Yesterday, I got to listen to the first full read-through of our cast do our cut of Measure for Measure.
This was a new and different experience in several ways.
Firstly, this is my first time dramaturging a production. While this isn’t the first time I’ve been on the “other side” of the table (i.e. not acting), I definitely have much more experience as an actor than I do as a member of the production team. As such, to be sitting behind that big folding table listening intently rather than partaking in the reading felt like wearing someone else’s shoes. While they were the correct size for me, they weren’t quite worn in for my feet and the shape was unfamiliar (though, really, it’s a shoe, so how unfamiliar can it be?). At the end of the day, theatre is theatre and Shakespeare is Shakespeare and, while both can supply endless permutations of difference, they are both places I know well. So, while it felt new to be sitting in the Big Comfy Dramaturge chair with all the responsibilities and privileges allotted to that, it still felt like home.
Secondly, this is the first time that I’ve ever participated in editing an edition of Shakespeare. To know that the story being told was one that I helped to shape (and one that I have some amount of control over) was absolutely thrilling.
Third, my job in this production is to be an expert. I am sitting in that room because I have a degree of knowledge about an aspect of the show that nobody else in the room has. As such, some things are my job to comment on, correct, observe, and shape. While this is, in the end, a show that belongs to the actors and the director, it is my job to make them look good and ensure that they aren’t missing something big, historical, textual, Shakespearean, etc. In other words: I am the champion of Shakespeare in that room. I am
his sword and shield, his chosen paladin (… oh what I would give to put that on a job description or in my CV). This is an immense privilege, but also a huge responsibility. If I miss something, it’s missed. If I fail to explain something properly, it is also lost to the ether. I must be ever-vigilant, ever-watchful, and ever-articulate.
It is still very early in the process and, as such, we have more of an amorphous blob of a show than a cohesive unit. There is a great deal of work to be done on all fronts; a first read functions only to get the words in the air and to give some sense of direction for the actors and designers. As such, there are problems that can be spotted at this juncture and corrected early (and problems that must be spotted and corrected early), and things that can only be warning signs.
Examples of things that I found yesterday which were important to note at this stage (pun intended):
*Minor across-the-board pronunciation issues. If ever you do Shakespeare, read Shakespeare, or see Shakespeare that you want to comment upon; note this: the word “doth” is pronounced “d-uh-th” not “d-aw-th”. This one drives me crazy and you hear it far too often. “Troth” is another commonly mispronounced Shakespearism (pronounced “Tr-oh-th” not “tr-aw-th”), though I didn’t hear this one yesterday so they must be doing well with it. I would say that most of my job revolves around ensuring correct pronunciation and clarity of meaning by providing definitions to obscure words (or things that have fallen out of the common usage). If you wind up working on a show without a dramaturge, just make sure you’re pronouncing things properly. The easiest way to make yourself look like a know-nothing onstage is to go up there without knowing how to say your lines.
*A few textual notes which are specific to Measure and, unless you’ve spent a great deal of time with the show, you may not notice on your own. For example: the word “whore” pops up again and again in this show and, often times, it’s internally nested. Isabella says “abhor” a whole lotta times (which is funny because she’s a nun and is constantly preaching chastity and virtue). There’s even a character named “Abhorson”. Actors need to be aware of these things and sensitive to them, but they are easy to gloss over if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Shakespeare police to the rescue!
*Some juicy ways to use the language that, again, unless you’re specially trained would be easy to miss. Shakespeare is a master of words and, as such, a master of providing words which can help you act. When you are speaking them, you need to use them. Devices such as onomatopoeia, alliteration, and repetition of sounds/full words can provide acting clues and, if you ignore them, you wind up delivering a flat reading of a full text. Alerting the actors to these clues is the first step towards colorful Shakespeare.
Like I said, this show has a long way to go before it is ready to open, but luckily we have a lot of time to make that happen. I’m really looking forward to seeing this show grow and supporting it along the way. The actors are starting with a good, solid foundation; if they can build at a steady rate, the final production is really going to be something worth seeing.