Thursday, July 28, 2016

Not a Fighter

Two rehearsals this week for Macbeth. (There were supposed to be three, but I'll get to that.) During the first, we blocked my smallest scene in the play, where I play a murderer as opposed to Malcolm. (Murderer 3 to be exact.)

This will be my third Shakespeare show under this director. Because she is trained in stage combat, and because of the nature of the shows she directs, fight scenes are a nature part of these shows. Having played Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet, and Buckingham in Richard III, I had no need for fight choreography before, but I swore I'd need at least some this time. Being a murderer who attacks Banquo, I'd have to learn some kind of trick, surely. I was looking forward to it.

But surprise, I'm still not in the club of stage fighters. The director has staged the scene in such a way that of the four people on stage during this scene, I am the only one who doesn't do any fighting. (Should I be taking this personally??)

All jest aside, she did give me a motivation for why I am not doing any fighting even as "Murderer 3." I've ever encountered that scene being played in that fashion, but I posed no objections to it. The truth be told, almost all of my creative energy for this play has been devoted to creating Malcolm, and I'd not given  much thought yet to the murderer scene. (Other than the ironic assumption that some sort of stage fighting would be part of my responsibilities.)

It's early in the rehearsal process still for this October show. I had every intention of given further consideration to the nature of the tiny part at some point. In fact I still will, given the new information given to me about this scene. And had this been my only character, naturally I'd have been digging into him, and the scene more in depth from the very start. From day one, though, Malcolm has been the priority. Still is, to tell you the truth. Yet, I've got some things to ponder with this tiny role now that I didn't have before.

It was back to Malcolm the following day. (Tuesday.) We worked the scene after the murder of Duncan, when everyone comes rushing in, and discovers the truth. Though I have only a few lines in the scene, I have a lot to do. In some ways, I have more to work on in this scene than any of Malcolm's others, if I want it to be smooth. (And of course I do.) I'm playing Malcolm as usually a man of few words, for whom it is uncommon to emote strongly. ("Why do we hold our tongues?" He asks his sibling in this very scene. I've been taking that to heart.) The murder of one's father could be one of the times more get through to the outside world, of course, but I have a balance to keep between legitimate effect on the man, and the outward less expressive nature of him.

Some of that is shock at the news, of course. Some of it is is, as I said, how I am playing the character. Either way, I must not just throw away the lines and the scene. It's the last time the audience will see Malcolm for quite a while. (After intermission in our production.) And the next time they see him, he presents as a new man, in my interpretation. I have to be in  just the right place.

Plus, it's just before Malcolm flees to England, a major development in both the play, and in my interpretation of the character.

Unfortunately, these two rehearsals took place in the cramped lobby of the Black Box Arts Center. That is because a sort of last minute production of one-act plays moved into the space about a month ago, and have been using the stage. As much as I enjoy this space that I helped build (literally) some years ago, all spaces have their weaknesses. One of the weaknesses of the BBAC is lay out and size. Though often open to more than one event at a time, in my opinion there is not enough room for two shows to rehearse within its walls at the same time. And since the one acts were in their tech week and insisted on quiet, you have a large group of people rehearsing a Shakespearean scene that requires yelling being allowed to only whisper, and move about on a space less than half the size of the eventual performance space.

Far from ideal.

To that end, our third rehearsal of the week was cancelled. That would have been tonight.

The good news is that the one acts run for only a weekend. On Monday, they will be finished with the stage, and Macbeth will, I assume, have it for themselves. (For a while, anyway. The plan is to eventually tear out the platform stage, and make the venue more flexible by having plays, starting with Macbeth, perform on the floor.)

Plus, though it may be a big moment for my character and me, because it's mostly internal, the focus of the cramped rehearsal was on the movements of just about everyone else in the scene, especially Lady Macbeth. It's still early, though, as I keep saying.

Also tried on some army surplus uniforms one of those nights. Fatigues. That will be, as per the director's vision, the base costume of most of the men. Given the choice, I'd choose something else, but I suppose what I envision for Malcolm remains mostly unaffected by that. I did find some stuff that fit, at least.

One doesn't usually get this much time to prepare and rehearse a play, and despite a few issues, I'm thankful for the luxury. The whole show, as well as each actor, has more room to breathe and create than is afforded in the standard 6 to 8 week rehearsal period.

Next rehearsal for me is next week sometime.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Malcolm in the...Works

Last week I went to the first two rehearsals for Macbeth. Due to some wild scheduling conflicts, I don't report to rehearsal again for another ten days. (Almost three weeks between rehearsals.) I don't think I've ever had that much time between rehearsals during a production ever before. But it does give me some time to work on things myself.

As to the rehearsals, I thought they'd just be blocking sessions, but we did some table work/discussion as well, and I'm happy to say that at this early stage, my overall take on Malcolm is in line with most of what the director had in mind. Actually it's probably more accurate to say the director allowed most of my choices so far, as per her usual approach to shows.

In short, the director wants this Malcolm to be seen as "cool." Not in a Fonzi way, but in fact in a way I've wanted to portray the character. That is to say, Malcolm is often a throw away character in a production of this play, portrayed quite often as a wimp, swept up in events he cannot understand. My hope was to play him as a more deliberate and eventually regal presence. Dignified, quiet most of the time, intelligent, sincere. Humble to Macbeth's ambitious. Reserved to Macbeth's passionate. The two characters share almost no stage time, but as the man who eventually replaces Macbeth in restores order to Scotland, I felt Malcolm should have notable contrasts in temperament and character.

After two table work sessions and some working of a scene here and there, I think this vision of the character will remain mostly intact for this production. There are many choices left to discuss, and an lot of work ahead, some of which may change a choice or two I've begun to make. But I've built the foundation, and that foundation seems sound for the nature of this production. I have much to work with that I like, and this pleases me.

I see the character as having improved or solidified during his flight to England after the murder of Duncan. I've not yet decided if the initial flight itself was the best thing to do, but I have determined that in all likelihood an already noble man evolves into his destiny while taking asylum in England. We don't see what Malcolm goes through in England, we only see the result. That will give me a great deal of creative freedom headed into the final scenes of the play, and I look forward to exploring that.

I don't intend to examine every line and report every discussion I have about the character here on the blog. Even those connected with the theatre are likely to find such a meticulous recounting of this process to be tedious. I do however plan to explore here not only what goes on at rehearsals, but also some of the things I come to think about my performance independent of actual rehearsals.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Malcolm in the...Play

A few weeks ago, I auditioned at the Black Box Arts Center for a production of Macbeth. I was given the role of Malcolm, son of Duncan, Prince of Cumberland and eventual King of Scotland. (Sorry for the spoilers there.)

Those of you familiar with the play probably already know that as written, Malcolm is not one of the most memorable characters in Shakespeare's canon. This has its advantages and its disadvantages. The down side is I have no famous or excellent Shakespearean lines to deliver in this play. Let's face it, one doesn't often quote Malcolm. Another down side, however, is also an upside in certain ways; I have to work harder to create him.

I began doing this right after I was informed I got the role. Since the text doesn't provide much depth, it's up to the actor portraying Malcolm to add some meat to the bones provided. This of course is what all actors in all roles must do, but it takes on an even greater importance with smaller, lesser-remembered ones. If I don't put in that effort, both the character and myself become mostly invisible during the show, as there is no famous or poetic speech to fall back on. My creative muscles must be worked extra hard, and I've been working them over this character from the start.

Not every choice is set in stone yet. After all, production only just began on this one. But after reading his lines several times, looking up a few things and brainstorming/journaling about it, I've formed the basis of a character I can sink my teeth into, as it were. I hope to share more particulars as rehearsals go on, but we've only had one read-through so far, and I only just the other day emailed the director with my initial thoughts on how to approach this character. I've not heard back from her yet, so I don't know for sure if she has strong objections to anything I've laid out.

But I've known the director for years, and been in two previous Shakespeare shows she directed: Romeo and Juliet and Richard III. (In the same building.) She tends to give her actors a lot of creative freedom with their performances.

I can say it's set in modern times, or in the very least time non-specific, so that frees everyone up a bit when it comes to ideas and character.

I've also dipped into a few wells I haven't used in developing a character for a while. Already, in addition to brainstorming and reading the lines, I've done super-easy things, like look at pictures of Scottish landscapes. Not that any one picture of Scotland will make my performance, but the idea is to expose my mind to images, thoughts, activities that someone in Malcolm's position in this play would be exposed to.

This isn't Method acting, but rather building a library of information up front on which to build ideas and perceptions of the character as the process goes on, (and the images trickle further down into my mind.) It may be an alternate timeline in a lot of ways, but there can be zero doubt that this play takes place in Scotland, and that Malcolm is a prince and future king of same. Ergo, I look at pictures of Scotland, as I haven't been there in person.

I've said so many times it's the little things that can take a performance from good to great, adequate to memorable. These easy explorations of relevant source material will help me build nuance and subtlety into my performance. I don't know just how many people, if any, will notice my efforts. But it's worth it to me to have some information within my head about who the character is off stage, outside of the direct action of the play as it will make it easier to give a deeper performance.

And I have more time than usual to engage in such activity; this play won't go on until October. An upcoming remodeling of the performance space, as well as some extras within the production itself pursuant to the directors vision necessitated a longer than average rehearsal period. I don't mind this. Community theaters in this area rarely have that long to rehearse. Might as well make the most of it.

And just for fun I bought this t-shirt for the read-through, and to wear on a regular basis throughout rehearsals:

I got it from one of those universal high school/college apparel sites. Just plug your school name into whatever the template is. Even got it in the colors of the Scottish flag.

I know about half the cast from previous plays, and the other half are new to me. I introduced myself to the new people via email, so they aren't put off by my sometimes removed nature. (Often mistaken for snobbery.) Nobody wrote me back, but they can't say I never introduced myself.

An elephant in the room of course is the "curse" of the play. I don't think much about it as an actor, but I have respected the tradition, as it were. I have said "Macbeth" more in the last few weeks than I have in the previous decade, probably. I'm used to not saying it. Our director lit a candle with Shakespeare's portrait on it during the first read through, thereby, she told us, dispelling the curse. To think and speak of it is to give it power, was her position, and therefore she lit a candle, and declared there was to be no more talk of the curse.

So begins my third Shakespeare play with this director in this venue, and my fourth Shakespeare performance overall. (Five, if you'd like to count my one man show. Most don't.) Do follow me on yet another journey, loyal blog readers.