This is Michael's third blog entry for the 2002 production of Twelfth Night in which he talks about song and dance in the production and the challenges of playing a female character, and a female character in a male disguise.
Transcript of Podcast
Song and Dance
The biggest development this week is that I’ve got the jig right. Apparently, most scholars think that 400 years ago, performances would often end with a jig. Because Twelfth Night is an original practices production, we are following this tradition; when Feste finishes his final song, the whole company will come on stage to dance. Because we’ve had a relatively short rehearsal period, I’ve missed a few dance rehearsals just through having to rehearse other sections of the play. This has made me worry a little about whether I’d be able to do it come the first performance, but I’ve finally got it right!
One thing that's starting to make the whole production come alive is the music. Having the musicians in rehearsal makes scenes feel more rich and complete. The best example is Act ii scene 4, where Viola and Orsino listen to Feste sing “Come away, come away Death.” Before, we were just listening to him sing it unaccompanied, which was lovely, but the [viol] gives the whole scene a much more melancholy feel. It's slightly strange to have the musicians playing, as we’ve been doing the show mainly without them so far, but it's wonderful how the music completes the production. The whole show now feels much more polished.
Viola and Cesario
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been concentrating on my movement and my gestures. Now that we’re working solely in the theatre, I’m becoming far more aware that even the tiniest movement speaks volumes in that space. I’ve been concentrating on the differences between how men and women move. Women's gestures are often far smaller, more delicate than men’s. That observation has been a great help when working on my first scene, when Viola is dressed as a woman. Viola is a lady, and all of her movements would be based on curves; very graceful, very smooth gestures. That's not to say that she's a delicate character; at times she has to be extremely tough, but her movements have to be free and unconstrained. When she's disguised as Cesario, she has to change her gestures a little. If Viola tried to act ‘like a man’ her ‘performance’ would turn into a caricature. I think she intends Cesario to be seen not as a grown man, but as a (rather feminine) youth, and the other characters’ reactions to her suggests that she plays this part quite well.
I have been wondering how much Viola enjoys her disguise. She is extremely intelligent, and being dressed as a man gives her the chance to speak frankly to others in a way that would otherwise be thought improper for a lady. She gets to be very rude to Maria, referring to her as “good swabber.” (i.5.196). I think she really enjoys her conversation with Feste in act iii scene 1. She appreciates the fool for his wisdom and wit, whilst at the same time noting that wit and folly are not one and the same:
“This fellow is wise enough to play the fool;
And to do that well craves a kind of wit.
………………………… This is a practice
As full of labour as a wise man's art.
For folly that he wisely shows is fit;
But wise men, folly-fallen, quite taint their wit.”
However, her disguise is also a danger to her safety; she is lucky to avoid a duel with Aguecheek in act iii scene 4. Viola would not be able to fight a duel; if Antonio hadn’t intervened, she would have had to confess to being a woman in man's clothes. She also finds it very difficult not to be able to tell Orsino of her love for him. I think, in the end, she's quite glad when it's all over.
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.