Once More Unto The Breach

Dear Readers and Potential Audience Members,

 Thanks for taking this journey with me as we explore the rehearsal and performance process for Milwaukee Shakespeare’s production of 2 Henry IV.  This is going to be a process of growth and evolution for me in many ways and I’m both excited and trepidatious about sharing it with you.  For those of you who’ve seen past performances with us you might know me as Borachio from Much Ado About Nothing or Gadshill, the gimpy thief with a heart of gold, from 1 Henry IV.  I’ve also gotten to portray William Shakespeare at many venues around time.

Yesterday, August 7, we met to start our rehearsals.  The first day of rehearsal is always very exciting.  We get to meet our colleagues with whom we’ll be working and we get our first insight into the director’s vision for the play, as well as how this vision will be interpreted by our team of designers, choreographers, coaches, and technicians.  As I boarded the elevator for the third floor I couldn’t help but feel like a Sophmore returning to school.  It was nice to see all of the lovely ladies who make Milwaukee Shakespeare such a great place to work as well as many of my actor friends from previous shows.  We gathered around a circle of tables and Susan Finque, our Director, took the floor .  She opened up about her ideas and directions for the play, giving us her feelings about how we make this beautiful piece of language resonate to our audience.  There are no big concepts here, no high-falootin notions, just a story to be told.  But a story that asks questions about who has the right to rule, what makes a claim to a throne legitimate, and what happens when people get tired of their leaders?  All of these questions resonate to us as an audience today as clearly as they did in 1598 when this play was written. 

 Susan then asked that we each look at the lines from our various characters and pick out a couple of short lines that we’d like to present to each other.*  We took a few minutes to look at our scripts, explore the rehearsal space, get used to sharing the space with each other, and warm up our voices.  It was hard not to feel like I had to prove myself worthy of being in this company of actors but I got over that and focused on the task I’d been given.   We then “auditioned” for each other.  I really enjoyed this as it gave each of us some insight into each other, a chance to see what Susan saw in each of us when we auditioned for her.  We read a couple of scenes and then invited our fantastic Text Coach Gale Daly and our brilliant Dramaturg Jim Owczarski to join us.**  Jim is a font of knowledge about the period in which Shakespeare was writing as well the period in which the play is set and we got some great fodder from him that we’ll use to flesh out the people we’ll be portraying. 

After our dinner break we gathered again to meet the designers.  They’ve already been working for months to build the world of the play, to give it a solid environment and the rich trappings that we’ll then bring to life.***  The afternoon rehearsal had been closed**** but this evening we were joined by many of our dedicated volunteers***** as well as some Board Members and our talented team of designers and technicians.  We settled back and started reading the play.  Wow!  I love this first stage in the process when we’re really so close to the work, breathing life into it for the first time, making honest choices, and being on the receiving end of our scene partners for the first time.  It all flew by fast, leaving me feeling a little exhausted but also terribly excited and ultimately extraordinarily grateful to be a part of such an amazing group of actors.

*SideBard:  For the most part we’ve each been cast in both a high and a low-born character.  One of the great things about this play is that we get to see a couple of social classes being portrayed, as well as the impact that war has on each.  Susan wants us to have the opportunity to really stretch ourselves, playing charcters from two different walks of life. 

 **SideBard:  A Text Coach helps us with our dialect, scanning our verse, language, diction, enunciation, and a myriad of other skills that help us make ourselves clear to the audience.  A Dramaturg will often provide research into the period of the play (both the time in which it was written as well as the time being portrayed) and give an historical context for the production.

***SideBard:  I’m happy to report that the audience seating configuaration that worked so brilliantly for 1 Henry IV  will be used again for this production. 

 ****SideBard:  A director will often “close” a rehearsal, meaning that only the director, stage manager, and the actors in the scene are allowed to be in the room.  This will provide an intimate and safe space to explore the work without feeling like many people are watching.

*****SideBard:  We’re so lucky to have the support of a strong group of volunteers that make all we do possible.  Thanks for the great chomps and warm welcome yesterday. 


1 Response to “Once More Unto The Breach”

  1. August 16, 2007 at 5:14 pm

    Wow! What thorough reflections. This blog is always such a great model for teaching reflection about the process of production to my students.

    As a high school teacher, I appreciate the “sophomore” reference. Today was our first day with students back at Rufus King High School, and I could definitely feel that vibe — particularly in my advanced theatre class, where many of the students had worked with each other before.

    I was fortunate enough to be one of the invited guests at this read-through, and it was really valuable to get an insight into the beginning of the process of actors acclimating to their lines. I talked up the production to my students today, just fueled off that rehearsal. I particularly appreciate that insight, since it was “closed,” as a fellow theatre person!


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