Let’s get physical!
Cues are funny to learn from. They’re funny because we always will learn our cue to speak, and then stitch our line on to that cue when we have the whole scene to work from. When all you see is your cue, the focus on the few words of your cue is extreme. As, occasionally, is the anxiety caused by the “not knowing”. One of the best feelings is when you get over that, and find freedom from the worry of what may or may not be going to be said to you. That’s happening to a lot of people at this stage in the work; it’s a great time! It’s deeply exciting how many cue and line-learning techniques the company are coming up with. Some are making up songs or dances or gestures, some are using cue cards, some are recording voice memos. What I’m finding funny this time is that learning my own cues is getting harder! I’m having to be very firm with myself, to deliberately get the cues in before each line. I think I’m having too much fun with the lines of the part itself. Good excuse, anyway.
WHAT LIES BENEATH
There are things that working just from a part can do which a full script never could do. You see stuff you would otherwise miss about characters. I know I’ve already talked about this in theory, but it’s turning up in spades in the work at the moment. We’ve got characters clearly role-playing within scenes, with changes of accent from the spellings, clear changes of sentence structure when switching between roles, potentially drunk in one scene and hungover in another with no mention of booze just very specific patterns in their speech. I’ve seen Two Gentlemen performed, I’ve read the whole play, and I never noticed any of this before. We’ve also got plenty of characters playing for viciously high stakes, and using very complex emotional and physical tools or tactics to get what they want. Time and again it’s life and death. Again, never noticed this in reading or watching the whole play. All from cues, who’d’ve though it?
(My Latin’s a bit ropy, I’m hoping that means ‘Enter Everyone’, apologies if it doesn’t.)
This week we enjoyed a real luxury: a company practice workshop in the Cockpit auditorium. No, we did nothing at all from Two Gentlemen, but we got our first chance to work in the performance space for December 13th.
As 21st Century actors, there are some practical things we need in order to perform well. As a company, we have never done our cue script work in this venue before; nor have we dealt much with multiple characters on stage, and multiple entrances and exits. I’m sure the Lord Admiral’s Men would take the whole thing in their stride. Yes, well, they had much more experience at this than we’ve had so far. So, here 21st Century acting needs and techniques superseded those of the Early Modern playhouse. It was also a chance to get almost the entire company together for the first and only time before the big day. Twenty-three is a lot of people! A lot of energy in the room, lots of stuff to work with, and a lot of fun We started with a good voice workout from Dewi. Good for the soul, good for the company, good fun, and useful to get into the company groove.
Then we set places for the company jig and ran it through. Thankfully, the traditional ‘jigs’ were more slapstick routines than dance performances, so we’ll be fine… I love the jig. It provides an excellent energy bridge from the play back to the real world. It also deals with the residual tide of adrenalin in the system after performing. Buckets of it need shifting and the big silly dance does it well.
How to use the space on stage, and get used to entrances and exits was out next objective, as well as listening in the wings for your entrance cue. Using the final scene of Romeo And Juliet, we had a baptism of fire involving spacing on stage, discovering why it’s a bad idea to linger in an entrance way when you don’t know who might be coming or going (luckily, Old Montague played sufficiently high status to make three watchmen simply get out of his way), and ‘Bringing It Big’ with your character from the word GO!
Thus we got three progressively more petulant and weepy Parises, three delightfully haughty Princes, three variously commanding and rather flustered Watch Leaders, and some endearingly intimidated Pages. We swapped roles three times, and in each run tried more techniques with placing in the space, pushing ourselves further to co-operate on stage in using the space creatively and dynamically. It was all amazing, and all exactly what the work needs when all the text work done in isolation is put into action. Players discovered how important it is to make big, clear decisions, for themselves and for other characters on stage: if you need someone to do something, leave them in no doubt what that is and where you need them to go. Nobody left anyone hanging uncertainly on the stage by the third run. Dominic Kelly voiced everyone’s thought at the close, saying how much easier and more fun it was on stage to bring a big, clear decision. We had several high-class acting moments, but I think I’m most likely to remember Lawrence Carmichael dying on Alex Vendittelli as Juliet, and taking the opportunity to collapse full length, then slide elegantly to the floor.