Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 1

This is John's first blog post. This week he discusses his previous experience of performing at the Globe, and the work the company does to prepare their characters.

Transcript of Podcast

Performing at the Globe

This is my second season at the Globe; I played Iachimo, Belarus and various other characters in Cymbeline last summer. This is what I like to do as an actor – find a theatre I like and stay there for a while! We have just got back from performing Cymbeline at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York, which was very interesting as we were taking a piece of work designed for the Globe and doing it in a conventional theatre. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy working in other theatres; over Christmas I did a show called The Wonder of Sex at the Lyttleton Theatre (part of the National Theatre) with The National Theatre of Brent (a comedy double act I do with my friend Patrick Barlow). Still, the experience of doing Cymbeline somewhere else made me appreciate how distinctive the Globe space is!

I’m far less anxious about working in the space than I was at the same time last year. I see some of the other actors looking very nervous when we’re working in the theatre, but I know the audience are generally friendly here, and as a result it’s a nice place to work.

An interesting thing for me this season is that in Cymbeline, my characters predominantly spoke in verse, whereas Bottom (except when he’s ‘acting’) speaks entirely in prose. That’s something I’m really looking forward to exploring with Giles [Block, Master of the Words] – Shakespearean prose.


This is the third production that I’ve done with Mike [Alfreds, Master of Play], and I’m learning all the time. He won’t let us rush in too early; it would be pointless to arrive on day one with a fully-fledged character. Instead, we start simply with what we know from the play. Each of us had to prepare three lists before rehearsals started to help us understand what information about characters is actually contained in the play. One list contained what our character says about themselves, another what they say about others, and the third list contained what other characters said about them. This helps us to create very clear, specific foundations for the characters.

We then move to the characters’ "objectives" or "intentions". Mike is very keen that we don’t act our characters "emotions" – it is often impossible to mirror your character’s state of mind, for example, to be intensely tired and unhappy after a weekend off! Instead, he encourages us to find our character’s intention in each scene. One way of doing this is to play the scene with the script, then to put the books down and do the scene without them. We haven’t learned the lines yet, so for this second run, you do it in contemporary speech, making up the lines as you go. The point is to remember from the first reading what was important to your character, then use this to shape your approach the second time round. If at the end of the exercise you can state, "This is what I want in the scene", you are closer to understanding both the scene and your character.

Another exercise we did is to masterclass our characters with everybody else in the company using those same three lists. We take it in turn to read our lists to the company, who then have a go at acting your character while you watch. It is very helpful to see what they perceive your character to be like, as it might show you a new perspective, or give you some ideas and clues as to how you might begin to develop your character. We’ve only just started rehearsals, and I always worry about my character at this stage. Sometimes I think "It’s fine, now I can build my character on a clear foundation," but other times I’m thinking, "Help! I have nothing and we’re up in 6 weeks!" We’ll see how it goes.

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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