Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Each person in a play is going to have their own idea about when it is going well and when it is not, based on their particular progress as relates to the whole. For myself, I'd have to say that tonight's rehearsal f Act Two was a highly productive rehearsal. (Notwithstanding the fact that once again, one of the least present actors in all of the rehearsals came to the theatre, but opted to go home because they didn't have their glasses. Not go home and retrieve them and come back, mind you. Simply go home, and screw rehearsal.)

The Players began to learn their Dumb Show. (Though we will be missing on player for about a week, and another over the weekend.) So that was very productive. The two leads, though calling for lines more often than last night still seem to have a pretty good grasp on their lines and speeches. I myself, with one exception, remembered all of my lines, and feel that I am starting at last to bring an energy to Hamlet that I confess was lacking in previous rehearsals.

And that is the point, after all. If Hamlet, and for that matter any of the main characters from the source material are weak, it reflects badly on the whole show. The two leads have less to reflect on or react to if we who are playing the smaller roles give them less than our best. Those who know me and/or read this blog know that I have never allowed the background of a play to mean less than the foreground. The cliche of "no small parts" truly does have a basis in a very important truth.

There is still much work for me and everyone to do, but if I may be so bold I have to say I am taking to Hamlet quite well. I knew I would be adequate from the beginning, since I insist on working hard to do my best at any role, but I confess to feeling early on that I may not be able to give Hamlet as much personality as he and the play deserved. Not because of the smallness of the role, but because of it's fame. People are still going to have an idea of what to expect from Hamlet, even if it is in this play. (All of his lines are genuine Shakespeare.) Plus it was an abbreviated amount of time. I can't say I am exactly where I would want to be in a full scale production of "Hamlet", but I am starting to establish something that feels real to me while also being fair to the character. Perhaps my having read the play so often has been of greater benefit than I would have previously surmised.

I have to say that despite the excellent work of the two leads, I have not been watching much of what they do. I have read the script all the way through, so I know what happens and get the gist of what they are saying, but I am finding that by exposing myself as little as possible to what those actors are doing I am contributing to the sense of chasm between their two characters and my own. Or rather the chasm between the planes on which they exist, in this absurdest limbo of setting Stoppard has conjured up. 

Tomorrow we run Act Three, wherein I have no official lines. Though now, as I mentioned a few posts ago, I will shout "pirates" while on stage. We will be running the pirate attack slapstick at full speed for the first time, so this should be interesting. Tomorrow will also be the final time we rehearse only a section of the play. All rehearsals after that will be of the entire play. I look forward to that of course.

Back to One

Act One last night. You know what that means.

Good news is that last night was the very first time that the entire cast was present! This includes all of the "players". They didn't have much to do last night, but they were getting acquainted with the pace of the show, and the nature of their presence.

Last night was also off book night. Not a problem for most of us, but the two leads had their work cut out for them. Huge blocks of script to be memorized in a shorter than usual amount of time. They are not 100% off book, but I applaud them both for how much of Act One they have committed to memory thus far. Not an easy show to memorize, that is for sure.

I took it upon myself to set up and turn on the small baby monitor the theatre owns to feed audio from the stage back to the green room. It's more comfortable sitting back there and I also wanted to get an idea of when to enter and exit. I am zeroing in on the cues I will use to leave the green room and head backstage to wait for an entrance.

Something I did as mostly just a joke during rehearsal is going to end up in the production. I don't know if I should give it away here, in case any readers might want to see the show. But I will say that there is a moment where I, as Hamlet, walk across the stage reading to myself. (This is alluded to in "Hamlet".) Last night, on a lark, I decided to walk on stage reading the magazine I happened to actually have in my possession at the time. It wasn't my intention to do anything but mess around for a moment, but the director thought the nature of the magazine added to the scene, and asked me to keep it. So I will.

That is one thing about this play that the director expounded upon this during notes. It is an absurdist play. Much of what will be seen and heard will not necessarily make linear sense, or seem to come from our dimension. And the director flat out says that when that happens, "I don't care!". In fact she welcomes some of those little moments, which add to the oddity of the entire experience for the audience.

Also in place for the first time last night was the ramp on which I will make many of my entrances and exits. It is tiered, as opposed smooth, as I had thought it would be. But I had no problems negotiating it, even when walking backwards. It's quite a clever design, really. It is in pieces, and the pieces sot of latch together, but remain movable, should the position need to be adjusted. It isn't 100% complete, but already it adds to the rehearsal process.

My "madness" is coming along for my first few entrances, especially the first one wherein I deliver lines. At one point in an earlier rehearsal a fellow actor unintentionally interrupted me during that scene several times as I repeated the line "except my life" three times, as the script requires. He has since corrected this, but at the request of one of the other actors, who found the interruptions quite amusing, what was first a mistake has now been made a part of the scene intentionally. It doesn't bother me too much, I suppose. It could be quite funny. I don't have to change anything I am doing.

I like that scene, even though it takes forever to get to it. Hamlet is supposed to be faking insanity at that point, and it will probably be the only moment in the play wherein I may get a laugh of some kind. I may not, of course, but I am starting to play it in such a way that I could be mistaken for crazy if needs be. At least by Polonius. The rest of my lines and moments are pretty straight forward, but those few minutes, (along with one other moment in Act Two) can afford some levity on my part.

I predict that tonight's rehearsal will be the most active and possibly chaotic of them all thus far, because it snot only my most active section of the play, it is a very active section for the "Players", and it will be the first time we have had most of them. So they will need to learn from scratch what they are doing in said scene. Though very brief, their sections are almost like like a separate miniature production in their own right. They need choreography and blocking, and such things. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Act Three today. As I have mentioned I have no lines in this section, but I do have quite a bit to do. More in fact than in Act One, really.

It takes place on the ship that is carrying Hamlet to England. I spend the first 10 or 15 minutes of the act hidden behind a large beach umbrella. (It's in the script, really.) Though whether or not I will actually be sitting on stage behind the umbrella the entire time, or if I will simply enter behind the umbrella once it is time to be seen is yet unknown.

Then there is the famous switching of letters, which is talked about in "Hamlet". Then the pirates invade and all hell breaks loose.

Due to the nature of our blocking and the stage on which we will be performing, it was decided that I, as Hamlet, would be in the best position to first notice the approach of the pirates. So , "Pirates!" will be basically the only thing I will clearly say that is not an actual Hamlet line from Shakespeare. This followed by my rushing for a sword, and a bit of a keystone cops bit of everyone on the stage running into each other, back and forth and to and fro a few times. Then I am to leap into a barrel or crate or something of the kind. (Not yet determined.) In the dark, I will leave stage for nearly the remainder of the play. I do make one more appearance, as a dead Hamlet in the final few moments, when we recreate the final moments of the actual "Hamlet". (Claudius, Gertrude, Laertes and Hamlet all lying dead.)

I am not certain why this is in the play, to be honest. I think the entire piece would end on a much stronger note if the last thing we heard were the incomplete line uttered by Guildenstern before he vanishes totally into the ether. I suppose the scene is there because the line "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead" is uttered at this point. But that by itself doesn't seem to carry enough weight to include that tableau in my opinion. If the whole point of the play is absurdist nihilism, why not end the whole play in the middle of a sentence, followed by totally blackness?

At any rate, I am getting a better sense of the character, and it will be fun to give consistent life to Hamlet during a scene in which he does not appear in the original material. (How does one portray the famous Prince as he is reading in silence in a deck chair? It is my job to determine that.)

It seems that after much shuffling we have now filled all five of the silent player roles, though one was filled this very day via telephone call and plea. This will make those scenes much easier to understand, obviously.

Also, a friend of mine came by today. It looks like she will be doing costumes for the show. I don't have any idea what she has in mind, but I did talk to her briefly about how I was playing Hamlet, so I imagine that will inform her decisions somewhat.

Tomorrow I am off, because it is set building day. I look forward to Monday's rehearsal with a full set. Especially since a ramp figures prominently in much of my blocking, and the sooner I have one to work on, the better.

One-Two Punch

Last night we ran both Acts One and Two. Only Two was on the schedule, but at the request of "Guildenstern", we did both acts, to establish flow.

I don't mind so much since it is he and the other lead that are in most need of as most practice as possible. (We open two weeks from yesterday!!) I just have so little to do in Act One that I can sometimes get restless waiting. I have enough to say in Act Two for it to not be so bad, and in Act Three I have nothing to say but have a lot of stage time, so that also helps things. But Act One...

I am happy to report however that with the exception of one or two minor flubs, I rehearsed totally off book yesterday. So I am going to go ahead and declare myself off book for this show. It is just as well. The deadline is Monday. (Though I don't know how the leads are going to manage that...)

The director wasn't present yesterday, so the rehearsal sort of ran itself. "Claudius" was also not present, as is normal for this actor, who likes to claim a free schedule during auditions, and then proceed to skip out on 60% of rehearsals. I had to deal with that in the last play I was in with this actor. But thankfully he and I do not share the stage in this play.

Now that I am off book for the most part, I am starting to get a feel at last for playing Hamlet. As I have said from the start of this production it was my intention to play Hamlet in this show as though I were really playing Hamlet in Hamlet. Now I am sure when I do play the real Hamlet I will have much more to offer than I do in this show, but nonetheless I am starting to feel as though there is a character there, despite his small amount of stage time.

Given that about half of the moment's I appear are during times when Hamlet is pretending to be crazy, that has of course informed some of my decisions. The other half of my lines involve a Hamlet who is plotting to trap Claudius, has just killed Polonious, or who is weeding out the "conspiracy" his friends have laid against him. Ergo I am trying to show his cunning, and also his (mostly) contained anger during these sections. I also have to play some affection mixed with anger during the super brief moments I am with Ophelia on stage. That will take the longest to perfect, I would think.

The large blocks of time I spend off stage will also help, in a way, because as I am off with myself, either going over lines or contemplating the next scene, I experience in microcosm that sort of stand offish quality, that isolation that is so essentially to the Hamlet I am creating. Hamlet himself is rather stand offish one could argue, and that is even more pronounced when the audience only sees him for a moment or two at a time.

All and all the lines as well as the motivations for Hamlet seem to be coming quite naturally. Part of it is because I work hard to be a good actor, yes. But another large part is probably how familiar I am with the Hamlet lines, having read the play so many times. Even some of the obscure lines I have had to deliver have been vaguely familiar in the deepest reaches of my mind. Not memorized but recognizable. Like for the first time in ten years seeing an old school mate whom you didn't talk to much. You know you know them somehow, because there were there. You just can't quite place all the details yet. This wasn't true for all of my lines in this play, but more than half, I'd say.

In either case this play is in fact serving as a good spring board for catching the first glimpses, finding the first hint of choices for when I play the character in the actual "Hamlet". (Which I hope to do within a year or two.) That reason alone is enough to be grateful for this chance. Despite the sometimes long restless waits backstage for an entrance of mere moments.

(And once the audio monitors are hooked up, I can retreat to the semi-comfort of the green room when I am not on.)

In about 30 minutes I leave for a rare Saturday afternoon rehearsal. We'll be running Act Three: my silent act. (I guess "the rest is silence" after all.) But I have some silent background stuff. Plus we have yet to set up the final tableau moment where all of the characters from "Hamlet" are laying on the ground, already dead. Actually it is not a tableau since Horatio begins to deliver his eulogy of Hamlet, but close enough. We have not run that yet when I have been there.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Catching Up

Due to my younger sister giving birth to her first born, and all of the supporting, non-medical duties that fell to me in the last couple of days, I am only just now getting around to blogging about Sunday's rehearsal.

Not that there is much to report. Because I missed Saturday for various appointments, by the time I got back to rehearsals for Sunday Act One was back on the agenda. And as I have said, I don't have much to do during Act One. (Though for my line, "if like a crab, you could go backward", I came up with an interesting backward looking crab-like walk which I think will be humorous. Or at least it will add to the notion that Hamlet is pretending to be crazy at that moment.

I am starting to hone in on the moments I need to be back stage. I am off stage for such long stretches that waiting back there the whole time would not be feasible. And though we don't have the audio monitor set up yet, I do want to get an idea of where in the script I can be relaxed in the back room vs. by which point I need to be getting ready to enter. One good thing about it is that I have at least one entrance which is perfectly cued by one of the actors yelling "fire!" on stage about a minute before hand. That I will hear no matter where I am, monitor or not.

This will not be a very busy week at the theatre, because the director and her family (most of which are also in the play), will be out of town for a few days. Which means I won't have rehearsal again until Friday the 24th. Hopefully I will at last be able to work on some things I haven't had a chance to run through since we blocked them.

By then the show will open in two weeks. Two. This really is going to feel like one of the fastest productions I have ever been in. More so even than a few one acts.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Deep Sixed

No rehearsal last night. Cancelled due to "Unforeseen circumstances" according to the call I got from the director about five minutes into my 45 minute commute. Next scheduled rehearsal was today (Saturday) but this was one of my conflict days for a prior engagement.

I am annoyed at having missed rehearsal for Act II, which is my most active section of the play. But the good news is, I am almost entirely off book for same at this point.

Next rehearsal I can attend is tomorrow at 2:00PM.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Tonight at rehearsal, for a brief time, it appeared as though half of my tiny role might be cut from our production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Though I had never noticed it in my script, there is an author's mote which indicates that a 5 or so page section of the script was added in later professional productions, but wasn't part of the original staging. Companies are given the option to perform either version.

It just so happens that at least half of my total stage time takes place during that section of the script. The suggestion was made to save time and hold the audience's attention longer. But by the end of rehearsal it was decided that those lines of mine would not be eliminated. So my role in the play remains intact.

Today we went over Act One twice. As I mentioned before, that is my least active part of the play. Most of my lines are in Act Two, and Act Three provides me with the longest sustained (though silent) stage time. So there wasn't much for me to go over today. I grab Ophelia and sigh, (a moment I hope feels better the more often I do it, because right now I feel like I really suck at it). Later I walk across the stage reading. (Difficult to screw up.) And at the very end of the act I deliver a few lines as I meet up with the leads for the first time. I will say that the second time we ran through it tonight, I didn't need my book for the few lines I had.

I am in fact about 90% off book now. I have a few similar lines to differentiate, one slight speech, and some mixed up words here and there to correct, and I will be off book. No reason why that can't happen within a few days. Then I can start to maybe work on the first few lines of the monologue Hamlet has in Act Four of the original play, so I can mouth them silently. (As I talked about previously.) If I decide to take that route, I've got plenty of time, given that it isn't a requirement. It may even be something I can't so, but we will see.

Not everyone was available for rehearsal today, and the one possible new actor we had to play one of the players is unable to join the cast. So it is getting quite tight in regards to finding enough actors for that scene. I am going to ask around tomorrow to see if I know anybody.

Next rehearsal is Friday evening when we run Act Two. I look forward to that particularly, given that I have more to do.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Yesterday was a shorter rehearsal than normal. Only about an hour long or so. I mention in my last post that we'd be going over a scene wherein I had no lines. That was true for the first half of rehearsal, but that didn't require much time at all. (I have a lot of pantomime later in Act Three, but not enough people were present to go over that part.) So after about 30 minutes we reviewed two other scenes in which I, and the two leads appear.

So, not much to report in regards to that.

Something to report however is that two people who were set to be "Players" have opted to not be in the show anymore. This coming a few days after a different one of the players opted out. So at this point we now have only one actor to be a "player", and we probably need at least Six. So the scramble is on to find some people fast. One person is checking his schedule from what I understand to see if he can help us out. Hopefully the fact that none of those parts of lines will encourage people to participate on short notice.

I am about half way off book for my few scenes, however. I will work more on that tonight sometime. Otherwise my next rehearsal is tomorrow (Wednesday) night.

Monday, June 13, 2011

To A Nunnery Go

Last night we blocked out all of Act Two. At least as much as we could with again so many people missing. (The entire cast has yet to meet at one time.) This was particularly problematic during one certain scene. A troupe of traveling actors is present, as they are in Hamlet. This scene involves one of their rehearsals for the show they will perform for the Danish Court. There is much moving around on the part of these Players as their director narrates the story they are silently performing. It requires about six people.

Last night we had but one of the "traveling players" present. Needless to say, this presented difficulties.

Not for myself, though, as I am not in that scene. I am however in several scenes in Act Two. (There are three acts, remember.) In fact now that I think about it, Act Two is the section of the play which intertwines most obviously with the actual Hamlet. The whole play does of course, but there are more occasions in Act Two when the Shakespearean characters, particularly my own, wander in and out of scenes as they carry on their Hamlet business.

Some of that business is quite intense. I get to run in shouting "It hath made me mad," at Ophelia. (The end of the "Get thee to a nunnery" speech.) So that is pretty intense if only for a moment. It doesn't matter that the scene in the play is not intense. My character at that moment is intense.

Then there are times when I am silent but still acting. At one point I walk on unawares of the title characters, as I am delivering "To be or not to be..." Nobody can hear me doing so of course, but seeing as how I know this speech, I was able to mouth it to myself as I made the entrance, and as I stood off to the side. I want to try to time it so that I am actually ending that speech as Ophelia enters, just as happens in the real Hamlet. Don't know if there will be time to iron that out, but I am going to come as close to it as I can.

There is another scene like that. Hamlet sends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern off ahead of him in Act IV Scene 4 of the original play. They go off and he delivers the "How all occasions do inform against me" speech. This one I do not have memorized, and probably cannot have by opening night. However once again Hamlet is seen mouthing this speech, (or at least could be) as the two leads are talking. I'd like to memorize at least some of that speech and mouth it to myself in the background. Adds realism. The best part about that one is that the leads walk off and leave Hamlet there still talking to himself when the lights go off. I wouldn't need more than a few lines of the speech.

Why do I do this? Put in some extra time to memorize lines nobody will hear me delivering? If you are a regular visitor to Always Off Book, you know the answer. I take my work on stage seriously. I want to give the extra push, offer the extra shine whenever I can. The timing may not work out perfectly, but I refuse to be on stage and utter "peas and carrots, pea and carrots" to represent talking to myself. (By the way, an actor should never do that.) If I didn't know the actual lines this character spoke at those moments, I'd invent realistic ones myself. A character in the background is still a character.

Another reason is that it's Shakespeare, and of course beyond that, it is Hamlet. I intend to perform Hamlet in Hamlet in the next few years, but this play offers me my first actual chance to be the Danish Prince on stage. I am but a background role in this show, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy playing Hamlet.

And of course in some ways, I enjoy the extra challenge.

Another of my challenges in Act Two will be dragging the actor playing Polonious down a large ramp and around a tight corner to the backstage. It would appear the scene is optional in the script and the director asked both "Polonious" and myself if we were up for it. We both gave our assent though we didn't attempt it last night. There was even talk of Hamlet's dragging him via a cart or wagon of some sort. A humorous visual. It remains undecided at this point.

Next rehearsal will be brief for me, and unusual; I have zero lines in the long scene I will be blocking tonight. I think that is a first for me. But in Act Three, Hamlet has a large amount of stage time, despite having no lines. So I might as well be there for the rehearsal to at least get a feel for where I will be, and how I will move.

It continues to be an interesting experience, this play.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Enter Hamlet

First blocking rehearsal tonight. Given that a few actors could not make it tonight, we skipped a large scene in the middle of Act One, but otherwise blocked all of the first act. (It should be pointed out that on paper this script has three acts and not two.)

This director has admitted that she is not fond of giving blocking directions. She prefers to keep things general, and relies a lot on what feel natural for the actor. She has some instructions for us, and will have more as time goes on, but it will in most cases probably be a play of minimal blocking.

Especially for me in Act One. Hamlet enters and grabs Ophelia by the hand, and lets forth a sigh that is "piteous" and such. In fact the stage directions for that moment are almost word for word from Ophelia's speech in Shakespeare wherein she describes to her father what had just happened between the two of them in her sewing room. In other words a silent scene which doesn't appear in the source material. That will require some work in order to give anyone the impression that anything is happening. But this was an early rehearsal.

My next moment, also silent, is when I simply cross the stage reading a book, and then exit. This is also referenced in Shakespeare. It would be the moment when right before Hamlet reaches the lobby, where he is discovered by Polonious, the King and the Queen, pretending to be crazy all along.

Finally I enter again in what would be near the end of the interrogation Polnious gives to Hamlet. ("...if like a crab, you could go backward.") There will eventually be a high platform and ramp down which I will walk for this scene. The director isn't sure exactly what it will look like, but that is the overall plan. Right now the entrance to stage left is blocked, so we just had to fake it.

After a brief break, we ran all of those scenes again.

"Guildenstern" was there today. He and I are friends and have been in several plays together over the years. He only recently came to the realization that this will be a shortened rehearsal process, and indeed it will be. I have to say I think I would have had some fun in one of the two lead roles, but in this case I am somewhat thankful for the smaller role. I won't have as much to work on in these four weeks. That, and the small role being Hamlet doesn't hurt either.

My next rehearsal is not until Sunday. It has been a while since I had that many days between rehearsals. I am therefore going to see if I can get off book for my few lines by then. I may not get all the way off, but I should make a pretty good dent in it if I keep at it.

Much of that time should also be spent trying to get into the character of Hamlet. As I mentioned before I may not have the time, on stage or off to explore the character as much as I would like to. However, it is Hamlet, and I think some interesting exploration can still take place.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

A Semi-Start

Tonight was the first read-through for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. (Henceforth referred to as RGD as necessary.) Though over half of the cast was missing due to scheduling conflicts. In fact, the schedule will be tight throughout the whole process due to many conflicts from all parties. (One reason we didn't start until today.) So there won't be a full read through with everyone present. We need to jump right into blocking rehearsals on Wednesday.

I have only perused the schedule so far, but it appears that despite my smaller part, I won't have many days off this month, though I will probably be able to go home early a few times. This because most of the play consists of only the two main characters talking to one another, and they will probably be the last to leave rehearsal on any given night, so as to give the rest of us something to do from the start of the evening. At least until we get into running entire acts. And we will reach that point after only about two weeks, as opposed to the usual four or so. Again, it will be somewhat condensed because of the schedule.

I anticipate no particular problems with my few lines. If I buckle down I could probably be off book within a week or two. But during the break between acts today, the director confirmed what I had already suspected; I will appear in several scenes, sometimes for an extended period of time, without any lines. Presumably for some of these I will be silently performing, in the background, some of the lines from the actual Hamlet, while being observed be the main characters. Other times I won't be saying anything at all, but rather just establishing Hamlet's presence in the background. Though I have no idea what exactly I'll be doing and when, I look forward to doing this. Authentic character presentation when in the silent background is a skill in which I take great pride, and one that is often ignored.

The best part of it all will be that I will be, in essence, creating Hamlet. Maybe not as deeply as one playing the real role of Hamlet, but there is plenty of room to explore what Hamlet should and should not be, within the confines of the director's expectations. Besides, you can't do the background justice, if you are not as an actor, treating it as though it were the foreground.

I report for rehearsal next on Wednesday for just such a scene. I appear, and move about, but don't say anything yet. I wasn't even aware I made an entrance in that scene until today. (I have only skimmed the script until tonight.)

The script is not bad. I didn't find it as funny as some of my cast mates did, but it has its clever moments. I am looking forward to seeing how it all develops.