This is Michael's podcast and fourth blog entry for the 2002 production of Twelfth Night in which he talks about the first night, audience responses so far and continuing rehearsals.
Time: 6 minutes 30 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
On his first impressions of Viola: I think possibly her situation more than her character was the first thing that struck me, her being isolated, on her own in a foreign country. So maybe what I found most was that she was a very resourceful woman. She was able to view the situation she was in. How would I describe her...? I think her best quality would be that she's honest. I've always gone for that and saw that and want to play a part as honest as possible, with regard to what it says in the text. But she is an honest character. Although she is deceiving people by disguising herself, she still maintains as much as possible a level of honesty.
On Viola's journey in the play: She's desperate at the beginning: she doesn't know where she is, she's learning that she's lost her brother and then she has to put that aside in order to figure out what she can do. So that's where her journey starts, from the bottom really [she] has to try and claw her way out of it. She has this great arc of a journey, I suppose. Where it’s always complicated but then at the end before Sebastian turns up it all explodes. Everything comes at once: Olivia saying that we’re married, Orsino not wanting anything to do with me, Sir Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek all saying that I have beaten them up. So everybody’s against me then!
On how the audience reacted to a male actor playing Viola: I like (before the show starts) to stand in the entrance, so that people get used to me and my dress, so it's not a big shock. 'Oh a man in dress!' But they still respond quite well to the entrance, I'm not quite sure why, but it always does get a laugh. Sometimes I can use it and I turn it around, that if they're laughing I can get a bit scared of that maybe and then that helps. Sometimes I find myself getting a bit annoyed, because you start becoming a bit self-conscious: 'Why are they laughing at me? What is it?' And I still don’t really know, but I’m a bit more used to that now.
On Viola's relationship with Olivia: Well they've got the same scenario. They've both recently lost a father and even more recently lost a brother. And her first instinct is to want to serve this lady but she can't. Now she's very intrigued by her as well, because she's a lady of fairly similar social hierarchy and she's also very intrigued to see who this lady is that Orsino is so besotted with. And also (if the time was right) maybe it's somebody she could reveal herself to, depending on how the situation turns out to be. She could be going in there thinking: 'I'll deliver the message of love and also can you help me? I'm a woman!' It could quite easily go that way.
On working at the Globe for the first time: The biggest effect it had was not standing on the stage and looking out, it was when I went into the Yard and I looked up and I just saw this massive space that really was overwhelming. Just for a few seconds, just quietly to myself, it was very overpowering, it was a wonderful feeling. Also the prospect of knowing, in about five weeks, I would be up there, the excitement of that with a mixture of the excitement of the rehearsal process and also being slightly scared of where it's going to go, which is nice. It's nice to be scared, because if you know how everything's going to go it's not going to be very interesting. So all these different things happened at once, and it was just very quiet and it was lovely just to stand there and feel the space. It's very special, as everybody says and everybody knows, it really has quite a special quality to it.
On his relationship with the audience: Certainly (for the beginning) when I ask, 'What country, friends, is this?' I use the audience and ask them questions: 'What should I do in Illyria?' And then there's all the things I share with them that I can't share with the other characters in the play, such as my love for Orsino. I only tell the audience right at the end of the first scene with him. When he goes off I say, 'I'll do my best to woo your lady', but then, 'Who'er I woo, myself would be his wife' I share with the audience. And so then they know the journey I have to go through when I go to see Olivia. I don't really share much in that scene with them, I get very engaged in that scene so I do find it hard to just break away. You can turn to them still, I turn to them and say stuff, but not really engage with them that much, not until I do my speech: 'I left no ring with her' speech.
I kind of get my thoughts together and get them to help me work things out. That's taken a while: to get a lot of confidence and ask people questions directly though. Even still, I'd like to spend longer on one person than I do. Sometimes I'm a bit general: choose a section of the Gallery, then the Yard and then another section of the Gallery. I do share it out, but sometimes I'd like to pinpoint one person a bit more, ask a whole question to that person and wait for an answer sometimes! But that takes a lot of confidence I think.
On preparing to play a female role: No, it's no different to playing any other character really, except you have to be a bit more specific with the physicality I think. I never kind of thought, 'Right today I'll try doing that or try that movement'. I just let it slowly build. It was good having Mark [Rylance] already worked on it, I could watch him when he was going round in his dress. The most I got it was when we were up and running really. I could explore more there in the space in the dress. That's when it really became more natural and not become too over the top, just be a bit more feminine I think. And then that informs you to be a bit more gentle, not that all women are gentle but I felt that as a man I'm quite gentle as well, so I just had to tone it down slightly l think.
On adapting his movement for the character: Eveyrthing really. All abut status and hierarchy and who you would bow to, who you wouldn’t, how you bow, how you would stand, how a woman would stand, feet very close together, hands rested coming inwards, or then holding the dress straight down. And then the man with feet like a ‘T’ and with one hand on hip which is what I like to adopt, Cesario tyring to adopt the manly stance. But I still like to keep my feet quiet close together. It’s quite easy to have them out as I would but I like to keep them close, that’s how she’s always walked so I think I want to keep that way with feet close together, even when she’s disguised. I know she would be able to have bigger strides, but just because I’m a man playing a woman I want to keep that illusion there even more.
The First Night
Twelfth Night has now opened, and the first night was an amazing experience. I don’t think my performance was as good as it will be; I was slightly intimidated by the audience which meant I spent most of the time just concentrating on getting my lines right! I lost a lot of the focus that I had in rehearsal and I wasn’t particularly relaxed, which meant I felt like I was simply going through the motions, like a robot. Still, it got much better by the second performance. Because I was scared on the first night, I started to judge what we’d been doing in rehearsals rather than trust in it. As soon as I started to trust that our preparations were good, I started to enjoy myself more, and my performance has become much better.
It's quite a scary experience to walk out onto the stage in front of 1,600 people for the first time. Having said that, my first entrance is through the trap door in the stage floor, so I don’t have time to worry about the audience when I’m scrambling through the trap making sure that my dress doesn’t get caught! For this production, they’ve removed the panels at the front of the tiring house so that the audience can see the actors getting into their costumes from 30 minutes before the show goes up. As an actor standing in the tiring house, it's an amazing experience when the theatre doors are opened and there's a flood of people rushing in towards the stage. Getting into costume is quite an elaborate routine; I have to be ready to start getting dressed an hour before the performance. I go down to the tiring house in my smock (a long vest) and stockings to meet one of the dressers and one of the makeup artists. First, I have to be helped into my corset, then they put my makeup on, then we start on the costume. After the first scene, when I have to change out of my dress into Cesario's costume, I have about 4 dressers helping me so that we get it done on time.
Even though we’ve opened, we’re still very busy because during the first week of performances because rehearsals continue until the end of the week. These rehearsals are simply a chance to work on aspects of the show that Tim [Carroll, Master of Play] feels need work as a result of the opening performances. For example, I’ve been doing some work on how to speak to the audience. When working in the Globe, or in any theatre I suppose, it's easy to fall into the trap of declaiming your lines instead of simply speaking them. Tim noticed that I’d started to shout my lines at the groundlings rather than talk to them, so I’ve been working with him on keeping my delivery clear and natural.
The audiences, especially the groundlings, seem to be especially enjoying the end of the play and the confusion that ensues when Sebastian and I are on stage together. Lots of people have commented that we look amazingly similar to each other. I’m enjoying exploring different ways of playing the scene, but at the moment I think that Viola is very confused and frightened. When Sebastian enters in Act v scene 1, I hide behind the pillar! Viola's already guessed that it's her brother who is causing this confusion before he arrives on stage, but when he finally appears, she's terrified that it might not be him after all. I don’t know when she finally accepts that it is her brother standing there; possibly not until after the play ends, as she tells him:
Do not embrace me, till each circumstance
Of place, time, fortune, do cohere and jump
That I am Viola;…
It's all a bit of a shock, and it's possible that she wants to be absolutely sure of what is happening to them both before she can enjoy their reconciliation. This is just one of the questions I’m looking forward to finding lots of different answers to over the next few months.
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.