In her second blog post Mariah discusses a talk with the Tudor Group, her thoughts about Hero and working with Tamara Harvey, the director.
Transcript of Podcast
We’ve been going through the scenes in more detail after last week's read-through. I’m enjoying trying to answer the questions that seem small but actually have a huge bearing on your character; what are Hero's given circumstances? What would she have done all day? What was her routine? Something that really helped me piece Hero's background together was our talk with the Tudor Group. These people live for so many months of the year as the Tudors would have done. They were amazing – like walking dictionaries who could tell you anything you wanted to know about Elizabethan life in great detail. It's a joy to have that information available at your fingertips. For every character I play, I want to be able to go and ask someone for answers: what would my education have been like? Who would I have shared a bedroom with when I was younger? How formal would my relationship with my father have been? How much contact do I have with the opposite sex and how is that sort of contact regarded? How tactile would I be with men and how tactile would I be with women? Does that change depending on whether the context is public or private? The Tudor Group had all the answers – they were absolutely brilliant.
The most surprising thing I learnt about the Elizabethan period and the biggest imaginative leap I had to make was to do with the prevailing Elizabethan views on marriage and chastity. According to the Tudor Group, Hero wouldn’t ever have been allowed to be alone in a room with a young man and that affects my whole interpretation of the first scene. I can’t know Claudio as an intimate friend because I’ve had no chance to talk to him in a room without someone else there. Maybe people found ways to steal off into corners, but I get the impression that I don’t really know him that well. That changes things. Hero's on unfamiliar ground with Claudio. The importance of an Elizabethan woman's honour – to be chaste until marriage – was huge. If a woman lost her virginity before marriage and didn’t marry the person she had slept with, she would be ostracised by society and by her entire family too. There was the sense that she was contaminated: Borachio's plan is to make Hero appear as ‘a contaminated stale’ [II.2] – that's the language they use. You were seen as completely tainted, morally and physically. It's mad that you could go from a position of great status where you commanded great respect, to become the lowliest of the low. How awful would you feel? Those views on honour and chastity would influence Hero's behaviour towards any man in the play. There's a tension added to wooing and courtship because until the Prince talks to me about love in Act II, scene 1, I’ve never been spoken to in that way. Marriage would be quite a scary prospect because I’ve had no experience, and I’m probably going to be dependent on my husband… in practical terms, it's a much bigger deal. Effectively, it decides what the rest of your life will be like. I also realised that I wouldn’t have had a choice about who I married – it's there in Leonato's lines
Daughter, remember what I told you. If the Prince do solicit you in that kind, you know your answer. [I.3.59-60]
I don’t think I would necessarily feel bitter about this – that's just the way it was, and Hero loves Leonato unconditionally. It puts my relationship with my father in a new light… a different light: I’m familiar with modern opinions about sex and marriage and Hero would have been familiar with the Elizabethan perspective. I don’t feel cheated of a choice, but I am finding it quite hard to make the adjustment. Their beliefs were so different from our modern views.
I’ve also been thinking about the scenes where Hero doesn’t say very much. I’ve tried approaching these scenes in so many different ways; I don’t speak because I choose not to, or because I don’t want to show that I like Claudio, or because I’m annoyed that everyone is talking around me but not to me, or because I’m extremely cold or restrained … suddenly I thought, hold on minute, it's not going to add more to the action if I’m just passive. It's never helpful to separate yourself and withdraw from what's going on. It's better to be on the front foot and want to be a part of things. Tamara [Harvey, Master of Play] made a suggestion which really unlocked this for me: she suggested I try to speak in these scenes and something just freed up in my head. She might be trying to speak – the thought helped me switch from a passive to active attitude… at least for a bit! It didn’t seem to work as well when we came back to the first scene [I.1] again. I think it's because I was trying to recreate a feeling rather than actually trying to get what I wanted … trying to get the words out. Also, I suppose I know that Hero doesn’t actually get her words out and that might affect how I play it even when I’m half trying to say something in a scene. I hope it frees up again.
Last night I found myself thinking a lot about Hero as somebody who does want to be part of everything, and perhaps that runs all the way through the play and gives her character a warm energy. She's coming of age. At this point in her life she wants to become a woman. I don’t know yet whether she wants to be like Beatrice. She definitely takes Beatrice seriously because her cousin is a lot more worldly-wise – just look at the scene where Beatrice compares love and marriage to dances [II.2]. I’m not sure Hero thinks married life is as awful as Beatrice makes out! I do think Hero listens to Beatrice's advice about the Prince's suit If the Prince be too important, tell him there is measure in everything, and so dance out the answer. [II.1]
Beatrice tells her to be careful and Hero's words to the Prince are almost directly taken from what Beatrice has said, so although Hero seems really outspoken at this point, she's actually falling back on what Beatrice had told her. At first I thought that scene [II.1] with the Prince was quite flirtatious but actually it's not. Giles brought up an interesting point about Hero's first line in response to the Prince's question ‘Lady, will you walk a bout with your friend?’ [II.1]. She replies
So you walk softly and look sweetly, and say nothing, I am your for the walk, especially when I walk away. [II.1.80-2]
There are lots of commas in the line; it's quite broken up and that might suggest she's not at ease with the situation. It's not smooth talk! She's never been alone with a man and now the Prince is wooing her – it's a change of gear and she's going to be flustered and scared. However, what's wonderful about Shakespeare is that things are never black and white: who knows how Hero feels about the Prince? There might be an element of flirtation there. With Shakespeare more than any other playwright, you get the feeling that nothing is an accident. There are clues in the text but then when you neatly add them all up, they don’t necessarily make sense in a straightforward way. Perhaps that's something you don’t have to resolve.
Complication vs. core
Josie [Lawrence, Benedick] and I were saying the other day that it's important not to over complicate things in your head because it's really easy to get overwhelmed with all the details that could feed into your character, when what we’re actually doing in rehearsal is pairing the huge range of possibilities down to a core that consists of what is going on. Actually, the core is pretty simple: what does your character want? What do they do to get it? I remember watching a brilliant performance from a guy in the year above me at drama school: he did the monologue from Hamlet where the prince talks about Gertrude marrying Claudius. He did it with such clarity that the force of what that speech was about really struck me: I wish I could die because my mother has married my uncle.' I’ve never been so moved by the soliloquy before. He just paired it down to the core and the feeling behind the lines jumped out. You can’t get lost in amongst all the choices that the offers. The guy repeatedly kicked his leg in the air during the monologue, which was physically very extreme: he made the boldest choices and it worked because he committed to them one-hundred percent and believed in what he was doing.
Working with Tamara [Harvey, Master of Play] is great because she helps you discover the intentions at the core of your character without forcing anything on anyone. We try an exercise and see what it throws up… it's a stealthy way of guiding you! For instance, we were talking about act II, scene 1; I said that I wanted to put the Prince off and normally I would spend two days racking my brain to get there! I would think ‘Right, I’ve got to come up with an intention, that's got to be what I’m going to the other person and it's got to be a physical action…’ but somehow she had tricked me into discovering what my intention was without any of that.
I also really like the way we’re making everything physical straight away. You do detailed text work, looking at the words on the page, but everything's connected to physical actions. That helps you to be brave; I’ve been feeling a bit inhibited because it's hard to start off looking at scenes where you’ve only got one line but everyone's talking about you! I don’t want to make it a scene about Hero when it isn’t about her, but at the same time, there's a reason why she's there and there is a lot going on with her that you can explore when you get the words off the page. I find it harder to rehearse scenes where I don’t have very many lines; you can feel a bit self-conscious. That's why the ‘trying to speak’ exercise was so great – it made me forget myself… it helped me to stop watching myself.
It's difficult stage of rehearsals right now. I always, always go through a period of thinking ‘Oh no, I’ve forgotten how to act!’ so I just stand there feeling like an idiot. At this stage, it's really tempting to fix ideas about the character, but if you close doors too early on i.e. before you’ve had chance to get to know the person, then the decisions won’t be very useful in the long run. But keeping so many doors open can be disorientating – I’m keeping a notebook with ideas and pictures and thoughts about the character and I often find myself writing on the pages WHO ARE YOU?! It's frustrating not to know. I suppose if you throw everything up in the air, it will all land at some point.
Normally I use the Stanislavski approach: I write down what my character says about other characters, what other characters say about me, what I say about myself. You’re not really serving the play without those givens. I also put the text of the play in my own words, because I find that reveals the bits that I don’t really understand. That was one of the exercises we’ve done; at first I looked at the bits I’d already done which made this easier but I came unstuck when I reached the second half of the play because I’d lost the thread of what was happening. I started all over again, putting the lines into my own words. It really helped to make sure I understood what was being said, and the exercise also made the words more immediate. You don’t get intimidated by the verse or the complexity. Know what's said about your character, know what you’re saying – the first two golden rules. I don’t think things can go wildly wrong as long as you stick to that.
I also like to split the scenes up into units. A Russian director I worked with called them 'pavarot' which apparently means the beat within the scene – a sort of rhythm. It coincides with Giles’ [Block, Master of the Words] idea that semicolons are points at which something active happens. A unit will involve a physical action that has begun and ended and triggered off something else which becomes part of the next unit. That's quite a good way to break the play down. Identifying intentions and obstacles can also be useful, but you have to leave all that outside the rehearsal room and see what happens. Sometimes I’m guilty of rehearsing a scene and worrying about whether I’m playing my intention; that's not what we do in life. That's not truthful. So I decided to wait until we started work with Tamara [Harvey, Master of Play] before I looked at Hero's intentions and so on. Often it's better to make discoveries than to come into the rehearsal room with preconceptions, because you’re not really open to other actors’ ideas if you’ve already prescribed your character. I suppose I’m really confused at the moment because I’ve just decided to go in saying ‘let's see, let's see.’
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.