This is Zoe's third blog entry for the 2007 production of Othello in which she talks about continuing rehearsals and the 'Willow Scene' amongst other things.
Transcript of Podcast
We’ve just done a run through of the first half which is good, because until today we have been working on individual scenes, so to have a perspective of the whole first half is really useful. Also, when you are working on your own scenes, you get very enclosed in your own world and you think you are the only person that exists. In fact there is so much more going on in the gap between your scenes, that it is good for your sense of perspective to see it all. It has been good this morning, and I think we are getting there. It took round about two hours – it will get shorter as we run it more. We are ending the first half just after Iago has planted the first seeds of doubt in Othello's mind, he's worked Othello into a bit of a lather, and its ends with them in a firm friendship but Othello beginning to doubt Desdemona [Act 3 Scene 3]. Then the second half starts with me asking the clown where Cassio is because I want to fight his suit. We’ve worked on individual scenes from the second half, but we haven’t done anything like a run. We’ve done a lot of the textual stuff, but we haven’t done the fights yet. The fight guy is coming in for the first time this afternoon. That will be a weight off my mind. It is one thing to get the emotion and the sense behind the line. It is another thing to do that with someone trying to strangle you.
I think this week is going to be brilliant in tentatively setting things in stone. We only have one more week of rehearsals and then the tech week. At the end of last week it was a little bit scary because I felt we had only touched on scenes once or twice whereas now we’ve done much detailed and cementing work. For me as an actor this is how it usually works. I start confident, then in the middle become terrified, then towards the end I get my confidence back, so that by the first night I’m back on track. Now it is beginning to really take shape and it is lovely to start getting excited about it.
Most of us are in all day every day because Wilson [the Director] wants the freedom to chop and change what scenes we work on if he needs to. So we are always around. This week has been about fine tuning. Last week was about making sure we had gone through every single scene, that we had got the blocking, got the intentions – who you were speaking to and why. Whereas this week is about saying this IS what I want, this IS where I stand. Cementing in our own minds, for the audience, exactly what we are doing.
If I’m not in the rehearsal room I often spend some time with Giles, the text man. He is fantastic. I’ll ask him to go through some lines with me. He watches rehearsals all the time and he will mark in his script a couple of places when you haven’t stressed things exactly in the right place. He is a good sounding board as well. Being the first professional Shakespeare I’ve done I want to get it right – not just for me, but there are the students, all those people who are studying the play, and you have also got a lot of people who know the play very well coming to see it. And I don’t want to disappoint anyone who comes to see it. I’m really working hard and I think I’m getting there – I hope.
We have a lovely couple of moments in the play when it is supposed to be pitch black, and, except for the midnight performance, it will be full light. There are all sorts of clever things – looking past people, missing people as they are trying to meet them. That has been choreographed very well. You would be surprised how many comic moments we have been able to find in Othello. It does get to a point when there aren’t any more, but in the first bit there are plenty where we can play about a bit. Obviously you get to the point where all the rest is just tragedy and anguish.
I didn’t know the play very well before this production. I had studied scenes from it at drama school, but we were playing all the characters so I might be doing scenes as Iago or Othello – to concentrate on the verse and text and to explore that. I’ve seen it, but I didn’t know it in a hugely detailed way at all.
Act 4 Scene 3 - The 'Willow' Scene
We’ve only done it once so far. It is going to take a lot of practice because, as you know, I’ve got to completely get out of my everyday clothes, I’m just in my shift in the end. I have to take off the dress, the corset, the skirt, the shoes, whilst singing, and worrying about all the things she is worrying about at the time. Obviously Emilia is there as well and we have got plenty of time – and it is quite a slow, melodic melancholic song. But we have to look like this is the most natural thing in the world. I’m keen to keep practicing that scene, even outside rehearsals, just to get it down pat. I sing the song everywhere, I can’t stop singing it, I wake up singing it. It is driving me slightly insane.
It is a pivotal moment in that it gives her a chance to reflect. She talks about something in her past; her mother singing this lullaby, and the maid her mother had. She has got so many thought that are going through her head – why is Othello behaving in the way that he is? Can she do anything about it? Has she done anything at all that has provoked this in him? This is her one chance to collect those thoughts together and to try to think of a way to reach out to him. I think it is also a sad moment in that she is realising she could have had a very different life, (this isn’t in the text, but we have discussed this) perhaps, she is thinking she could have missed all the anguish, all the defiance of her father. She is reflecting on all of those things, and they are all going through her head; it is a sad moment for her.
There is a lovely musician who is going to be playing with me. Stephen's music is gorgeous. I haven’t practised with them yet, but it's going to be good. Singing makes me a little bit nervous, but I think this is more of a reflective song – she is singing to herself, to soothe herself, so its not as if I’m singing it as a performance to the audience, so that eases my nerves about the singing. I’d be a lot more nervous if I had to sing out in the operatic style.
My ideas about Desdemona have changed a bit. When I started I was determined to make her strong – feisty in a way. I still want to show her strength. When you are faced with something like the confrontation with your father, you really explore that. But some of that defiance does diminish a bit because the full emotional impact of everything that has happened must have an effect on you. I think, although she is strong, she has a lot of sympathy and she has become a lot more thoughtful towards the end. It is not just standing up for her rights – her main aim is to reach out to him – which is slightly different from standing up for yourself; it is a slightly different journey. So it has changed in subtle ways. I still don’t want to make her, in any way, a weak little wallflower, because then she couldn’t defy her father and marry somebody who everybody disapproves of.
I think she is probably in her early 20s or maybe a bit younger. She is of marriageable age. Women did marry young, and she has refused a lot of suitors her father has put forward for her. Othello is in his 40s, so there is a real age gap – but there would have been – women did marry older men at the time. If there is one thing that hasn’t gone against their marriage it is the age thing, but unfortunately everything else seems to have done.
I don’t think she regrets choosing Othello. There is an interesting moment in the willow scene when they start talking about Lodovico – Emilia is undoing her corset and almost out of nowhere Desdemona says `Lodovico is a proper man`. We have debated whether this should be Emilia's line, trying to change the subject and lighten the atmosphere. But because Desdemona is in a reflective mood it feels right for her – in real life you do have passing thoughts that just pop into your head. She might be thinking that if she had married somebody like Lodovico, this life would not have unfolded for me. She is not full of regrets. She carries on the conversation by saying to Emilia do you think there are women who do abuse their husbands – and that I wouldn’t do that for the world. Plus she adores Othello. She can’t imagine herself with anyone else. They are soul mates and I think she is very reluctant to let that go.
Emilia and Desdemona
I think Emilia is probably faithful to Iago (though you might have to ask Lorraine what she thinks). But I don’t think he is faithful to her, and this has made her quite cynical. She says to Desdemona, this is what marriage is, don’t think you are the first person this has ever happened to. It is quite poignant for Emilia as well, because a lot of the things she is saying to Desdemona reflect on her own experiences. She has married a bad one.
The Globe Stage
Today I came in a bit early and went out on to the stage. I didn’t realise the tours start at about 9.30 in the morning. I thought I’ll get in a nice half hour of quiet time on the stage and sing my willow song, but after about 15 minutes the tour groups started coming in, and people were taking photos of me, so I decided to run away.
In the mornings I usually read my script on the tube. People must give me odd glances as I sit there mouthing things. I’m not terribly good in the morning so the train journey helps me get my head focused. If I know I’m starting the day with a lot of lines and try to go away and do a short vocal warm up, or if I’m not needed in the first scene I’ll away and do some stretches and some vocal warm ups – but I don’t have a set routine.
I am still a little bit scared. I’ve said that for the last two weeks. I’m usually scared at this point in a production. It is because I’m a little bit of a control freak and I need to know exactly what I’m doing, and at this stage of the game we haven’t got everything completely sorted – which is a natural state to be in. I’m now feeling that the excitement is building and, I hope, by the end of next week , that I’ll be at the stage where I say I can’t wait to do it. I also can’t wait to start working on the stage. We’ve been working in the room the whole time – it will change everything. We have one afternoon on the sage before the Tech week. Even in Tech week we have the tours coming through the theatre all the time we are working on the stage. It will be interested to see what that is like – it might be quite nice – to get a little taste of the audience.
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.