In her fourth blog post Sarah discusses the difficulty of learning prose, working on Act 5 Scene 1, and working on stage.
Transcript of Podcast
It feels like a long time since I spoke to you last: it's been a long week full of rehearsal. I’ve worked on my scenes a lot so there's been a big leap forward with characterisation. Dogberry is starting to take shape! I can’t believe that it was only last week that we did the first Watch scene [III.3]. I am really enjoying being busy. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to rehearse as much as I do. When I look on the call sheet and there's a rehearsal for me, I literally go ‘whoopee’. There's just a really good atmosphere in rehearsals; I’m not feeling embarrassed, which I often do in rehearsal.
What happens in rehearsal is that everyone chips in with their ideas and before you know it you’ve got so many gags that you can afford to cut some. We’ve been trying things with hats recently. I took my hat off when I mentioned ‘God’ (Dogberry does that quite a few times) as a sort of deferential thing and then someone suggested we try it for the Prince too. It got a bit out of hand actually; we were taking off our hats for God and for the Prince in every scene, then we decided to cut it back. We don’t sit down and think ‘How are we going to make this funny?’ Different people will find different things funny. I wish there was some sort of blue print for making everyone laugh!
My one worry at the moment is the lines; I didn’t realise how much more difficult it is to learn prose. It's definitely harder than verse. Dogberry talks such rubbish and it's very difficult to find a through line. That's not just the case in his speeches; even if he has just a couple of sentences, there's no sense in what he says! The easy bits are when he just gets a word wrong and does a slight malapropism, but some of the other stuff is so confused that I’m really learning it by rote, like history dates. That's the only thing I’m stumbling on and I just need to take my time. If I learn it too quickly then I’ll learn it badly. Next week most people will be off book [i.e. will have learnt their lines therefore no longer need to rehearse with a text] but I’ll still need my book, especially for the scenes that we’ve only rehearsed in the last couple of days – Act five, scene one, for instance.
Act five, scene one
I had a fascinating time yesterday when we rehearsed with Claudio and Don Pedro. It was the first time that I came into the room and saw people acting and being a bit serious – all the Watch scenes are so ridiculous. I thought ‘What have I been doing, wandering around working out comedy routines and funny walks?’ It was good to think about the Watch scenes in a more serious context. Then I spoke to Belinda [Davidson, Don Pedro] and she thought exactly the same thing, only the other way round: ‘Isn’t the comedy great?’ The important thing is to get a balance within the play, really: the funny walks will support the more serious scenes and vice versa.
I’m glad we didn’t rehearse too soon because it's given me time to get to know the Watch. They are difficult scenes and we are having fun with them, but they stop being funny after you’ve done them a couple of times, so it's good that we still enjoy having a laugh together. Jules [Melvin, Verges] and I are really beginning to understand how Dogberry and Verges relate to each other and how their partnership works, so that's good.
I have been struggling to understand what Dogberry means, but sometimes I just wonder whether it really matters, because I don’t think he knows what he's saying half the time! There are still a few bits, though, that I feel I should understand and I'm not sure about, even though we’ve been over them. The scene we did yesterday, for instance: there are bits about justice at the beginning of Act three, scene three. I was looking at it again earlier today and I’m not as clear as I'd like to be – I’ll have to write it all down next time we go through it.
There was an interesting moment yesterday with Claudio. We were all talking about the scene [V.1] and Ann [Ogbomo, Claudio] was worried about Claudio being hated because of what he does in the wedding, so there was a discussion about that. We didn’t really have that kind of discussion for the Watch scenes, which doesn’t worry me, but I did enjoy discussing something a bit deeper today with everyone else in Act five, scene one. The comedy in Dogberry's scenes is very much on the surface. I’ve never done comedy in Shakespeare, and it's a joy. It's quite a relief to come in and do Shakespeare, without having to worry too much! I’ve realised that the more I relax, the better.
I’m really happy about how things are going in rehearsals, though I’m almost wishing that we had another week. For West End productions, the norm is at least eight weeks – and the RSC and the National Theatre have long rehearsal periods. I’m not used to rehearsing for three weeks: I haven’t done that much repertory work. But I feel like we’re in safe hands. Tamara [Harvey, Master of Play] is amazing. Although I might want more time to rehearse, I know that we’re only going to find out whether the Watch scenes work in the Previews. The audience will laugh or they won’t!
I know from experience it's possible to get sick of doing comedy scenes in rehearsal. You change it, but only because the people in the rehearsal room have been watching it for weeks and weeks, whereas audiences will approach afresh. Familiarity makes it quite hard to tell what actually needs changing. We’ll see in the previews.
I’m not a fan of the actioning, which is when you take a line of your text and find a verb that clearly describes how you are trying to change the state of the person you are talking to. I get competitive and stressed about it because I can’t work out what the action is – my grammar isn’t very good so identifying the verbs under pressure is difficult! Have I got to do something to someone or has someone got to do something to me? So that's an exercise that we’ve done this week which I didn’t like. We’ve also done the one where you repeat someone's word and then have to say it over and over again. You say your line and if the other actors either didn’t hear or weren’t convinced by a particular word, they say it back to you and you have to repeat it until they are happy and convinced. That was really good, and the more you get picked up on words, the better. I think I found it especially interesting because Dogberry says a lot of confusing things and I have to make it as clear as I possibly can. I feel I should be able to say most of his words in a way that does make sense! We had to pick one word out from a line in which about ninety-nine percent of the words are important; you have to choose the most important word for your character.
Work on stage
We went on the stage last Wednesday with Stewart [Pearce, Master of Voice] for Voice session and I got quite scared of not being heard. This is my first season at the Globe, and before our Voice session I had a bit of a frog in my throat; it was a rather nervous frog. Stewart has got the most incredible voice in the world and I find it a bit intimidating, because I think ‘Well, you can do it... if I had your cadences then I’d be fine.’ He is a wonderful teacher, but the nerves meant I pushed my voice and hurt my throat! It was tricky because there were lots of tour groups: trying to concentrate on exercises when there's all this noise going on meant I couldn’t really hear myself.
We did one exercise where some of us were up in the gallery and some of us were onstage. When I realised that I could hear the others whispering, I felt much more confident about my voice. We had to count from one to ten in terms of the volume of the voice – on this scale, one is almost a whisper and ten is as loud as you can possibly be – and once I’d done that a couple of times I discovered that we can be quiet and still be heard, as long as the voice is placed. I know, though, when nerves get the better of you… [Sarah makes a choking noise] It gets all stuck. I really want Dogberry to be heard. We were rehearsing the scene where Dogberry is called an ass [IV.2] the other day, and I think ended up shouting a bit at the end. I actually felt quite dizzy at one point because I wasn’t breathing properly. I was obviously doing something wrong with my voice. Maybe I did stop breathing; that's usually what causes it, a blood rush to the head. I think I got overexcited and had an adrenaline rush or something! Well, the shock of being called an ass would do it: I am Dogberry after all. Let's face it. The shock of being called an ass would be enough to give Dogberry a bit if a turn! I’ll speak to Stewart about that later this week.
I had a costume fitting this morning which was great – I was starting to think everyone was having costume fittings except for me, but I tried on my costume and it's lovely, it's great. I’ve got a shiny black doublet and hose; I looked in the mirror and thought, ‘This play is really going to happen!’ I keep imagining what it's going to be like and I keep seeing little snippets of people doing things through the door of the rehearsal room, and then I get very excited – I think we’ve got a brilliant company.
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.