Who Needs A Day Off?

Tuesday was our day off.  It had been a long and busy second week of rehearsal, with a lot of driving back and forth and many hours fighting, going over lines, and just generally trying to make every moment of rehearsal count.  I was really looking forward to a day away from Shakespeare.  So how did I spend my day off?  By immersing myself in Shakespeare, of course. 

 Stay with me for this and I promise I’ll bring it back to 2 Henry IV.  But first we’ll need to take a little side trip.

  I’ve referred in this blog to my friend and teacher Susan Hart.  We became reacquainted last season when she portrayed Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing.  I was cast as Borachio and felt woefully out of my league for much of the process of mounting that play.  Susan is a teacher of the First Folio* method and while she was in Milwaukee working on the play she offered to teach a class to some of us in the cast.   I joined in, and I cannot describe what an eye opening, nearly earth shattering experience it was for me.  Suddenly the text and the words became crystal clear, the scenes almost played themselves.  I was hooked and have been voracious for more ever since.  I tackled a monologue from King John and throughout the five classes we had together I grew enormously.  It appealed to the actor as well as the historian in me.  And the coolest part is that it positively effected my work on Much Ado while I was in the middle of the run of the play.  Since then I’ve taken the class twice more, once working on another monologue and most recently in a scene study class with a scene partner.  Which brings me to Tuesday.

Tuesday was the last day for our scene study class.  As much as I love the class I wasn’t exactly excited about doing this on my one day off.  I was beating myself up for not feeling quite as prepared as I should have been.  Basically, I was whining.  But I sucked it up and arrived at the Brady Street Pharmacy to get it over with so that I could get back home and collapse on the couch. 

I had been working with the beautiful and talented Tiffany Vance**.  We’d been tackling a really tough scene from Richard III and this was to be our final go.  In the scene Lady Anne is escorting the body of her dead father-in-law King Henry to his grave.  She’s devasted at his death as well as the death of her husband and the ultimate overthrow of her entire life at the hands of Richard Plantaganet, the crook-backed, insidious, malevolent title character.  She’s wailing over the coffin when in walks Richard himself who proceeds, through a series of horrific, convoluted, manipulative arguments to woo Lady Anne and ultimately win her.  She curses him, reviles him, matches him, amd even spits in his face before finally loosing her equilibrium to him.  The scene ends with her agreeing to see him again and forgiving him the destruction of everything she’s ever loved.  It’s utter pathos and poetry and unbelieveably difficult to act.

Still with me?

 There’s a point in the scene where Richard has changed tactics several times and decides to drop a bomb on Lady Anne.  He admits having killed her family but says the fault lies in her beauty, which has bewitched him so that he had no choice but to kill her husband.  She spits in his face and, using the First Folio method, Richard has nine beats to contemplate what happens next.  Nine beats, my friends, feels like fifteen minutes on stage.  My Richard wanted to kill her on the spot but instead I gain control and launch into a gut-wrenching monologue where I proceed to tell her that she’s the only thing in my terrible life that has ever brought me to tears, the only thing so beautiful that has ever moved my remorseless eyes to shame their aspects with store of childish drops. 

I’m not a good enough actor, yet, to do this scene justice but I was sure trying hard.  In my previous classes I’d yet to reach the emotional place that I needed to be, to go down what my friend Julia calls “crap gully”, to find that pit of despair that I could cull for this moment.  We’d blocked the scene so that I was sitting downstage***in front of the dead King’s coffin with my back to Lady Anne.  I was sitting on the floor with my knees curled under my chin, as I imagined the deformed Richard used to sit when he was being mocked by his elder brothers and their servants. 

We ran the scene beautifully, hitting all the marks and landing each thrust and parry.  We got to the big moment and the venom (literally) flowed from Lady Anne, landing squarely on my cheek.  My heart beat nine times and I launched into the monologue.  A few lines in I heard Susan whispering from the sides to give myself permission.  She wanted me to just let myself go where I needed to go, to dig into that unhappy place and trust that I, Stacy, would be alright.  This is really hard to do because we learn from an early age to edit ourselves, to quiet our instincts, and to avoid wearing our emotions on our sleeves.  We don’t want to be hurt so we don’t let people see our weaknesses.  That makes it a lot harder when an actor needs to access those feelings for their work.  But I was able to do it.  I went there and it all happened as it needed to.  I was able to pull out what I needed to bring Lady Anne to heel and to even make her feel sorry for me.  Of course Richard is doing all of this on purpose, but I really think that in order to convince her he has to convince himself, all the while letting the audience in on his little secret.  I did it, at least this time.  We finished the scene and Tiffany and I both collapsed, feeling exhausted but exhilirated at having given everything we had.  How people do that eight times a week I’ve yet to discover but after Tuesday’s class I’m much closer.

I was so jazzed that I took Susan up on her offer to watch her final monologue class with her newest crop of students.  I joined them in our rehearsal hall and was astounded at the bravery and talent demonstrated by each student.  Every person that got up to work ended up in a much more centered, honest place than where they began.  And in addition to all of her incredible coaching and wisdom Susan helped every one of the eight people in the class to give themselves permission.  It sounds easy, but believe me it ain’t.

 Are you still with me?  Here’s the point.  I’m reminded to give myself permission in my work on 2 Henry.  I’m looking forward, in the days remaining before we open, to exploring, delving, searching, seeking, and knowing that it’s alright to do so.  If everything I’m doing is succeeding then I’m not really trying hard enough.  Only by exploring am I going to find the good stuff.  Then I can show it to you.

 This one was long but I appreciate you hanging on.  It really helps me to put my thoughts down here.  Thanks for reading. 

*SideBard:  VERY basically, the First Folio method of performing Shakespeare goes back to the original publication of his plays in 1623.  The theory is that Shakespeare built into his text, by use of capitalization, punctuation, scansion, alliteration, and many other tools everything an actor needs to know to perform his plays the way the author intended. 

 **SideBard:  Audiences of Much Ado will remember her as Margaret, Hero’s waiting gentlewoman whom Borachio seduces and manipulates in his devious machinations.  Every actor should know the joy of working opposite someone as talented and passionate as Tiff.

***Down stage is the edge of the stage closest to the audience.


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