decided to use the method of giving a practical title to every scene in the play. Act 1 Scene 1 has been titled ‘Cymbeline banishes Posthumus’. Once a scene has a title, it is then broken down into units of action. These units are the largest part of text in which one thing happens and where everyone in the scene is involved. The units are then given a title that describes what is happening in them. This process makes the text manageable. It means that we can identify moments that aren’t working easily. Thus we may find that one unit needs a lot more work than others do. In order to identify these units, we all sat around a table reading the text very slowly and logically.
We begin each rehearsal with a warm up and are currently looking at gesture. Mike feels that strong gestures on the Globe stage may help to draw the focus. He thinks that we need to be more dynamic with our gestures, getting more width and height to them. We have been doing this by playing games where we move slowly as if we were moving through a substance other than air. We have been trying to gesture using parts of our bodies other than our arms.
We have also been having ‘character sessions’. Before these sessions, each actor has to prepare what their character says about themselves, what other characters say about them and what they say about others. We also have to list any facts that we find about our character, for example, we know that Posthumus is an orphan. In rehearsal, we then read out and discuss what we have discovered, focusing on one character each week. We then discuss as a company what kind of person we think they are, based on what we have heard, where we think their physical centre might be and what their super-objective for their life might be. The super-objective is a character’s overall objective for the whole play or for their life. For Posthumus, I think it is to be worthy, true and to seek perfection. Finally, we talk about what we think their objective for the play would be. I think that Posthumus’ objective is to get back to Imogen.
I have learnt a lot about Posthumus from these sessions. He comes from warrior stock, but I am not sure how far back this stock goes. I don’t think that he is in any way aristocratic. He gets caught up in his love for Imogen. Everything he does is about her. He has a need to prove himself worthy, which I believe may be a result of being an orphan. He wants to feel as though he belongs at court, but as an outsider, he sometimes has to do more than everyone else does, in order to prove himself. I am not sure that he knows his own mind and there is a suggestion that he lacks humour. I discovered that his centre, the area of the body from which a character leads, is similar to a horse, in that he moves from both his shoulders and thighs.
I always do these types of exercises in preparation for a role, but it is really good to have time in rehearsal to do them because it allows the other members of the company to comment on what you are doing. At the end of each session everybody plays the character we have been discussing. It is very interesting to see how other people think that your character should be played. By playing all the other characters, I have learnt a lot about them, which allows me to understand them more clearly and consequently interact better with them on stage. Finally, we sit down and decide what we think is the best way to play each character.
We have also been using Laban’s theories on movement to inform our characters, which is something that I haven’t done for a very long time. Laban was a Swiss gentleman who described human movement suggesting that there were four main ways to move. We have been looking at one area of his system known as ‘efforts’. ‘Efforts’ describe how we relate to the world and they are essentially holistic. Although initially they are activated physically, they also involve feeling and thought as well. ‘Efforts’ consist of three pairs of movement components, which, when combined, create eight archetypal ways in which people behave. All people contain all these types of ‘efforts’, but may favour one and avoid another one. For this reason, ‘efforts’ can be used to find a character, or to find a way to play a particular scene. An ‘effort’ is a combination of one component from the three categories, weight, space and time, listed below:
• Weight- Light or strong
• Space - direct or indirect (flexible)
• Time - sustained or broken
I think that Posthumus is strong, sustained and direct.
At the moment I am spending a lot of time thinking about the ideas that Posthumus is humourless and trying to find places where he may show humour. I am wondering how confident he is of his relationship with Imogen. He boasts about Imogen a lot and I am not sure if this is because he is confident or because he is insecure. As yet I do not know the answer to this. I also have to play Cloten and I am finding him very difficult. He is partly foolish and stupid but yet the King seems to trust him and wants him to get married to his daughter. Cloten also seems to be quite threatening and strong. I have many thoughts and questions about the play at the moment, but it is still early in the rehearsal process and I am sure I will eventually find the answers.
Getting the play 'on its feet'
We have just begun getting the play ‘on its feet’ and have acted through Act 1 and Act 2. It is always very nerve racking when you first stand up and start performing, especially when you have spent a lot of time talking about the play and how good you envisage it to be. At the moment we are all aware that we don’t yet know how to play the characters. We only know the facts, which can help to inform our playing. At the moment we are only playing what is actually happening in each scene.
In Act 1 Scene 1 Posthumus, Imogen and the Queen enter. The unit is titled ‘the Queen assures Imogen and Posthumus that she is on their side’. My objective is ‘I want to assure the queen that I will go’. All I have to do in the scene is to convince the Queen. However, there are many ways of doing this. If it is pouring with rain at the Globe, it may be that I have to assure her more assertively than I would on a sunny day. At times the theatre does effect how something must be played. The Laban exercises also inform me on how to play this unit. I know that Posthumus is strong and direct, so I am sure that he would be firm.
From all my years experience working at the Globe I know that when acting works in the theatre it is not necessarily because the actor is externally, technically very good. You have to have something to share with the audience. They really have to believe that you are going through these experiences. The technical aspects help as well. You have to work both internally and externally.
Rehearsing and performing different plays
In the evenings I am still playing in Life X 3 at the Old Vic. Some people find it hard to go from rehearsing during the day to performing something completely different at night. I used to find it hard but these days it is not too bad. It can be harder if you have not been performing a play for long, but I have been in Life X 3 for a while, so am very settled in the part.
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 change frequently as the rehearsal process progresses.