One minute I’m at the Southside Pub Quiz following up our team’s immaculate positioning mid-leader board (no-one wants to actually WIN a pub quiz surely?) with what felt like a doctor’s surgery of visitors to our table wanting to talk about Julius Caesar. Fine by me I’m the biggest JC bore out there this season (dinner party hosts be warned!). I seem to recall having delivered some helpful and pithy comments to the actor playing JC (he is at his first text rehearsal on Wednesday so his recall of this may differ) and miraculously received an offer to have some of the cast tour inside the Houses of Parliament as part of their character preparation. I remember going home on the tube. And then, on Friday, all was vomit.
Getting gastric flu in the second week of rehearsals was really not part of my plan.
Fortunately by the time Friday came we had at least got successfully through our first text based rehearsal, just Cassisus and Brutus looking at their complicated relationship and how it develops, or rather unravels and re-ravels through the play. Rather than just going through scenes chronologically I have decided to rehearse in ‘character based episodes’. This makes it easier for those called to rehearsal to not be there for endless stretches in order to deliver one line at the end of a 20 page scene, it also means that we can look forward and back in a relationship between groups of people, or in this case the two central characters of the play.
Looking at the later scenes and particularly the ‘farewell, farewell, forever’ scene I felt more than ever vindicated in my decision to cast two women in these roles. I really think it will add a whole new dimension to the play. The emotional content is there in the words but seems to be more easily released by two women (who are old friends) playing old friends who have been through a great moral and emotional journey together. Perhaps I have just not seen the right productions, but often Julius Caesar comes across as dry and political and lacking emotional content. Well, after just this one rehearsal, I can safely say that won’t be the case in this production.
Sunday’s rehearsal is a little blurry for me. Because, by then, due to lack of food and proper sleep for something like 72 hours, I was a little blurry myself. However, the actors were kind and sympathetic and I managed to stick to the plan I had hastily written on a post it note and stuck on the front of my tongue twister book. I should say, as an aside, that I would recommend anyone undertaking Shakespeare to invest in a tongue twister book – I bought mine from Foyles on the Charing Cross Road, but I think they also have them in French’s. It has about 200 tongue-twister helpfully categorised. As the scenes we were studying had a lot of ‘thunder’, ‘thrice’ and s sounds I chose something from the ‘th’ category: “Sidney Sheldon stuck six, thick, sticks into sixty-six ricks” – following on from our toe to tongue physical warm up and vowel resonator warm up – it got everyone’s brains moving as well.
We also did some work on physicalities. This is a word bandied about in the theatre and means different things to different people. In my case it means putting the thought into the body (not just the head). Many actors cling to their own physicalities on stage even though their voices and faces change, even though mentally they appear to have every aspect of the character, their bodies often betray the lingering tensions of the actor. The proscenium arch hides much of this, but in a space such as we use (where the audience see the actors dynamically moving in space from a variety of angles and often from above) when an actor is repetitive in their physicality, when too often we see the actor’s tensions, not the characters, the audience becomes weary of it. I know this because I am one such actor – we all do it! But we can at least try to make the change. By using a simple exercise I hope to help the actors in Julius Caesar do so; I asked them to walk round the room as themselves and then bring in the thought ‘I want to be invisible’ bringing with it a context, a reason for the thought, then to go back to being themselves and compare, I then asked them to bring in the thought ‘I want to be the centre of attention’ and then to go back to themselves an compare and then moved them between the three states. I should make it clear this is not a ‘mime’ exercise showing the audience the idea of ‘I want to be invisible’, I didn’t mind if I saw no change at all between the three states (although I did). The change needs to be in the brain and the body.
As different actors arrive for the different parts of the rehearsal I have to say I did forget to do this with some of them! (I blame feeling ill but…) However we did do some more exercises later on and tried to make them more specific to the context of the scene, looking at ‘I want to be important’, ‘I want to be liked’ and ‘I want to be secure’. It was really interesting to see what a difference it does make to eradicating small physical habits (such as putting a hand in a pocket because it doesn’t have anything to do) simply by giving the whole body something to do. I shall definitely be doing more of this exercise!
I am also hoping that someone from Sunday will write a blog about it – then I’ll have a less blurry idea of it all. Fortunately I also have video – I taped some of the rehearsal for my Assistant Director – who wasn’t able to make it – and will also be reviewing it for my own info!
Hoping that as the days go by I’ll be feeling more and more human and that by Wednesday I’ll be back on form for my first JC rehearsal featuring JC himself!