Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 1

This is Eve's first blog post. This week she discusses the experience of working at the Globe, how rehearsals are progressing, and the challenges of speaking verse.

Transcript of Podcast

The Globe

It's been a really extraordinary week. I always knew before taking the job that the Globe was a completely different theatre to every other theatre in London and in the country, because of its extraordinary history and its architecture. The fact that it's a circle, that it's open-air, and the actor's relationship with the audience make it an extraordinary place.

I’ve seen about three plays at the Globe. The first one I saw was Henry V with Mark [Rylance]. I went with a group of schoolchildren – sixteen-year-olds who hadn’t really seen any Shakespeare before – and I stood right at the front, as a groundling, and I was just absolutely ‘blown away’ by the experience. It was like being at a rock concert, in that you’re there and you can practically touch the performers if you wish. It is very, very exhilarating as an audience member because you’re so engaged – so much more engaged than in a ‘normal’ theatre when you’re sitting in the dark with the lights on the stage. At the Globe you feel really engaged with the whole process and you’re very active. It seems to me that that is the point of the theatre, as opposed to TV and films. TV and films are very passive mediums - you just sit back and a lot of the information is just given for you to absorb.

In theatre, and particularly the Globe, you are required to be incredibly active and use your imagination, which makes the experience of seeing something at the Globe exhilarating in a way that I haven’t experienced in a long time. Having felt this way as a member of the audience meant that I was very, very terrified about actually being an actor on the Globe stage. Every time I went to see a play at the Globe I thought, ‘this is incredible but I don’t want to be doing that – I’m too scared!’ If people don’t like it, you can see their reactions. In seated dark auditoriums the audience will often stay even if they don’t like a play, at the Globe they can walk out if they wish.

When I first arrived at the Globe I was overwhelmed by the warmth and openness of the organisation. Basically the whole of the first day was spent being introduced to everybody. Every single person gave a speech, and so you got a real sense of the whole life of the building, and of how much the people working there loved working there. Everyone seemed to be giving so much to this project, all led by Mark, who is clearly a tremendously inspiring person. You really felt you were being welcomed into a huge family, and part of the theatre, which was a lovely experience.

Rehearsals this week

The second week of rehearsals were very strange, because we didn’t have Tim [Carroll, the director] as he had a prior commitment to another project. We did a lot of general movement work with the choreographer, that was actually really exciting, because it was like being back at drama school in a way. Because the last play I’d done was very unphysical, it was very nice just to do random physical moves for no apparent reason - just make up silly dances and stuff like that.

We also worked on some marvelous stuff with Mark [Rylance, the Artistic Director] - some improvisations. Mark thought it would be good to help us experience what the atmosphere of the play is like in a completely real, not theatrical way. This is particularly important at the Globe because there are no lights and everything has to be perhaps bigger than it might in a smaller space. The first improvisation we did was the first Bloody Sergeant scene [I.ii]. First of all Mark asked us to do an exercise in which you don’t have a script and somebody stands behind you and whispers the lines into your ear. That means that you don’t have to worry about performing, the person is just giving you the lines and you’re just saying them. You’re not reading ahead, planning what you’re going to do, and you’re also hearing the lines, which is rare because normally you’re the only person who speaks your lines.

As Macbeth begins at the end of a battle the company talked about the wars that are going on in the world at the moment - the reality of war. It's very tempting on a big stage, with a big audience, to just shout ‘What bloody man is that?’ in a very over-the-top way, and it becomes very unreal. Mark asked us to imagine that this place where we were, this underground rehearsal room where we were, was actually a retreat - there were bombs going off all around outside and nobody knew anything - nobody knew where anybody was. You suddenly realise how much you don’t trust the people around you in that kind-of situation, and that you become very aware of sounds.

There were also improvisations between myself and Jasper [Britton, who's playing Macbeth]. Mark asked us to switch off the lights and play the scene just after Macbeth has murdered Duncan. The whole session was in the dark, and it gave me a good sense of the atmosphere of this scene - what it really was like to be up in the middle of the night knowing that your husband was killing somebody else, and every sound being terrifying. One of the main things that came out of this improvisation was how banal Macbeth and Lady Macbeth's conversation is when they have just killed their King.

Text, language and verse

We did a lot of work last week with Giles [Block, Master of Verse] - going through the text and sorting out any problems with meaning and pointing out anything interesting - any differences between the Folio version and the edition of the text which we’re using. Sometimes line endings were different, so that's quite interesting to see - if they are different we ask is the line more revealing or interesting in the Folio or in the version we have.

Giles talked about his and Tim's [Carroll, the director] approach to language and verse. When speaking verse we are trying to always move towards the end of the line. This sounds quite a strange idea…. the end of the line is where you are trying to get to - when I’m talking now, I aim towards a point in the sentence - and it might not be the most obvious point - it might not be at the full-stop; it might be, quite often, in the middle of something that you’re saying, because you pause for thought, or because you don’t want someone to interrupt you, or for all kinds of reasons.

There's an exercise we did with Tim in which the aim was for the company to try to interrupt everyone else's speech. There wasn’t allowed to be a gap between their speech and yours and you had to follow through to the end of the line; you couldn’t pause at any punctuation, you were only allowed to pause at the end of a line. That discipline is a very interesting one to follow. Quite often, where the line makes you pause is in a more interesting, and probably a more realistic place than you would have thought, because my tendency is to follow the sense of the line onto a full-stop and then start again, trying to make sense of it. That's not how people talk. You pause to choose the best word, and then you say it, or you pause because you can’t bear to say that word. There was one particular line of Lady Macbeth's where the sense of the exercise really struck me. I say,


                                         Nor time nor place
Did then adhere, and yet you would make both.
They have made themselves, and that their fitness now
Does unmake you. I have given suck, and know
How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me; (I.VII.51-5)

Instinctively, I said, ‘Does unmake you, I have given suck’ all in one phrase, and then I had to stop myself and go back and say, ‘Does unmake you, I have given suck and know...’ And the thing of having to head for ‘and know’ - partly because it's a sound - ‘o’ - which is a terribly emotive sound to say because it's the basic sound that you make of pain. Instead of, ‘I have given suck,’ which is quite a hard sound to say, it's ‘I have given suck, and know’ - that's the focus - ‘I know what it's like’ - and it immediately makes you feel it, rather than have to imagine it. It just really struck me when I said that line twice - the second time I suddenly understood the point of the line. I’ve found this type of work to be very helpful.

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 change frequently as the rehearsal process progresses.

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