Fast, furious and fun! Let’s add one more alliterative-word to the list: focused!
When Door Shakespeare Artistic Director Jerry Gomis hires a new actor, fast is a word that definitely plays into the conversation. Any actor joining the troop must be prepared to work fast. While many of our actors have spent time working for larger regional companies whose “process” can often include one, or even two weeks, in discussion of the plays historical, political and other academic dissections, they must adjust their thinking when working at a theatre like Door Shakespeare.
Without the luxury of these discussions, a smart and talented actor brings to the first day of rehearsal her/his homework. While my nine and ten-year-olds are now imagining our actors sitting with times tables and spelling lists, let me explain.
The actor’s study (especially with Shakespeare) begins with the text. If Shakespeare says it in the play, than it is a truth of the play. My mentor, Mario Siletti, used to preach that we should always remember that Shakespeare is before Freud – what you say is what you mean. No hidden intentions. That may sound oversimplified, but when the text is as rich as the poetry of the Bard, those intentions need to be examined by each player before they reach rehearsal.
Actors often hear, “How do you remember all those lines?” While, as I get a little bit older I find myself beginning to wonder the same thing! Truth is, memorization is the easy part – especially when the rhythm in the meter and the very sound and formation of the words clue you in. You know when you have it wrong, there is a word missing or you must be paraphrasing because it just doesn’t sound right. Therefore, while you’re spending all those hours learning all those words, at least you’re learning them correctly. But realizing as you labor, that you may not know what you’re talking about!
So the actor must discover what the words mean. And if he/she is worth their salt, this research will make it really easy for the audience to understand the play. It’s rare that any audience member is going to understand every single image referenced in the poetry of a Shakespeare play! But they don’t need to! They need to understand what’s going on in the story. The actor’s homework will bring them to the world of the play and allow them to understand not only what’s being said, but also more importantly, what’s going on.
Now you are ready to begin rehearsal. While the Dame Judy’s and Sir Ralph’s of Door County have been preparing, the director has been spending weeks mapping out the movements of each scene. These movements, called “blocking,” give the actor a framework to act the scene: enter from this door and sit on this line, exit through the audience, and so forth. If all goes well, this road map of the play will create no traffic jams or head-on collisions!
The time has come to see.
Rehearsals begin. A new group of creative, opinionated but collaborative artists meet as a new group. It doesn’t matter how many times you may have worked with many of the people before, it’s always a new group dynamic. Add to the cluster designers who have been working their own ideas about how the play looks, feels and sounds, and it’s time to see what everyone brings to the project. Oh, this is a very exciting time – for a few hours. Then it becomes a hard-working, jam-packed busy, punch-drunk silly, creative-blocked frustrating, playful, giddy, confusing and really scary time! But then again, good actors always find a way to stay focused on what’s important – their scene partner, their trust in their director and breathing! The play is run over and over again.
And then a little miracle happens…
Your costume becomes your character. The painted plywood becomes your world. The bits that failed have found you and there is life where none was before – there is a play!
There is a great line from the film Shakespeare in Love in which Jeffery Rush’s character, a theatre manager, says something to the effect, “it all comes together in the end. I don’t know how. It just does.”
Suzanne Graff is Door Shakespeare’s Executive Director and a sometime actor and director for the company.
Door Shakespeare performs The Merchant of Venice July 27 through August 16 nightly except Wednesdays at 7:30 pm in the Björklunden Garden. Two special indoor performances will be held at the Baileys Harbor Town Hall on August 6 at 1:30 pm and August 15 at 8 pm. Tickets for all shows are $23 for adults, $16 for students, and $6 for children. Advance ticket reservations can be made online at http://www.doorshakespeare.com or by calling the Door Shakespeare office at 920.839.1500.