What is my character saying?

On April 7th, my cast came together and had their second read-through of the scene. After the read-through, they engaged with the performance space and performed the scene multiple times. In the second rehearsal, the scene is obviously still new to them. Unless they have performed a character in a previous showing of Romeo and Juliet; the context of the scene and the subtext of the character’s intentions are still quite foreign.

For this first experiment, my actors are at: different experience levels (in terms of theatrical performance and prior experience), different shakespearean experience levels (in terms of performing/understanding shakespeare in previous iterations), and at different accent-producing experience levels (in terms of previously performing successful accents in a theatrical performance).

Patrick Klavins, who is playing Lord Capulet in this first experiment, has; performed in prior Shakespearean productions, performed the character of Lord Capulet in a previous showing of Romeo and Juliet, AND has undergone some accent-training with the IPA system in South Australia and Victoria, at various institutions.

Hannah Bishop (Nurse) and Yasmine Barrett (Lady Capulet), haven’t played their characters or performed in a showing of Romeo and Juliet previously – BUT they have watched performances of Romeo and Juliet and have performed in other Shakespearean shows.

Bridget Greene (Juliet), hasn’t performed in OR seen a production of Romeo and Juliet before – but HAS performed in other Shakespearean shows, and knows the basic overview of the Romeo and Juliet story.

Myself, on the other hand – I’ve performed as Lord Capulet in 2014 in my University’s production of Romeo and Juliet and I remember the scene that this first experiment focuses on – very well. I haven’t watched another performance of Romeo and Juliet, but know the story thoroughly, and have performed and seen many other Shakespearean shows in the past as well.

These different levels of experience with Shakespeare’s work is bound to happen as different schools and institutions focus on Shakespeare in varying intensities. Notice however, that each of my Australian actors, have all encountered Shakespeare in some form or another. There are people out there who have no idea about Shakespeare’s works or who he was, but those numbers seem to be very few.

These differences in experience will also create interesting comparisons in the outcomes of this first experiment. This process will affect those who have had no prior Shakespeare experience before, in a very different way to those who are well-versed with Shakespeare and his language.


On April 7th, we stood in our rehearsal space and began to discover what each of the characters were saying in Act 3, Scene 5. When timed, the scene went for about 9 minutes. Which is a nice short time to keep an audience’s attention for.

We began with a walk-through of the Shakespearean text. My actors had a simplistic understanding of what they were saying in the scene, however there were many words that they just threw away in their reading of the text.

Following this, we underwent a walk-through of the scene, with the actors reading the modern translation i had given them the previous week. While these words weren’t in the same format or delivery as Shakespeare’s text, the modern translation uncovered some of the motives and meanings that my actors hadn’t picked up from reading the straight Shakespearean text. For example; Hannah (Nurse) hadn’t realised the extent to which the Nurse back-chats Capulet in this scene, until she saw the modern translation of the text. The Nurse is an older character, perhaps older than Capulet himself; and the fact that she back-chatted her employer shows great gall and passion for Juliet’s happiness, and disgust of Capulet’s actions. Sometimes it takes a simpler explanation of Shakespeare’s text, to uncover what he is meaning with his ‘big words’.

After this exercise, the actors participated in an improvised version of the scene; where they walked through basic blocking, and addressed the main points of the scene using what knew of their characters and the text they deliver. My actors expressed to me afterwards, that the improvisation of their character’s lines based on the understanding of their character in this scene, helped to uncover further details of their characters that they hadn’t previously noticed. For example; Bridget (Juliet) hadn’t noticed the full extent of Juliet’s trickery in the beginning of this scene, until she had to improvise her way through it. Bridget noticed Juliet’s deception of Lady Capulet into thinking that Romeo was an enemy of Juliet. This motive is implied in Shakespeare’s text, but can be hard to truly understand unless the text is simplified into modern language and grammatical conventions.

Once this exercise was completed and the actors had discussed what they had discovered about their characters, we performed the scene one last time with the original Shakespearean text. In this performance, I noticed a dramatic increase in the actors’ understanding of what they were saying. They grasped the meaning behind the words they spoke, and not only did it create a more interesting dialogue to observe, but it also helped the actors to present their text in a more convincing and ‘truthful’ way.

This method is in no-way entirely original, nor is it in no way the focus of my rehearsals with my actors. My focus is still on the accents and on the relevance of them in order to perform ‘truthfully’. I do however, feel that to presenting a realistic performance, an actor needs to understand what they are saying. If they blurt out words that they don’t know the meaning of/context of, then the performance can be disconnecting and jarring to an audience member and thus present an unfavourable result.


One of the texts that was incredibly helpful through this process was the text: Shakespeare’s Words: A Glossary & Language Companion, written by David and Ben Crystal.

This text houses every word used in a shakespearean play. The book details what the words mean, in what context is that word used, and in what plays (and which characters) use that word in Shakespeare’s text.

This book was very helpful in order to help my actors fully understand the text they are delivering, and will continue to help my actors for the remainder of this experimental process.

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(source: http://www.amazon.com/Shakespeares-Words-Glossary-Language-Companion/dp/0140291172)


 

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