Shakespeare's Globe

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In his final blog post John discusses how the company continue to rehearse while the play is being performed, the audience response to the opening night and how the 'mechanicals' perform their play-within-a-play.

Transcript of Podcast

Continuing rehearsals

We’ve just finished our last week of rehearsals, and the production has now opened. Last week was very helpful; we started with the technical rehearsal, which took a day and a half, and then spent the rest of the week doing runs of the play on the stage itself, getting fully accustomed to working in that space. Even though we’ve started the run, our rehearsal process will continue until the end of this week, as this week, Mike [Alfreds, Master of Play] has the right to call any of the company to rehearse bits of the show that he feels need a little more work. He will come to every performance this week and take notes, and we will all sit down and discuss each performance as a group.

Opening Night

First performances tend to be a little daunting, but I was very pleased with how it went on Sunday. Audiences at the Globe are generally very supportive, but the audience we had for the first performance was especially appreciative. Because of the nature of the Globe space, each production seems only complete when there’s an audience to play to. The audience are the missing piece of the puzzle, and their presence allows everything else to fall into place. This is true even for actors’ character work; audience interaction helps us to mould our characters and make them as believable as possible. Therefore, we need to ensure that an audience feels encouraged to interact with what’s happening on stage, and the best way to do this is to make our characters’ intentions very clear, thus helping an audience to follow the story easily. I’m thinking hard about the end of iii.1 at the moment, when Bottom meets Titania and several members of her train, Clarity of intention doesn’t solve every problem, however. For example, if an audience isn’t responding, it could be because of the language. As beautiful as Shakespeare’s language is, sometimes the meaning of some lines is lost on a modern audience. That’s not an insurmountable obstacle; you just have to face up to it. For example, Bottom’s song in iii.2 describes the cuckoo, "whose note full many a man doth mark / and dares not answer ‘Nay’" (iii.2.190). No man can be totally sure that he’s never been made a cuckold, as Bottom says; "Who would give the bird the lie, though he cry ‘Cuckoo’ never so?" (iii.2.191-2). Not surprisingly, audiences often don’t understand the meaning of these lines, so I use that fact to encourage them to stay with what’s happening on stage: I address the last line to one of the groundlings, who usually looks at me as if to say "I don’t know what you’re talking about" and we both shrug at one another, causing the rest of the audience to laugh. The fact that neither of us really understands those lines maintains the bond between actors and audience in the face of potential confusion over what those lines actually mean.

Performing the Play-within-a-Play

One of the reasons that the audience is such a strong shaping force in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is because the comedy encourages an audience to interact more readily with the actors than they would with, say, a tragedy, as their reaction to the play, (hopefully, their laughter), is more spontaneous. Another reason for the audience’s strong influence is the organic nature of this production. There is no blocking; each actor is reliant on their character’s intention to guide them as to when and where on stage they will move. The mechanicals’ play in V.1 was never ‘directed’ by Mike [Alfreds, Master of Play]. Instead, he sent us (the actors playing the mechanicals) away to rehearse our play in character [see Rehearsal Notes 2]. Every night, our ‘play’ is different, and occasionally even topical; Paul Trussell [Peter Quince] brought on a set of red and yellow cards one afternoon when England were playing in the World Cup. However, it’s important not to play every scene with the aim of making the audience laugh. I play the death of Pyramus as seriously as possible, and so far, audiences have treated it quasi-seriously and are very sympathetic towards Aled [Pugh, Flute] when he comes on as Thisbe to find me ‘dead’. When an audience is involved like that, living purely in the moment, it’s their interaction that completes the performance.

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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