The Rosalind Diaries: Entry Eight; The Show Must Go On

So, we opened this weekend.  The following is an account of my weekend as I progressed through it; my inner monologue is conveniently denoted by text in italics.

Friday Night: Opening Night

I was worried going into this because I wasn’t feeling well, which meant low energy, which did not bode well for performing Shakespeare (much less a show that relies a great deal upon my ability to carry it on my shoulders).  Knowing this, I tried to apply as much comfort as possible to my state and let the rest of life roll off my back.  Upside: I did not have the spare energy for my normally-crippling stage fright to sink in.

 God, I forgot what it was like to be at rehearsal all week and not really have a life outside of it.  Also, right, I need to remember to pack the correct makeup… not that the lighting is horribly intense.

 The house was small, but I knew that I had some personal friends coming to see the show (one of whom being my aforementioned partner in crime who, due to cruel twists of fate and the fact that I considered myself fondly retired before this production, had never before seen me onstage).

Are all my costume changes going to work?  They worked last night… maybe that was a fluke…

Me and Orlando… hanging out in the woods… dressed as a boy… you know, like you do.

 There’s a horrifying moment, as you sit getting ready and you thank the stage manager for the fifteen call (“Fifteen!” “Thank you, fifteen!”) wherein your mind goes blank.  You forget everything.  You are awash in a sea of white and the only thing you can do is stare dumbfounded at yourself in the mirror, lipstick in hand, and wonder what the hell your first line is.

What is my first line?  No, really, what is my first line?

 The performance gets rolling and you find the ways of it.  The groves, the curves, the things you need to do to give yourself the energy to spring-board into the next scene.  I know when I need to rendezvous backstage with my partner to squeeze her hand, or take a moment to smile at him, or check in with her, or pre-set costume change C.  And finding that rhythm is comforting, but you can’t get too comfortable because then the entire thing becomes stale.

Okay, intermission, let’s just keep pushing through…

 This show, for me, is mostly about hitting the midpoint.  Act one in the court is rough; it’s hard to inject those scenes with energy and they contain a great deal of exposition which the already-reeling audience is struggling to keep up with.  Things don’t get fun until we hit the forest, and I don’t really get to play in the forest until act two.  But once I hit that stage at the top of the act, I almost don’t leave it until the end of the show.  So; you push the snowball up hill in act one, and spend act two pumping more energy into it, bouncing off your scene partners, and just letting it roll on home.

Oh good god they skipped ahead in the scene that covers my quick change.  I may die.  Or come onstage half dressed.  Or do one then the other.

 Luckily, neither happened.

Saturday; Night Two

Again, we played to an intimate but receptive house, and having those voices ring back at us in laughter, exclamations, etc. really helped to keep us going.  Unfortunately, my illness got worse rather than better and even a day of rest couldn’t curtail the disgustingness that was the way I felt.

You know what I would like?  I would like to do a performance in which I’m on top of my game… I wonder how quickly I can bust this whatever-it-is.

 Hit act one like an inferno and we finally found the energy we needed for those first few scenes.  Tapping into my darker emotions is generally easier for me to do when I’m not feeling well, tired, or a combination of both.  As such, I didn’t have to work too hard to get the melancholy rolling at the plays’ start.

I would really like to die now please…

I do not recommend binding down to anyone who has any semblance of a curvy figure.  I especially do not recommend it when your chest is congested and you are already at a less-than-optimal lung capacity.  I spent the majority of this performance feeling like I was going to pass out.

I wonder if it would be better to faint onstage or offstage… at least if I did it onstage I’m reasonably certain that I would be able to recite the lines as I went along and may even be able to pick up where I left off when I came to.

 Despite my terminal lack of energy, my scene partners advised me that I put on a solid performance and they didn’t notice a difference.  Phew.

Please don’t let me drip gross things from my nose on Orlando’s shoulder during the wedding scene.

 I didn’t.

Sunday: Matinee

Despite the fear that we would be playing to an empty house given our previously poorly attended performances and the fact that it was Sunday of a holiday weekend, we had a

my dressing room station at the top of the show tonight.

fair sized audience! And a few dear friends of ours even surprised us by appearing without telling us they were coming (…leading to an incident which can only be described as “frantic fact-checking while simultaneously making a quick-change”).

Unfortunately, my cold has escalated to something much more closely resembling bronchitis so my energy wasn’t anywhere near where I want it to be.  I have again been assured that neither the audience nor my scene partners could tell, but I certainly knew as I tried to keep my coughing fits contained backstage and took a near-nap on the dressing room floor at intermission.

Well, at least I won’t have to push to find tears.

And I didn’t.  Or to find new moments, of which there were a surprising amount during this performance.  As much as I would like to think that it is because I am feeling cruddy and, thereby, I should always be feeling cruddy when playing Rosalind, I’m really looking forward to getting well over the week and hitting it hard next weekend.

During 3.2 (a scene which took some very tedious tolls during rehearsal), I was rewarded when, after a bit I do with my hands to demonstrate monsters eating each other, an older lady cooed from the audience “she’s so cute!”.  Glowy actor time.

On the whole, we had a very satisfying set of performances this weekend, and I’m very much looking forward to the second half of the run.  The only thing missing right now is you and I encourage you, advise you, well near implore you to make an attempt to come see what I think is one of the better shows to hit Boston this year (though I well may be just a touch biased). Tickets and show info can be found here!

The Rosalind Diaries: Entry Seven; Putting it Together

Last night, for the first time, we ran the entire show.  We stopped for a five-minute intermission, but other than that we just kept going.

And last night, for the first time, it really felt like it worked.

We didn’t have the full set, we didn’t have lights, and most people didn’t use their

Touchstone finds Rosalind reading Orlando’s poems in the forest

costumes (I did to try and make sure my changes work – they should; though my quick-change at the end is going to be a bit of a bitch).  But we did it.

Coming off the heels of a rehearsal in which I felt like nothing worked, it was pretty spectacular to leave last night feeling like something fell into place.  I wasn’t word perfect, and I know that the other actors weren’t either.  There were some few calm calls for line, but I know I could have fought through them if I had wanted to.  The pace still needs to be picked up before performance.  But those things aside, we did it.  We stumbled through.

And let me tell you, it can only go up from here, and it’s really going to be good.

Orlando and I have been in deep conversation about how to make 3.2 work.  We’ve been trying to feed things in; ideas, notions, impulses, anything to get a different reading than just something flat.  Last night, for the first time, we had a spark of something.  We were engaged with each other, we listened, and something worked.

I also owe a debt of gratitude to my dear friend Angelo who took time out of his busy schedule to run lines with me and coach me through this scene particularly when we realized how much it wasn’t working.  With his help, and with the support of my fellow cast-mates, something happened.

So; what worked?

I kept coming back to the idea that this was Rosalind’s first time really speaking with Orlando at any length.  Her disguise, the mask she wears in the forest, really frees her to say whatever she wants without consequence.  Her honor is only at stake if he discovers that she’s a woman, so so long as she can continue the charade of being Ganymede everything else will sort itself.  This scene is a desperate attempt to engage Orlando, an attempt to find a way to spend time with him in a situation that’s mediated and in which she makes the rules.  If she is teaching him courtship, then she has all the power (a situation which never would have been allowed at court).  Rosalind is a woman completely abandoned and betrayed by all the men in her life; her father was exiled, her uncle then exiles her; it makes sense that she would be wary around the guy she wishes would become her husband.  By making the rules herself, she takes a hand in her own fate and so setting up the Ganymede/Rosalind role-play concession is a vital step in ensuring a strong future for herself.

So what does a girl who likes a guy but is dressed like a guy say to that guy when she knows he kinda likes her back but she can’t reveal that she’s the one he’s in love with?

The answer is: she has a really hard time coming up with things to say.

Rosalind is a master of wit and she’s extremely good at entertaining people with it.  But when she sees Orlando in the forest and decides to speak with him, the best thing she can come up with to say is “What time is it?”

….stupid, stupid, stupid.

Once I was able to feed that nervous energy into the scene, it gave us somewhere to

Rosalind and Celia come upon Orlando carving Rosalind’s name into the poor trees of Arden

bounce from.  Orlando had to figure out why I could sometimes engage with him and sometimes not, which meant he was interested in what I was saying.  But I can’t let him get too physically close to me because, if I do, he may recognize me.  But at the same time, his eyes are really pretty and I really want to touch him, but it’s probably a bad idea.

The rubber-band action gives us something to play with, and makes sure that we keep moving (a MUST on a proscenium stage).

Another thing which really helped was a suggestion by our director to “earn the touch”.  There’s no way that Rosalind would touch Orlando casually (even if casual touching is something that I do rather frequently).  Every touch should be important, magical, and something we work up to.  Once we were able to emphasize the importance of the touch, we were able to really plug into the “I want to, but I can’t”, which in turn fed that nervous energy which the entire scene hinges upon.

So we did some solid work last night.  It’s only going to get better as we build, grow, and prepare because we open in a scant nine days (and it’s only eight days before our invited dress with talk-back).

Curious about seeing us in our full glory?  Tickets available here!

The Rosalind Diaries: Entry Six; Climbing Uphill

Yesterday, our director busted out the words that strike terror into the casts of shows the world over; “We open two weeks from tomorrow”.

Ensue panic.  I’m not ready.  I’m barely off book, definitely not word perfect, some scenes are working but some scenes definitely aren’t, we don’t have a set yet, we don’t have all our costumes yet, I’ve not rehearsed with some of my more important props, I’m not really feeling it yet, nothing’s sliding into place, oh my god why is this happening and why don’t we have more rehearsal time this show is going to suck why did I encourage my friends to come see it?!

….whoa.  Slow down there, cowgirl.

First things first: up until this week, things were going peachy keen and dandy.  You were happy with the progress.  You were excited about the potential.  There’s a reason you told your friends to come see the show.  You believe in the talent around you.  You believe that this is worth seeing.

Next:  I know it’s been a long time since you’ve been in a show, self, but remember: this is natural.  Panic time always happens last minute.  Always.  There’s never enough rehearsal time.  There’s always something to work on.  You are making art and art is a process, not a product.  No matter how much time you have, there will always be something more you want to do or add to make a show better.  This stage of the game is developmentally appropriate.

Next: Yes, I know you’re coming down to the wire, but you still have some time.  A lot can

Cast lounging on our skeletal set during a line-through the other day

happen in two weeks.  You don’t want the show to peak before its prime and if things were going perfectly right now, chances are some monkey wrench would have completely thrown it off in two weeks for your opening.  Take a breath and analyze what you need to do to make what’s not working work.

Next: This, remember, is why you aren’t a full-time professional actor.  This part of the process.  The sheer terror being blocked up emotionally.  The idea that an entire production rests on your shoulders and, should you give a less-than-stellar performance, you would be letting everyone down and all this hard work would have been for nothing.  Doing things that scare you build character and there’s a reason you came out of retirement to perform this part.  Despite your insecurities, you know you can do this.  You’ve been waiting a long time to do this.  You’ve been storing up those life experiences so that you have the emotional dexterity to do this.  So buck up, face down your demons, and prove to yourself that you’re capable of what you know you can do.  Nobody said it was going to be easy, but the ability to overcome those obstacles which seem largest and darkest is what makes you a better human being in the end.  And, by the way, a better actor.

Next: While Rosalind is one of the folks who has the most lines in the show (and, by the way, one of the most blathering characters in the canon – she’s the largest of Shakespeare’s female roles with a total of 685 lines, also putting her at the seventeenth largest role in the canon, but it’s hard to compete with Hamlet who has 1506 lines.  Statistically, Rosalind speaks 23.7% of the play as the show consists of some 2,884 lines while Hamlet speaks 37% of the play since Hamlet is a massive 4,070 lines) that doesn’t mean that I’m alone onstage.  I have a wonderful cast of actors to help me along – my Celia, Touchstone, and Orlando are solid (and, as I’ve found out, there’s not a single scene where I’m onstage without one of these three people).  They are there to play with me, to help me, and to carry the show with me.  Yes, I talk a lot, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a one-woman show.  Trust your fellow actors and let them help you because they are good at what they do.

Rosalind from the waist down. Those pants are the most comfortable thing I’ve ever worn and I love them. They’re so giant!

Also, you have one of the greatest coaches you can think of helping you out.  Aforementioned gay best friend has really busted butt to make sure I’m good to go, and has generously offered to continue helping me work through these last minute difficulties.  He’s awesome and I can’t imagine going through this process without him.

Next: You’re doing this because you love telling a story, you love Shakespeare’s words, and you love theatre.  Remember what you love about these things, take a deep breath, and go have fun.  It’s called a “play” for a reason.

Suffice to say, I’m going to be working my fingers to the bone getting ready for this show.  I think it’ll pay off in the end, and I really hope that you’ll be able to come see it.

Despite my massive issues with stage fright which compound themselves when there are people I know in the audience.

Come see it anyway.  It’ll at least be worth a good hard laugh at my expense.

Tickets here!

The Rosalind Diaries; Entry Five: Suit the Action to the Word

Ah yes, now we’re into the thick of it.

At this point in the rehearsal process, we are, mostly, off book.  Which means that it’s time to start doing some real acting.  Which also means that it’s time to draw forth from those deep emotional wells, make choices, enact them, and shape our performance into something that looks a lot more like a finished product.

Basically, this is the hard part.

As a young actor, this is what I had the most trouble with (and still, by the by, plagues me

Me in “The Laramie Project” circa 2003

to this day).  I think a lot.  In fact, it’s my job to think.  As a result, when I’m acting, I tend to be “in my head” (which is a fancy way of saying that I’m trying too hard and not doing enough).  Having been through the extensive training that I have been through, I’ve picked up tricks along to way.  I’ve uncovered ways to express through the text things which don’t require actual emotion but can trick a casual viewer into thinking I’m feeling something.  It’s a good way to color the text, and a good adjunct strategy, but can’t bear the full weight of a performance.  At the end of the day, it doesn’t amount to anything genuine.  And I’m a firm believer that, if theatre is to be effective, it has to have a kernel of truth.

The problem with feeling emotion is that it’s messy.  Acting is a hideous, horrible profession that will destroy you emotionally and physically if you let it.  An actor is paid to get up onstage eight times a week and reveal the deepest, darkest, scariest parts of himself to an audience of strangers who will then pass judgment on the depths of that actor’s soul.

In my opinion, nobody gets paid enough to do that.

So why do we do it?

Because it feels good.  Because being connected to one’s own humanity in that way, and by extension the humanity of one’s audience, makes one feel whole.  Like a cog in the universal machine.  It makes one feel potent; like one can actually effect (and, by the by, affect) something.  Like a catalyst.  Like one has a true meaning and purpose in the giant planet earth that we live in and, larger than that, the human experience.

“Rosalind, Celia, and Touchstone: 2.3″ engraving by Henry William Bunbury; 1792

But it’s hard, and it takes it’s toll.  As You Like it is a comedy and still there are days when I find myself feeling raw after rehearsal.  Particularly tough for me is 1.3.  At the top of the scene, Rosalind is giddy in love having just met and exchanged words with Orlando for the first time.  It’s a high; a rush; and if I hit it right I wind up giggley and soaring.  Halfway through the scene, Duke Frederick enters to banish Rosalind from the court.  He tears away everything she has ever known and says that she must leave, on pain of death.  If we hit that right, the bottom drops out of my stomach and the gravity of the situation weighs heavily on my shoulders.  My heart grays and it’s almost as though a cloud has come to darken my little section of the world.  Even if Rosalind fights back (which, by the by, she does as much as she can), I’m still left feeling bitter and angry.  Then, after Frederick’s exit, Celia devises the plan to go to the woods and dress as beggars.  Rosalind and Celia expound upon this plan and Rosalind bounces back up from the devastation of her banishment into the possibility of their retreat to Arden.  Arden; where her father is, where she can dress as a man and have the freedom not allotted her in the court, where a whole new life awaits her and her best friend.  It’s not the same unerring giddiness that the top of the scene brings, but it’s definitely a step up from the scene’s middle.

It’s an emotional roller coaster, and one that I have to ride in the span of a few minutes.  In performance it’s devastating enough, but consider that in rehearsal we hash and re-hash these scenes over and over again.  In a single night I could do this three or four times; bouncing wildly from top to bottom and all across the spectrum of emotions.

It’s no wonder rehearsals make me tired and hungry.

Last night, we did some work on 4.3 and 3.4; both scenes that begin with Rosalind waiting for Orlando who is late to meet Rosalind (dressed as Ganymede).  3.4 especially requires an emotional investment in the roller coaster that inevitably comes with “he likes me, he likes me not” since it opens with Rosalind bouncing around the stage wondering what it means that Orlando didn’t come when he said he would and Celia making sly commentary on her state.  If I don’t put in the emotional investment, then Celia is stuck being snarky for no reason.  Up, down, up, down, it’s enough to make a girl dizzy.  4.3 also requires some of that kind of work, but the majority of the scene is taken up by Oliver’s description of his encounter with Orlando in the woods and the battle with the lion, so much of my acting is nonverbal (easier, by the by, since I don’t have to then worry about the impulse to speak and what’s coming out of my mouth).  Still, there has to be enough of an investment from me that my faint at the scene’s end is justified, comical, and makes sense.

So I’ve been coming home tired a lot, and I’ve had to do a great deal of emotional housekeeping.  This has mostly involved the copious watching of Disney films and My Little Ponies because, really, who can be distraught while belting “I use antlers in all of my decorating!”?

Next week we’re into runs (first act runs, then full-show runs).  This should prove slightly less taxing since I get to take a much larger chunk of the journey far fewer times in a night; but we’ll see.  I’ll still have the emergency princess stash queued and ready to go.

Hey, Hey and Away we Go

Well, that was a long day.  Thursdays, it turns out, are going to be doozies for a while.

I begin with Directing (the class I TA).  After an hour and a half, I have approximately an hour to myself.  An hour, by the by, turns out to be just enough time that it makes you feel like you should be doing something, but not long enough to truly accomplish anything.  In other words, just long enough to make you anxious without the substance to do anything about this anxiety.  Today, my netbook proved angry at me for failing to turn it on more than once this summer.  It is a small bit of technology with a small brain and, for a cheap computer, rather advanced in years, so I can’t say that I blame it for wanting more attention; it figures that it would be today of all days that the darn thing decided to act up.

After this time, I whisk my way down to my own class (Theory).  Today was particularly

yup. My job.

exciting because it was the first class of my semester that I am actually taking.  This also meant that I got to meet the new crop of first years.

We had a veritable deluge of first years this year.  There are a lot of new faces, new voices, and new people about the department.  Since the department is very small, this means a lot of new things to get used to.  What it also means is that class sizes are larger.  This year, our classes cap out at seventeen.  Last year, my largest class had ten.  These seemingly similar numbers are in actuality vastly different in the context of discussion-based courses (especially those held in small seminar rooms).  It feels different; rather than a round-table, we feel like a motley hoard.  I’m going to be interested to see what this hoard shapes up to in terms of actual class discussion.

Unfortunately, my experience with larger classes is that the strong voices remain strong and the weak fade into the background.  Those who are aggressive fight, those who are more inclined to sit back and let thing wash over them have the security to do so.  This makes the conversation imbalanced and, often, repetitive.  I look forward to seeing how the professors (whom I have the utmost respect for) solve this particular teaching dilemma and help to retain order within the seminar room.

One of the most exciting things about meeting the first years is understanding the new classroom dynamic.  Who is going to speak with a loud voice?  What will be the timbre of that voice?  What opinions do these people have, how hard are they willing to fight, and how are they going to bring their vast array of different knowledges/experiences to the table?

One of my favorite parts about academia is the argument.  One of my colleagues made the apt observation just the other day that “it’s always a fight with you”.  Preparing for class, for me, is donning armor and honing my blade.  Having a roomful of new opponents is the most tantalizing thing I could be presented with.  I was hard pressed not to lick my lips with a knowing grin as we went around introducing ourselves; lots of new and different specialties.  Plenty of fodder.  Let the bloodbath begin.

I rounded out my day at rehearsal.  We’re really getting into the thick of things now and

I also nearly finished the sock I was working on while at rehearsal today!

we’re at that point where most folks are mostly off book.  I myself am off book (though, again, I do need to call “LINE!” particularly when I get caught up in something).  This is a weird place to be.  While the words are in your head, you haven’t quite gotten them in your body yet.  You reach and strive for them and, though some layering comes naturally, often the most intense moments are still evasive.  For me, today, tackling 3.2 proved extremely frustrating.  This is the first scene in which Rosalind speaks with Orlando at any length, and she does so under the guise of Ganymede.  It’s almost specifically in prose (a challenge in itself) and I spend the scene giving speeches which mostly consist of lists.  As if that weren’t enough, capturing some sense of genuine emotion is a roller coaster.  The scene begins, for me, giddy in love and playing around with Celia and Touchstone about Orlando’s bad poetry.  After being ribbed good and hard, I have a few moments with Celia before I have to don the guise of Ganymede and play real, serious, and convincing.

The rhetoric bounces wildly, the mood changes drastically, and I’m still trying to remember all the gosh darn lists that Rosalind uses.

Suffice to say I didn’t quite hit the emotion that we need to drive this scene tonight.  But I have hope.  My scene partners, luckily, are fantastic.  With some more work, I have confidence that we can get there.

…and now, officially, to tackle my real job: reading.  I think I was sorely mistaken when I held the belief that second year would be easier than first year.

Ah, well, back into the fray.

The Rosalind Diaries; Entry Four: Shakespearean Healing

I suppose it shouldn’t be funny to me really, but I do find a recent discovery of mine rather amusing.

Without fail, no matter how crazy my day has been, no matter how discombobulated my state of mind is when I enter the theatre, a good rehearsal will always set me straight.

Today, for instance.  In an outrageous dose of universal insanity, I managed to double-

WHYYYYYY!?!?!?!?!?

book my lunch hour thereby nearly missing an important meeting for my show because I was at an important meeting for my podcast.  One phone call from my director and a frantic drive from Burlington to Somerville later and I was late, albeit intact.  Halfway through that meeting, the AD (a colleague of mine) mentioned we should wrap things up since we both had to be at another meeting that I had heard about but apparently didn’t put in my schedule.  Luckily, meeting two didn’t run up into rehearsal for show two (but these two surprise meetings did manage to eat what I thought was an afternoon which I had to myself and my writing or, more likely, my lines).  Luckily, I had woken up early to hit the gym before my day started so that I’d have the afternoon to do work.  Also luckily, I had hit my script pretty hard the day before so I was prepared for rehearsal.

I got to rehearsal out of breath, out of sorts, and out of my mind.

But Shakespeare.  The act of making Shakespeare.  Speaking the words, feeling the emotions, being in a real theatre on a real stage with my fellow actors grounded, centered, and utterly soothed the insanity that had been the day away from me.

It’s still a dream to be Rosalind.  I wake up in the mornings and can’t quite believe that I have this amazing opportunity.  Then again, my life tends to work this way; hazy hopes coalesce years later in ways that I never could have foreseen when I first hatched the aspiration.

Things are not-so-slowly clicking into place.  I managed the entirety of rehearsal tonight sans script in hand (though many calls of “LINE!” were made).  I am hoping to progress forth free from the tethers of the page, though of course will need to return to it between stage-times to really dig into my text and find the specificity that Shakespeare demands.

Today’s discovery: levity.  As I have previously mentioned, my ways tend to be bullish.  I see a target, I throw myself after it.  Onstage, this will manifest itself as flat and one-dimensional.  If I play one thing until I achieve my objective, I will be playing that one thing the ENTIRE SHOW since the point of a play is not to satisfy the characters (especially the main characters) until the very end.  As a result, the counter-points to any single emote or tactic will help to highlight that tactic.

This came into play in I.iii when Rosalind is banished by Duke Ferdinand.  At this point, Rosalind busts into some eloquent yet severe verse and demands certain explanations of the banishing Duke which he does not give her.  Hammering this with a constant aggression, even if that aggression builds, will only make the audience feel like they’re being yelled at.

And so, counterpoint.  Rosalind does stop herself twice to throw honoraries at the Duke.  These are good moments in which to show restraint, an attempt at calming one’s self, or whatever acting choice I decide to make.

Sounds simple and self-explanatory when I break it down that way.  Also sounds like something they teach you day one of actor training.  Funny how easy it is to forget the basics when you’re fretting about your lines, worrying about hitting your marks, listening to your scene partner, and trying to keep the scene fresh and not get stuck in the rut of “this worked, let’s do it again”.

Tomorrow; there will be not enough coffee in the world

In any case, I should to bed as it is currently half past eleven and, for some unholy reason, the university decided to hold a mandatory TA orientation at 8:30 AM tomorrow.  Let’s look at the logic of this for a moment: a mandatory gathering of graduate students during which one hopes to impart to them information which is vital to the rest of their teaching career.  This gather, clearly extremely important, to be held at 8:30 on a Friday morning the week before classes start so that their still-summer-sodden minds are awash with the blinking confusion of “semester hasn’t started yet”.  I wonder what the powers that are truly believe the attendance percentage of their incoming TAs at this meeting will be.  I assume this belief is nothing short of delusional else some semblance of sanity would have kept them from propagating the clearly inhumane treatment of already underpaid nearly-slave labor workers.

Yet another thing to add to my list of “won’t dos” for when the revolution comes and I instate myself as stringent but benevolent dictator over the ivory tower.

I’m wondering if I should order a large leatherback chair, or if I should go with the traditional crown and scepter to denote my status.

Maybe I’ll have the revelation tomorrow as I drive my still-sleeping carcass to orientation.

Goodnight!

The Rosalind Diaries; Entry Three; Meeting Orlando

As I said before, As you Like it is a play which hinges on a few key relationships: that between Rosalind and Celia, that between the Dukes, that between Touchstone and Celia, that between Silvius and Phebe, that between Oliver and Orlando, that between Celia and Oliver, and that between Rosalind and Orlando.  Hit one of these wrong and the play falls flat.

Up until Sunday, I hadn’t met my Orlando.  He is a very busy guy (currently working on Fall Festival of Shakespeare with Shakespeare and Company – a company which, as you may recall, I have done a great deal of work with in the past).  Because our directors are brilliant and forward thinking, the first scene they set us to rehearse together was I.ii; the wrestling scene; the scene where the lovers first lay eyes on each other.  Because they also began rehearsal with that scene, I didn’t even get to introduce myself to Conor, we just dove right in.

Which was, perhaps, one of the most interesting moments of my acting career.  When I saw him for the first time, I actually saw him for the first time.  There was little acting involved in the surprise and inquisition in my voice; and that is something that I can definitely use as we progress into rehearsal.

Rosalind and Orlando have an odd relationship.  They meet once in the court.  Rosalind knows that her banished father loved Orlando’s dead father.  She also knows that both fathers have fallen into disregard with the current Duke.  Orlando doesn’t know much about Rosalind other than hey, girl who gave me a chain and who has really pretty eyes!

There’s two parts to their scene in the court – before the wrestling, and after.  Before the

Katherine Hepburn as Rosalind and William Prince as Orlando in a 1950 New York Theatre Guild production at the Cort Theatre

wrestling, Orlando speaks fairly fluently and is able to explain his motives in big, long, speeches to Rosalind and Celia.  After the wrestling, Orlando finds himself tongue-tied and unable to speak to Rosalind (though able to express these thoughts to the audience in an eloquent soliloquy).

So what explains that discrepancy?  What happens to make Orlando unable to talk to this girl he just met and was able to converse with a few moments ago?  Is it because he can’t really see her whole face?  Is it because he’s in “the zone” for the wrestling?  Is it because they haven’t actually locked eyes yet?

An interesting acting problem, and one that we’re exploring in rehearsal.  To see our solution; stay tuned (and, of course, come see the show)!

Another innate complication in the relationship between Orly and Ros is that, after this one meeting, they both fall head over heels in love.  Orlando is so in love that he decides to paper the forest of Arden with his (bad) poetry in honor of Rosalind.  Rosalind is so in love that she decides to trick Orlando into wooing her, while she is disguised as a boy, to “cure” his lovesick.  Rosalind, disguised as Ganymede, believes that Orlando has bought the disguise.  Never once does Orlando make direct reference to the fact that he may have caught Rosalind in her ruse.

But unless you play Orlando completely stupid (and some people do), you have to concede that he would recognize at least a touch of the woman he loves in the shepherd boy whom he meets in the woods.  Especially because the shepherd boy is role-playing with him as Rosalind.

So where is that moment?  When does Orlando begin to recognize Rosalind in Ganymede?  How certain is he of his discovery?  And why does he continue to play along?

More matter for a May morning.

Line-learning continues to progress apace, though prose is proving to be my worst enemy.  Rosalind’s rhetoric bounces widely as she speaks.  She’s extremely witty and always in control of a conversation.  Because of this, her lines seem to come from out of the blue and she frequently has to go back to explain what she meant.  In addition, she has a particular propensity for lists.  Lists are perhaps one of the most difficult things to memorize in the canon as they may or may not link together in any logical order.

Rosalind uses lists a lot.  So far, I’ve learned four long lists and at least two shorter ones… and I’m only about 2/3 done with my learning process.  I hope to be off book in the next two weeks (at least, preliminarily off book).

I’ve also come across one of the most difficult speeches that I’ve ever had to learn.  In V.ii as Rosalind attempts to explain to Orlando how she (Ganymede) may produce herself (Rosalind) for him to marry the next day, she begins with a ridiculously convoluted set of prose.  Check this out:

ROSALIND:

I will weary you then no longer with idle talking.
Know of me then, for now I speak to some purpose,
that I know you are a gentleman of good conceit: I
speak not this that you should bear a good opinion
of my knowledge, insomuch I say I know you are;
neither do I labour for a greater esteem than may in
some little measure draw a belief from you, to do
yourself good and not to grace me. Believe then, if
you please, that I can do strange things: I have,
since I was three year old, conversed with a
magician, most profound in his art and yet not
damnable. If you do love Rosalind so near the heart
as your gesture cries it out, when your brother
marries Aliena, shall you marry her: I know into
what straits of fortune she is driven; and it is
not impossible to me, if it appear not inconvenient
to you, to set her before your eyes tomorrow human
as she is and without any danger.

The Mock Marriage of Orlando and Rosalind, Walter Deverell, 1853

Pretty thick, right?  As I was learning it, I kept tripping myself up at the beginning.  I still have trouble remembering it up until “Believe of me, then…” because that’s where the speech truly gets rolling.  What this says to me is that Rosalind is trying to buy time.  She’s not speaking pointedly, in fact she’s meandering.  She repeats herself several times over, she uses needlessly thick language to say what she’s trying to say, and she has to preamble the real meat of what comes out of her mouth.  She’s thinking.  But since this is Shakespeare, she has to keep talking while doing it.

I’m off to rehearsal again tonight.  We will be working more on the relationship between Rosalind and Orlando and giving the final scene our first shot.  It will also be my first time onstage with Silvius and Phebe, and I can’t be more excited to forge forth.

To liberty, not to banishment!

The Rosalind Diaries; Entry Two: First Rehearsal

So we had our first “real” rehearsal last night.  By “real” rehearsal, I mean we were up, on our feet, with text, doing things and playing around.

We worked I.ii, I.iii, and a little bit of IV.iii.  What this meant was a lot of work with my Celia.

There are several keystones of a good As you Like it and one of them is the relationship between Rosalind and Celia.  These two ladies rack a great deal of stage time, and almost all of it is together.  If their relationship is off, it can throw the entire play off kilter.  Suddenly, the plan to go into the forest no longer makes sense.  Suddenly, the cross-dressing is just a hackneyed attempt at a laugh.  Suddenly, the play lacks real heart.

So it was really important to me that I do my best to make this relationship work.  Luckily, I didn’t have to work too hard since my Celia is spectacular.

Her name is Ashley, and she is a tiny tiny woman.  This is great because it makes me look “more than common tall” (which the texts demands that Rosalind be and which, at 5’5”, I most certainly am not).  She’s also a fire cracker; feisty and sassy one minute, and soothing and lovely the next.  She brings real heart to Celia while still bringing the fire that so often can get lost in a wash of dumb blonde.  I’m really enjoying working with her.

Another great thing about this production is that we are actually getting to work in the space from day one.  Since the Winthrop playmakers own the theatre, and since we are the only show they are producing right now, we have the run of the place.  This is an extremely uncommon arrangement.  One of the most expensive things about producing is renting space and, as such, space is rented for as little time as possible.  Time in the actual theatre is generally limited to a week’s of rehearsals before the show goes up (if you’re lucky; if you’re unlucky you may only get a day or two).

This is the first time I’ve been in a show since my high school days that I’ve actually gotten to work on the stage starting day one.

I can already tell some of the challenges we are going to face.  It’s a proscenium house,

The outside of the theatre. Told ya it was a church.

which is automatically limiting since it means that any stage picture we create will be two-dimensional.  Luckily, there are some nice roomy aisles in the house and convenient steps for us to use, so the house itself becomes viable playspace.  Still, making dynamic scenes that don’t pattern and re-pattern themselves is going to prove challenging.

The acoustics in this house are particularly good since it’s relatively small and a converted chapel.  In my experience, converted holy spaces tend to have the best acoustic resonance since the only thing that makes a Latin sermon more snooze-worthy is not being able to hear half of it.

My line-learning efforts have proved fruitful and I’m off book for three acts now.  I’m beginning to delve into Act III which is extremely challenging since I’m onstage for most of it, and driving the action of most of it.  The good news is that I’ve seen many of the scenes from this act done before, so I have some sense memory of them.  Learning the first half of III.ii was like coming home to embrace an old friend.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve seen this scene done in classes and workshops and wanted to be part of it; it’s just so fun and light-hearted.  There’s so much joy in it.  I’m extremely excited to rehearse it.

 

Since we did play with IV.iii tonight, I was again reminded of the importance of a Stage Combatant in the cast of a show like this.  “Violence” onstage is not limited to sword fighting; stage violence is any moment in which an actor comes into physical contact with another actor.  If you know the play, you will know that in IV.iii Rosalind faints.  When we arrived at that point in rehearsal, I received no instruction on how to do so and was expected to pull something out of my bag of tricks.  Luckily, I have the training to accomplish a vast array of faints and falls without injuring myself, but there’s the very real possibility that a Rosalind might not know how to fall.  It’s harder than it looks, trust me.  And making it look convincing without the “ow” takes practice and a mat for your first few tries.

In any case, there was a bouquet of options I was able to offer my director: straight or silly?  Prat fall or Victorian Lady faint?  A little more thud, or a silent fall?  All things which must be carefully considered in crafting what turns out to be a pretty comical moment in the scene.

 

My good friend Angelo (Oliver) and I decided to take a swing before rehearsal.

I’m also lucky in that my Oliver is a dear old friend, and so we were able to work the physical portions together and add to them as we go along.  And Celia was along for the ride, just like a pro.

On the whole, I’m very happy with how things went last evening and I’m very much looking forward to more.

…except it means I need to learn more of this darned prose…

…drat.

The Rosalind Diaries: Entry 1

So I had my first rehearsal yesterday.

Boy oh boy am I rusty on being an actor.

First things first: It’s been approximately four years since I have taken the stage, and much longer than that since I’ve played a role of any particular note (my last role was Antonio/the Captain in Twelfth Night).  I’ve only played a leading role once or twice and at least one of those times was when I was young enough that my age registered in the single digits.

My current directors had requested that we make an attempt to be off book by the first rehearsal.  An attempt was made, but I only accomplished two fifths of the goal.

The process of line learning is an arduous business made even more arduous when you are learning Shakespeare for a few reasons.  Reason one: you need to be word perfect.  Reason two: the strange sentence structure will mess with your head and cause you to add/subtract random words that you think should go in there but in actuality have no business with the bard.  Reason three: because of aforementioned bizarro sentence structure, there exists no parallel structure in what you are saying and, since the human brain likes patterns, you can easily find yourself falling into the trap of creating parallel structure (see reason one).  Reason four applicable to Rosalind: so much of what she says is in Prose.  Prose is approximately ten times more difficult to learn than Verse.

Today’s brief lesson in Shakespeare: knowing the difference between Prose and Verse.

Verse is the more familiar poetic form that we often affiliate with

my script all marked up. It will be more marked up before this is all over.

Shakespeare.  It’s written in meter, sometimes written in rhyme.  Identifying Verse is extremely easy as each line will begin with a capital letter, and the lines themselves will be shorter since they have to conform to the structure of poetic meter. Here’s what verse looks like:

ROSALIND:

 My father loved Sir Rowland as his soul,
And all the world was of my father’s mind:
Had I before known this young man his son,
I should have given him tears unto entreaties,
Ere he should thus have ventured.

(As You Like It, 1.2)

In the case of Shakespeare, the poetic meter used more often than note is Iambic Pentameter.  Iambic Pentameter refers to a line which contains five (Pent) Iambs.  An iamb is a series of two syllables – the first unstressed, the second stressed.  Like this:

ROSALIND:

I pray / you, do / not fall / in love / with me,
For I / am fal / ser than / vows made / in wine

(As You Like It, 3.5)

What this means is that the line has a heartbeat.  Da-DUM.  When you are speaking a line written in Verse, you can feel when you’re adding or subtracting words because the line has a natural cadence and rhythm to it.

Prose, on the other hand, is a completely different story.  Prose is written like modern sentences; flowing together one after the other.  Like this:

ROSALIND:

 No, faith, die by attorney. The poor world is
almost six thousand years old, and in all this time
there was not any man died in his own person,
videlicit, in a love-cause.

(As You Like It, 4.1)

“Rosalind” by Robert Walker Macbeth, 1888

Prose has no set rhythm (though, it is Shakespeare, he often plays word tricks with his lines).  Since Prose isn’t spoken under the pressure of iambic pentameter, it doesn’t conform to anything by way of regularity.

Guess which form most of Rosalind’s lines are in?

Now, Verse is a form of speech most often used by courtly characters, learned characters, characters who are in love, characters who speak directly from the soul, or characters who need to express something complicated.  Because Rosalind spends the majority of the play in disguise, she also dumbs down her speech to Prose – the form used by clowns (not fools, fools generally speak in Verse), commoners, and normal people.  Rosalind is capable of speaking in Verse, and does so when she is in the court and when she is dealing with Phebe (a mark of her inextricable snobbery), but 85% of her lines are Prose.

This has made her a ridiculously difficult part to learn.  Compound this trouble with the fact that I learn best on my feet and tend to prefer learning my lines while doing scenes rather than in a vacuum at home, and this endeavor has been immensely challenging for me.

But I’m getting there.

Rehearsals go into full swing next week and I can’t be more excited.  It’s a talented lot we have, and I’m extremely happy to be able to have the chance to work with them.

Stay tuned!