This is Michelle's first blog post. This week she discusses how she became an actor, her first impressions of Portia, and what the company has being doing in the first week of rehearsals.
Transcript of Podcast
Becoming An Actor
I used to do choir and youth theatre at school and then I went to drama school for a year which I didn’t like very much because I think I was too young. Then I went to university and did English and Classics at St Andrews. I loved it and was there for four years and did loads of theatre and plays. When I finished I did lots of Edinburgh fringe type work before I worked for the BBC in a series called Sea of Souls. I got my agent from that. This is my first real professional theatre job - I’ve just been doing TV and Film for the past two years - so its amazing! I have acted in two Shakespeare plays before. I’ve played Helena in A Midsummer Nights Dream. and I’ve played Queen Elizabeth in Richard III at University.
Performing at the Globe
I’ve seen three productions at the Globe including last years Titus Andronicus and The Comedy of Errors. Its an amazing space. We’ve been on the stage and felt the space but we haven’t done any acting on it yet. I feel very privileged and special to be here. It feels like you are part of history.
I go through stages of feeling quite excited and then I think ‘oh no! I don’t know my lines yet!’ so I’m also a little scared at the moment. I think they’ll be a lot of up and down before we start.
Auditioning for the Part
I had two auditions to get the part. At the first one I read two different scenes. The first was Act 1 Scene 2 where she’s in Belmont and she’s talking to her friend Nerissa. Then I read some parts of Act 4 Scene 1 in the court room. Two weeks later I came back and worked on stage with Rebecca Gatwood [Director] and Dominic Dromgoole [Artistic Director].
First Impressions of Portia
I did not know the play at all before I auditioned. I vaguely knew about the pound of flesh scene but that was it. When I read it originally I was amazed how much Portia talks in prose. Before the audience see her, you hear about her and think ‘oh God another kind of prissy, pretty, no personality young woman’ and then she comes in and is really down to earth, mocking all her suitors.
I don’t think she knows what she wants at the start, but I think she’ll know what she wants once she’s seen it. She’s determined and quite feisty but I guess she’s always had what she wanted because she’s very very rich. In modern terms she’s like a Paris Hilton heiress. She’s always had what she’s wanted so I think that breeds a kind of confidence that people mistake for arrogance.
The circumstances that her father has left her in are very tough - no matter how nice a person you are you’d still be quite angry. So I think, in part of Act 1 Scene 2, obviously she’s being really horrible to everyone, but in some ways she needs to do something to make her life lighter because she’s in a horrible position. Her father’s dead and her money could attract the wrong kind of people to her so in she needs protection. I think she’s just trying to make her friend [Nerissa] laugh. They are just having a bit of fun to make light of a very very serious situation.
I did go through a stage with the court scene [Act 4 Scene 1] where I thought she was being deliberately nasty to Shylock but through exploration I realised that the difference between the Christian concept of justice and mercy is very different from the Jewish concept of justice and mercy. Therefore, she’s not being specifically horrible to him, rather each of them is supporting their own God. It is a difference in opinion and I think that’s very hard for us to realise now.
Portia and Bassanio
She has seen him before. But we think, because he says ‘There are times when I have seen secret messages from her eyes’, that she fancies him. He says he thinks that she’s a great possibility and a great person to go out with but he doesn’t actually say that he specifically fancies her. I think he thinks that she would be a good choice and he likes the idea of her.
We are still trying to decide how much she really loves him or how much she likes him. We are also trying to discover whether she can have a relationship with him and still be in charge because she’s more powerful than him. From his perspective we are also asking if he loves her in reality or is he just interested in her money because that’s the first thing that attracts him to her.
Belmont and Venice
Venice is very very cosmopolitan and all the characters who come from Venice are very used to people. They see lots of different people and lots of different races, traders and merchants on a daily basis. They have a more colourful variation and a more interesting existence. There is lots of different architecture and lots of boats and its all very busy and exciting. In contrast, Belmont is very quite with beautiful gardens. Its more ‘perfect’ and sheltered than Venice. Its got a much calmer atmosphere. It is like an Arcadia.
Portia and Nerissa
They’re like a double act. In the renaissance, gentlewoman were of a similar status. Although Portia has a lot of money, Nerissa is her companion rather than her maid. We think that they’ve known each other a very very long time and that they’ve done lots together and been mischievous in their youth. We’ve explored the idea that when they were young they used to swap clothes with Stefano, their male servant. Apparently women of the period used to dress as men to be able to go out in Venice. So when Portia and Nerissa disguise themselves as men later in the play it is something that they may be used to. These are just ideas that we are talking about at the moment to make it more interesting and to help us build an identity.
The First week of Rehearsals
We’ve been learning the jig which has been funny but I think it will look amazing. We have been doing drum and percussion work as a company. At the point where Jessica elopes with Lorenzo and is taken in a boat outside her father’s house, there is going to be a huge masque - like a big carnival. At that point we all come on stage in masks and have a drunken party! We also then act out the situation that has happened between Jessica and Lorenzo. I was playing Shylock in caricature! We’ve also been hearing about Venice historically and the place it had in the world economically - it’s been really good.
There is a slightly modern theme going on. They want to give the impression of it being set in the period but have little details so that the audience will be able to relate to what kind of character I am. I have a period dress with I a belt that might be quite modern and modern platforms. Hopefully the audience will think ‘oh I understand what kind of person she is.’ If its completely in period it is hard for us to relate to this costume wise as you start asking ‘am I like them?’. Hopefully our modern touches should help the audience find this.
I’m having three costumes including my male one. We’re not sure if we are going to have moustaches as men yet. The script suggests that they are at the stage before they have hair on their chins. The designs look amazing. The idea behind one of them is that Portia is like a white peacock! So I will have a white dress with lots sparkly blue bits on it.
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.