Thursday, August 04, 2016

Bringing Down the House

Actually not the house, but part of the ceiling. Literally.

Just before rehearsal started last night we all heard a series of crashed coming from the hallway where the bathrooms are. Upon investigating, we found tiles and wires hanging from the ceiling.

Nobody was hurt, thankfully. But it took several of those assembled to get things back into a stable position. I stayed out of the way, as there were already too many people in the small space, and frankly I wouldn't have known what to do anyway. (Though I was available if called upon, of course.) I went over my lines.

After a 40 minute delay, we proceeded to work on Act IV, Scene 3, which is my biggest scene in the play. I've mentioned before that often this scene is a bit of a drag on productions of this play. I've also mentioned that Malcolm as a character often gets short shrift. From the beginning, our director has made it clear she wants to avoid both of these problems. Last night we went a long way toward that goal.

As a refresher for those who have not read the play in a while, (for those who have never read it...SPOILERS) the scene takes place in England. Malcolm has been there since he fled his father's murder in Macbeth's castle. Malcolm's presence in England until this moment is not featured in the play, and that absence from the script is something I've been using to build my take on the character in certain ways. So, by the time we get to this scene, and Macduff has come from Scotland to bring Malcolm back to lead attacks on Macbeth, an evolution of sorts has taken place in Malcolm, as I am playing him. Now, he is kingly, whereas before he was a mere prince, is the short way of stating it.

Yet given all that's happened, he doesn't embrace Macduff right away, but opts to test the man's loyalties. Malcolm feigns weakness and vice, and when Malcolm opts to leave. Only then does Malcolm reveal the ruse, his faith in Macduff confirmed/restored.

Later in the scene, the Thane of Ross arrives to inform Macduff that the rest of the Macduff's have been murdered. An emotional Macduff laments this, Malcolm comforts and commands, and the scene ends with the men off to assemble the English and Scottish resistance forces.

The scene is somewhat wordy, and has been shortened for our production. I think it's a wise choice. There is still plenty going on, however, and making sure what happens it neither skimmed over now a drag on the proceedings of the play has been the director's goal all along. The key? Make sure most of it is emotional between two people that are familiar with one another, as Malcolm and Macduff are. This way, if we are doing our jobs, not only does the scene move forward with greater energy and pace, but it also delivers on depth of feeling.

It's early yet, and this was only the second night we worked this particular scene. Still, between the repeated runs of it, and the conversations and questions and table work in between runs, plenty of proverbial meat showed up on the proverbial bones. So much so that someone who stopped by the theatre on other business, but dropped in to watch the scene told us they had chills watching it. This, with books still in our hands. A positive sign no doubt.

Knowing both of my scene partners for years certainly helps matters. Rare would be the actor who didn't feel at least a bit more comfortable in experimenting and pushing the envelope early on with people he already knows.

And the meter is coming through for me more and more, having come a long way just last night. I will confess, as I have before, that I in general am not as much of a stickler for precise meter when performing Shakespeare as some are. I do find that the natural way I deliver the lines often corresponds with the accompanying meter anyway, but when it doesn't match exactly, I'm usually all right with letting it alone. Our director uses meter as a guide point more often than I myself, and so I have had to adjust a few phrases from how I'd been working on them. Nothing, however, that has thrown me off in a drastic way, and in fact I can see the logic behind most of the meter-based changes, (even if all things being equal, it wouldn't concern me.)

But that's what being in a show is, right? You create, you mix with other actors and their takes on a scene. The director has to keep the ducks in a row. Fortunately, as with my scene partners, I've also known our director for years, and trust that she's not going to very often suggest something to which I would flat out object. Nor so far have I made a choice to which the director has objected.

To me, in the end, if you set aside director visions, scene partners and everything else, one must fully commit to, even consume Shakespeare when one is in one of his plays. Large, part, small part, it makes no difference. Whether you are easy on meter issues, more like my director, or if you are a meter fetishist (our director is not), you have to dive in to it. The language and the poetry, as well as audiences can forgive some uncertainly about vocabulary and references, but they don't allow room for lukewarm approaches to the text.

A Shakespeare speech might by one of love or anger, or fear, but whatever it is, it demands, I feel, passionate delivery. Energetic, presentation. You could be a master of meter and Shakespeare scholar to boot, but if you are timid with your lines, you  might as well be reciting a dictionary.This is true to some extent with all plays, but Shakespeare plays especially.

I've been diving into my lines ever since I knew what part I had. (And believe me, Malcolm has some weird ones. But even the odd, mouthfuls with obscure meter come out the better when I go at them full throttle. (Which is by no means the same thing as being loud, or fast all the time.) By doing this, though Malcolm is not often the most memorable, most quotable character in the canon, my portrayal of him can be memorable to the audience, and satisfying to myself.

I rehearse again next week. Off book day is August 22.

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