These Be Good Humours Indeed!

Friday was the first of my really long rehearsal days as we were working around the table on a couple of scenes wherein I have much to say.  In the afternoon we gathered to work through the first scene that happens in the Boar’s Head Tavern, located in London’s seedy side of town known as Eastcheap.*  Much happens in this scene so we had a big task ahead of us trying to break it down into it’s various beats.  This is the first scene for Pistol so I was excited to use what I’d learned the day before while working with Gale.  Before we start each scene we usually get cuts in the script from Susan.  She and I were both sad that we needed to cut a couple of Pistol’s lines but hey, we all make sacrifices for the greater good of the show.   We read through the scene and the first note I got from Susan was that she missed the burr I’d previously put in my voice.  She told me that without the hard “r” sound I sounded like a trombone, with it I sounded like a trumpet and that’s the sound she wanted.  She and Gale chatted for a few minutes, after which I got to keep my previously cut lines.  Now I don’t envy Susan the task of having to make cuts and editions to the script and frankly I’d rather sacrifice a few lines here and there if it help make the language clearer and keeps the show in a manageable time frame.  But I’m really glad to keep the lines, at least for now.

 After dinner we gathered to work on a pivotal scene in the action of the play, the Forest of Gaultree.  Let me set the scene.  It’s the dead of night in a dark forest in Yorkshire.  The leaders of the rebel army in the persons of the Earl Marshall Mowbray, the Archbishop Scrope of York, and Lord Hastings gather to discuss tactics; they’re on edge and nervous about the task ahead but also determined to bring their grievances before the King, even if it means taking up arms against the government.  Into the clearing enters the Earl of Westmoreland, one of the King’s closest advisors, and later the King’s younger son John of Lancaster.  Suffice to say, dear readers,  it is on!  The stakes couldn’t be higher and if we do our jobs correctly the tension will be thick enough to cut with a knife. 

The scene is full of absolutely delicious language and soaring monologues, expressive, lyrical, the kind of words it a treat to say.  These monologues are classic Shakespearean form which also means they’re a beast to play correctly.  Before I go any further I should say that Shakespeare*** was a genius.  He wrote in a form known as Iambic Pentameter.  Basically there are ten beats to a line of his verse with a rhythm kinda like ta tah, ta tah, ta tah, ta tah, ta tah.  Just like the beat of a human heart.  But then there are all sorts of variations and once you know them you understand that Shakespeare tells the actor exactly how he wants you to play the scene.  Things like what words are capitalized, how a word is spelled, and where the punctuation falls in the line all make a difference.  He tells you exactly where he wants you to breathe.  Sometimes there are variations in the rhythm of the line; there might be the standard ten beats but also eleven, twelve, or the rare thirteen.  This informs the actor about the emotional state of the character.  Sometimes there are only four beats in a line which means he wants you to pause for six beats before the next person responds.  It’s all wonderful and marvelous and once you know what to look for it’s like the DaVinci code for acting Shakespeare.

Now, back to the Forest of Gaultree.  We read the scene and had our first go at squaring off against each other.  There’s a marvelous plot twist in the scene and it will be our task to build the suspense in the scene until the knife turns.  This is going to be a lot of fun.  But first we’ve got a lot of work to do to get on top of the verse so that it arrives and lands effortlessly with clarity and bite.  And that means a lot of time with my script, pouring over glossarys, underlining words, and tapping out the beats on my kitchen table until I get the rhythm just right.  In short, my friends, there’s a lot of math involved when acting Shakespeare.

*SideBard:  Fans of 1 Henry IV will remember this as the tavern location from the first play.

**SideBard:  These are compressions and editions in the script that keep all the meat of what’s being said but helps us to keep the play under three hours.

***SideBard:  Whoever Shakespeare was.  There’s lots of debate but the point is the author of the plays attributed to William Shakespeare was a genius.


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