Thursday, February 13, 2014
While shopping in a local book shop earlier this week, I came across a small volume of Shakespeare, printed in 1901, that contains Titus Andronicus, Pericles and Much Ado About Nothing. How could I pass this up? In complete honesty, I only saw Titus and Much Ado printed on the spine. My wife, with her superior eyesight pointed out the inclusion of Pericles, which only added to my curiosity.
Why include these plays together? There is no underlying theme announced in a forward or editor’s notes. In fact, the blurbs introducing each play seem to be taken from different sources. All in all, this combination of works leads me examine the breadth and variation of Shakespeare’s works. I can think of no other juxtaposition that would better illustrate all the worlds that occupied Shakespeare’s head and his stage.
At the same time, I was reading The Quality of Mercy by Peter Brook who ponders in several short essays different aspects of Shakespeare’s works and his own (Brook’s) productions. There was absolutely nothing scholarly about this collection of thoughts, but its power to inspire different ways of approaching Shakespeare is unmistakable.
My thoughts continually go our unrehearsed practice, and what it adds to the thoughts of this master theatre-maker and how it can illuminate such diverse worlds as Titus’ bloody, ritual Rome and the soft, warm air that permeate Benedick and Beatrice’s romance. That is what our work does: it adds and illuminates. It should never detract or distract. Of course that is the aim of any method or system of acting: to disappear. One of the worst things an actor can do is get caught acting.
These experiences are only connected by time, really. A germ of something has been planted, but what the flower will be, I do not know. Something awakened by this 1901 collection, stimulated by Peter Brook’s words, fed by our technique and seasoned by the music of Morphine is dividing and growing somewhere in the ether around me.
I write this to dispel any thoughts or criticism that what we do is driven by the technique. Although we do seek to use it and teach it and spread it, we do so because it serves the craft. It is not the only ingredient we use, but it is the main spice that informs the flavor of what we do.
Let us know who and what inspires you.
Monday, February 10, 2014
With Shakespeare, we focus on the words. That is all we have, and as actors, our words are our character. But what sometimes gets my attention are the things that characters do not say, or at least what is not written down. The words that Shakespeare chooses are just as important as the words he does not. My favorite example comes from Macbeth. When Lady Macbeth enters, she is reading a letter from her husband telling her of his news and the prophesy of the three witches. When she finishes the letter, her first words are:
Glamys thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be
What thou art promis’d:
Lady Macbeth’s first, personal words in the play make a short line, only 9 beats, denoting an unfinished thought, or some action. In this case, the thought is finished in the next line, but why this pause? There is a one-syllable word that will fill this line and finish this thought: king. That would give Lady Macbeth’s first thought a simple full line of pentameter:
Glamys thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be king.
Instead, Shakespeare gives her a pause, and substitutes for what could be a simple, one-syllable word, four words that take half a line of pentameter. What does it say about the character? She cannot even say the word king. Why?
Another example, also from Macbeth is much more conjecture on my part. The Porter, as he stumbles to open the door for MacDuff and Lenox before they discover the death of the king, likens his job to manning the door to hell. He asks who is at the door, guessing who it may be and why they are in hell. My theory is that these comments are not directed to unseen characters off stage, but to the audience. Rather than ending the list, the litany can go on and on in a back-and-forth between the Porter and the audience for as long as it is funny and can find different professions to mock while MacDuff and Lennox continue knocking at the door. ‘What are you? Oh, a teacher? This is why you’re going to hell. And you?’ Knock, knock, knock. ‘A writer? See you soon.’ Knock, knock, knock. ‘How about you? An architect? Ha!’ Knock, knock, knock. ‘I’m coming! I’m coming!’
Why isn’t it written down? My theory is that Shakespeare knew his clowns and their ability to get on with the audience. While there was a good mix of people in the audience, there was no guarantee of who would be there watching. Let the actors work the crowd. The more humor that can be gotten here and the better rapport that can be generated between the Porter and the audience, the funnier the next bit becomes with litany of affects of alcohol. It also gives the audience a bigger relief of tension between the murder and its discovery. While there is not necessarily textual evidence for this, the familiarity that Shakespeare had with his company would allow for the possibility of this type of freedom in performance.
When examining the texts as closely as one must when employing original practices, as much importance must be placed on the spaces and pauses between the words as on the words themselves. Even these can be used to find significant clues to characters.
Have you encountered this before, finding that the pauses or avoidance of certain words in a line is a signal about a character? Has anyone else found a place where it may appear that Shakespeare left something open for his actors to riff on or extemporize? Leave a comment and share your thoughts and experiences.