14
Feb
07

Tablework

I might be alone in this statement, but, I LOVE TABLEWORK!!!!! The truth is I’m a “Shakespeare Geek” at heart, and sitting around a table, engaging in deep discussions about the play – its history, meaning, characters, relationships, ideas, symbols, actions, language – that’s what I call a good time. This stage in the rehearsal process is CRUCIAL to the success of any Shakespearean production. Here is where the foundation is laid for the entire show to be built upon. All of Shakespeare’s plays, and any play for that matter, are filled with mysteries to solve and challenges to face. But the good news is – all of the answers lie within the text.The necessity of tablework is for all of the actors involved to be on the same page. Every word that appears in the play is there for a reason – there is meaning, there is power, and there is action – and this is what we need to uncover or discover in tablework.

Allow me to talk about tablework using a model of thinking even older than Shakespeare. In “The Poetics”, Aristotle writes about the elements of tragedy and their relative importance.

First is PLOT, or ACTION. What’s happening in the play? What are the series of events and how do they connect to one another? For each individual actor, this can be defined as your character’s journey throughout the course of the play. How is your character connected to this action? What do I want (objective/goal)? From who (others)? How am I going to get it (tactics)? What’s in my way (obstacles)? How do the events of the play effect me (adjustments, change, expectations)?

If you haven’t figured it out already, tablework is about asking and answering questions. The challenging, and sometimes frustrating thing is that the answer to one question may lead you to five other questions that now need to be answered…..

Next is CHARACTER. Who are the people involved in the action, and how do they relate to one another? Who are your allies? Who are your enemies? Who can you trust? What is your status, or level of importance within the world of the play? For our Macbeth tablework, these discussions are very important. Why? You may ask. Look at the Dramatis Personae (cast of characters) for the play…you have Duncan (the King), Malcolm and Donalbain (his sons), followed by nine other guys listed only as Generals and Nobleman…..hmmm….not much help there. So, using the text as a guide, we need to clarify these relationships – individually and collaboratively. The challenge is for some characters, Shakespeare gives us a lot, others, not so much. So, extracting what is there is vital to fill in what isn’t.

Batting third in Aristotle’s lineup is LANGUAGE – the actor’s main tool for communication. Shakespeare’s language holds many challenges, and at tablework the main challenge is to figure out what we’re saying and what it all means. It’s also a time to make sure that the whole cast is sharing common pronunciations of names, places, and sometimes even simple words (ie – “bade” – should it sound like made or mad).

I think sometimes as a culture we’ve come to expect simplicity or ease with language. That whatever I’m reading I should be able to pick up, read, and instantly comprehend and understand. And if we don’t, we dismiss it. Yes, I know Shakespeare’s language can be intimidating (a combination of Old English, Middle English, New English, words that aren’t used anymore, words that have different meanings now than they did in Shakespeare’s time, and several words and phrases that Shakespeare created and added to the English language), but don’t be afraid, have a little patience and don’t give up.

Next is IDEA or THOUGHT. What ideas or themes continue throughout the play? More important is how these ideas affect the world of the play, or influence the actions, or provide motivation for characters. In other words, how do we actively incorporate these ideas into the choices we are making as actors? As you look at the play, here are a few to consider: what defines the “worth” of a man, time, ambition, witchcraft/conjuring, and Shakespeare’s continual use of “double” and “single”…..

Moving on, we come to MUSIC or RHYTHM. In Shakespeare, this is critical. Macbeth is poetry. Blank Verse to be more specific, or Unrhymed Iambic Pentameter for all you other Shakespeare Geeks out there in internet land. At tablework, this is where we talk about how the play “scans” (SCANSION – scanning poetry to determine what is stressed and what is unstressed). Now, as an actor, you can’t “play the poetry”, but you better be aware of the poetic structure that you’re working with. Oftentimes lines that an actor may be struggling with for clarity of thought or intention, become much clearer after they’ve been scanned more precisely.

Finally we come to SPECTACLE – or how cool are my fights really going to look.Again, not really “playable” for an actor, but it’s nice to talk about how certain elements of the production are going to effect the action on stage. Like, how the apparitions are going to appear, or even as simply as what the set looks like and how do we move around on it.

After all this tablework, it’s time to put the play on its feet. Now it’s time to block, or stage the show…..

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