This is Mark's first blog post. This week he discusses how he became an actor, his first impressions of The Merchant of Venice and how he feels about performing at the Globe.
Transcript of Podcast
Becoming An Actor
I have always wanted to be an actor. When I was young I was in a youth theatre and I spent the whole time in school wanting to be an actor. After school I went to the University of Birmingham. I spent the entire time doing plays and acting. I went to drama school after that and did three training years at Webber Douglas.
I left drama school seven years ago now. When I left I thought I would be doing lots of Shakespeare as my training was very much a ‘classical training’ That didn’t really happen! I did a lot of TV, playing dodgy scousers, as I am from Liverpool so I can do the accent. I was in Mersey Beat, Judge John Deed and In Deep.
I’ve done a lot of new plays, which is really liberating. Doing a play that no one has seen before means that there are no preconceptions of it. You tend not to get criticised by the critics, because they don’t really know what you are supposed to be doing. If you have a limp and a silly voice then they think that’s what the character’s supposed to be like.
It is very different when you do Shakespeare. People may have seen the play a few times already. The audience are thinking about what you are doing with this particular production. They may have a strong idea of your character.
I have only done one other professional Shakespeare production before, The Comedy of Errors at the Bristol Old Vic. I was one of the Dromios. I find Shakespeare quite difficult. It is so different from modern plays. It is easy to feel that the language controls you, rather than you controlling it; so the process of rehearsal is different.
You have all these ideas about your character and your role within the play, but then you find that you have got so few lines, or in terms of the amount of ideas that you have got your lines are so much fewer, and you think: ‘I don’t know if I crammed all that I thought of, about the character, in!’
Before I went to drama school I thought that how good your part was depended on how many lines you had. I soon learnt that your time on stage was the measure of how good your part was. You may not be speaking but if you are on stage you are telling a story and you are interacting. I was taught that acting was about listening and responding. You can listen and respond without any lines. For example, I was in The Entertainer by John Osbourne, and my character didn’t have lots of lines, but was on stage for long periods and you think: ‘yeah this is amazing!’ Having all those reactions and feeling and responding to what’s going on, it doesn’t matter if you are speaking.
Not having done loads of Shakespeare I feel you can slightly lose that when performing in his plays. The person who is speaking is very important. Maybe it is because there are longer speeches, but you feel like if you do too much when you are not speaking then you risk Shakespearean overacting.
The Merchant of Venice
I am familiar with The Merchant of Venice because I played Lorenzo at Drama School. It wasn’t a part I got on with very well. I felt like Lorenzo was a romantic part and I wasn’t entirely sure what he was trying to achieve. I found it difficult. I like to see if there are any darker parts of a character or contradictions in a character to explore. When you are first thinking about playing a character you worry about consistency, over two or three or how ever many scenes. You want the audience to believe that you are the same person you were in the first scene. Once you realise that the audience want to believe in you, you realise it is actually much more interesting to show a different side of the character, when they loose their temper or when they are under dramatic circumstances (which of course is the whole point of a play.) I didn’t find those things in Lorenzo, but I did see them in Gratiano. He is so dark in the trial scene, when he is shouting at Shylock, he goes on and on and on, even when it has all been resolved. Everyone’s forgiving Shylock and saying: ‘oh we won’t kill you, we will let you off’ and he’s still going: ‘oh well I would have killed you and I would send you to the gallows!’ It is that kind of thing, that added to being a cheeky chappy, that makes you think: ‘yeah that’s the sort of part I want to be doing, because that contrast and that journey is really exciting.’
The First Week of Rehearsals
We have mainly been sitting round a table going through the text, and paraphrasing it line by line. With Shakespeare, you think you know what you are saying, but when you try and say it in modern English, you think: no, well hang on, this idea’s a bit more complicated than I thought! It is useful because sometimes in trying to explain what is in the script you realise that Shakespeare has written it so well, with so few words. It is also useful to get a sense of how to say lines. For example I have lines where I simple say: ‘Senior Antonio’. The whole line is just greeting him. You might think there is nothing in that, but then you find that actually, in the situation, what you are actually doing is: ‘alright mate’ or a ‘horray’ greeting. It reveals a character trait. It also tells me something about how I feel about Antonio.
Performing at the Globe
I think I feel excited and scared. We have had a little tour of the stage and that was very exciting. If you are going to do Shakespeare then where else do you want to be doing it? If I am good and it is going well then it will be amazing! Conversely, it could be terrifying. The fact that the audience aren’t in the dark, sitting quietly and behaving themselves, will be a new experience. In some theatres the audience can be quite far away, and you feel that your world of the stage is safe, and you are sort of cocooned away from the audience. To have them right there, and to be able to see them and really have an idea of how much they are enjoying themselves. You will be able to tell if they are bored!
I am a little bit concerned about my vocal style, but we are having voice work sessions. I am worried about getting the volume right, but there are also seventy five performances so keeping my voice throughout the run is a concern. I am also in the Jack Shepherd play Holding Fire!, so there will certainly be a show everyday and sometimes two, and so it will be quite a vocal strain. Sometimes I have a tendency to shout and not use my voice in the best way, so that will be an issue. But I am seeing the vocal coach so hopefully it should be ok.
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.