In her sixth blog post Penny discusses how running the play helps fix small problems and denoting the Prince's status onstage. She also looks ahead to the technical rehearsals.
Transcript of Podcast
We did our first run-through yesterday. Various people came to watch, including Mark [Rylance, Artistic Director] and Claire [Van Kampen, Master of Theatre Music]. I went into tense 'panic' mode a bit but I just about got through it… we made fewer mistakes than we might have done. I wasn’t listening or reacting to people very well in my panic, but that's okay because now I’ve learned what happens when I do get frightened, I’ll able to calm myself down and concentrate on listening a little more. I especially enjoyed feeling my way out of one scene and into the next, and also trying to remember when I need to take on props and things. For instance, I have to take the letter on in the first scene, I need a couple of money bags to give people in another scene, and there's a certain scene where I don’t have my hat – Balthazar brings it on. I’m just putting those very technical things in my head which is quite satisfying.
The other day I came into the theatre early, before the tours started, so that I could get down onto the stage by myself without being watched. I don’t mind going down there with somebody else, but I feel a bit silly down there on my own when the tours groups watching. I went through some of my big speeches and I thought about how I might be able to use the stage to play to different parts of the house. If you’re used to playing in a proscenium theatre, this thrust stage is very different, and you have to do everything to include all areas of the stage. I had forgotten how good the back corners of the stage are; they’re really good spots because everyone can see you. There are pillars blocking you, of course, which is why you have to keep moving up to a certain extent. It was a really useful morning actually – it was good just to feel my voice in the space. There were some people there doing things with props, so I was a bit self-conscious about delivering the lines, but I did it. I had planned on working with the lines, and I did try some things, but it's never the same working on your own because there's no one to whom you can listen and react. Working on your own is second best. At least the session gave me a picture in my head that I can use to prepare my other bits of speech.
Fixing the small bits
Another good thing about the run was that it pinpointed certain places that I feel I need to look at again. They’re little technical things, really. For example, there's a moment I have with the messenger right at the beginning [I.1]. I ask him how many people have died in the war, and he tells me that practically nobody died. I say ‘A victory is twice itself when the achiever brings home full numbers.’ [I.1.8-9]. Then I refer to something in the messenger's letter about Claudio, ‘I find here that Don Pedro hath bestowed much honour on a young Florentine...’ I had been finding that transition difficult. I think I scuppered myself by moving over to Antonio on the line, because we made the decision that I really like this uncle of Claudio's who lives in Messina. He's a very good friend of mine and Antonio’s. He doesn’t actually get mentioned again but there's a lovely little image of him crying at the good news in the letters the messenger has already delivered. Leonato asks the messenger whether this Uncle burst into tears, as though he always does that, as though we know he weeps at the drop of a hat. It's great to have this image of an old man that Antonio and I really like, but it meant I moved away over to Antonio at that point. The transition was very tricky. I think the answer to it today is to stay with the Messenger and refer to the letter, and then move over on the next bit. So I say to Antonio ‘I find here that Don Pedro…’ and then go over to him. That might seem like a tiny thing but it's all those small bits that make up the play in the end, isn’t it?
Building the scene
We’ll go through a scene and I will think ‘Oh, I need to look at that little bit.’ Tamara [Harvey, Master of Play] is there to field everybody's little wishes, and she has many of her own. She’ll have a clearer overall picture of what needs to happen, but I might mention to her that I’m not sure what to do with this bit or what to do with that bit, and she’ll help me with that. I do go back, and if something's not working, I’ll try and look at it in a completely different way. There's a scene with Antonio after the wedding scene when I come on and he says ‘You mustn’t go on like this, you’ll make yourself ill,’ and I say, ‘Don’t give me counsel’ – ‘Leave me alone,’ basically [V.1]. It's a long speech, and I’ve been coming on in a quite angry way – you know, ‘Don’t talk to me, don’t give me any council.’ That wasn’t quite working for me, so what I’m trying to do now is to come on in a much more depressed way: that gives the scene somewhere to go. It's quite a long speech, and it builds up as I stop being depressed and start being angry. Towards the end of that little bit, Antonio goes, ‘If you’re gonna be like that, be like that, but you should be taking it out on the people that caused this and not yourself.’ That's what stirs Leonato up, and then the Prince and Claudio come on, so I’m ready for them. What I’m trying to do is build up to that rather than starting up there and having nowhere to go. I’m not certain that's the level we’ll play it at, but hopefully things will become clearer soon.
It was wonderful to watch the other scenes during the run. That's one of the best bits, to see things you haven’t seen before. I think some of it is very funny; watching people being inventive and doing things together is great. That was a joy, and it actually helps take the pressure off you because you’re enjoying watching other people, so you don’t get quite so nervous. Yes, that was the best bit of the run-through for me.
The Prince: status
We’ve worked this morning on Don Pedro's status as Prince. We did a lot of work about making him the person to whom everybody bows – he doesn’t do bowing. I don’t know if it’ll stay like that, but it certainly worked very well this morning. You’re only important if people treat you as being important. If nobody's going to take any notice of you, you’re just not important. If you’re the Prince, the only way the audience know you’re the Prince – I mean, physically – is how other people treat you, so we did a bit of work on treating him in a very princely manner.
Onwards and uphill
From here we go steadily uphill! We will rehearse a bit more this afternoon, then we will rehearse tomorrow morning and do another run. I’m looking forward to that because you’ve got the confidence of having just got through it the last time, so maybe this time I’ll be able to play it a bit more and keep the thoughts going. On Sunday we’ll do another run, I suppose, and Tuesday we’ll start technical rehearsals. That will involve the clothing and scenery and all that sort of thing, and we’ll see the fountain for the first time! I went to look at the benches while they were being painted. They’re very clever – there's someone painting the benches to look like marble; it's wonderful. I’m so impressed.
The technical is the first time we’ll be put the whole play on the stage. It's the first time we get into all our costumes since the fittings and see everybody's hats and so on, and then we go onstage and start doing it. I’m sure we’ll rework a lot of our positioning because being on that stage is very different to walking around a floor plan. We’ll sort out exits and entrances, and music cues… we also need to do more work on the songs, but they are good fun. A bit high for me, but I expect I’ll manage.
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.