Pistol Speaks Naught But Truth

Our first week of rehearsal, as most first weeks of rehearsals are, has been largely devoted to table work.  This means that the actors and the director gather around a large table, or in our case several tables configured in a circle, and read through the play.  The script is broken down into scenes and the actors in each particular scene read it over and over again, stopping to discuss certain lines or intentions in the scene, reaching a consensus about what’s happening, or deciphering a character’s motivation in a particular moment.  Once we’ve read a scene, our director Susan gives us her thoughts and ideas, asking us to make adjustments or encouraging us to continue in a certain direction, and then we read it all over again.  Susan is very encouraging of our ideas and always willing to discuss our thoughts and insights.  We do this with every scene in the play, and though this part of the process can often get bogged down and tedious the pay-off comes when we get up on our feet to block* the play and all of this more cerebral work is already in place.

 Today I had my first session with Gale, our Text Coach.  We decided that in this session we’d tackle some of Pistol’s language so we sat down on opposite sides of a table and began reading one of his scenes.  We talked about how this characters sounds, what circumstances in his life informs his language, and what might have happened in his past that causes him to use the words he uses.  I shared with Gale some of the personal homework I’d been doing and how I saw this character.**  We discussed Susan’s desire not to have an “accent” per say for the characters in the play but to find a middle-of-the-road sound that would’t divorce our audience from the words.  This was different than I’d been reading Pistol*** but I trust Gale implicitly so I took her advice and we read the scene again.  It would be very easy to just blow through this scene, to play this character at the top of my lungs and to just be a crazy drunk spoiling for a fight.  Whiles there’s definitely a lot of that in the scene I think it would make the character rather flat.  Gale and I discussed how to give Pistol some more dimension, to find the places where he’s chivalrous, chauvinistic, bombastic, or nostalgic.  In short; to make him human.  And really, isn’t that what this is all about?  To breathe life into these people so that the audience can see themselves in the struggles and joys they undergo on stage. 

*SideBard:  Blocking is the process of figuring out where everyone goes on the stage.  Entrances, exits, movement, picking up and setting down props, and standing are all “blocked” and ultimately set in place so that it all happens exactly the same way for every performance.

 **SideBard:  I gave long thought about why this character was named Pistol by Shakespeare and I realized that he’s just like a real pistol of the period in which Shakespeare was writing.  The period pistols were called wheel locks.  They were loud, flashy, noxious, and purely weapons of intimidation because ultimately there were also inconsistent and unreliable.  The originals were made by German clock makers so, like a clock, thy literally had to be wound up before they would fire.  These qualities easily apply to Pistol’s character as well.

 ***Up to this point I’d been reading the lines with a burr to my voice, making my “r” sounds harder and giving my speech some Northern England colour.


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