In his fifth blog post, Chu discusses having solo voice and verse sessions, his responses to two different runs of the play and the technical rehearsals.
Transcript of Podcast
We had our first run-through, which I almost can’t remember, except that I was actually quite pleased with the whole thing. It was more for the moves, for the structure of the play. I was pleased that it all fit together and ran smoothly. It gave me a lot of confidence in the production. Usually the first run is soul destroying, because you’ve put in all this work and you’ve been so precise and then it all evaporates in front of you. We knew that we were nowhere near the finished article, but the likelihood was that we were going to get there.
I had a solo session with Giles [Block, Master of Verse]. I asked for the session because I decided that I’d reached the stage where I could face the glare of his scrutiny. I had two solo sessions with Giles and one with Jeanette [Nelson, Master of Voice]. They were both very interesting. My voice is quite big anyway, and although I’m going to have to think about being heard on the Globe stage, it's more about articulation. I don’t have to worry about banging out the volume because I know that I can do that, but sometimes it's not a case of volume. It's about being more nasal and more precise in your articulation, which is surprising when you actually look at the theatre. The first time I was on stage it was very frightening and I felt quite small. I thought, how am I ever going to fill this space? I know that I can fill it with sound but not with a sound that anyone would necessarily want to hear. I’ve been really blasting the volume in the run-throughs for some reason, but that's more to do with nerves and then only in certain sections.
Jeanette told me what my problems were, which took about forty-five minutes of a one-hour session! I stand very upright, so she talked to be about weight distribution. My weight is on my heels, but when I want to talk to someone, I immediately and subconsciously shift my weight forward. Jeanette has noticed this problem, not just in this rehearsal period, but also when we worked together at the National Theatre. I tend to rock back on my heels when I’m nervous, and that affects my voice. It doesn’t affect being heard so much as the ability to be understood and to make a connection with the person that you’re speaking to. I worked on that, and in the first run she noticed that I wasn’t leaning back any more. I was right on my toes, almost as though I wanted to take off. That was only in the first scene where I have an address to Duncan, which I’m actually playing to the audience.
I’ve also got a couple of problems, which Jeanette tells me are typical of a Londoner. Firstly, my ‘t’s’ aren’t very precise. Secondly, I have a very tight jaw. When I get nervous my jaw tightens up, but I can do various exercises to help with that. One of the best exercises is just to massage your jaw with your hands, and another good one is to shake your head from side to side and let your jaw remain loose. I’ve been doing those exercises every day and my jaw has loosened up really quickly.
When I had my sessions with Giles, he just didn’t know where to begin! We concentrated mainly on the idea of observing the line endings. Usually, if I observe line endings it's by mistake. I read the text and just try to get the sense, and I am quite clear. Sometimes I’m not as clear as I should be, or I could use the text in a more interesting way. Sometimes I’m a slave to punctuation; however, the punctuation changes from Folio to Folio and sometimes it's wrong. The punctuation is there for reading, not necessarily for speaking. So, Giles and I went through the text and he gave me tips. The annoying thing was that I like to think that I’ve got a good grasp of Shakespeare's text, and I like to think that if I’m doing something in a particular way, I can argue my point and justify why I’m doing it. Unfortunately, Giles’ points were always better! I wasn’t completely wrong, but he was more right than I was! His ideas about the text made it make more sense or made it more interesting.
You can be a slave to punctuation and still be clear in what you’re saying, but it won’t sound natural necessarily. We also looked at the antitheses you can find in a line. For example, there's a line in IV.III, ‘To offer up a weak poor innocent lamb / T’ appease angry god’ [IV.III.15-16], where I should draw out and emphasise, ‘innocent lamb’ and ‘angry god’. We also talked about just enjoying the words more in certain places. You have the words to direct you and you can say them with meaning and in interesting ways. You can encapsulate the vastness of ‘confineless’ in the way that you say the word.
I saw Giles on Friday and then we had a run-through on Saturday where I proceeded to forget everything he told me. Afterwards, he gave me a list of mistakes that I had made. He gave everyone a list, but mine was longer than most people's were! I’ve developed bad habits in the past and those habits are hard to break. It’ll take more than one run; however, I’m aware of them now. Although I might forget all about them when I’m scared, they’re something I’ll be able to keep trying to fix.
More recently, we did a run-through for Mark [Rylance, Artistic Director], which I didn’t enjoy at all. I was nervous to start and then you never really get a handle on anything. You do a scene and it's over before you’re even aware that it's started. Even though I knew that was going to happen, it did throw me; however, you just get over it and concentrate on the next thing. The thing that went the quickest was the scene after the death of Duncan. I didn’t know what was going on. The good thing is that even though I wasn’t on top of anything, I still felt that I was discovering new things. If that's true, then it can’t be too terrible. Then we got to the England scene and Liam had an idea. He thought we should come onto the stage as if we had been having this debate for hours. This way you come on with an air of frustration and exhaustion. The good thing about that is that you come on stage with a life, but for me, it made the scene more generalised. It was impassioned, but not as interesting. Tim [Carroll, Master of Play] wants me to watch for Macduff's reactions more in that scene, which is a good note, but actually I was listening to him rather than watching him. I’m talking without stopping, and then he throws in an interjection, which changes my direction. I say to him, well, I don’t know who you are or what you want – you’ve come from Scotland and could be in league with Macbeth. He says, ‘I am nor treacherous,’ and I say, ‘But Macbeth is.’ Although I was listening to him, I think Tim's point is that I should be watching him more when I’m speaking. It's not about watching when he's speaking; it's about noticing how he reacts to my words. We do play off each other well, so I just need to watch him more.
We are now in a period of technical rehearsal. I hate technical rehearsals usually and I tend to wander off because I have the concentration of a goldfish. Today, because we couldn’t leave the stage, I couldn’t go anywhere. The sun's shining, we’re in an outdoor theatre, and it's been very relaxed. We’ve had a great laugh. I had a good time. It's down to the people who are in charge. You can have rehearsal periods where you don’t trust the people around you, yourself, or the director. It all stems from the director, because the director is the person who sets the tone. I do feel quite safe, and that's down to the director and the actors that I’m working with, especially Liam [Brennan, Macduff].
By next week we’ll have done our first performance and at the moment that doesn’t scare me, but it will when it becomes real. When we do our first run on stage, then it will hit me, and I will probably go backwards before I go forwards. We’ve got a number of performances before the press comes to review it, which is great. What I do know is that the journey of Malcolm will be clearer and I won’t be acting so much. What the most recent run taught me is that I was acting too much and I don’t have to. I can relax into it. I’m not going to enjoy it for a while, because I’ll be pushing myself too hard, but when I’m able to relax, it's going to be a lot of fun.
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.