Shakespeare's Globe

RSS Rehearsal Notes 3

This is Joseph's third blog post. This week he discusses learning lines, how his character has developed and his personal highlights from the rehearsal period.

Transcript of Podcast

Learning Lines

Learning lines is a very strange process because you learn your lines and your cues but you never quite learn other characters’ speeches and the stuff that comes before. In the course of it you discover parts of the conversation you didn’t even know had been written, so it's an interesting time. For me especially, I’m a very slow worker so it's challenging.

Some people have tricks to learn their lines like taping it and then listening to the tape. I am a simple man, I learn it line by line, laboriously, methodically and by rote. I put a piece of paper over the speech and the cue before then I learn the lines. I say it about a thousand times then when I’ve got it I go on to the next line and I forget the one I’ve learnt! But that's how I do it, line by line, slowly. I know all my lines but I don’t quite know in what order they come or what prompts me to say what it is that I say, but I know them!

There are some people who have photographic memories who can learn stuff just by looking at it, but drama is a conversation. So the problem is you not only have to learn your line but you have to learn the whole scene, everything that goes in that moment. It's like geography: it's about being in the right place to say the right thing, it's about hearing certain things that are a spring board to another idea. So you may have your lines, but what comes before is as important as saying the speech beautifully.

Rehearsing without scripts

It's a very dangerous time because you start acting and acting's a dangerous thing because you are acting without context. The character isn’t formed, you’re taking leaps. It's also fun because you begin to discover things but it's like your security blanket - the script - is taken away. If you sat through ten minutes of rehearsal at the moment, the choice of swear words is just wonderful; perhaps the actors’ most creative time!

The DSM (deputy stage manager) is on the book [they have a copy of the script to prompt actors who forget their lines] and of course the director knows the play backwards and he has the script with him so he reminds you that it's ‘which’ and not ‘that’, those little things. It's like taking your first steps on a high wire, you think ‘I’m going to fall, I don’t have my pole’ but you don’t fall and if you do people help you. Then we’ll begin pulling it together and trying to marry our ideas of character and what Shakespeare wants.

Highlight of rehearsals

For me, it's the point where I don’t care what anybody thinks! If I can’t remember a line or I make a mistake, it's all right. A problem with rehearsals is that you’re acting for your peers and you worry about yourself in front of them, but actually it doesn’t matter. It takes a lot of time to get there, sometimes you don’t reach that point until just before the first preview. You have stop worrying about what people think and concentrate and try and build the thing that you’re building. Once you can give that up you come on leaps and bounds. I think I’m just about at that point.

Of course, most importantly, one of the highlights is the encouragement the actors get from Mr Dromgoole (director) that you are moving in the right direction or you are not moving in the right direction and he has been very encouraging. He's a great audience because he does follow what you’re trying to do and he does encourage and that's been one of the great achievements.

In my case, the work we’ve done on movement has also been useful because of my gammy knee and my needing a certain amount of weight for the character of Cominius. Movement is also an acting quirk. All the character's I’ve played make a certain sound when they walk through the air, they make a certain sound on the ground, whether they walk on their heels or their toes, the shoes that they wear are important. I find that if I can get the characters posture and how he holds himself, how he sees the world. He may be the shortest man in the world but does he look down upon the world?

We work with the Head of Movement at least once a week. Last week we got her three times but as things get more chaotic and intense, these moments will have to be snatched. These are also very subtle times because you can’t ask them to tell you how to do your role but you can get them to explain the empirical connotation of what you say. They kind of explain it and give you insights to what you are saying but they don’t give you line readings and that kind of stuff!

Character development

I’ve forgotten what my initial impressions of Cominius were now! It's terrible; I wish I could get them back. Those have gone and I have other things I need to concentrate on. It's terrible really because you force yourself to remember your initial impression but you should just forget it and it will come back. I am confident enough that I am consolidating and building on what I had before. It's no longer in the forefront of my mind, I don’t think about it, I’m sure it's been personalised by now.


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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