In this penultimate interview, Elliot Cowan (Macbeth) discusses the technical rehearsal, wearing his costume for the first time, and rehearsing the closing jig.
Time: 8 minutes, 41 seconds
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Transcript of Podcast
Hello I’m Ryan Nelson and these are the Globe Education podcasts for Adopt an Actor. I’m here with Elliot Cowan who’s playing Macbeth in this year’s production, and today we’re going to talk about tech week. So I guess the first place to start quite simply then is: what is a tech week?
Tech week is technical rehearsal week, and that means that we have for the first time transferred from the rehearsal room into the theatre space. And we are encountering more of the technical side of the show than we’ve been used to up until that point, rehearsals, working on text and a certain amount of blocking and staging and music and stuff to a certain degree, but you don’t really know how it’s all going to come together with costumes, with lighting (in other theatres), with musical recordings and sound effects and proper entrances and exits and proper running out across the groundlings and out round the back of the theatre and up underneath the stage and through a trapdoor. It’s to work out all that stuff, and put together the whole show as a piece of audience, sort of, spectacle really, I suppose, as opposed to just work for its own sake within a rehearsal room.
It’s less technical in one sense at the Globe because there’s no electricity, as it were, there’s no artificial amplification or sound effects and stuff – it’s all done acoustically so quite person based and actor based. And I thought therefore, unwisely or naively, that it wasn’t going to be as complicated or time consuming as some shows, but there was a lot of technical paraphernalia in this, even for a Globe show, and that was caught up in things like the blood and the deaths and the fights and the hanging of people and also the shrouds over the audience and how we were going to negotiate that and the trapdoors, when they’re going to open and close. There was lots of stuff, so yeah, we had a lot to do, even though it’s meant to be very simple.
And what was that experience like moving from the rehearsal room into the Globe space itself?
Well, I suppose the first thing you notice is that suddenly you’re surrounded with more of a 360 demand, more audience around your left side, your right side and behind you, than you figure in the rehearsal room. You can’t help it but you do most of the performance in a rehearsal room out in one direction. You try and think about it in other ways but it generally is very hard to do so. So in this case, just had to start to acknowledge that, and how your voice sounds in the space for the first time, because it’s very important that Shakespeare is delivered as audibly and understandably as possible, and when you’ve got a big theatre of wood and wattle and daub with 1500 people in, you suddenly have to take on that responsibility.
So physically speaking your body and your voice have to start stretching and sort of building and strengthening. And you have to think of different things on different levels the whole time. You’ve got “Then, okay, where do I go next? I’ve got to go under the stage and round here and then I’ve got to grab this and change my shirt here so I’m not wearing that when I come on to see Lady Macbeth, and I’ve got to pick up a dagger here and then I’ve got to get some blood bags over there.” And this is all going on top of what your lines and your intentions are in the scene as you’ve rehearsed, which has generally taken you 5 weeks to work out in itself. So yeah, it’s a bit of a head-crowd, and we all sort of support each other as best we can, but tempers tend to fray and people get …you rehearse from 10am to 10pm, you know, we did because there’s not any other shows…
There’s a lot of 12 hour days aren’t there?
Yes, the fullest day you get in the theatre process. It becomes very demanding and people get very tired and a bit crabby, but things are generally held together in a positive fashion.
That’s good hear!
No-one was killed during tech.
But since… !
One of the other elements that you mentioned that appears in tech, probably not necessarily for the first time but for the most sustained time is your costume, and I wonder, is it important for helping to establish the sense of the character or place or anything like that?
Yeah, well, you’ve already had that discussion up to a point and it’s been a dialogue that the designer and the costume maker has had with you and various things have been discounted already, but there’s still a lot of unanswered or fully concluded questions. And that week you might be negotiating that still; in fact through the previews you might be. But you’re right, you’ve got ten hours standing around in your boots and your skirt and your jumper and your sword, things change immediately. You start to see the character not just in silhouette as it were but in greater detail, and it does change the way you move. You’ve already made some decisions about that, say, in the rehearsal room: if you know you’re playing an older man or you’re playing somebody with a limp or something, but it starts to articulate itself more acutely when you’re in your costume and you find there are constrictions and restrictions in what you can and can’t do and you start having to get more fluid with that and understand how it feels and works and how you take them off and can you take them off if you need to onstage, or is that going to be too slow? Do you need to have these buttons replaced with fastenings or do I have to have this made shorter so I’m not always treading on it? Yeah, so it’s technical but it’s also character based and if things are wrong you’ve got to say “No, this is too feminine, this is too heavy or light or this is too clean”, which was often the problem from Lucy [Bailey, the director]’s point of view.
So yeah, it’s an important process and some actors have famously said they started their characterisation with the shoes they wear and things like that, and I know exactly what they might mean by that. And sometimes in rehearsal I’ve made as much of the costume myself out of bits and pieces I’ve brought in or borrowed before I have to put on the real, finished article, because it just helps articulate and develop that story for you as an actor. And then it becomes completely second nature, you start not thinking about it at all, and there’s a nice rhythm and ritual in everything you do, and you rely on those kind of things when things get a bit tougher down the line in a run.
On the note of rhythm there, one of the things I realise we hadn’t talked about were the jig rehearsals, and I’m interested to know how you found them and the jig?
I came very late to the jig, as we did as a production as a whole. There was some discussion as to whether we were going to have one and break tradition at the Globe by not having one, because it was perhaps too upbeat for this dark and heavy production of the play, and Lucy was like “I’m not sure if we should go there after all the hard work we’ve been through”, and I could see her point. But the tradition of the theatre is to have one after every show and tradition won out. So we suddenly had to go, “Right, let’s have one”.
Michael Camp [also playing the Captain] our movement captain who’s assisting Javier [de Frutos, choreographer] had been doing a warm-up with most of us since the beginning of rehearsal and there were various movements in that which were derived from a bit of yoga and a bit of haka stuff or a bit of Tai Chi even, I don’t know, and a dance as well and athletics, there’s a bit of something in there for everyone. And we had all started to learn these slightly different moves for his warm-up and then I think he just transferred a lot of that learnt knowledge into something musical, rhythmical, based on a song that Orlando [Gough, composer] brought to the table. We all had to learn it quite quickly in the second half of rehearsals, at which point I was being cluttered mind and soul with various other things, just from my point of view, my lines and the fight and just stuff I had to do so I thought “No, I’m not going to both with that, that’ll come, that’s the last piece of the jigsaw,” and I came in right at the last minute and learnt it quite quickly and really didn’t get it bedded down until we opened.
It is an atmosphere cleanser, but people have different views about. They do ask, if they don’t know about the tradition of the theatre, they go “Why the hell is that happening? You are in a tragedy!”, but other people love the fact that you don’t have to go home just thinking about the last images of blood and death that they’ve seen, so no it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but now it’s part of our performance, so we don’t think about it.
Well thank you very much for the interview today, hopefully next time we’ll find out about what the performances have been like.