"One thing I always think most at the Globe - and I think it should be true of any play, but really the stuff that we do here - the most important character in the play is the audience. You see what they bring and it tells you what you've got."
In his third interview James discusses working with an audience and by candlelight in the new playhouse.
Time: 9 minutes 1 second
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Transcript of Podcast
Phil Brooks: Welcome to the Adopt an Actor podcast series. This is the third interview with James Garnon, who is playing the Cardinal in the Duchess of Malfi.
So what happens in tech week and how did tech week go?
James Garnon: Well in tech week normally what you do is you put all your costumes on and you go into the space and its lit, and you work out how the technical demands of quick changes between costumes are going to affect what you’re doing. In this case obviously it was majorly about candles. And how the candles are working. But a lot of it we’d done already, I don’t remember it being a difficult tech at all. That might be my own stupidity or maybe I’m not in any of the scenes that require a lot of stuff! But it all seemed to be relatively easy, we didn’t, you know it was all done really easily and, I think we even had a little bit of time off before the first run. And that’s possibly the advantage of opening a new theatre; a lot of time is given ready for unforeseen problems to be dealt with. But there didn’t seem to be any unforeseen problems, it seemed quite an easy sort of process. And we were all just very excited about actually just getting people in there and seeing – having played in the room a few times, just wanting to get people in and see how it all works with those extra bodies.
PB: How was it on opening night once you had an audience?
JG: Great. I mean it really was, it really… candlelight is so seductive and, I don’t know what it’s like, or its difficult – it’s different for actors looking out into an audience than it is for an audience looking onstage. They are used to us being in more light than they are seeing us I, but we are seeing them in much less light, if you see what I mean in an indoor theatre. And it’s a lovely halfway house between the outdoor Globe, where you can see everybody, and a dark theatre where you can see nobody. You’ve got a really lovely variety of faces; half-lit faces near you, quite misty little faces far back in the lower gallery, and then up at the top they’re really just shapes, which works in terms of – you know I always think of using the different tiers in the main Globe as representing different things – different things that you’re talking to or different aspects of your interior monologue so that you force yourself to talk to the people. And the people at the top being gods – it’s quite nice they’re really quite inscrutable…
PB: Mysterious figures up in the…
JG: Yeah that you can’t see what they think. And the middle tier which is more sort of your middle gods you can sort of see, and the people really close you absolutely know what they think so it’s kind of… It’s a really nice room to kind of talk to and play with, and I think that’s one of the nice things about the new building that we haven’t lost from the old building is that one feels like one is telling a story with the audience rather than telling a story to an audience. And it feels like that relationship is still alive. We haven’t gone into a building with a roof and lights and thus cut ourselves off from our audience, but the relationship one has is still present – even though this is a very different shape, a very different type of show, a very different tone, and it is a much smaller acting style to a point. Nevertheless we’re playing with the audience rather than to them.
PB: You mentioned that tech week went “fairly easily”; what have been the challenges of putting this production together? If there have been any?
JG: It’s difficult isn’t it, I mean we are all responsible for our own little bits. So I haven’t found any particular challenge to, you know any other thing that I’ve done. One is conscious that candlelight will do something and you and remain alive to the room. That is the great challenge, trying to remain alive to the room and when the audience went in remain alive to how they respond to the room. And keeping in mind that kind of… one thing I always think most at the Globe, I think it should be true of any play but really stuff we do here, the most important character in the play is the audience. You’ve got to be – you see what they bring and then it tells you what you’ve got. You know, they’re gonna play with you, so you have to be fleet and aware of them. And the challenge in this particular job was the fact that we’ve no idea how play in this room – nobody has any idea how they play in this room, the room has never been played in. You know, what are they gonna want, what are they going to react to, how small do you want to be, how… You know in terms of minimalistic acting styles, obviously at the Globe you feel like you’ve got to be large, but that never means you have to be physically large. It always annoys me that critics always think that the style of playing at the Globe is very broad – it needn’t be and I don’t think it is. It often isn’t. [Mark] Rylance playing on the Globe plays incredibly small and naturalisticly. And in this space, trying to work out how large you need to be with candlelight was interesting. You could argue that you need to make up for the fact there’s not much light or you could go very very still on the basis that they can’t see much. And I think people, you know we haven’t got a company idea, I think we are all bringing different colours and different energies to it. And Dominic [Dromgoole, Director & Artistic Director] has shaped and crafted it as it’s gone. But it’s all been beautifully organic as far as I’m concerned.
PB: And did you find that over the previews its shaped itself differently depending on the audience reactions?
JG: Yeah. I mean certainly everything I’m doing is. I think putting on a show anyway is like creating a bit of sculpture; you’ve created a shape and you whack it up in front of people, and as they start looking at it you might want to change little bits, you might jig around but you’re not going to change it enormously – that’s the piece. But you are definitely going to, you know if you find anything gratuitous you’ll knock it off, but most of the time what you’re doing is covering it with water and sand and gently polishing it. And making it more and more, you know, shiny. I’m hoping that what we’re doing is responding to what’s going on in the room and getting better. It would be disastrous if we got to the end of the run and we were doing it worse than it was when we started!
PB: Moving on, what is your costume like and how does wearing it help with your character?
JG: Well I’m playing a cardinal so it’s quite good being dressed like a cardinal! I don’t really think about that, I’m not, one of those people that it really bothers. And I don’t, you know, I’m dressed like a cardinal, that’s how I’m dressed. It doesn’t change your movement particularly at all. I have a very nice thing in that I move, you know the cardinal gets rid of his cardinal robes and becomes a normal – ‘normal’ – he becomes an aristocratic person in the, but in normal, everyday clothing for the period. And that’s nice that there is investment in the clothes, but that [for] other people you are a cardinal and thus you don’t have normal thoughts, you have religious thoughts. He doesn’t so you’re wearing this sort of big mask for the first half, but I haven’t really anything interesting to say about it. I think I’m very spoilt having done original practice productions here where the clothing – and they are not costumes, they are clothing – always massively alter the way you stand, massively alter the way you just are. And they are so real, they give you a higher level, and I’m not criticising the clothing that we have at the moment because the original practise costumes are extremely expensive and difficult to produce. We’re halfway housing with these. We have a couple of eye and hook type arrangements, you know then that for me now, having done a lot of original practice stuff in the past, it just feels like a costume, in which case it doesn’t really alter the way you stand or shape. Its more something that it does things to the audiences mind, it doesn’t really change my, my perspective on it.
PB: And finally are there any scenes that are still proving difficult to unlock, if there were any?
JG: Yeah, all of them. I mean, you don’t solve things. Everyday there are different new exciting puzzle and every time you think you’ve made a break through when you come and do it the next night you’ll actually do it worse, invariably because you think ‘Ah that was great’ and then you’ll go after that thing again and you won’t get it. So that’s a perennial joy of playing any of these plays; trying to approach them freshly and discover something new as you go. The thing that I’m finding interesting at the moment is its very easy with something like the cardinal to be very arch and very evil and very obviously bad. I’m sort of trying to be very little. But there is always a balance between trying to make somebody human, and really in the room, and trying to make them not tip too far into stereotype. But at the same time, decidedly serving the function of the character within the play and just trying to keep all the plates spinning, or keep the balances. So it’s just a continual adjustment process – little tweaks.
PB: Brilliant, thanks