Friday, March 28, 2014

A Text Session Part 2

Welcome back!  As we move along with this scene, I will not include the massive blocks of definitions for variant spellings, capitalized or unfamiliar words.  Just remember that those words require special attention.  For the sake of these blog entrees, I will make some choices, but these are by no means the only choices to be made.

So let’s get back to work.  Moving along to the next block of text:

…………………………………………………….your Honestie?
I trulie:  for the power of Beautie, will sooner
transforme Honestie from what it is, to a Bawd, then the
force of Honestie can translate Beautie into his likenesse.
This was sometime a Paradox, but now the time gives it
proofe.  I did love you once.

Hamlet’s cue repeats his word ‘Honesty’ that he used earlier – don’t worry that it’s capitalized in the cue, that’s not his line, but it is significant that ‘Honesty” is being repeated.  The word is obviously an important one, and it should be used, maybe as a weapon, maybe as something being bonded over, but attention must be paid. 

‘I trulie.’  ‘I’ could be the first person singular pronoun, meaning ‘Truly me.’  It could be an abbreviation for ‘ay’ meaning ‘yes,’ or ‘aye’ meaning ‘forever.’  Pick one, the play does not hinge on these two words.  Throughout this block, Honesty and Beauty are repeated, always capitalized.  Pay attention.  ‘Bawd,’ a false woman, is set in opposition to ‘Honesty.’  It is a difference that can be physicalized, so physicalize it.  ‘Paradox,’ is another capitalized word, and is set against ‘proofe.’ 

‘I did love you once,’ uses ‘you,’ and being impersonal, gives the line blocking that backs up the meaning of the line.

The following block of text does not contain any capitalized words, but there is some tricky stuff.  Again, Hamlet is repeating a word in his cue.  (Repeated words do not always appear in the cue line, so always pay attention.)  ‘Innoculate’ and ‘relish’ are words that we don’t use very often, so be familiar with their meanings.  ‘Vertue’ is spelled differently than we are used to.  ‘I loved you not.’  Here is a change, since Hamlet is contradicting what he last said.  Play the change.

Now we get to the meat of this section.  ‘Get thee to a Nunnerie.’ 

First of all, this is such a famous line, beware the baggage.  In all performance it is important to come to it fresh as if it is the first time, but there is an added danger with classical theatre, especially Shakespeare.  So much of what he wrote has become catch phrases and buzzwords in today’s society, and that meaning creeps in no matter what we, as performers, do.  It is important to minimize that impact on your interpretation, and make the line yours. 

Hamlet’s biggest shift in the scene appears in this line.  ‘Get THEE to a Nunnerie.’  For the first time, he says ‘thee’ which means he is invading someone’s personal space.  Any time there is a shift in the mode of address, this signals something is changing in the character and the actor should play this change.  Physicalize it and make it as big as possible.  Maybe Hamlet is speaking to someone new on the scene.  Maybe not.  How this shift is made is up to the actor in the moment, because until the moment of performance, he is unaware of the situation. 

In this block of text ‘Nunerie,’ Sinners,’ ‘Mother,’ ‘Ambitious,’ ‘Fellowes,’ ‘Heaven,’ ‘Earth,’ ‘Knaves,’ ‘Nunnery’ and ‘Father’ are all capitalized.  These words are important to the sense of the speech and should be given weight in their delivery and physicality.  Hamlet has a list of attributes: ‘prowd (notice the spelling), revengefull, Ambitious,’ all which should be physicailzed.  There is also a bit of stage direction for himself: ‘…with more offences at my becke, then I have thoughts to put them in imagination, to givethem shape, or time to acte them in.’ What are these offences? That’s the actor’s choice, but it is evident that there is some attempt to show us what they are.

In that last line, notice the placement of the comma in the list after ‘imagination’ and not before.  Logically, it should be set up so that the thoughts run:
            thoughts to put them in,
            imagination to give them shape,
            or time to acte them in.

Instead, it runs:
            thoughts to put them in imagination,
            to give them shape,
            or time to acte them in.

Could this be a mis-print? Possibly.  But play the comma, the inflection that it invokes on ‘imagination’ and see what happens.  Hamlet doesn’t sound logical.  Something, literally, will not sound right if the punctuation is followed.  Follow it.

Also of note is that the word ‘nunnery’ appears twice in this block, and is spelled differently both times.  Why?  Was there some typographical confusion in these 10 lines at the printing house?  Did they need to conserve I’s and E’s at these points on the page?  Maybe.  Or it’s a clue.  Treat it as a clue and see what turns up. Nunnery becomes a very important word, and should be looked up.

Also note that Hamlet uses ‘we’ and plurals of  ‘Fellowes’ and ‘Knaves.’ ‘Beleeve none of us.’  Even if there is an army on stage, this is a wonderful time to include the audience.  Include the audience in the performance.

We will leave it here for today, and pick up with the rest next time.  I hope that it is becoming apparent just how much is in the text – not for the scholars, although they, too, have an embarrassment of riches – but for the actors performing the role in the way of stage directions and clues to the characters.

-Andy Kirtland

Works Cited
Shakespeare, William, Neil Freeman, and Paul Sugarman. The Applause First Folio of Shakespeare in Modern Type. New York: Applause, 2001. Print.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Text Session Part 1

We talk a lot about text sessions as an integral part of the way we work, but what exactly do we mean by that, and what does it entail?  Well, to give you a taste, below you will find a section of Hamlet Act 1, scene 3: the famous ‘get thee to a nunnery’ scene.  We will go point through point how one of these sessions runs.  Enjoy!

…………………………………………………….many a day?
I humbly thanke you: well, well, well.

…………………………………………………….receive them.
No, no, I never gave you ought.

…………………………………………………….There my Lord.
Ha, ha: Are you honest?

…………………………………………………….My Lord.
Are you faire?

…………………………………………………….your Lordship?
That if you be honest and faire, your Honesty
should admit no discourse to your Beauty.

…………………………………………………….your Honestie?
I trulie:  for the power of Beautie, will sooner
transforme Honestie from what it is, to a Bawd, then the
force of Honestie can translate Beautie into his likenesse.
This was sometime a Paradox, but now the time gives it
proofe.  I did love you once.

…………………………………………………….beleeve so.
You should not have believed me.  For vertue
cannot so innocculate our old stocke, but we shall relish
of it.  I loved you not.

…………………………………………………….more deceived.
Get thee to a Nunnerie.  Why would’st thou
be a breeder of Sinners?  I am my selfe indifferent honest,
but yet I could accuse me of such things, that it were bet-
ter my Mother had not borne me.  I am very prowd, re-
vengefull, Ambitious, with more offences at my becke,
then I have thoughts to put them in imagination, to give
them shape, or time to acte them in.  What should such
Fellowes as I do, crawling between Heaven and Earth.
We are arrant Knaves all, beleeve none of us.  Goe thy
wayes to a Nunnery.  Where’s your Father?

…………………………………………………….At home, my Lord.
Let the doores be shut upon him, that he may
play the Foole no way, but in’s owne house.  Farewell.

…………………………………………………….sweet Heavens.
If thou doest Marry, Ile give thee this Plague
for thy Dowrie.  Be thou as chast as Ice, as pure as Snow,
thou shalt not escape Calumny.  Get thee to a Nunnery.
Go, Farewell.  Or if thou wilt needs Marry, marry a fool:
for Wise men know well enough, what monsters you
make of them.  To a Nunnery go, and quickly too.  Far-

…………………………………………………….restore him.
I have heard of your pratlings too wel enough.
God has given you one pace, and you make your selfe an-
other: you gidge, you amble, and you lispe, and nickname
Gods creatures, and make your Wantonnesse, your Ig-
norance.  Go too, Ile no more on’t, it hath made me mad.
I say, we will have no more Marriages.  Those that are
married already, all but one shall live, the rest shall keep
as they are. To a Nunnery, go.


The first thing that we notice is that all of Hamlet’s lines are written in prose.  In Hamlet’s cue script, this follows ‘To be or not to be,’ which is written in verse.  That means between the end of that block of speech and this section, there is a major playable (actable) shift in the character. 

How do we know that the first lines are in prose?  They are all short lines that do not complete their cues.  That means that if this is meant to be verse, there is a lot of pausing here – and there very well may be.  The question then arises: what effect does that have?  A good rule of thumb when it comes to pauses is: when in doubt, leave it out.  An audience can follow dialogue that keeps moving, and important information in Shakespeare is often repeated, so should they miss it here, it will come up again.  What an audience will not forgive is lots… of… unnecessary… pausing.  Usually if there is to be a pause between the lines, Shakespeare makes it pretty obvious.  In these lines in particular, the punctuation offers opportunity for pauses and action within the lines on ‘;’s and ‘Ha.’  The determining factor on whether the actor should pause in the words is whether or not the actor can find a way to play the pause. 

The first four lines are pretty straight forward, no variant spellings, capitalization or archaic words.  We encourage every actor to look up any word, familiar or unfamiliar that is capitalized or spelled in an odd way.  Don’t use an American dictionary.  There are many dictionaries available that offer good, playable alternate definitions for words we think we know.  The fact that the text calls attention to these words demands special attention.  However, sometimes a variant spelling is just a variant spelling and is not accorded any special treatment.

Hamlet’s second cue to speak is a stage direction: ‘…receive them.’  Someone is trying to give someone something.  This line may be spoken to another character on stage.  What that something is, and who is supposed to receive them, will be made evident in the lines of the other character(s).  However, Hamlet has his own direction in his following line: ‘No, no, I never gave you ought.’  Obviously the something is supposed to be delivered to Hamlet who rejects whatever is being offered, and he uses the pronoun ‘you,’ which means he is not invading the personal space of whoever gave him this cue.  He is not taking the prop.

Also, in the first four lines, Hamlet is addressed as ‘My Lord,’ and ‘Lord.’  These are clues as to the relationship between the speakers.  In all honesty, this is a famous scene, and we know that Hamlet is speaking to Ophelia.  They are not treating each other as one expects lovers to.  She is calling him ‘Lord.’  He uses the impersonal ‘you.’  By playing these clues, which are giving the actors the relationship to play, the actors are relieved of having to come up with one. 

The fifth line is obviously in prose, as it contains 2 lines, the second of which is not capitalized:

…………………………………………………….your Lordship?
That if you be honest and faire, your Honesty
should admit no discourse to your Beauty.

Hamlet is answering a question from someone who addresses him as ‘Lordship,’ so that is a clue as to the relationship with the person he is talking to.  He uses the pronoun ‘you’ which means that he crosses to whomever he is speaking with, but is keeping a respectable distance.  Honesty and Beauty are important words since they both appear at the end of the lines and are capitalized.  Yes, they appear at the end of lines of prose, but the typesetting could have placed them elsewhere.  The first lines could end with ‘should admit,’ there is enough space, but it does not.  Honesty and Beauty are important words to the sense of the line.  What do they mean?  ‘Faire’ is spelled differently than we are used to, so let’s look that word up as well.

faire (adj): beautiful, handsome (things and people); clear, fine, unspotted, pure; of white complexion; becoming, honorable, equitable; being as a thing ought to be; favorable, auspicious; kind, good, accomplished; good looking; pale; fine, pleasing, splendid, excellent; appropriate, courteous, pleasing; plausible, flattering, seductive; virtuous, honorable, upright; favorable, unobstructed, clear; legitimate, lawful, proper; healthy, sound, fit; unsoiled

Honesty (n): virtue, chastity; honor, integrity, uprightness; generosity, liberality, hospitality; decency, decorum, good manners; sexual honesty; love of truth, upright conduct; honorableness, just claim to be respected; decency, love of what is noble and becoming

Beauty (n): assemblage of graces to please the eye and mind; a beautiful person*

As is evident from the (over) abundance of definitions above, there are a few different ways the line can be spoken.  Which one is settled upon is up to the actor, but attention needs to be paid to what is actable, and that the sense of the line, if not the exact meaning, is clear to the audience.  They may not pick up on the exact meaning the actor chooses to play, but at least the intention, given by the line and played by the actor, will be.

At this point, we’ll take a break, and continue the session in another entree, but notice that these sessions look at the text – the words – and not the internal struggle, intentions or psychology of the character.  Everything that is needed to play Hamlet’s part is printed on the page.  The actor should listen and react to the lines from the other characters when he hears them.  There is no need to pretend that it is the first time, it very well may be the first time that these actors are having this conversation.  Stage directions are pointed out, important words are pointed out and different definitions given, but no solutions are settled upon by the person preparing the script or the director.  All the signs are highlighted for the actor, and the how’s are up to them.

- Andy Kirtland

*Works Cited

Crystal, David, and Ben Crystal. Shakespeare's Words: A Glossary and Language Companion. London: Penguin, 2002. Print.

Partridge, Eric. Shakespeare's Bawdy. London: Routledge, 1990. Print.

Schmidt, Alexander, and Gregor Sarrazin. Shakespeare Lexicon; a Complete Dictionary of All the English Words, Phrases and Constructions in the Works of the Poet. New York: B. Blom, 1968. Print.

Shakespeare, William, Neil Freeman, and Paul Sugarman. The Applause First Folio of Shakespeare in Modern Type. New York: Applause, 2001. Print.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

What Our Actors Can Expect

We get a lot of questions about rehearsal schedules when casting a show.  Being so familiar with this style of performance, sometimes we think that ‘unrehearsed’ is self-explanatory.  We remember the first time that we encountered this approach to Shakespeare, not knowing what to expect.  There are other methods that are huddled under the umbrella of original practices, so today we are taking the time to outline what our cast for The Comedie of Errors can look forward to.

After the play has been cast, the actors, prompter, director and stage manager all take part in a weekend workshop where the performers learn the technique.  We learned from Demitra Papadinis at the New England Shakespeare Festival where she had developed The Ten Commandments of Staging Unrehearsed Shakespeare.  We follow this outline as we walk everyone through the process.  The workshops start with everyone getting to know each other before we explain the why’s and wherefore’s of what we are doing.  This is when we begin putting everyone on the same page. 

Then we start going through scenes.  Actors are given sides resembling what they will see in performance containing only their lines, their cues, entrances, exits and important stage directions.  Any and every scene that Shakespeare wrote is up for grabs – except for scenes from the play we will perform.  The scenes are gone through several times with everyone commenting on what effect they felt (the actors and audience), what was missed, what was learned and how to include these findings in the performance.  We work through every commandment until everyone has a thorough understanding of everything that the actors will need to pay attention to when they are in front of an audience.  The workshop ends with us showing some video examples of good versus bad prompting, which allows everyone to see what they have learned in a practical manner.  At this time, they are given their cues and the materials and directions to make their scrolls.  They do not receive the entire script, nor at any time are they allowed to read the entire script, see a production or film of the play or read about it.  They are to come to the performance as fresh and void of baggage as possible.

The next step for our actors is the text sessions.  The number of these and their formats can vary between actor, but the easy explanation is that the actors sit down with the director for several hours to go over their lines word by word.  Every word, line, beat, pause and punctuation mark are gone over in detail: 

“Is this a short line?  Why?  Is it a pause or an action.” 
“This is a stage direction, so make sure that you are throwing it so that whoever you are talking to catches it.” 
“You enter this scene, and you exit without speaking: Make sure you’re listening for stage directions.” 
“This will be a fight, so you must be off-book for these lines.”
“You go from verse to prose.  There is a shift, make sure you play it.”

Notice there is no direction given in the sense that we are used to as actors.  The director does not necessarily give answers of what the stage business should be.  Those choices belong to the actor.  What the director does at this point is make the performers aware of places that they need to pay particular attention.  Sometimes only one text session is enough.  Sometimes more, but that is determined on a case by case basis.  During this part of the process, the actors do not meet together.  There is no group rehearsal at this point.  Everyone is looking to their own roles.

Except the prompter.  The prompter will have the entire script, and will meet with the director to go over the placement of any sound cues, where fights occur, where long pauses appear and ideas for covering disturbances such as passing trucks, airplanes, trains or biker rallies that my be rumbling by during the performance.

Depending on the amount of fights, quick changes dancing and music, there will be ‘fight rehearsals’ where all of this is gone over in detail with any and every actor that is on stage.  Since the actors are playing multiple tracks of different characters, everyone needs to know what is going on.  These are the only bits that are gone over before the performance to make sure that the choreography is done correctly and the fights are performed safely.  Before each performance, the cast members who are engaging in these bits that day will have a fight call.

After that, the cast shows up at the performance venue, listens to a curtain speech outlining everything for the audience, the prompter blows a whistle, and whoever has the first lines of the play steps on stage and starts talking.  Actors enter when they hear their cue, and execute the rules that they learned in the workshop using their scrolls in front of the audience.  This is the first time that the entire cast has been together since the workshop which can be as far as a couple of months behind them.

Scary, isn’t it?  The actor’s nightmare: walking out onto the stage without knowing the scene, who you’re talking to or what you are going to do.  At least here you aren’t naked, and you have your lines on your scroll.  No matter how long the first performances last, it is the fastest show an actor will ever do.  The adrenaline obliterates the clock and the attention that must be paid to your fellow actors completely absorbs you.  Frightening? Yes.  Exhilerating? Absolutely.  It’s a feeling you will never have any other way on stage, and it will cure you of any fear you may have about performing.

-Andy Kirtland