This is Siobhan's first blog post. This week she discusses how she became and actor, her previous experience of her roles and rehearsals so far.
Transcript of Podcast
Becoming an actor
I don’t know when I first got interested in acting – as far back as I can remember I always wanted to be an actress. My mother was a very gifted amateur actress and director, and my father was an academic who taught English and Drama at Strathclyde University. They were always involved in things, there were always play texts lying about, they took me and my sister to the theatre and to the cinema and the ballet – so they have only themselves to blame really for this. There are a lot of people in my family who talk too much and who love the sound of their own voice, but I’m the first to have done it professionally. I didn’t do much acting at school, but I did go to classes outside school, which I enjoyed. The summer of my last year at school I went to the Scottish National Youth Theatre, which was then in its inaugural year, and had a whale of a time. I didn’t go to drama school; I went to university first, because my parents perhaps were hoping I would change my mind about being an actress. My father persuaded me that I’d get the parts there that I might not get at drama school, and also that drama school was better when you had more life experience. Actually that was right for me, at seventeen I really was every bit as green as I was cabbage looking, and I would have been devastated if they had said no. A degree in Scotland takes four years, and I went to St. Andrews and got a degree in English. Of course I stopped reading as soon as I went to university, sang in a band, discovered boys and all that. Then I went to the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School as a postgraduate. I went on the two-year course, but the way things fell out, I had an Equity card, and by the end of the first year I was starting to be offered work, so I didn’t do the second year, which was mostly putting on productions. I thought if I was going to be spending most of the year acting I might as well be doing it professionally.
I was cast as Titania and Hippolyta back in February. I came and met Jonathan [Munby, the Director] and we had a wander about on the stage. He offered me the part there and then, and I was delighted, and said yes. It’s quite a tall order, I’m not in the first flush of my youth, and if you are playing a fairy queen you have to be able to play it in a certain kind of way. I have to find a way to play the part that overlaps with most people’s idea of what a fairy queen might be, and I’m delighted to be given the opportunity.
I have played both parts before, with Kenneth Branagh’s company, Renaissance. We did a world tour of King Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and rehearsed both plays in six weeks. I’m really thrilled to be getting a chance to do it again. I remember what I did the last time, and I’m quite sure I shouldn’t do that again. That is only one set of options taken away from me. One of the things that I find really interesting about both these characters, is that they inhabit their skin, without reflection, whereas I live in my head a lot, but these people live very comfortably in their bodies. Although Titania is ephemeral, she is very comfortable in her own skin. Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons, is a woman of few words but considerable presence. So one of the most interesting things for me is making the transformation from a person who chats all the time, and just uses her body as a place to put shoes and mascara really (me), to two very different women who live from the centre of their physical being.
I do a lot of dancing in this show, and while I love dancing, I’m not a dancer, so that is making me quite nervous at the moment, but I think it is quite useful, because I think it is a way into this physical landscape I’m trying to describe. It will be fine if I make a mess of it with Paul [Hunter] who is playing Bottom because although Titania and Bottom dancing is a very pure expression of their romantic love – it is meant to be funny, so if we get it wrong that can only add to it. If I get it wrong when I’m dancing with Tom [Mannion, who plays Theseus and Oberon], then we are in trouble.
I didn’t do a lot of reading about the characters before rehearsals started because one of the things I hadn’t managed to achieve properly was the way the characters have to live from moment to moment. Hippolyta has been taken captive, she is in a strange Court; Titania is drugged most of the time, she is not in her proper senses. So they are both having to react to what the world throws at them, and I thought it would be best to start with a clean sheet. I do a lot of reading around though, at the moment I’m reading Fairies and Fairy Stories by Diane Purkiss for a bit of fairy lore. Gradually I’ll find some bits of music that I like listening too, and I have some postcards in with my script of images I find useful. Although I like talking about ideas, that isn’t what gets me there in the end. I’ve discovered that ideas are generally useful to me in that they help me not to make a wrong choice, but they don’t usually inspire me. I smell or feel my way to performances. I don’t worry about reading about past productions, or other interpretations of a part. I’ll read whatever there is in the rehearsal room, and anything that another actor says they have found useful, I’ll have a look at, but I won’t worry too much about that. I have to try to get myself into the wood.
I already had a job when Jonathan offered me this job. Fortunately all the filming took place during the first week of rehearsals; that meant that I had to commute between here and Manchester for the first week. I was here for an hour on the first day, and then a couple of hours on Wednesday afternoon and evening, an hour on Thursday morning, and then all day Saturday, feeling I had left a bit of myself behind in both places all week.
The first day
I always find the first day a bit nerve wracking, I think most of us do. Now that I’m a bit more experienced, I realise I’m not going to remember everyone’s name, or possibly even anyone’s name, because you need to see them in their different contexts. So it can be a bit like being machine-gunned with names. I felt sad about missing the read through. Jonathan had said to me that at his read throughs nobody reads the part they have been cast to play. So I was a bit cross to have missed that, because I’d have loved to know what somebody else would do with the parts that I’m playing – so I could steal from them if necessary. Much of any actors career is based on theft – getting ideas from other people – but you have to know what to take and what to leave behind. The read through is usually another very difficult part of the first day, but it might be less so if you aren’t reading your own part, but I’ve never done that before.
A typical day involves some dancing at some point, with Sian [Williams] the choreographer. She is very, very patient. As I said I like to dance, but because I’m not a dancer it takes me a long time to get the moves in my head. Because I have dances with both Tom and Paul I think I have more dancing than anybody else in the show, which means I’m dragging behind. Every time we start a new dance I have to find another space for it in my head. So I do about an hour of dancing every day. We are moving through the play in story order, so there are some actors I haven’t actually been in the rehearsal room with yet. Those involved with the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbie I’m going to work with later today for the first time, because we have just got to that point in the show [Act three, Scene one]. It will be delightful for me finally to get to work with everyone.
We don’t all come together as a company each day. We are all doing different things at the same time. Some people will be working with Giles [Block] on text, some people will be dancing with Sian, I haven’t done any singing, but some will be singing with Olly [Fox the composter] – I’m not, which is good that everyone has been spared that. Some will be working with Jan on voice. I had a session with her last week. I’ve not worked in this space before, so I wanted her to give me a heads up on what it needs and likes. I think working here will either kill me or cure me of my irritation with extraneous noise. I do get very irritated by it, and I am going to have to find a way to deal with it here. Here the audience will have to deal with that too, with a plane going over, of the sounds of tour boats on the river. So all this complementary stuff is going on alongside the work in the rehearsal room.
Last week we had some chats with the designer [Mike Britton] about what we are going to be wearing, and a photo call, in the attic – which made me realise we have a thatched roof. It is very off looking across this thatched roof and seeing the Gherkin poking up, but quite exiting. I’ve seen a drawing of my costume, which is fantastic, and at the moment what I will have is a dress with an extremely long train. The joy of a long train is that I’ve had a bit of experience with them, and I’m not bad with them. The problem is keeping the boys off them, because they aren’t expecting it to be there, and they are thinking about something else – their sword, or what they are saying next, which is reasonable. You have to have a revolving head to make sure that nobody has stepped on the train, so that you make a sweeping entry, only to be brought up short by someone standing on the back of your frock.
The highlight of the week was the first time that Tom and I got our first dance absolutely right, and when I landed on top of Paul playing Bottom, and I didn’t fall, he caught me.
These comments are the actor's thoughts or ideas about the part as she goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply her own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsal process progresses.