Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 3

In her third blog post Rachel discusses her break from rehearsals, working on text and movement and her costume fitting.

Transcript of Podcast

Hiatus

I haven’t really got any thoughts this week. I’ve come to a big pause. I don’t feel like I’ve done much work on Don John because I haven’t been in the rehearsal room a lot. There's only so much head-work you can do before you need to get up on your feet with everybody else. I’m sitting, waiting to get going. We’re rehearsing for two hours this afternoon so that will be good. It's the first scene, i.e. the first scene with Borachio and Conrade [I.3] and it will be the second time we’ve ever had a look at it, which makes me a bit uneasy. I’m finding the hiatus a bit frustrating - I want to get in there and get on with it – but to some extent I suppose a pause is inevitable. That's just how rehearsals work if you’re playing Don John. There are five acts and roughly three scenes per act… about fifteen scenes altogether, say, most of which I’m not in! That doesn’t mean the character is less complex though. Rehearsal time is still very valuable. I’m sure everything will be fine, but I want to make sure that I use every last second when I do get into the rehearsal room. For instance, I’m going into this afternoon's session with quite a specific plan: there are three things which I want to try out with Don John, three ways I want to play that scene [I.3] which seem quite distinct in my head. In reality, they probably won’t turn out to be so clear-cut. First, I want to try and be like the animal in a cage that Don John describes to Borachio [I.3]. He's angry and trapped. Secondly, he's very depressed and low. Thirdly, he's very controlled – dangerously so, in an Antony Hopkins/Silence of the Lambs sort of way. That's the idea that's in my head. I don’t know whether it will happen in rehearsals, but that's what I feel I need to try. I’ll probably end up with a mixture of all three ideas.

Through-line

I think the way to tackle the pauses in rehearsal is to keep hold of the through-line between your scenes: what's happened to you before a scene, what happens to you during the scene. Obviously you get things from other scenes, from what people say and the actual events, but basically you have your own through-line to the end of the play and that's what you have to concentrate on. It's not as if you have to know that whilst Benedick is being tricked into thinking that Beatrice likes him, I am in the kitchen drinking strong, black coffee. That's not the sort of engagement you need with other scenes: the information has no place in the story so it doesn’t really matter, dramatically speaking. It's like asking ‘How many children had Lady Macbeth?’

Movement

I’ve had some really good movement sessions over the past couple of weeks. They feed more directly into your physical agility and confidence rather than your character; it just wakes your body up and keeps you supple. It particularly helps with your confidence, I think. You don’t start trying out text-specific things in the sessions. They’re more general, they’re more about you as an individual and keeping you well-oiled. For example, in our session with Glynn [MacDonald, Master of Movement], we did some exercises which helped us move in a very controlled, focussed way. One of them was called ‘the Arrow’, which is just a physical sequence of movements where you basically draw an arrow and point it. It's all to do with your psychological commitment and your psychological reaction – what it gives you in terms of power and direction. Glynn said that ‘the Arrow’ the sort of exercise that the Sufi people would do. It's slightly spiritual. It's not that you do yoga or tai-chi, but it's related to those exercises which give you a physical discipline and also a certain mental and a spiritual discipline. That's what they do. It's like doing something like karate, which is a martial art, a physical discipline. They improve your physical ability, but there's a psychological aspect as well.

Verse

Our work with Giles [Block, Master of the Words] is a bit different because he is text-specific, though we’re not working on Much Ado About Nothing. We use other pieces of Shakespeare's text. He’ll give us Shakespearean speeches, and we’ll explore them and try to say them and try to get the meaning and the thoughts. It's to do with using the lines and being aware of the end of the lines and the vowels and consonants. For example, the line ‘To be or not to be, that is the question,’ [Hamlet, III.1] if we were to read that and think just about the consonants, we would say:

T(o) B(e) (or) N(o)T T(o) B(e) THT (is) TH Q(ue)ST

[Spitting out the consonants, staccato, vowels barely heard]

Whereas if you were thinking about the vowels, you’d say:

tOOO bEEEE AHHr nAHHHt tOOO bEEEE thAAt IHHs thEEE quEHstEEE-AHn

[Sounds like Dorie in Finding Nemo; each vowel sound is drawn out long, stressed]

That's an exaggeration, but it shows that within the line there are vowels and consonants, and they do different things, emotionally. This is all very intellectual; you do it naturally when you’re speaking. If you say ‘I don’t want to go out!’ you’re probably stressing the consonant ‘d’ – ‘I Don’t want to…’ On the other hand, if you were to say ‘Please don’t make me go,’ you might say ‘Pluuheese’, stressing ‘UUhh’ on the ‘e’. You don’t say ‘Pleeze don’t make me go’ because that sounds short and sharp. You’re coaxing with ‘Pluuheese.’ You’re using a part of the word to get what you want. We do it naturally all the time.

Powerful language

Obviously there was no television or film in Shakespeare's world: visual media took a back seat in favour of the spoken word – language was much more powerful then, I think. You went to hear a play rather than use your eyes - as the prologue from Romeo and Juliet says ‘If you with patient ears will attend’ [Romeo and Juliet, Prologue l.13] – ‘patient ears’ are important. Shakespeare was a poet who understood rhythm and form and content; he understood that if he wrote something in verse, the form would give the content a dynamic thrust. It gives it a rhythm and a form – I think it drives it forward. That was the form he often chose, and he knew it really, really well. Within that, he would choose certain words to stress and convey meaning through sound as well as sense. He does that in prose too, of course. Don John has a good example:

I wonder that thou – being, as thou sayest thou art, born under Saturn – goest about to apply a moral medicine to a mortifying mischief [I.3.10-2]

The four ‘m's in ‘moral medicine to a mortifying mischief’ create a certain feeling. The repetition of the consonant makes an emphatic point. Something that's almost irreversible, I think. Don John's fundamentally saying to Conrade - ‘I’m not listening to a word you’re saying; I’m not going to take any notice of you.’ The sounds of the words give the line an incredulous, disdainful tone.

Session benefits

I think the classes help you understand what Shakespeare was trying to do with particular rhythms, and how he used these words and these vowels and consonants to create the characters or the emotion in a scene. To create more than the emotion actually; he shows where a character's at within the context of the play by putting certain words together and use the poetry to sculpt an image through the words which that character uses. The sounds and the feeling and the rhythm of the words can create an image or a feeling. That's what really good poets can do.

I’ve read a few of Shakespeare's sonnets: as you see him using language so cleverly within this form too, you do start to realise that he is a quite amazing writer. I went to see a play by one of Shakespeare's contemporaries a few months ago. It was in verse, but it just wasn’t as good as Shakespeare. It got quite drab because the rhythm was there but I felt it lacked the poetry. You don’t realise why one play in verse should be so different from another [play] written at the same time until someone helps you understand the differences in the language. You go, ‘Oh, I see! That's how it works.’ That feels great.

Clothing

I had fittings at the beginning of rehearsals and now I’ve got a tight black doublet. It's quite simple and I like that. I feel much more masculine wearing these clothes: very solid and bullish. The doublet is quite tight but that's okay – they’re meant to be tight. It will loosen off a little as I wear it. I’ve got a little earring, which was the fashion at the time. At first I was going to have my hair bound back but now we think I’ll be wearing it down instead. I’ve also beard and a little moustache so I should look quite severe and menacing and cool [laughs]. Let's hope. It's very beautiful.

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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