This is Frank's first blog post. This week he discusses becoming an actor, his experiences of Shakespeare and his first impressions of his character.
Transcript of Podcast
Becoming an actor
I’m not really sure why I became an actor. I suppose when I realised it was a job that you could do, I thought it looked attractive because it looked easy – or at least I thought it was easy! I didn’t really do much acting when I was a young kid at school. In my last two years of high school I did do some acting but it wasn’t attached to the school, it was attached to the regional youth theatre, so that's when I started to muck around with acting.
I applied to do a degree in English Literature and then I got offered a place in a theatre at home in Ireland where they wanted to see if they could do in-house training for actors, for young people wanting to become actors. It was initially a six month trial but it ended up lasting for two years. By the time I’d finished that I didn’t go to drama school or college and I just came out and got a job. It sounds very easy but it actually did happen like that! I was 21 when I finished. I got a role in a production in Dublin for the Dublin Theatre festival. That went very well and I was taken on for a year at the Amphitheatre in Dublin, and then I just pottered along the way you do.
First encounters with Shakespeare
The first Shakespeare play I ever saw was when I was about 15 at school and we saw a touring production of The Merchant of Venice. That was the first thing I saw but the first time I performed Shakespeare it was as Romeo in Romeo & Juliet when I was just 19 – still a boy really! Now this might sound odd but I actually thought Juliet is a much more interesting character. I remember thinking, Romeo's a bit of a wet. I don’t believe that now, but at the time I thought he was just a little bit too sweet. I thought she had guts and I didn’t think he did.
Studying Shakespeare and performing Shakespeare are two very different things. For me, performing the plays makes Shakespeare much clearer. It's very, very, very difficult! I remember the first Shakespeare I studied was Othello which is a straight forward story but it seemed oblique, the language seemed remote and inaccessible and a torture to have to do. I used to think ‘Gosh why don’t they just speak properly like everyone else? It's just boring me!’ But when I saw it performed, it all started to make a bit more sense. I remember watching the play and thinking ‘Oh, that's funny’. Humour is always a great access to anything really, isn’t it? I found it accessible then, or rather it was beginning to seem accessible.
Then when I played Romeo in Romeo & Juliet, it just made sense. But Romeo & Juliet makes sense even when you’re young because it's two young people dying to get into bed with each other really. At that age you relate to it. So that was successful and now of course I love it all.
Coriolanus will be my fifth Shakespeare play. I did Romeo & Juliet and then the next time was when I was a bit more experienced as an actor - I was 26 - and I played Hamlet. I’ve also I played Edgar in King Lear and Sebastian in The Tempest.
I’ve actually never seen a production of Coriolanus. I knew the play because as a point of professional pride I thought I should really read all of Shakespeare's plays, and I have. Some of them I know better than others and some I’ve seen lots of productions of but I’ve not seen a production of Coriolanus. I actually think this is a good thing because it just means you’ve got no preconceived ideas and you can just take it on your own terms. I think that's the best way to approach anything really.
Before I came in I had been doing a lot of studying - lots of looking at the play and looking at the shape of the character - even before I committed to doing the job. You kind of think, well this is an interesting job and a great place to work but I’ve got a be sure that I might be able to do something with the character before I throw myself in to a four and half month commitment. So I’d done quite a bit of looking at the character and seeing if I could do something hopefully dynamic, and I convinced myself that I could. Then you start rehearsing and you think ‘Oh no I can’t do this, I’m going to be terrible!’ That's what I feel now.
First impressions of Sicinius Velutus
Well, it's only the beginning of rehearsals but I don’t think Sicinius is the most decent man in the world. He's very self-serving and ambitious. Both he and Brutus appear to be working for the people - and there may be grain of truth in that they have a sort of political conviction that things should be equal in the state and people should have their voices - but if you read between the lines I think it suits them that Coriolanus is arrogant and that he says the things he does.
Perhaps I could change my mind, but for me the play seems to be about personal ambition within a political world. Ambition is explored in different ways with each character - what people value, what they are aiming towards. With Volumnia, it's the pride of the mother, she's almost living her life vicariously through Coriolanus and his achievements. The two tribunes, Sicinius and Brutus, within the world of Rome basically don’t have the muscle or the brawn that is admired of Coriolanus - his physical strength and warrior-like abilities are things they don’t have. I suspect if they’d gone to school everybody would have wanted to grow up and be a warrior like Coriolanus did but Sicinius and Brutus were the two weedy swots at the back of the class who, now they’ve got some power, are thinking ‘If I ever get to be an alpha male it won’t be through wielding a sword but I might be clever and I’ve got a pen and a very astute political mind and I’ll machinate in that way in order to achieve my goals and sate my ego’, which is what I think they’re about. That's what I think they’re about at the moment but I could discover other things as the weeks progress.
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.