In her second blog post Pippa discusses the third week of rehearsals, including working on the text, the space and the jig.
Transcript of Podcast
We haven’t run through any of the acts yet. We’ve been rehearsing our scenes individually and slowly bringing in other elements that will join the scenes together. This week we’ve been doing a lot of group work which is great but there are still some people in the cast who I haven’t had proper conversations with. At first we thought it was weird but I think it’s created a very tight bond between all the mechanicals, all the fairies and all the lovers. I think perhaps Jonathon’s [Munby, the director] trying to keep us separate so we all have our own energy and entity, so that when it all comes together we will be in distinct groups.
We’ve been rehearsing scene 6, known to us as ‘the lover’s marathon’ everyday, so it becomes completely organic. We’ve choreographed it with Sian [choreographer] and we’ve done a lot of work with Jan [voice] and Giles [text] so that the physicality and text and voice all very much come together. So it’s not just like a choreographed dance but it’s earthed within the text. Today we’ve been doing what we call scene 7, but which is actually Act 4 scene 1. Jonathon has edited the play into a series of scenes. Bottom wakes up and the lovers are still asleep, then Titania and Oberon come together and do their dance. Then there’s this fairy dance, and they bless the grass. It was the first time we’d ever seen that.
I think we’ll be doing our first run through next week, it can feel a bit scary but in this case it feels really right, as though we’ll have come to the end of our journeys. Next week we’ll feel in a place to start running and linking scenes. Right now it feels a few more details need to happen in individual scenes.
In the first section of the play, when we’re in Athens, we’re all dressed in black. Jonathon’s making it quite draconian. It’s very much a man’s world, a post-war world. When we move into the forest the set completely changes, and becomes very colourful. We shed our clothes as we go through the forest. Underneath our black, tight, high-necked costumes are these beautiful corsets and undergarments, mine is green with embroidered flowers in lilac, that represent us discovering our sexuality, physicality and personality. There isn’t any physical touching between the lovers in the first section. When we come to the forest, as we shed our clothes, we shed our old natures; we become more physical, earthy and flowered. In the final section the costumes are transformed into white and gold as we’re married. I’m not really wearing a wedding dress, it’s very much our first costume transformed from black to white. The dress and bodice is embroidered with flowers to represent our inner flowering, there’s a mirroring of costume to connect the two worlds. It’s been incredibly well thought out. I think the fairies have got the best costumes though, they’re amazing, a sort of punky Elizabethan style.
We started the jig rehearsals this week, which is very late, because they didn’t know how they wanted to do the jig. The fairies dance all the time, because they’ve got their own physicality now, which is somewhere between human and animal. They’ve got this amazing dance which is quite balletic but also animalistic. And Bottom and Titania do a Tango together.
At the end Oberon, Titania, Puck and all the fairies come in and bless the house. In the text there are three speeches, Titania’s Oberon’s and Puck’s. Oberon’s speech is now a song, and throughout this song there’s a blessing of the house. All the lovers come on as if we’re sleeping and dreaming but dancing, as if the fairies have come into our bedrooms and blessed our union. The mechanicals also come on in a dreamlike sleepy state. After Puck does his final speech we all come up and do the jig. Dancing can be a bit of a struggle for some people, some of the fairies had to do a dance as part of their audition. But Sian’s so clever in making it seem the dance so lifelike, she manages to choreograph to people’s own abilities. People can always manage to do it.
We did this session with Sian where we tried to get the Elizabethan period into our bodies. We worked on ‘touch’. We learned a dance, which we’re not going to use in the production, and we had to dance as if we wanted to touch our partner, but you couldn’t because of the restrictions of the time. It was a very formal dance that masked our desires. Then we did this other one which is quite physical. She put music on and gave us the task that we all had to walk around the room and if you wanted to stop someone, you put your hand on them and then you could release them. We then introduced these different ways of the boys beginning to lift us and catch us, so every time we wanted to be caught we’d say ‘catch me’ and do a particular dance movement, and then get them to release us by saying ‘drop me’. We tried it blind folded as well, though without the catching and dropping. Then we played with the dynamic of Helena and Hermia, and the two boys wanting me and then wanting her. We have been doing that since the first week, and it’s really come into our journeys. Then we tried it blindfolded as well, without the jumping and catching, to get that sense of disorientation you feel when you are being led somewhere by someone, and then left by them. We’re playing that experience in the play for real, how the boys lead us into the woods in the dark and we can’t see anything. Improvising like that, without the text, really helps us to get the sense of the play in our bodies. I think Jonathon’s a very creative director, and it’s going to be a really exciting production because he’s taking risks.
There is a language specific to the lovers. All of us speak in rhyme until things really go to pot, when we start speaking in verse. A lot of our language is to do with eyes and seeing, which reflects how the love juice is put in the boys’ eyes. Our whole language is about what we see so we all share a common language in that sense. The change within my character is that as she moves deeper into the forest, more of what she really thinks is revealed. She has just found her voice within the court, and then in the forest this anger and resentment comes out, this hatred towards her best friend, and she starts to use a lot of violent language. The way we’re playing it is that we all become shocked and amazed at our own damage, and the realisations we are all making. There’s a real difference in tone between Hermia and Helena, and it is funny because Laura is playing Helena as quite feisty, which is a bit of a battle for her because her language is more cowardly. Helena’s definitely got a big chip on her shoulder. My feistiness definitely comes out more through-out the play, but it’s a bit harder than I thought it was going to be. Sometimes you can look at the lovers and think it’s going to be easy, but Jonathan’s definitely taking us on a journey with our language and physicality, which I think is really interesting. He’s challenging us to go further and deeper. I’ve come across a lot of brick walls, there’s a lot of fragmented and broken language, particularly when Hermia’s lost Lysander, and Demetrius comes along, and she’s saying: ‘where is he? Have you murdered him? Oh, please tell me where he is.’ I’m trying to find how she makes the leap between these mad thoughts. I’m still not there yet at all.
We’ve been thinking about how the lovers reconcile themselves to the ending, because Demetrius spends the rest of his life under a spell. We think that if the love juice stirs desire within a person, because they fall completely in lust with whom they see, it is different with Demetrius because he loved Helena before Hermia. The love juice makes him return to his natural first love. Whereas with Lysander, it’s the other way round, he’s in love with Hermia and the love juice makes him fall in love with Helena and then when he has the antidote, it returns him to his original love. That’s how we’ve looked at it.
Space and voice
We went into the performance space yesterday with Jan for an hour and worked on our voices. We’re looking at what she calls finding our ‘natural speaking note’ and speaking from there, so that we’re not speaking above or below our natural pitch. This will make speaking less of an effort, as once you’ve found you’re optimum note it becomes easier. We were exploring that together, and we haven’t gone on the stage individually yet.I feel lucky to have had some experience of the space before, the only thing that feels daunting is that there’s so much for me to do in this piece. There are a lot of emotional scenes where we are literally screaming at each other, as the text suggests. Being on that stage for three months, with no understudy, means that you’ve got to find a way of doing it that is not going to damage your voice. That is a challenge, but it feels less daunting because I was here last year. It’s exciting.
I’m really enjoying rehearsing the big argument scene. It’s an amazing scene and it is incredibly famous, everybody knows it. The stage directions are embedded in the scene, so nothing we do is invented, it all makes complete sense.
I think the play is so much about what it is that we see, or don’t see. With Puck’s last speech ‘If we shadows have offended’ (5.1. 409) it’s not just about him or the fairy world, but it’s about us as actors, a plea to forgive us if we have in any way done a disservice in portraying these characters.
These comments are the actor's thoughts or ideas about the part as she goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply her own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsal process progresses.