More Tablework

“At this stage in the process, don’t just hydroplane over your rhetoric – Take the time to work out your thoughts…” ~ Steve Fried

Tonight we (finally) got to some scenes I’m in.* Verse, check. Rhetoric, check. Perfect reading, um… not so much.

The thing is, when you get really deep into the tablework, it becomes clear that no matter how much homework you’ve done, there’s always more to do. Lines that we thought were perfectly clear elicited looks of confusion from Steve and our text coach, Gale Daly. I’m not exaggerating when I say it can sometimes take half an hour to parse a ten line speech. Tonight, it did. Which, although it can feel like pure hell to the actor who has to deal with it while it’s happening, is exactly what tablework is for. We’re finding that this play is much fuller with complex language than any of us had originally thought. And Steve rightfully pointed out to Brian Gill that if he can make clear all of Hotspur’s incredibly complex language, it will be transcendent for an audience. Because, truth be told, 99 times out of ten, Hotspur is played as a whole lotta bluster, with a whole lotta brawn, and not a whole lotta else.

It’s easy to forget that Shakespeare’s genius doesn’t stop with the beautifully lineated poetry. That his gift with turning a phrase has as much to do with his mastery of rhetoric as with his understanding of meter, rhyme, and sound. And let me tell you, it is much more difficult for an actor to clarify the thoughts cloaked in complex rhetorical devices than to make sure to hit all the “g” sounds in a particular phrase.

What’s rhetoric? Well it’s the construction mainly. There are a bunch of devices that Shakespeare uses to make a particular point: antithesis, repetition, parenthetical phrases, imagery, to name only a few, plus all manner of syntax that creates a pretty turn of phrase.**

So we worked that text for all it was worth, and though we all left exhausted, we found a couple of things.

1. That text can really sing when you put your mind to it.

2. Putting your mind to it is *&^#$@ hard!

That said, after a while of really manhandling the verse, it became clear that a softer touch could be used. As Steve said, “Sometimes you just need to say, ‘Screw you, Steven,’ and say what you know the thoughts are.” And let me tell you, I took that to heart. We were looking at a line of mine and trying to parse it’s meaning. I thought it meant one thing, Steve thought another, and I tried, but I just couldn’t see it his way, and after a minute, I dug in my heels. At one point I actually heard the words come out of my mouth:

“Well, I think that’s just wrong.”


I immediately wished I had come up with a more, well, Shakespearean phrasing; by which I mean I wished I hadn’t been so blunt. But I was, and I fought for my interpretation, and in the end, I was able to read the line in such a way as to make it clear. And that’s what matters. Yes, you can support your argument all you want with textual evidence, but in the end, you’ve got to make that make sense to an audience. Otherwise, what’s it all for?

* That “finally” was facaetious. Kind of. This is what we’re talking about when we discuss actors’ egos. That was serious. Kind of. I, uh… is it hot in here?

** Something I, as a writer, clearly have little to no grasp of. E.g.: ending the previous sentence with a preposition. This is one of the reasons I don’t write my own material.


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