Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 3

In his third blog post, John discusses the problems that have arisen from running the play, the decisions he has made for playing Bottom and what he'll be wearing for his costume.

Transcript of Podcast

Running the Play

It’s the technical rehearsals next week, but at the moment, we’re running either the first half, the second half, or both pretty much every day. We ran the first half on the stage a couple of days ago, and Mike [Alfreds, Master of Play], seemed very pleased with it. Yesterday, we ran the second half, which wasn’t so good. Throughout the play, those of us who aren’t directly involved in any particular scene will come on stage as fairies to watch, and at times interact with, the characters on stage at that time, and I think the problem with the second half is that we’re still trying to work out how much the fairies should get involved in certain scenes, such as the lovers’ scene (iii.2). In the end, the best way for us to work this out is through lots of practice. Still, because we’re now only a few weeks away from the first performance, I expect Mike will give us some guidance as to how much the fairies can interfere at particular moments so that we don’t obstruct the characters who are driving the story of the play forward at such points during the play.

Rehearsal Rooms

Even though we’ve been running the first and second halves on the stage, most of our rehearsals are taking place in the rehearsal room. This makes things slightly difficult, because it’s very tempting this close to the start of the season to pretend that the rehearsal room is the Globe stage itself, and make one’s performance ‘bigger’ as a result. If you do this, there is a danger that, by the time you leave the rehearsal rooms for good, you will be used to giving a performance that is bigger than the space requires. If you continue to do this in the theatre, your performances there will become unnecessarily pantomimic and false. Instead of changing the scale of your performance, it’s important instead in the rehearsal room to concentrate on making eye contact; the communication between actors and audience. Again, it’s impossible to pretend that you’re in the theatre itself; people aren’t watching you from all sides, only from the front. But, as long as you concentrate on making eye contact with your audience without worrying that they’re not in the same positions relative to the stage as a Globe audience would be, the rehearsals are very useful. I always play to the people who are watching me, wherever they are, so the daily venue changes are difficult, but not impossible to cope with.

"Bottom the actor"

I’ve been thinking recently about Bottom the actor. He is not an experienced performer, yet the other mechanicals rate him as the best actor of them all, which is why he gets the best parts in their productions. I think that in some of his scenes, the part of Bottom could be said to make fun of actors in general, painting them as rather proud, narcissistic characters. I have been wondering about where I could stand on stage at various points during the play, especially when Bottom is mocking this stereotype or attacking other characters. Some actors have a theory that stage right (the left hand side of the stage for those watching from the front) is a far stronger position for an actor to stand in than stage left. There is a sun painted on the front corner of the heavens that overhangs stage right, and a moon in the corresponding corner stage left that symbolises this difference between the strong and the weak, between fire and water. Personally, I agree that stage right is a more empowering position for an actor to stand in, but I think it might be because an audience would expect a powerful action to come from their left; in many cultures, people read text from left to right. It’s just a thought, but it might be an interesting concept to work with. The pillars can be frightening to work with, but they’re also quite useful, especially for differentiating between indoor and outdoor locations. For example, we [the mechanicals] felt that our first scene (1.2) would probably take place inside somewhere, perhaps in a house, or a barn, whereas our later scenes (iii.1, iv.2) could be set in the forest, and our last scene (v.1) in the Duke’s palace. To emphasise the difference between the indoor and outdoor settings, we’re only using the middle of the stage (the area bordered by the pillars) for act i scene 2., so that when we get outside, we (and hopefully the audience) have a sense that we are in a far larger space than we were before. Even though the Duke’s palace is an interior setting, we are using the whole stage because it would be a far grander space than in i.2, and also because having the lovers sitting around the edge of the space helps bring the audience in towards the action of the play. In the end though, what’s vital to the scene is the situation that each character finds themselves in, not the location in which that situation is taking place, and by far the most difficult situation to act on the Globe stage is when your character finds them in darkness.

People have asked me whether I’m going to play Bottom as a comedic character. There are many ways to approach the part; in some ways, I’m treating Bottom as a very serious, very earnest character, and in doing this, I’m trusting that the comedy will come from the text, with its heightened language and extraordinary situations. On the other hand, Bottom is a comedic character and I’m very conscious that he has to be funny. I’ve decided that he is very eccentric, but nevertheless, he is an everyman figure, and I think it’s wrong to go too far down the path of burlesque and vaudeville. I’ve come to the conclusion that I have to approach Bottom as a comedic character, but one with a very strong sense of logic. So, for everything I do that’s funny, whether it’s making a particular action, or saying a line in a particular way, there must be another reason for Bottom to do it besides ‘getting a laugh’, and the text will often help me in finding that reason.

Costumes

The costumes have now been finished. Eveyone will be wearing pyjamas of some kind or other, and mine are rather old-fashioned blue and white striped ones. I think I’ll also be wearing a string vest underneath my pyjama top. When I’m changed into an ass, I won’t wear a big mask or anything like that. Instead, I’m going to be wearing a pair of shoes, (mules…), for ears and a polystyrene cup for a nose, in keeping with the overall ‘bedtime’ design. I think this is a really good idea, because anything more elaborate would distract the audience from the action of the play. On any stage, and especially on the Globe stage, it’s very hard to say to an audience, "this is real". When Bottom is changed into an ass, by doing it this way, I’m saying "it’s not real; I’m wearing shoes on my head, but do the best you can with that." The audience have to invest more of their imagination in the performance, which will encourage them to follow it more closely and hopefully enjoy it even more.

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.

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