Wednesday, January 18, 2012

“I would have it suddenly performed”

Wednesday: With the dress rehearsal looming this evening, the rehearsal process is practically over for Richard III, and these two weeks have gone by quickly (I’m sure even more so for the actors who are actually in the play). The production is like a giant jigsaw puzzle with many pieces worked on independently that somehow must fit together on opening night. Throughout the entire rehearsal process, the actors have adhered to a similar formula for each scene. First, they did a read through of the scene to make sure everyone understood what is happening and where people are needed. Often, actors only become aware of what their characters are doing through their fellow actors’ lines, particularly when working with cue scripts. For example, in the wooing scene, Richard orders the guards, “stand thou when I command,” indicating to the audience that they have disregarded his earlier order. As this unfolded in the read-through on stage, it became clear that the actors must determine their blocking accordingly; otherwise Richard’s second line would not make sense. The actors are required to be “off-book” by the first day of rehearsal, having already completed their scansion and paraphrasing by the time the process begins, but it is still helpful for them to hear the scene in its entirety so they can make collective decisions about how it should be performed.

After they did a read-through, the company began working each scene “on its feet,” moving around the stage and deciding which configurations are best to tell the story of that particular scene. I noticed that the actors often favored a triangular arrangement on the stage, which some of the actors have told me is most powerful. They were always concerned about the location of exits and entrances, as this is typically the only way of distinguishing between various locales on a sparse stage. While they openly discussed their ideas about blocking, crossing and even plot at times, the actors never gave one another notes on acting style, as it seems to be understood between the company members that they trust each other’s work.

For the past two weeks, the company worked on the scenes somewhat chronologically because it helped the actors understand what the characters have been through emotionally and physically up unto that point in the play. For example, the company worked on Margaret’s cursing scene (1.3) before her scene teaching the Duchess and Elizabeth how to curse (4.4), so the actors were aware of the significance of this scene for each of the characters, and the transformation they go through between them.

In addition to rehearsing scenes, the company traded duties on other elements of production throughout the rehearsal process. Allison Glenzer worked on creating props; Jeremy West choreographed the fight sequences; and numerous company members arranged musical sequences for the pre-show and interlude. In fact, that all of these activities occurred simultaneously means that the dress rehearsal will be the first time that all of the elements have come together for the production. The company did a run-through of the text and sound cues on Tuesday, but most of the props, music and costumes were yet missing from the play at this point. Some of the actors have rehearsed particular scenes in costume to ensure there is enough time for a change. Aidan O’Reilly, for example, needed to change from Ratcliffe to the ghost of Clarence in the nightmare scenes (5.3-5), so he wore his characters’ apparel during the run-through to make sure this quick change was feasible with the costumes he had chosen. Yet, the day before the dress rehearsal, some actors have yet to choose their costumes because they were working on other elements of the production. It is fascinating how little this matters, actually, because the production does not necessarily highlight the material elements of performance, instead focusing on telling the story of the play.

It is also interesting how the play is constantly evolving both in textual choices and movement. Even during the run-through, Allison Glenzer changed one of her lines from the Folio to Quarto text based on what she was trying to evoke as Elizabeth in that scene. While Kim Maurice (the prompter) took notes of all of these changes, they often take place so rapidly that there is not time for the company to discuss them. It is obvious that productions of these plays by Shakespeare’s company, working under similar time constraints, would have evolved over the weeks, months, and years of performance based on a number of factors: actors’ choices, audience reactions, or practical concerns. Many conditions of performance dictated the text, rather than the other way around. Modern readers are frequently unaware of the fact that the text of any given Shakespearean play in front of us today has gone through a number of mutations throughout history, and therefore, that there is no one “authoritative” text. This is something that I have often heard before, but which becomes completely apparent while watching the rehearsal process for the Renaissance Season, where pragmatism often outweighs other concerns.

--Amy Kenny

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