This is the first bulletin from the Friar (Rawiri Paratene). It covers Rawiri’s experiences of Shakespeare and work leading up to the first day of rehearsals on this production.
Transcript of Podcast
Previous experience of Shakespeare
My first introduction to Shakespeare wasn’t that pleasant. Shakespeare was compulsory when I was going to secondary school and the first play I studied was Julius Caesar; we didn’t even read the play, but were just given notes about the scenes.
But then in my later years, I luckily got a great teacher who took us to a professional production of Hamlet in a theatre called the Mercury Theatre in Auckland, and that experience changed the shape of my life. I wasn’t really expecting anything and had never been in a ‘proper theatre’ as it were. But when the lights went down on the battlements and the mist came and that first scene happened, I was absolutely transfixed from then right through. The language wasn’t a problem at all because I understood what it was about. I was a young man growing up at a time when there were a lot of things corrupt in the state of the world, the Vietnam War for example, and the elders of the world didn’t seem all that together. And so when I watched this play, I identified with it and with Hamlet and it sang to me.
And I made my mind up there and then that I wanted to be a writer, rather than an actor. The little that I knew about Shakespeare was that he was long dead but I realised the power of live theatre and of the words; if a man could write something four hundred years ago and it could still be that essential to me in a completely different culture, in a completely different environment, in a completely different time, that’s a powerful thing. I was a person who was very political as a young man and so I saw this as the vehicle to get the things that I wanted to say across.
I decided that the best way to learn how to be a playwright was to be an actor first. I knew that I was OK at performance – I was the class clown – so I finished off school and then did one-year acting course in Wellington, before the director at the Mercury theatre where I had seen Hamlet took me on for a two-year apprenticeship. I stayed about four years at that theatre.
Preparation before rehearsals
Because my schedule has been so busy, I didn’t actually get as much time as I would like to do my research. However, I did a little bit of background work on St Francis and I found out that he came from a wealthy family and that he liked girls and alcohol and the good life and was a bit of a lad really before he saw the light! Although the order of monks he established was very strict, I also discovered that it was an order about community, and about the human relationship with the earth and other creatures. This has a lot to do with my own Maori culture anyway, so at that point I knew then that it was a role that I was going to be able to find lots to identify with.
Initial impressions of the Friar
I think people often tend to think of the Friar as an old man, but Dominic [Dromgoole, the director] is keen to move away from those associations, that the Friar is my age and maybe even five years younger. His first speech, for example, “This grey-eyed morn smiles on the frowning night” (2.3.1) is very light, and I’m starting to think there is a lightness to the Friar; I’m consciously trying to lighten my posture and the frame of mind of the character, which feeds into the fact that the Friar is incredible positive. If I’m a Franciscan friar, my first duty is to do good for the community, and what is ailing in this community is the rancour between the two household. When Romeo, this hopeless case, falls for the daughter of his father’s enemy, the Friar sees the good in it, and so he agrees to do this illegal act, this concealed marriage without parental permission, in the hope that it will unite the two families.
And even when things keep going wrong – Romeo killing Tybalt and then being banished – the Friar has always got a plan. They are dreadful plans with high risks and low returns, but he has always able to put a positive slant on it and he can always see some way through, because what is on his heart is trying to heal the two households.
First day of rehearsals
The first day is the meet and greet. We go into the top rehearsal room and everyone is there from all parts of the theatre. You get some information on some sheets, and some photographs of the entire cast, and then people stand up and introduce themselves from all departments of the Globe. We’re going to be rehearsing for the first two weeks in a different building, part of the old Meniers Chocolate Factory. Once there, we talked about the process of what is going to happen with Romeo and Juliet. Dominic did his introduction about his process and about his take on the play, and we saw a miniature model of the stage with the set design and the costume designer’s drawings. And then we did a read through of the entire play. So it was all very introductory.
These comments are the actor's thoughts and ideas about the part as he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsals progress.