Slings and Arrows…And Spears

Week two is going strong and we’ve started adding the next layer to our play.  In fact, by the end of the first week we started laying in some very basic blocking and getting a sense of movement within the scenes.  My first blocking rehearsal was for the scene wherein I play Fang, a member of the local Eastcheap constabulary.  As lights come up on the scene Sergeant Fang arrives with Mistress Quickly who has entered a law suit against Sir John Falstaff.  Mistress Quickly owns the Boar’s Head Tavern, Falstaff owes her money, and she’s enlisted the aid of Fang and his confederate Snare to arrest the errant Sir John.  Falstaff and his party arrive, the arrest occurs, and mayhem ensues.  My scene partner playing Snare is the hilarious Lenny Banovez.  This is the first time he and I have worked together * but we quickly grew as thick as thieves**.  Fang and Snare have a few lines early in the scene but once the skirmish with Bardolph and Falstaff’s page is quit we become observers for the rest of the scene.

And this is where we engage a very useful tool for an actor; the art of active listening.  This happens when an actor is on stage for a scene but doesn’t necessarily have lines.  The actor who is an active listener must walk a very fine line.  One has to have an attentive posture and an energized stance while at the same time being still so as not to distract from the action in the scene.  One has to throw focus to the actor who is speaking but not respond in such a way that the scene becomes about the listener’s reactions.  One cannot wander off mentally because there will invariably be a response necessary that must happen at exactly the proper instant in the scene or every single soul in the audience will notice the one guy on stage who didn’t laugh or forgot to kneel when everyone else did.  The instinct, when actively listening, is to make pithy comments under one’s breath to amuse the other active listeners around one, but this must be avoided.  Active listening is a difficult skill to master but the active listeners on stage are crucial to any piece of ensemble theatre.

 After the first time through the scene we paused for notes.  The text that Fang and Snare have to say supports the character choice of Fang (myself) being the aggressive one while Snare (Lenny) is the, shall we say, less aggressive.  I was cautioned by Susan to not assume a posture of bravado or bluster as I need to differentiate Fang from Pistol.  Of course she’s right but I was left to scratch my head and rethink Mister Fang.  Enter Natasha.  Natasha is one of the lovely ladies on our Stage Management team, and one of her many jobs is to track the various props we use.  She stepped up and handed Lenny and I each a spear; long, cruel looking, and used in the attempted arrest of Falstaff.  Suddenly the character arrived.  The spear changed my posture and my attitude.  It gave me the authority of my office and the importance of my job, but also something upon which to lean.  Fang is now all about his spear.  Snare is about making the arrest without succumbing to motion sickness, but that’s for Lenny to discuss.

We finished blocking the scene and when there was a pause in the action I turned to Lenny and commented that we were, literally, spear carriers in the scene***  We both chuckled under our breath and went back to being the two happiest, attentive, actively listening spear carriers in show business.****

 *SideBard:  Lenny and I are both alumni of the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre’s Artistic Intern Company, though from different seasons.  A big shout out to the hard-working Rep. interns.  You guys rock!

 **SideBard:  This might have something to do with the fact that we both live in Kenosha.  In fact, Lenny used to ride by my house and wonder what sort of people got to live in a Geodesic Dome.  He’s always wanted to come inside and now he can. 

 ***SideBard:  Spear Carrier is a term often used in the theatre to describe the people on stage who provide the ensemble or background cast in a production.  I suspect it began as an opera term to describe the supernumeraries who stood in the back playing the spear carrying soldiers.  It doesn’t just have to be a period play to have spear carriers: Julius Caesar has them as does West Side Story.

****SideBard:  Most young actors will spend a lot of time carrying spears.  This allows us to share the stage with more experienced actors, thus learning our craft, while also providing producing theatres with actors to populate their crowd scenes and move the sets.  I’m proud to be a part of this ancient and reverend tradition.


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