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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: October ::
And Now for Something Completely Different
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1872  Saturday, 9 October 2004

[1]     From:   Ken Campbell <
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        Date:   Friday, 8 Oct 2004 14:09:19 -0700
        Subj:   RE: SHK 15.1858 And Now for Something Completely Different

[2]     From:   Charles Weinstein <
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        Date:   Friday, 8 Oct 2004 20:35:49 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1858 And Now for Something Completely Different

[3]     From:   Matt Henerson <
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        Date:   Saturday, 9 Oct 2004 02:12:44 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1858 And Now for Something Completely Different

[4]     From:   L. Swilley <
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        Date:   Saturday, 9 Oct 2004 07:56:14 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.1858 And Now for Something Completely Different


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ken Campbell <
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Date:           Friday, 8 Oct 2004 14:09:19 -0700
Subject: 15.1858 And Now for Something Completely Different
Comment:        RE: SHK 15.1858 And Now for Something Completely Different

I don't know that it is much different except when rehearsing in rep.
Some places will work on one play one day and the other the next and
others will spend mornings on one and evenings on the other. I always
liked the latter better.

I hear what is known as top and tail rep is fun.  That is when you have
two weeks to rehearse. It is called top and tail because the actor is
required to know the first line and the last line of a speech, in the
middle he/she is on their own.

Basically if you have several weeks of rehearsal you would start at the
table with introductions as you fill out employment information so you
can get paid.  Then you would elect the equity deputy which is a pretty
amusing because nobody wants the job. You would continue with a
read-through and a show and tell by the set designer and costume
designer. Costume fitting times are posted.  Break for meal and return
for a session with the Dramaturge and possibly a tour of the backstage
and dressing room area with the stage manager. If there are fights then
those actors involved would be scheduled out to the fight director for
work for an hour or so each day. If there was time at the tail end of
the first day you might do a scene by scene of text work.  This kind of
table work might take up the next two to five days before you begin
blocking.  After that it is a week before you might limp-thru an act or
two.  After that Jeffery Rush's line in Shakespeare in love comes to
mind.(paraphrased)  Nobody knows. It's magic

J. Kenneth Campbell

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Charles Weinstein <
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Date:           Friday, 8 Oct 2004 20:35:49 -0400
Subject: 15.1858 And Now for Something Completely Different
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1858 And Now for Something Completely Different

Don Bloom asks:

 >"Pursuant to an admittedly private matter, does anyone on the list have
 >information on the process of rehearsing Shakespeare by professional
 >companies?
 >
 >I would be interested in personal anecdotes as well as technical data
 >about rehearsal schedules and procedures."

See the following (all but the Marowitz and Rosenberg listings are
book-length):

William Redfield, Letters from an Actor (Gielgud-Burton Hamlet, 1964)
Richard L. Sterne, John Gielgud Directs Richard Burton in Hamlet (same;
transcripts of rehearsal periods)
Alfred Rossi, Minneapolis Rehearsals (Guthrie-Grizzard Hamlet, 1963)
Tirzah Lowen, Peter Hall Directs Antony and Cleopatra (National Theatre,
1987)
Antony Sher, Year of the King (RSC Richard III, 1984)
Kristina Bedford, Coriolanus at the National (Hall-McKellen, 1985)
David Selbourne, The Making of A Midsummer Night's Dream (Peter Brook,
RSC, 1970)
Maurice Good, Every Inch A Lear (Robin Phillips, Stratford, Ontario, 1979)
Roger Warren, Staging Shakespeare's Late Plays (The Romances,
Hall/National, 1988; Stratford, Ontario, 1986)
Antony Sher & Gregory Doran, Woza Shakespeare (Titus Andronicus,
Johannesburg, London, etc. 1994-95)
Charles Marowitz, The Lear Log (Brook-Scofield, 1962)
Brian Cox, The Lear Diaries (National, 1991)
Marvin Rosenberg, Paul Scofield's Macbeth: Macbeth in Rehearsal--A
Journal Performance (Hall, RSC, 1967)

Roger Warren's book is the best of the bunch; Lowen's the worst; David
Selbourne's the most intellectually complex; Redfield's and Sher's the
most entertaining; Good's the most fawning and obsequious; Sher &
Doran's the most politically correct.

--Charles Weinstein









[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Matt Henerson <
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Date:           Saturday, 9 Oct 2004 02:12:44 EDT
Subject: 15.1858 And Now for Something Completely Different
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1858 And Now for Something Completely Different

Dear Don,

That's a tall order.  I began this post intending to discuss the entire
rehearsal process, but eventually concluded that I hadn't the time to
write, nor most of the list to read, a first draft of the Great American
Novel (or the Mediocre American Theatre Text Book, as the case may be.)
  So I'll stick to the beginning of the rehearsal process, and let
others fill in the middle and the end.  Here, therefore, is some
information based on something like thirty professional productions of
Shakespeare ranging from Equity waiver (professional actors in small
venues for no (or very little) money to big-ticket regional theatre.
I've never done Shakespeare on Broadway, but I have done one play under
a production contract, which means Broadway money, at least for the
actors and stage managers, so I'll assume the experience is comparable.
  If not, I suspect there are American actors on this list who have done
Broadway Shakespeare, and perhaps some British, Canadian or Australian
actors who work with companies receiving--the most distant of dreams in
W's America--government subsidies.  Perhaps they will correct me if I stray.

Virtually all productions of Shakespeare that I have been involved with
begin with table work.  The director, actors, dramaturg, and for a
portion of the time the designers, sit around a table to read and
discuss the text.  These sessions can range from a couple of
days--Equity waiver--to two weeks, which is the most time I've ever
spent around the table.  Almost all decisions involving the allocation
of time in the American theatre have to do with money.  There are a very
very few actors lucky enough to find themselves in permanent companies
at LORT (League of Regional Theatre) houses, and those happy few are on
salary year 'round.  But most of us are paid weekly, at the same rate
for rehearsals and performance.  In the 90's, when corporate donations
to the arts were considerably higher than they are today, LORT houses
might budget five or six weeks for rehearsals, depending on cast size,
the presence of a star name with which they hoped to increase ticket
sales, etc.  These days you're lucky to get four, including a tech week
by which time you're expected to have the entire show staged.  I've read
about how some of the European companies develop shows over a period of
months, or even years--with multiple readings, workshops, studio
productions, etc.  Leon Rubin wrote a wonderful book about the RSC's
production of "Nicholas Nickleby" in which he describes some of this
process.  In the US, the same sort of thing can happen, but it's much
more difficult to engineer, and frequently involves several different
institutions.

Back to table work.  With Shakespeare, the one consistent goal around
the table is to make sure everybody understands every word said in the
play.  It doesn't always work, but that's the goal.  So there are
dictionaries, lexicons, multiple editions, folio facsimiles, etc.  The
cast reads the play, stopping periodically--sometimes whenever they
want, sometimes at the end of each scene--to discuss or question the
literal meaning of the words.  In addition, design presentations usually
happen around a table.  The set designer will have a small model of the
set, so the actors can begin to visualize the physical space in which
they'll be performing.  Costume designers will have sketches, and
sometimes fabrics or actual pieces, so the actors can see what they're
expected to look like.  I remember sitting around the table for a
production of "Midsummer" in which I was playing Theseus and Oberon.
Now that's unusual casting for me.  I'm 5'9" and stocky, and I looked at
the costumer's renderings, most of which involved that wasp-waisted
Elizabethan male shilouette, and thought to myself "They lost an actor.
  I'm second choice behind some long, thin guy, who turned them down for
a movie or something, and nobody told the poor costume designer."
Whether or not that was the case, they tried to make my body conform to
the design, even to the extent of corsetting me.  But there are some
things even the magic of theatre can't overcome, and in the end we
modified the look from Essex to Henry VII, and everybody was much happier.

What happens around a table, beyond reading for meaning and design
presentations, is mostly up to the director.  Some directors want to
hear an interpretive discussion of the play.  What does everybody think
"Timon" is about?  Others discuss the social and/or political context in
which they intend to set the play.  I was in a "Twelfth Night" set in
the late 19th Century, in which Illyria was imagined as a Pre-Raphaelite
sort of artists colony.  Orsino and Olivia swanned around in medieval
costume while the rest of the cast dressed in trousers, vests and frock
coats.  Much of the table work there was given over to a discussion of
Pater, the Aesthetes, and the Pre-Raphaelites.  Still other directors
have technical areas on which they want to spend table time.  Peter Hall
had us around a table for a fascinating two weeks for his Los Angeles
production of "Romeo and Juliet."  Much of that time he devoted to a
master class in the verse speaking technique he had developed.  Some
directors are suspicious of any discussion around the table.  They want
all interpretational discoveries made in the rehearsal room.  In what
would turn into a wonderful production of "Winter's Tale," we were
around the table for just two days, after which, for the next ten days,
we were doing movement exercises based on Anne Bogart's Viewpoints.  I
was ready to put a fist through a wall by the end of it, but the
production turned out terrific.

I'll end this post by recommending a few books which do a reasonable job
describing the rehearsal process of a Shakespeare play.  My favorites in
this category are not written by leading actors or directors, but by
understudies, small-part players, or production staff.  Their viewpoint
tends to be broader, and they have less personal investment in either a
Clintonesque concern for history's assessment of a production, or
personal hagiography.

Good, Maurice "Every Inch a Lear--A Rehearsal Journal"
Good was Peter Ustinov's understudy when Ustinov played Lear for Robin
Phillips' Stratford, Ontario production.  This is one of the most
comprehensive
description of a rehearsal process I've come across.

Lowen, Tirzah "Peter Hall Directs ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA"
This is a thorough, if slightly gushing account of Hall's 1987 National
Theatre production with Anthony Hopkins and Judi Dench.  I didn't see this
production, but any number of friends and relations did, and Ms. Lowen
was not the
only one gushing.

Selbourne, David "The Making of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM"
Playwrite Selbourne's account of Brook's 1971 RSC production is detailed
and
incisive.  He spends a good deal of time on his response to Brook's
rehearsal
techniques.  I find this adds interest to the book, but it is less pure
reporting than either of the above titles.

Sterne, Richard L. "John Gielgud Directs Richard Burton in HAMLET"
Sterne played small roles in Gielgud's 1964 Broadway production, attended
every rehearsal, and surreptitiously taped the whole process.  His
account of the
experience is worshipful but charming.  On this production, I should also
mention:

Redfield, William "Letters from an Actor"
Redfield played Guildenstern in the same production.  He collected, edited,
and added to a series of letters he wrote around the time of the
production.
They are fun to read, and often informative, but the whole endeavor is not
nearly as focused--nor was it intended to be--as Sterne's book.

Other titles focused on aspects of production--ususally the actor in the
leading role--include:

Cox, Brian "The Lear Diaries" (KING LEAR--National Theatre 1991)
Davies, Oliver Ford "Playing Lear" (KING LEAR--Almeida Theatre 1998)
Sher, Antony "Year of the King" (RICHARD III--RSC 1984)
Sher, Antony and Doran, Gregory "Woza Shakespeare" (TITUS
ANDRONICUS--Market
Theatre, Johannesburg 1994)
Valk, Diana "Shylock for a Summer" (MERCHANT OF VENICE--Stratford, Ontario
1955)

Finally, there is a collection of interviews, essays, promptbook, and
reviews edited by Sally Beauman under the title "The Royal Shakespeare
Company's Centenary Production of HENRY V"  No attempt at a rehearsal
journal, but interviews of many actors and an essay by the director
occasionally speak to the rehearsal process.

Hope all this is helpful.

Matt Henerson

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           L. Swilley <
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Date:           Saturday, 9 Oct 2004 07:56:14 -0500
Subject: 15.1858 And Now for Something Completely Different
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.1858 And Now for Something Completely Different

D Bloom asked,

 >Pursuant to an admittedly private matter, does anyone on the list have
 >information on the process of rehearsing Shakespeare by professional
 >companies?

Have you seen this volume: Gielgud's and Burton's recorded remarks on
the director's/actor's comments during the rehearsals of their  "Hamlet"?

L. Swilley

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