Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Performance Notes 1

This is Peter's seventh blog entry for the 2005 production of The Winter's Tale, in which he talks about previews and the first performance amongst other things.

Transcript of Podcast

First Performance

We’ve done it – our first preview was on Saturday. It was good, a bit scary. I knew playing at the Globe would be different from an ordinary theatre, but I was surprised by just how different it was. The fact that the audience share the same bright light as the actors rather than being in a darkened auditorium is the main difference, but the effect that has can be quite surprising: some things get a reaction that you wouldn’t have predicted, whilst other things don’t get a reaction. What seems to be happening during the preview period is that we’re being drawn into greater interaction with the audience – I don’t mean that in terms of ‘audience participation’ but just that we’re sharing our thoughts with the audience more frequently. All sorts of opportunities present themselves apart from asides and soliloquies, and that's something we’re exploring now.

We’ve had a wonderful reaction from the audience, which is very exciting. To begin with, being surrounded by such a presence makes you feel a bit exposed but you become more comfortable as you settle in. Gradually I’m starting to feel more at home in the space; instead of emphasising certain words and moments, it's actually better just to flow through the scene connecting up the thoughts and sometimes sharing them with the audience.

Formality and Intimacy

Whilst there's a special kind of intimacy with the audience at the Globe, I’m always aware that I’m playing a king. An awareness of status is even more important when you’re doing an original practices production because it's so clearly defined by our Jacobean clothing. We worked hard in rehearsals to take the edge off the formality in the court scenes, though, because we wanted to give the impression that everyone who surrounds the king and queen are part of a household. There is a distinction in terms of status between courtiers and the royal family, but the courtiers are also the people in whom royalty confides; quite often in staging a scene, John would say to the courtiers ‘Don’t be too far away.’ As an integral part of the royal household, it's important that they’re connected to the argument and emotional content of the scene.

Leontes’ household is status-conscious but the people are very much interconnected. Mark Rylance [Artistic Director] saw a performance and chatted to us afterwards; he got a real sense of what it would be like to eavesdrop on a court. You do feel like a fly on the wall because these people are convincing as a community. That helps put Leontes’ asides and soliloquies into context; he's turning from one set of courtiers to another set of witnesses in the audience, if you like. In the trial scene, he can turn out to the audience as if he's asking them ‘What do you think? Am I mad? This is what's happening.’ There's the sense that the audience being very much a part of that world. That's great – if it believable, then the audience couldn’t make an imaginative investment in the story.

Exploring the Stage: Previews

One of the best things about previews has been the chance to get used to the stage and exploring its dynamics. In a theatre with a proscenium arch, virtually every person in the audience has roughly the same point of view. Audience perspectives at the Globe are much more varied; they sit or stand on three sides of the stage and go up three levels (in the lower, middle and upper galleries). That means your relationship to the audience is different, but also the way you use the playing area is very different – you can use long diagonals really effectively without the sense of upstaging each other. If one person's upstage and the other person's downstage in a proscenium arch theatre with the fourth wall, then the scene favours the person upstage. At the Globe you’ve got people all around so the person who is ‘downstage’ actually has as much of the house to play to as the person ‘upstage.’

In the round, you have to think in three dimensions. You’re surrounded by people and anyone who's sat behind you has to read the scene off the person whom you’re playing opposite. Pillars and other actors mean a member of the audience might only see one face in a big important scene – it might be the face of the one person who doesn’t have any lines, so they have to ‘read’ what's going on in the scene off the reactions of that person. I think that leads to a kind of ‘all-round’ acting; there isn’t anywhere to hide and it's important that everybody on stage is involved in the scene.

During tech week, Mark said to us that one thing which had occurred to him over ten years working here was that we’re not in a theatre with theatre lighting: it sounds obvious but it means that lighting is not responsible for changes of mood and focus, so actors have to become each other's follow-spots. You have to give and receive focus, passing the baton physically. You can do that in all sorts of subtle ways; for instance, moving up around the outside of a pillar from a downstage position can seem like a difficult move to make because you’re turning your back on most of the audience and almost hiding behind a pillar – but actually that gives focus and if you really commit to it, you end up in an incredibly strong position upstage left or right… you can come down on the long diagonal. That's something Philip [Camillo] and I have been playing with a lot.

In the early scenes with two or three characters, we can play around with blocking quite a lot in performance as well. We don’t have any set blocking in those scenes; we’ve got movements that we like and other things we’re not sure about so we try something else. For example I have two scenes with Camillo: one where he tells me Leontes has asked him to kill me [I.ii], and another one in act four after the sheep-shearing. In both those scenes, our movements is a bit like playing tennis: we know each other's usual game-plan and we can vary that as we choose: ‘Normally I’d lob here to the baseline but actually I’m just going to play a little drop volley and see what happens’ and the other actor has to react to those changes. Obviously we stick with certain things that seem to work really well, but sometimes repetition can get a bit stale so you find different angles and movements to keep the scenes fresh and spontaneous. Moving your body in a slightly different direction can give a character a completely different attitude at a particular moment. Rehearsals are not so much about practising to get something right and keep it like that – instead we’re working out the parameters of the stage: where are the baselines, the tramlines and the net? Then playing is actually playing: it's a game!

In the sheep-shearing scene, for example, I’ve got a dialogue with Perdita about nature and art. Yesterday Juliet [Perdita] said to me ‘Let's play with the idea of trying to steal focus from each other during that speech’ – so we did. You find yourself centre stage for a minute before the other person somehow manages to knock you off that position steals your focus – it's up to you to get it back again! It's like a status game where you have to win each point in a different way, and perfect for the back-and-forth dialogue between Perdita and Polixenes. Everyone in the company seems very keen to experiment: ‘What happens if I do this?’ That's fantastic and hopefully it will continue through the season. Also it will give us a kind of shorthand for working on Troilus and Cressida because rehearsals for our second production of the season start soon. Although we don’t have much stage time in rehearsals, we’ll have used the stage a lot and be on the same wavelength as each other. I’m sure rehearsals will fly by!

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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