This is Yolanda's fourth blog entry for the 2005 production of The Winter's Tale, in which she talks about tech week, previews, the first night, her costume and getting to grips with Shakespeare's language.
Transcript of Podcast
All in all the first show went very well. The theatre was very full and the audience seemed to love it. All the people who hadn’t worked on the Globe stage before were really relaxed – obviously they had nerves, it being their first time, but they didn’t show it. Now, for me, everything was fine until we got to the statue. When I played the statue in the rehearsal room, I could stand very, very still and hardly blink. In fact I kept myself still even whilst John directed people so I could find out just how long I could keep still for – I thought that would be good training for the stage. But I came out on the stage and of course one thing that I hadn’t taken into account was the fact that there's loads of fluff and flies that come straight at you because we’re in the open air. So not only was I trying not to move but I was trying really hard not to sneeze. I was just thinking ‘Oh please don’t move!’ because I saw bees and all sorts of things coming up to me. And then I think I had an allergic reaction: it was like a tap had been turned on in my head and my eyes and nose just started to stream. There was water coming out of both my eyes and my nostrils and there was nothing I could do! Once I came to life, I went to over to hug Leontes: the wet turned my white makeup into a paste so I left white all over his face. Then I tried really hard when I hugged him to wipe myself with my hands… and on his collar! I didn’t think I’d be able to speak to Perdita if I didn’t. So then I was aware of Paul [Leontes] having white all over his face and that I had been the culprit but I did manage to talk to Perdita. I haven’t had the reaction again, thank goodness – the scene's fine now. I always to make sure that my eyes are completely dry before I go on stage!
I mentioned last time that Jacobean ladies would have worn their normal skirts pinned back to front during pregnancy and the gap at the back was hidden with long shawls or cloaks. We decided that I would wear a skirt like that for the pregnancy, then the same skirt the right way around for the trial and sixteen years later, I put on the same skirt on but with a different farthingale. I wear a bum roll for the trial scene and then a farthingale because the fashion had changed in those 16 years so I have a smaller farthingale. My skirt is really, really long and it's pinned to create flounces: its pinned over the pregnant belly and then its pinned over the bum roll and then its pinned over the farthingale. So whenever I come off, there are three people backstage who pin and unpin and pin again. It's a very busy show backstage in terms of costume.
Velvet and Lace
I wanted to tell you about my statue costume too. When I become a statue, I have a costume made entirely of ‘branch’ cut velvet; ‘branch’ is the pattern on it which apparently belongs to that specific era and its made by hand by a man called Giuseppe in Genoa and he lives in Via Velutto which is Velvet Street and he's still making velvet as they would have done hundreds of years ago. At one time there were many velvet makers who lived on the street, but now there are very few. A very small piece takes three days and I’ve got like volumes of it – it's amazing. Another fantastic thing about my costume is that the lace I wear was made by the ladies of Kent; they learnt how to make lace as part of an Adult Education class and then won a competition for lace-making. So Jenny [Tiramani, Master of Clothing] commissioned some lace from them: 30 ladies passed the piece from one to another and followed the same pattern to make the lace on my supporter (like a collar that stands up at the back). It's fantastic that the materials have their own stories.
For me, technical rehearsals mostly involved changes in my costume. It was quite hairy because I didn’t actually get to time the changes during the tech week, because we kept going backward and forwards in the play and you can’t start taking pins out and then go on again, half pinned up. We did it within time but we didn’t have an idea of just how fast we would need to go once the show was playing. It was only when we did the first dress rehearsal that I got an idea of what it was going to be like. From the dressers’ point of view, it must have been insane – during the dress rehearsal and the first performances, I had about four people pinning and unpinning me because they weren’t quite sure how long it was going to take. Now we’ve got used to it, two people can do it quite quickly. Also I know now what I can do to help. I stand completely still when they’re doing things that I can’t get involved in, but I start taking the pins out as soon as I come off stage. I know how to undo the laces on my tops as well, so that helps a bit. I can even get into the bear costume, because I do the bear underneath the stage (bear arms come up to grab Antigonus from the trapdoor). I’m the bear! I’m also the baby… I make a noise like a baby crying when Perdita is left in the storm. I was messing about in rehearsals one day and I did a baby noise and John decided we would use it!
The funny thing is that I can only do the bear if I make bear noises; although nobody can see anything apart from my arm, I have to growl. And I can only do the baby by pretending to look like the baby, so I’m behind the tiring house door with my face screwed up… I told this to somebody the other day and I realised how mad it sounded, but it's true. Anyone standing by the trapdoor just laughs because they hear me growling and snarling!
We also practiced with the plinth and the statue over and over and over again, because it has to be dragged on and the stage is not completely flat; if the plinth rolled over a big bump then the statue suddenly would fall off! Or I might put my arms out if I felt I was about to fall – the reaction is to steady yourself. But we got the plinth rolling very smoothly and now it just goes on… although every night I get on the plinth and think ‘Here we go, here we go!’
We’re almost at the end of our preview period – the press comes tomorrow night. During previews we rehearse in the day, tweaking small things, and then perform in the evening. After that we’ll work more independently to keep it fresh and alive. Hopefully it will continue to change throughout the run. Quite a lot has changed since we opened. The beginning is slightly different – it's quietened down a bit. At first we all came on and into a big dance, which was very jolly and created a party atmosphere but was a bit too much like a chorus line so now the Kings and Mamillius do a little show piece for the rest of the court who watch and applaud. It still shows the jollity and the easy nature of the Sicilian court, but in a subtler way.
Notes from the Master of Words
Throughout the previews we’ve been working with Giles Block who helps us with a lot of the words. He makes sure that not only that we say the words that were written (you wouldn’t believe how easy it is to make up bits and pieces and it makes so much more sense when you say the right word). Also if he thinks that perhaps the sentence is not as clear as it could be then he passes notes to us. What he does is he makes everybody a copy of the script with their own scenes or just a part of the scene that has their lines. He uses different symbols on the script as a shorthand for his notes – there's a little key like a map so we know what each one means. Every time he comes to see us he uses a different coloured pen so we can keep track of what we’re doing. That's really helpful.
I’ll give you some little examples. I say:
Not your jailer then
But your kind hostess. Come, I’ll question you
Of my lord's tricks and yours when you were boys.
[I.ii] Giles circled ‘of’ with the little note ‘you keep saying ‘on’ rather than ‘of’. Another symbol here tells me that I’ve been adding a word in: the line is ‘Or I mistake you. O, would her name were Grace!’ [I.ii] and because if the rhythm I sometimes say ‘O I would her name were Grace.’ Most of my notes are little things like that. There's another one here about Hermione's speech at the beginning of the trial scene. Her first lines are: Since what I am to say must be but that
Which contradicts my accusation, and
The testimony on my part no other
But what comes from myself, it shall scarce boot me
To say ‘Not guilty.’ Mine integrity
Being counted falsehood, shall (as I express it)
Be so receiv’d. But thus, if pow’rs divine
Behold our human actions (as they do),
I doubt not then but innocence shall make
False accusation blush, and tyranny
Tremble at patience. You, my lord, best know
(Who least will seem to do so) my past life
Hath been as continent, as chaste, as true
As I am now unhappy; which is more
Than history can pattern, though devis’d
And play’d to spectators. For behold me,
A fellow of the royal bed, which owe
A moi’ty of the throne, a great king's daughter,
The mother to a hopeful prince, here standing
To prate and talk for life and honor ‘fore
Who please to come and hear.
Now it's the first time I come out and see everybody (we’re taking the audience to be people at the trial), so I take my time over that introduction. I believe that Hermione is sort of presenting herself- ‘this is what I’m here to do.’ Then she goes on to talk about the ‘powers divine’ and how the gods don’t miss a trick: they know that I’m innocent and all this will be heard. The gods will see me right. So she's saying ‘All of you be careful, if you say otherwise’ – not in a threatening way though. Then she turns to Leontes to try and make him see there's no way she could be guilty. What I do is I take my time over the first bit, right up until I start to talk to Leontes really, and then when I say ‘You, my lord best know who least will seem to do so’ – as I talk to him, I start to rush.
I got a little note from Giles, just as something to think about, that says perhaps the highlighted thought [see italics above] could be a kind of a preamble and the ‘real’ beginning of the speech is ‘But thus’ – so the thought in the box could be packaged a bit more, although the fragmented line endings suggest some turmoil. For me, the fact that it's fragmented – you know, the line doesn’t end the thought: the thoughts end mid-line – suggests that she doesn’t quite know how to approach it, because it's the beginning of the speech. But he suggests that the bit before ‘But thus’ could be stronger. Now I’m not sure about that. I’ll have a talk with him about it,
I think when he says ‘packaged,’ he means that I come out and that is what I’ve come out to say. I don’t think it is. I think I come out and I see everybody and think ‘Okay, I’m going to have to address all these people. Alright, well this is what I’m going to have to say.’ She knows what she's going to say because she's been thinking about it, but she's just had a child who has been taken away and her son is seriously ill. She knows she's innocent and wants to tell that to all these people; you just have to take your time to choose your words. When she gets to ‘But thus,’ there's complete certainty: this is her certainty. The first bit is not so certain; when I start talking to a room full of people I often start slowly ‘Oh I’m going to… hello, I’ve just come here today to talk to you about so-and-so, my names Yolanda…’ Then you find your thread: ‘Ok this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to do this, this, this, this, this, this’ – and that's how I see Hermione's speech. So I’ll go and discuss that with Giles and it’ll be fine.
It's amazing how closely you have to look at the words. Giles brings up so many things which are really interesting and I think they’re very right. For instance, in that same little bit that he thinks I should package, you can see the line endings are very fragmented and he's given me little symbols to help make that clearer: for instance, between ‘accusation’ and ‘and’ on the second line of the speech, he's given me a little symbol which means ‘bring them together, don’t leave a gap’ and he's done the same thing in the fifth line ‘to say not guilty’, bring them together. What I’ve been saying is ‘It should scarce boot me to say [pause] not guilty.’ In order to give the word some weight. What he's saying is that in a way I’ve fragmented that too much. I’ve taken that on board, so now I say: It should scarce boot me to say not guilty. [Pause] My integrity being counted falsehood shall as I express it be so received. But thus…’ There's the pause of the caesura at the end of ‘not guilty’ which you can use if you want to. If you carry the thought all the way through to the end of the line, even though it's fragmented, then you take a breath at the beginning of the next line, it just gives words extra weight. For example: ‘what contradicts my accusation, and / The testimony of my part.’ That gives more weight to ‘testimony.’ That's the kind of thing we’re looking at now, going through the lines with a fine-tooth comb.
Movement and Voice
Glynn [Macdonald, Master of Movement] watches performances to check our movement; although we’re telling the story in a modern way, we need to move in a way that works with the costumes… Glynn makes sure we don’t do anything that might look bizarre in original practices clothing. She also helps keep our bodies healthy; wearing such tight corsets, it's good to have someone keeping an eye on our backs. Stewart [Pearce, Master of Voice] does Voice calls with us and also comes back with notes on pronunciation and things like that. For example, if we say ‘isshue’ [issue], a modern way of saying ‘iss-ue.’ Funnily enough in the theatre that's not to do with snobbery; it's the fact that ‘isshue’ in the theatre it sounds like ‘atishoo’, like a sneeze. If you say ‘iss-ue’ then the audience can hear the word more clearly and know what you’re talking about. So Stewart's got his ear out there just to make sure that we’re pronouncing the words correctly and that they’re heard and that the sense comes through, as well as making sure that the volume is correct and that we’re not going either too high or too loud. People stop listening if you’re too loud, and they can’t hear what's said if you’re too soft, so Stewart helps us to find the happy medium. Using the ‘supported voice’ as he calls it, you don’t have to shout or project to be heard.
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.