I started this whole blog (actually, the whole website) a couple years ago because a friend of mine told me that I should "document my process." To me, this is a bizarre idea ... you document the process of your work if you're a sculptor, or a painter - you know, when you make something tangible. Even the words "my process" sound incredibly pretentious in the theater world. Maybe because those words are usually found in sentences like "don't call me by my real name, call me my character's name, it will aide me in my process" or "please stop being distracting, you're interrupting my process." (Takes deep breath, steps into character, uses "Shakespeare Voice" to deliver a soliloquy...)
Though, I suppose, an artist's process is interesting to artists of other media. Once I culled my facebook wall of anything that annoyed me, (an activity I highly recommend), I was left with many updates of friends with deep artistic passions. They tend to document their lives outside of what seems to be the very popular hobby of traveling around just so you can take pictures of food. Now I find myself fascinated by knife-making videos, special effects makeup, and hilarious updates from this author I know. Also a mathematician, a living statue, a traveling clown, a magician based out of Vegas, and a carnival emcee, just to name a few.... jeez my friends are cool.
Anyway, I haven't worked on a straightforward Shakespeare play (you know, with rehearsals and memorization) in a while, so I thought I'd document the work I'm doing. Maybe someone outside of theater will find this more interesting than it is self-indulgent.
Step 1 - Read the play again. From your character's perspective. Notable discoveries: Juliet doesn't seem to be allowed outside her home. How come I remember her running around a lot? She does not. She has to send her Nurse to get messages to Romeo, and the only time we see her outside of the walls of her household is when she has no other option but to sneak out, and who does she go to? The Friar. The fact that "stay in your room!" or "don't go outside!" cannot be found in the text tells me that this is just the way young girls were treated. (Thanks, Roman Empire.) Interesting, though, how she mentions "The orchard walls are high and hard to climb," like she's tried before. Teenager desperate to get the heck out? Maybe.
Step 2 - Make your script your own. I do this for a couple of reasons, the first one being that I'm not magically memorized by the first rehearsal, so I have to walk around with my script in my hand. That's dang hard to do with a bunch of pages stapled together or a large binder. (And then your director inevitably wants you to do things like act with both hands!) I've tried a lot of things to make this part easy. I wish a publisher would just come up with a bunch of palm-sized Shakespeare scripts, spiral bound, with everything printed on one side of the paper so I can take blocking notes on the other. Of course, I'd probably have problems with their text...
My script contains the edits that our director gave us, augmented by the punctuation and some spelling I found in the folio. What's "the folio?" It's the first edition of Shakespeare's plays that ever came out, back in 1623. Some Shakespeare actors treat it as the Be All And End All of How To Do Shakespeare, complete with many books and guides written about de-coding capital letters and every comma. Funny thing is, it was printed 7 years after Shakespeare's death by some really terrible typesetters. (In the Special Collections department of the library we used to cart it out as a supreme example of bad early printing). Without it, we would not have Shakepseare. Helpful in many ways, sure, but direct notes from Shakespeare himself it is likely not. I still like going through it, though, for many reasons, including but not limited to finding out that a lot of my exclamation points and question marks were additions to the text from editors who enjoy things like modern grammatical rules. (Ptchh. Grammar. Not for actors!) Important discoveries include: Yes, indeed that phrase in 3.2 is "run-away's eyes", and no scholar has pinpointed exactly what the heck it means. Also, "Go, get thee hence, for I will not away" was originally "Go get thee hence, for I will notuaway." Spelling wasn't standardized back in 1623, so some times you get really great clues about how to say things. This helps when it comes to scansion.
Important discoveries: Both names "Romeo" and "Juliet" can be either 2 or 3 syllables. I say that's cheating, Shakespeare. (When I mentioned this, another dorky friend brought to my attention that perhaps he learned his lesson after naming another character Anripholus of Syracuse. "Really set yourself up for success with that one, Bill.")
Step 3 - relax. Once you've done all the frontal-cortex work on it you can possibly do, it's time to forget all of your research and just "say the words and don't bump into the furniture." I get memorizing, which means a lot of walking around with my script at home. Someone told me that watching yourself say your lines in a mirror helps your neurons remember the words better (our brains do all kinds of lip reading we're not even conscious of, so I believe that.)
And then there's rehearsals. Rehearsals are play time. Rehearsals are when I get to actively listen. I took a cue from Patrick Tucker's original practice theory and cut out everyone else's lines from my script. It seems really self indulgent to do so, as if no one else's lines are important but my own, but in fact it helps me be an engaged scene partner tremendously. if I keep the whole play where it belongs - in the corner of the rehearsal room if we need to consult it, not directly in my hand- my script is much less of a distraction to me. I stop having my own opinions about other actor's words (a tough habit to conquer, since I've directed this play before) and I can put my script out of my line of sight and listen to my friends when they're talking. It's pretty great to watch my colleague's processes.
Get into character. There's a lot of fun, extra things to do that have nothing to do with heady text stuff. I like looking up other interpretations of Juliet, (Olivia Hussey yes, Claire Danes no,) sketching costume ideas that will never actually be a reality, looking up all kinds of silly image ideas, and figuring out what parts of me are similar (or, more accurately in this case, were similar) to my character. What hooks me into teenage romantic angst? Music. Most definitely.
The Juliet Playlist
Nine Black Alps - Pocket Full of Stars
Train - Marry Me
Cage the Elephant - Right Before my Eyes
City and Color - The Girl
Martina Topley-Bird - Anything
Hozier - Work Song
Eddie Vedder - Throw Your Arms Around Me
Cake - Love you Madly
M.I.A. - Bad Girls
Ke$ha - Die Young
Awolnation - Wake Up
Ti / Christina Aguilera - Castle Walls
Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran - Everything has Changed
Arctic Monkeys - Baby I'm Yours
Ingrid Michaelson - Can't Help Falling in Love
Regina Spektor - How
Zedd - Clarity
Florence and the Machine - Cosmic Love
Katy Perry - Who Am I Living For?
Coldplay- Sky full of Stars
Ariana Grande - Daydreamin'
Adele - Lovesong
Portishead - Undenied
Chris Thile - Heart in a Cage
Trent Reznor - Is Your Love Strong Enough?
Still working on it. Commentary welcome.
3 people in the rehearsal room all graduated from my high school around the same time I did. 2 of them went to First Stage with me, and 1 of them went to college with me. That's a good number of people with similar work ethic and rehearsal vocabulary.
Romeo and I played Laertes and Ophelia a year ago together. She was my sister, and now she's my man. (Boy. Child.) We thought we'd be really awkward but we are not. It helps that I have a giant talent crush on her. The first time I saw her was when she played Viola... my jaw dropped and I immediately wanted to work with her on everything.
I get to work with two totally new people to me, one of which is my nurse. He's one of the most supportive and caring actors I've had the pleasure to rehearse with, and I could tell that when we read together at auditions. What a total sweetheart. Hurray for meeting new people.
The knife fights will look baller, because we have the best violence designer in town working on this.
Students of mine and old friends who have played Juliet are excited to see this show. I'll probably throw up with nervousness if I know they're in the audience, but it's great to know I'm supported by a legacy.
There's a lot to be really excited about. I could go on. But...
Right now, it's time to eat dinner, BRUSH MY TEETH (there's a lot of kissing in this play), and review the scenes we'll be working on tonight.
A thousand times, good night!!