There’s something awfully comforting about seeing this quilt on the hotel room bed. Even better: being tucked under it at night. Duvet, schmuvet….I like my quilt.
My word, it was cold yesterday! Windy, cold, and more like the beginning of March than the end of April. Since I brought only a jean jacket with me – no hat, no gloves – to say I was uncomfortable is putting it mildly. This is the strangest spring I can remember. Today, however, promises to be warmer and I’m counting on that. I want spring, thank you very much.
After writing yesterday’s post and spending 4 hours at rehearsal, I called Don on a break. He informed me that I had a typo in the post: I had typed Sunday instead of sunny. Oy. I find it amazing that I can type a post, proofread it more than once, and still miss an error. Alas, I couldn’t fix it until I got back to the hotel. Those pesky typos drive me crazy, slightly reformed perfectionist that I am.
We finished our table work yesterday and now we move on to a schedule that has me in and out of rehearsal throughout the day. The other day, I mentioned the one-on-one work I do with actors. I started those sessions on Sunday and will be doing more today. What is one-on-one work? Well, it can be several things. Right now, it’s a chance for me to meet with individual actors, get to know them a bit, and to go through their lines together. I point out pronunciations and words that need to be stressed within the framework of iambic pentameter. What is iambic pentameter? It’s the meter in which Shakespeare (and others) wrote. It measures the number of syllables in a line of text which fall into a natural rhythm. An iamb is two syllables or beats, consisting of an unstressed syllable and a stressed syllable. Pentameter refers to the fact that there are 5 iambs in a line or ten beats.
Example: “If music be the food of love play on.” (The first line in the play, spoken by Orsino.)
Using iambic pentameter as our guide, and starting with an unstressed syllable, we get:
If MUsic BE the FOOD of LOVE play ON. (da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM.)
Shakespeare was brilliant. By using iambic pentameter, he gave all the clues an actor needs to find the meaning in a line of text and the way it should be expressed. It’s also been said that an iamb mimics our own heartbeat. There is a natural quality to speaking this way. Though to a newcomer it might seem constricting, actually it’s freeing once you get it. The challenge for the actor is to take this structure, this meter, and speak it in a way that isn’t sing-songy, but is heightened and natural at the same time.
In the poetic sections of text (Shakespeare also wrote in prose) there are usually 10 beats to a line. Sometimes, there are 11. Occasionally, 12. Sometimes the normal rhythm of an iamb is changed to a trochee where the stress is on the first syllable and the second syllable is unstressed. Or a spondee: two stressed syllables in a row, followed by two unstressed syllables. Iambic pentameter is by far the most prevalent metrical stress used in Shakespeare and when it varies it always gives a clue as to what is happening in the scene and what heightened emotions or changes the character is going through.
This all sounds highly technical, but once an actor learns the art of scansion, which is going through each line of the text and marking the stresses, he has the framework in place to begin his interpretation of the character he is playing.
I spend time with the actor on just that in the first individual sessions. And if there is a line of text that doesn’t easily fall into 10 syllables, 5 beats, we work at it like detectives and try to figure out just what Shakespeare wanted in that line. I also point out words that need to be heightened in the way they are uttered because our contemporary way of speaking words can creep in and that’s a no no. This is elevated text.
That, in a nutshell, is what we do in our first session together. As we move further into the rehearsal process, we tackle the voice, breath, how to handle long, complicated thoughts on one breath, speaking clearly and fully. If I or the director notice something that needs to be addressed, I schedule a session with the actor. But there will be more on that later.
While I’m working individually, the director is beginning the process of blocking the play. Blocking = the positions and movements of the characters in a scene. Every director does this differently. Some chart it in detail before the rehearsal, others have a general idea of what they want and make decisions during the rehearsal itself. Many rely on the actors’ instincts, as well. It can be a very collaborative process. In this particular production, the set is a complicated labyrinth of boxwood hedges, as in a formal garden. The actors will be in and out of the maze, appearing, disappearing, and even walking on top of the hedges. So the blocking is even more complicated than normal. But Darko, the director, is brilliant at that sort of thing. He loves the challenge and his background is in movement, so he sees things as a sort of dance. This is going to be an amazing visual treat.
Whew! I hope this wasn’t too much information. It’s a challenge to put into words a process I know like the back of my hand.
Oh, I forgot to include one other little creature who travels with me:
Little lamb. When I finish Maggie Rabbit, there will be four of us here: Wayfrum, Little Lamb, Maggie Rabbit and me. But I can’t finish Maggie Rabbit because I forgot to bring some Polyfil with me! Dang it. Very frustrating, indeed.