To kick off our rehearsal processes we had a full company workshop on Shakespeare’s text, facilitated by Christopher Weddell. Here are five (of the many) takeaways that we plan to bring to the stage this summer:
Find the reason why you’re speaking in either verse or prose. Shakespeare’s writing can be categorized into two distinct styles: verse, which has a poetic meter, and prose, which does not. Simply put, the difference comes down to whether the writing is in iambic pentameter (ten beats per line, with the emphasis on every second beat), or not. Christopher encouraged us to find the emotional reason why our characters have chosen either verse or prose, and suggested that characters who speak in prose may be trying to knock the other characters in the scene off balance in some way or another. He also reminded us that some of the most interesting moments come when our characters switch from verse to prose, or vice versa, in a single scene. There’s always a reason for this, and it’s our job as actors to find it!
Every scene is a chase scene. Christopher had us literally running through the room, dodging each other as we went, and trying to catch the attention of the actor we’d been paired with while we delivered a monologue to them. My partner was one of our junior company members, who, despite being a full foot and a half shorter than me, was shockingly fast! Having to work so hard to get his attention fueled me with an intense drive and energy while I delivered my monologue. Afterwards, Christopher said that in some ways, every scene is a chase scene. Every character is chasing something: love, commitment, excitement, revenge, or an answer to their questions. Now I’m really excited to find the metaphorical ‘chase’ in every scene, and to bring this intensity to my work on stage… even when my partner isn’t physically running away from me!
Ask yourself: Why am I still speaking? It may sound a little harsh... but I love this question! It’s not very interesting to watch someone speak just because they love the sound of their own voice. Shakespeare didn't make many arbitrary decisions in his writing. So, why are you still speaking? Is it because you haven’t yet received what you wanted from the person you’re speaking to? Are they unconvinced of your point? Not only is this a clue for the speaker, but a clue for the listener. What am I doing that makes my scene partner feel that they need to keep speaking to me?
Monosyllables. I love exploring the rhythm and cadence in Shakespearean language. Christopher drew our attention to places where characters use a string of monosyllabic words to make their point. Why these words? Why this choice? Monosyllables are a clue that the actor needs to s.l.o.w. d.o.w.n. Perhaps your character wants to make a very clear point. Or perhaps, as Christopher suggested, your character is using monosyllables to slow their own racing heart and gain control of their emotions. Either way, I love using textual clues like this as inspiration for character development and acting choices; it’s my favorite thing about being a Shakespearean actor!
Every actor has something to teach us. Christopher reminded us all that we can learn something from every actor we work with, no matter their background. Even a first time actor has offers to give that an experienced actor can learn from. It's our job to be open to this process, and to learn as much as we can from each other! Here’s what Frankie Mulder, one of our company actors, had to say about the workshop: “[It] reminded me how much you can gain from working with actors who come from different backgrounds and training. Our casts consist of performers who are in grade school, university, college, recent post-secondary graduates, working professionals and community members. It's incredible really.”