This is Frances' fourth blog post. This week she talks about developing her character, preparing to enter the theatre and rehearsing with snakes!
Transcript of Podcast
Rehearsals this week
This has been a very dense week of rehearsals. We’ve started doing chunks of the play and started to run the play in sections. For the first time we could see what other people in the company have been doing and it was really interesting. It was lovely to rediscover the story and to see all the other stories within the play. There are lots of little intricate details in the play that don’t come out in your own scenes alone. Obviously, you know your own scenes very well but all of the different characters and things that you’ve forgotten about come back to you when you see the play as a whole.
Everyone is very supportive in the rehearsal room. I don’t think anyone is as relaxed as a real audience yet because we are all concentrating so much on our own work and our own parts. People will still be watching you but they won’t be relaxed enough that they miss their entrances. The first time we ran it everyone was still consulting their scripts for when they are on and when they are exiting and all that kind of thing, so whilst people are being warm and supportive they also have to be on the ball. If you get too involved in a scene you haven’t seen before then you can realise ‘Oh no! I’m on now!’
Snakes on stage
We did a snake call this week! There were people in the cast sitting in the balcony looking pale white and sick when John [the Clown], Rhiannon [Iras] Frankie [Cleopatra] and I were down there with the snakes. I’m not an avid fan of snakes necessarily; I think it is great to have them in the play but I was quite nervous about it. Frankie seemed to be really quite scared at some points but somehow that made me feel less nervous for some reason.
I have touched snakes before. In fact, I nearly got killed by one in Africa but that's a whole other story! I was working in Ghana when I was 18, building a school as part of a charity project, and we were coming home to this village where there was no electricity or anything and there were loads of grass snakes; green mambas and black mambas and so on and they all look the same. We saw what we thought was a green mamba in front of us and usually what you do is shine the torch in their eyes and they get scared and go away. But in this case that didn’t work and the snake wouldn’t go away and was slithering up towards us. And it was maybe about two metres away and we were all just standing there not knowing what to do. Then it reared its head, just like snakes do in films, but apparently they have tunnel vision so it doesn’t necessarily see you. Eventually I decided to walk around it because we couldn’t stay still for much longer. We did that and it went away but when we got back to the village everyone was really annoyed that we hadn’t killed it but we were just glad to leave with our lives! So I’ve had a little bit of experience with snakes.
The snake that I think we will be using in this production is a fairly big, fat snake - it had just been fed when we saw it so it felt very heavy. It was black and blue, a really beautiful animal, but thick and big - I was expecting small thin ones! We still might go for a smaller snake – we’re still experimenting. We had another snake that was red with a lot of orange printing which was very exotic looking. But the black one looks more like a venomous snake.
It's been important to think about the possible distraction that the snake could be during that very significant scene. If it is done at the right time, I don’t think it will take anything away from the language. I think it will be interesting for the audience - they might be quite shocked. It makes the moment scarier for the actors as well. For me, the fact that there is a real snake on stage at the moment she kills herself creates tension immediately, before I even think about the acting.
Developing my character
We did a run of the whole play yesterday and afterwards Dominic gave me quite a few different types of notes [directions] which I have tried to put into this run today. The main thing is to make Charmian much sexier and much more relaxed. I think Charmian is in some ways a little bit separate from the others, not completely separate but a little bit, and I think that was showing too much in the blocking so we’ve changed that. Dominic said my stance seems very abrupt and strong and that he wants me to be more fluid. He wants my movements to be more relaxed and for me to lounge and lean much more.
Dominic also said I need to be sexier so I’ve tried to be more tactile with people and mimic what Cleopatra does with her different men, which I suppose is pretty much what Charmian would do anyway. I’ve been watching Cleopatra more thinking about what to copy. There is a moment in the play where Charmian is making fun of Cleopatra and what she's like with men. Cleopatra asks me something like ‘Did I ever love Caesar as I love Antony?’ and I tell her that yes, you totally loved him. And then I mimic how she is. Today, I made my movements much more like those she had just done and I crawled over the floor rather provocatively. That was good because it worked and I was really pleased. It is always nice when you’re feeling a bit lost and uncertain to just find something that works because then you feel like you have achieved something.
Feelings about going on stage
I’m exhilarated by the idea of performing the play but at the same time it is nerve wracking – any show you do is nerve wracking. I don’t think it matters where you play, whether that is the smallest of venues or the most unknown or the most renowned because you always feel nervous. I do, because I care about the work and I care about what I’m doing. You want to do the play justice and you want the whole play to live.
It is scary going out to so many people and the Globe does have such a reputation that you want to rise to that challenge. I especially want to see all of those faces - I kind of like that idea. I’ve been in shows before where you have seen the audience, but here you will be able to see them sleeping or if they are bored or if they are looking at their watch or if they are loving it or fainting or this or that! And you need to be prepared for anything, which is great because it keeps you on your toes because every performance absolutely will be different!
Let's hope that I can use those nerves and it doesn’t cut off my throat. Sometimes, when you are nervous, the register of your voice goes slightly higher and nothing is rooted and you aren’t really in your centre. It just tenses you up and you don’t deliver Shakespeare's language well enough.
We did a really good voice session with Stewart [Pearce who does vocal work at the Globe] which was really helpful. We all lay down on the floor and just thought about breathing to get us to settle ourselves because we are so used to being so busy and thinking about what's next all the time. We never really take time to just breathe and get rid of the bustle and just concentrate on our body and our body being connected to the stage and the world and our voice. The session was a lot about relaxation and envisaging things – one example was to imagine having a light shining out of the middle of your body (not necessarily in a spiritual way but in a very imaginative, emotionally evocative way). Stewart was talking about the sound being centred and all of the sound coming from the middle of your body and connecting your whole body towards your voice.
We worked on breath and how you have to hold your ribs and breathe deep into your belly and deep into your back. I was trying to do that today, I was trying to relax into the run but still use these techniques we were taught. Stewart came to see the run today and he might have some more advice. Because of the way the Globe is designed, shouting and whispering don’t work. You would think that shouting would always be heard, but apparently not. It's about recognising the difference between projection and shouting and apparently the latter just shakes and reverberates back and doesn’t get heard properly. It will be interesting when we are in the actual theatre next week and we can see how low we can play it and how dominant our voices have to be. And we definitely need to work it with an audience because apparently the audience can be very chatty, which I’m sure we’ll find out about!
Rehearsing the jig
This week we started to rehearse the jig. The jig is the dance we do at the end of the play. The rehearsal was hilarious! I really liked it because I like dancing but I think some people weren’t quite so sure – they’re a bit nervous because they’re not used to doing lots of dancing. We begin in two separate groups, Roman and Egyptian, and by the end of the jig we have blended together. The music is great and the dancing is great and it's really, really fun.
These comments are the actor's thoughts and ideas about the part as s / he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his / her own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsals progress.