Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 5

This is Kanunu's fifth blog entry for the 2004 production of Romeo and Juliet, in which she talks about technical rehearsals, the way that the lines come alive onstage, and performing in all weather on the Globe stage!

Transcript of Podcast

Technical rehearsals

We ran through the whole play for the second time on Saturday. Recently I’ve been concentrating on specific lines and smaller details which can make the overall arc of the story quite difficult to grasp, but I’m getting a broader perspective as we run the play. That's very useful. Now we’re in the middle of our tech week – it's good, despite wet weather. It's amazing just to be in the theatre and wear those clothes. It's amazing to see everyone appear in those clothes; it helps to build up the world of the play because suddenly you can see a serving man and my father and the Prince, rather than John Paul and Bill and Joel. You can see all their different positions within a society: the clothes give you that information, which I guess helps with characterisation in that the world of the play becomes visible. For instance, we’ll recognise the Prince's status in the way he behaves and how people behave towards him, but the gorgeous, regal clothes support the character too.

I’m getting used to wearing my corset. Melanie [Jessop, Lady Capulet] and Bette [Bourne, the Nurse] have been wearing their corsets during rehearsal, but I decided not to and I’ve discovered it really does take some getting used to! The fashion was for Elizabethan ladies to wear their corsets tight, to give them a tiny waist and emphasise their bosom, so we’ve been experimenting with how tightly my corset can be tied… too tight and I can’t breathe, too close and it won’t look right. Actually, the length of my skirt and train restrict my movement more than the corset – I’ve got to remember that, especially when I try to step backwards! You try to turn and you think, ‘Whoa!’ Suddenly you’re tangled up in lots of material. I’ve got to practise moving round in all that. I’m also surprised that I don’t need a hairpiece for most of the play. My hair is quite curly and it goes into an Elizabethan style quite easily. The tomb scene is the only bit when I need a hairpiece: when ladies back then got married, they apparently had gold thread in their hair, so I’ve got a long wig with little gold pieces in it (Juliet is buried her wedding attire, her best clothes).

The main difference between the stage and the rehearsal room is that you get the impression of a much bigger space when you’re on stage. Although our rehearsal room floor was marked up with the dimensions of the Globe stage, when you get out there, it feels much more open, much bigger somehow. There are so many more elements to notice in the space – you’re looking at the sky, you’re looking at the people in the bottom gallery, or the people in the top gallery, or person in the corner of the yard, you’re looking at pictures everywhere – on the ceiling (the canopy over the stage is called ‘the heavens’ and it's painted with stars and signs of the zodiac), on the gallery supports, on the tiring house façade. There are so many different sections of the theatre that you can address. The stage space feels like it has so many more dimensions than the rehearsal room, and that's obviously going to effect the way we play.

Bringing the Lines Alive

I’m discovering that some things, some lines and some scenes, do come alive on that stage. In the balcony scene [II.2], simply having a real distance between us makes a lot of difference. When we rehearsed it, I just stood on a plastic chair. Now we’re here, suddenly I can’t reach Romeo no matter how hard I try: he stretched right up and I practically lay on the balcony floor and stretched my arm down through the supports, but there was a tiny space between our fingertips. You don’t need to pretend that you’re high up or looking out because you are doing exactly that in the space: there is a high balcony in this theatre [Musician's Gallery, above the tiring house]. We’ve just run the wedding scene, when Romeo and Juliet meet in Friar Lawrence's cell to be married, and what struck me was how easily we come together – we meet and kiss just like that, which was impossible in the balcony scene. The contrast just stood out.

We haven’t done the ‘Gallop apace’ soliloquy [III.1] yet, but I’m already thinking about how I might use the space. When I say the line about ‘runaways’ eyes’, I can imagine all the eyes of the people in the theatre looking back at me. Tom [Burke, Romeo] has a nice bit with eyes too; he talks about the ‘white upturned eyes of mortals’ in the balcony scene [II.2] and when we were in the theatre, you suddenly realise, wow, we are surrounded by the white upturned eyes of mortals. That image really comes alive.

Weather

Another difference is that you’re more aware of the weather on stage than you are in rehearsal. The stage itself is covered and so are the galleries, but the yard is open to the elements. As we rehearsed the balcony scene, there was a terrific thunderstorm. It was spectacular – the best thing was happened as I was saying the lines:

I have no joy of this contract tonight.
It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden;
Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be
Ere one can say ‘It lightens’.
[II.2.117-20]

As I said ‘’It lightens’, there was a huge crash of thunder and lightning! It was just so strange. Imagine you started telling a story that started ‘Once upon a time, there was a chicken,’ and then suddenly a bird walked into the room and went ‘Awgh!’ You just don’t know what to do! I felt as though someone had come along to help me at that moment… it's as if there's another actor there, coming in right on cue. It was extraordinary!

In another place, you might have lots of scenery to build up the world of the play. Here it feels like most of the scenery, and quite a lot of the imagery, is built into the architecture of the theatre. The lightning was an amazing coincidence, but there are things about that environment that do illuminate different parts of the text – I suppose some will change (like the weather for each show) and others will stay the same (whilst we’re performing at the Globe, we’ll have two pillars). Elsewhere you might have a set with a tea cup and a television and a carpet… here you’ve got these two huge pillars, hangings, and other things which you can refer to in the lines and that helps you build up the world of the play. I think the decoration – the stars, zodiac, and the gods – is quite symbolic – perhaps that encourages you to think about concepts like love and fate as well as physical things. I’m not sure… I just know it does feel different.

At the end of this week we’ll have our dress rehearsal and our first performance. I think I’ll be quite nervous as we get nearer the time, but right now I’m mostly excited. I can’t wait!

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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