Actor Support- The business of Acting Shakespeare
The ISE is committed to playing our part towards the development of the next generation of Shakespearean actors, and our Artistic Director, Lorenzo Sandoval, has many hours of experience gained at some of the country’s finest institutions of higher learning, in terms of his abilities, expertise, and commitment to developing Shakespearean actors.
However, the ISE is also indebted to the work of many, many, many terrific Shakespearean actors before us, and we see no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to providing tips for our actors.
Actors new to Shakespeare should know that Lorenzo will always provide one-on-one work with you to whatever degree you wish to explore that avenue of developing your skills.
Additionally, we refer ALL Actors, new or experienced with Shakespeare, to the work and musings of the following fine experts (among many others) as well as to the texts available from the excellent line: No Fear Shakespeare.
No Fear Shakespeare puts Shakespeare's language side-by-side with a facing-page translation into modern English—the kind of English people actually speak.
SPECIAL NOTE: A GREAT MANY “NO FEAR” TEXTS ARE AVAILABLE ON LINE, ENTIRELY FREE OF CHARGE, AT THE FOLLOWING EXCELLENT WEBSITE:
Tips for Actors from Other Experts:
Actors new and familiar with Shakespeare will find the following websites and resources helpful:
Lee Jamieson, your Guide to Shakespeare: http://shakespeare.about.com/bio/Lee-Jamieson-52657.htm
Lee Jamison’s newsletter is a treasure-trove of all things Shakespeare. He has several issues “dedicated to those brave men and women - perhaps even foolhardy - who perform Shakespeare.”. These issues bring together Mr. Jamison’s own “thoughts on Shakespeare acting alongside expert advice from actor Ben Crystal and Lyn Darnley, the Royal Shakespeare Company's voice coach. There's even a page for you to share your own tips for performing Shakespeare. So, without further ado: let the show begin!”
Among the hints you will find on Lee’s Website are articles like:
- Performing Shakespeare is Hard!
Lee says: “I don't care what anyone says, performing Shakespeare is hard. We're all supposed to pretend that it isn't - we don't want to terrify the newcomers after all - but deep down I think even experienced performers are full of anxiety.... Read more”
- Tips On How To Perform Shakespeare
Lee says: “Want to perform Shakespeare but don't know where to begin? Here, you can share top tips to help you perform Shakespeare for the first time... Read more “
- Performing Shakespeare - Interview with Ben Crystal
Lee says: “Ben Crystal shares his thoughts about performing Shakespeare and reveals his top tips for first-time actors... Read more”
- Lyn Darnley on Shakespeare's Language
Lee explains: “Lyn Darnley is Head of Text, Voice and Artist Development at the RSC. In this interview she shares her love of Shakespeare's language and reveals why Shakespeare's writing has been so enduring... Read more”
A helpful place to find Definitions: On Words and Upwards! http://www.onwordsandupwards.com/
Your Hapax legomenon is showing…
Helpful places to preview other interpretations of Shakespeare:
Special Note: The ISE does not necessarily recommend that Actors watch film versions of work, as we often prefer our Actors find their own unique interpretation of the Bard. Moreover, our Artistic Director, while of course by now conversant with many films and productions of Shakespeare, has a personal policy as an Artist of putting a moratorium on seeing someone else’s interpretation once he knows he is going to stage a particular play, so that he can approach that play as freshly and individually as possible.
However, some find it helpful to preview what other Artists have done with a piece, and if so, the following website offers commentary on films of Shakespearean work: http://bardfilm.blogspot.com/: Bardfilm. And certainly, there are any number of video productions available involving Companys such as The Royal Shakespeare, etc. One such DVD series is:
The wait is over. John Barton's lectures on Playing Shakespeare featuring now world famous RSC actors, Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love, Iris), Ben Kingsley (Gandhi, Schindler's List), and Peggy Ashcroft (A Passage to India), Ian McKellen (The Lord of the Rings, Gods and Monsters), Patrick Stewart (X-Men, Star Trek: The Next Generation), and David Suchet (Agatha Christie's Poirot), and others, will now be available on DVD. The release date is scheduled for June 2 in the USA:
"Sit in on nine intensive acting workshops conducted by the legendary John Barton of the Royal Shakespeare Company. How does this world-renowned troupe make classic plays accessible to modern audiences, without compromising the text's integrity? How do actors search Shakespeare's verse for hidden clues to their characters' motivations? How do they balance intellect and passion to make theatre's most famous soliloquies seem fresh?"
The 4 disc, 456 minute set comes with:
- 20-page viewer's guide includes key points, discussion questions, avenues for further learning, a history of the RSC, and "Vocabulary of Verse and Stage."
- Actor biographies and RSC stage credits
- Exclusive web extras
"If you are interested in Shakespeare and performing Shakespeare, this series is for you. Just about every great British Shakespearian actor/actress is accounted for here acting in various scenes from the plays and discussing/analyzing them at length. Fascinating and informative."
"I'm thrilled that this magnificent collection is now available on DVD. It's such a treat to see young, highly trained actors (McKellen, Dench, Stewart) from the RSC participating in Barton's Shakespeare instructional course. Barton discusses the most basic techniques on how to find clues within Shakespeare's text in order to perform it well. It is truly amazing that by simply approaching Shakespeare in a technical way; finding antithesis, lists, irony, and contrast-helps the actor figure out what is happening in a scene or monologue."
"Through detailed Shakespeare direction, Barton has provided a series that will delight all lovers of the celebrated playwright. Additionally it will encourage the viewer who is newly attempting appreciation of Shakespeare and his works. Novice Shakespearean audiences will want for more, want for a complete play to view."
TIPS ON MAKING SHAKESPEARE
“COME OUT OF YOUR MOUTH”!
The Bard Blog by Gedaly Guberek is one of many extremely helpful sources for an Actor’s work with the Bard.
See especially: Speaking Shakespeare Section of The Bard Blog by Gedaly Guberek.
The following material is SAMPLE material from Mr. Guberek’s and other’s excellent Blogs – please go also to the main blogs for much additional helpful information! Thank you Bard Friends!
Shakespeare’s Advice To The Players (The Bard Blog)
by Peter Hall
I’ve read a lot of Acting Shakespeare books and posted reviews on some of them here. Many good, some not up to par, but Peter Hall’s Shakespeare’s Advice to the Players is definitely a winner in my book.
How can you argue with a man who has had over 50 years of experience directing the Royal Shakespeare Company (and elsewhere) with the likes of Laurence Olivier, Edith Evans, John Gielgud, Peggy Ashcroft, Judy Dench, Anthony Hopkins, and Ian McKellen? The man knows what he’s talking about. Great part of this book number one: Real authority.
Hall makes it clear in the book that he speaks from a place of authority. Not because he says it, but because he learned it from the best actors. The above actors, as well as the great John Barton, have been among his tutors for creating the best use of Shakespeare’s text onstage.
I say using Shakespeare’s text and not acting for a reason. This isn’t abook about acting, per se. It’s about using the text to effectively bring meaning, emotion, story, and acting to the audience; all necessary to “act” Shakespeare. Hall continuously repeats the fact that the text will serve as your strongest ally if you know how to use it. If my post about it can’t convince you of that fact, Peter Hall’s book can.
The advice is wonderfully concise. By page 61 Hall has already laid out and explained “the rules.” The next hundred pages or so are textual analysis of scenes and monologues that are not to be skimmed or skipped. Read the whole book! The explanation at the beginning has plenty of value, but until you see the techniques in action you won’t fully get it. This is probably the closest you will get to having Peter Hall giving you a private lesson on Shakespeare.
If you aren’t already familiar with the acting process the book might not be for you. The book assumes that you have a decent understanding of what Shakespeare’s text is and how it works. It seems to me that there’s too much info in here for someone new to acting Shakespeare. Not that you’d get nothing out of it, but some of the ideas won’t sink in as well as one who has more Shakespearience.
As an added bonus, you can hear Peter Hall working with a couple actors on the publisher’s website. Go ahead and listen to it now for a preview of what’s in the book.
Is this the best book ever? I haven’t had anything bad to say about it yet. Rather than looking for a criticism, I’ll conclude. Peter Hall has been working with some of the best actors for the past 50 years or more. He’s picked up a lot of great knowledge and wisdom along the way. Pick up a copy. Whether you’re an actor, director, vocal coach, dramaturg, student, or scholar, I’m sure you’ll find it helpful.
Memorizing Shakespeare with ScenePartner by Gedaly Guberek
There’s a relatively new online product out that was created to help actors learns lines. Just click on over to MemorizeShakespeare.com and see what the buzz is about.
The whole idea behind this method is that learning by ear the most effective way to remember text, just like the way you learn song lyrics or another language. The learning is entirely audio. There’s no text to read so that you don’t memorize the page layout rather than the text, you instantly know how to pronounce words, the rhythm of the text, and you don’t have to worry about hurting your arm with the weight of the complete works in your hand. You can even download your cues to practice with once you learn your lines.
Sounds pretty good, right? Before going any further let me take this opportunity to invite you to try it for yourself. You can download their sample and learn Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy. Although there are plenty of helpful tips out there to help actors learn lines, most experienced actors have a method that works for them after years of experimenting. This one might work for you, it might not.
The advantages I mentioned above sound good and it’s definitely better than nothing. But for someone who is serious about succeeding in acting Shakespeare’s text this method is not the alpha and omega of learning lines.
There is a fair level of inflexibility with recorded text. In any given production, lines may be cut. With ScenePartner, each cue is a single track. But sometimes pieces of lines are cut. A few lines in the middle of a speech may be removed, words are different depending on the source, and directors may even alter words. Punctuation is different in various editions which can alter phrasing and meaning and the recorded version might not correspond perfectly.
Students beware. You might be new to acting Shakespeare and glad to find a resource that tells you how to pronounce the words and memorize the text easier, but do you know what all the words mean? I would recommend not learning any lines until you have discovered what the difficult or unfamiliar words mean. You can’t act words you don’t know. Please take the time to figure out what you’re saying first, no matter what method of memorization you use.
If actors were to do their homework to find definitions, do scansion, play with the imagery in the text, and make the words their own so that the words aren’t merely being recited, this resource may be a good addition (not substitute) to the methods they employ to learn lines.
From $12-24 per album for lines and another $12-24 for cues (price varies per character), it’s not too much of a hole in your wallet for this help, and if it works for you – by all means, take advantage of this resource!
The long term investment of a good reference books and a digital audio recorder make for a much cheaper alternative if you plan to memorize a lot of Shakespeare.
Rules Weren’t Made to be Broken by by Gedaly Guberek (The Bard Blog)
We’ve been learning rules all our lives. As children we are given rules of the classroom or rules at home of what not to do or what we should do. And there were, of course, consequences to breaking those rules.
When learning to act Shakespeare (or any classical and poetic texts for that matter) there are often rules we are taught. That is, if you are taught by anyone who has had some real Shakespearience. Rules like observing the scansion, speaking to the end of the though, breathing only at the end of a verse line, having good diction, pronouncing words a certain way. The rules are never exactly the same depending on who you ask, but there are always rules.
I once heard from an actor that he felt limited by the “rules of Shakespeare.” He said it was something like acting inside a box because he had to follow so many rules that his own creative process felt muffled.
This was a good observation and I’m sure that many actors feel this way. So before we talk about breaking the rules, let’s talk very briefly about what the rules are for.
(If you’re new here, I discuss many of the rules and some of their significance in the Speaking Shakespeare section and a few in more specific detail in my dissection of the “Speak the Speech” speech.)
The rules of verse speaking make up a form. Sort of like the rules of a game of sports. If people are playing by different rules, we get lost. I’m reminded of an account of a game played several decades ago of between a group of Baseball-playing Americans and Cricket-playing Brits. When the end the game arrived, both sides claimed the victory.
A better example would be the form of opera singing. Regardless of how you feel about opera, it has an undeniable set of rules that make up the form. The way a singer produces sound and phrases pieces of music have been practiced over many years of instruction. If an opera features a soloist who only had a rock-music background their performance would fall flat. They’d be unable to communicate the proper sounds that the audience expects.
The rules work similarly in Shakespeare, but are perhaps less limiting than those of opera. The form of Shakespeare is inexorably linked to its content. You might even say Form=Content. This means that the way the verse is structured and composed has a heck of a lot to do with what the character is communicating. I could write a whole book on the subject but that’s not what I’m talking about now. In the end, it’s all about communicating the story to the audience. When the rules aren’t followed the story becomes opaque to the listener.
Recently I heard an actor in conversation (on the merits of verse) with a director say something to the effect of, “I don’t see the scansion stuff as rules to follow, maybe just a tool you can choose to use. I heard about opera singer who said she would rather hit a note a little flat or sharp than only concentrate on getting the notes exactly right.” A terrible paraphrasing of what was said, I’m sure, but you get the gist of it.
It’s an attractive thought for one who doesn’t understand the form to find an excuse not to use it. What’s wrong with the above statement? The actor forgets that the opera singer has already mastered his/her form. The rules are not the alpha and the omega of the art, but just as every skyscraper has a steel frame, so must every creative artist have some form — however invisible — guiding their work.
The opera singer has already spent years being able to hit every note on the correct pitch with the correct rhythms so that performances can be done with ease. Without thinking about hitting the right notes. What they can think about instead is conveying the meaning and emotional content behind the music. So if they happen to go sharp or flat, it is because they have much more behind their performance than just hitting the notes. Because this opera singer has mastered her form, she can afford to bend the rules.
The actor who felt like he was “acting in a box” did not throw away the rules even though they felt constricting. Once the rules are learned, practiced, enforced, and finally mastered, there are infinite possibilities.
Form will set you free.
Why do you think greats like John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, Judi Dench, Ian McKellen, Kenneth Branagh are so great at what they do? Not because they bend or break the rules. But because they have mastered them. The guidelines they learned have nearly become instinct and they are free to be free above the super-solid foundation they stand upon. This is the place where you are able to act outside the box. Not because you threw it away, but because you used it.
To deny the form is to say that you know better than the aforementioned brilliant actors who have had a lifetime of experience. The form doesn’t change, though the way it is expressed does. The foundation will remain the same, but what you build on top of it will be unique to you and the time you live in. So remember, because it is worth repeating:
Form will set you free.
Trevor Nunn, former Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, wants to do a production of Shakespeare with an all-American cast, reports Telegraph.co.uk. Nunn says, “There is a different energy and a different use of language.” This is certainly true: Americans and Brits have very different rhythms and sounds to the way they speak; I imagine that any dialect will bring something new to a character or play.
But the rest of the article chooses not to report on the challenges of staging a play in a dialect or examples of how differences in dialect in equally-talented and trained actors can yield different readings and interpretations of text. Instead, there are a few comments about Nunn’s statement,
“…it is almost certainly true that today’s American accent is closer to the sounds that Shakespeare heard when he was writing.”
You can read the article to see what Professor Stanley Wells has to say about it.
I want to talk about the above quote. It is a common (what I believe to be) misconception that American English is more like Shakespeare’s than British English. Firstly, there are several dialects of English in both the US and UK that vary a great deal from each other. If we’re talking about the perceived “standard” dialect from each country (General/Standard American and British RP/BBC English) I still don’t think American English is any more closely related to Shakespeare’s speech.
English, regardless of where it is being spoken, has been evolving for over 400 years since Shakespeare began writing for the theatre. Language and its dialects change a great deal, especially among super-social societies. There are certainly parts of the US and UK whose dialects have evolved more slowly due to isolation over the past centuries, but there has still been 400 years of dialect evolution.
Perhaps the misconception comes from the idea that British RP is an “invented dialect.” Even so, American English pronunciation has been heavily influenced by our friends across the pond. Remember all those movie stars from the 1930s? Theatre, Film, and Radio in the US had a notably “British” sound for a long time.
So you see why I disagree with Trevor Nunn when he says it is “almost certainly true” that American English is closer to Elizabethan English than modern British English.
David Crystal, world renowned linguist and co-author of Shakespeare’s Words, has done a lot of research on what Shakespeare’s English may have sounded like back in the day. His book, Pronouncing Shakespeare: The Globe Experiment, tells the process of researching this and using the pronunciation in a production! You can also hear David Crystal reading of Sonnet #1 in “Original Pronunciation.” Listen, then decide whether you think modern American or British English “is closer to the sounds that Shakespeare heard when he was writing.”
The Eloquent Shakespeare from The Bard Blog by Gedaly Guberek
A Pronouncing Dictionary for the Complete Dramatic Works with Notes to Untie the Modern Tongue
by Gary Logan
Have you ever read one on Shakespeare’s works and not known how to pronounce a word? (If not, are you human?) Where do you normally turn? Most regular dictionaries that you might keep on your shelf only include words in modern usage; not words, names, and places that haven’t been in widespread common use in 400 years.
You could ask someone and hope they’re right. If you have a good movie or audiobook of a play you can check there and listen… but that seems like a little too much trouble for a single word.
What you need is dictionary of pronunciation (I have several) from an authoritative source. I’d say Gary Logan is one: He was the Chair of Voice and Speech at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, and has worked as a voice coach for the Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford Shakespeare Festival, The Shakespeare Theatre Company, and several others.
There’s really no reason not to have a pronouncing dictionary if you’re an actor or director working on Shakespeare’s plays. You’re doing yourself, your company, and your audience a disservice by deciding not to check to see if you’re pronouncing a word correctly. Even if it’s not Shakespeare, and the play has difficult words, one should do their homework and look it up.
But why buy this one? It’s not the cheapest one out there so it had better be good. As a matter of fact, it is good. It might even be right for you — not all dictionaries are the same or right for everyone, I’ll have you know.
The Eloquent Shakespeare lists its pronunciations in Standard American Stage Dialect, a sort of “neutral” dialect that has no distinct regional features. It’s like the speech that most news anchors and classical actors employ while reading the news and speaking Shakespeare, respectively. This means that some of the common words may have a pronunciation that is different from the way you speak.
A feature that I enjoy is the fact that all the words are only transcribed using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). If you’ve learned IPA in theatre school, all the better. If you haven’t, there’s a key to each symbol at the bottom of every page. It’s not that hard to figure out.
The notes and introduction are very well done and informative, if you ever read them. Not everyone’s the type that reads an introduction to a dictionary but I suggest you always do. You’ll be happy you did — why have a tool when you don’t know how to use it properly? The dictionary seems to be complete. It even includes one of my favorites, honorificabilitudinitatubus! Rare or show specific words have the play in which they appear listed next to the headword. If it scans differently in different places there’s a note there to help you. There are even foreign language pronunciations of words and phrases. I know now how to pronounce Si fortune me tormente, sperato me contento.
My biggest complaint is the cover. It looks nice and pretty, but if I saw it on a shelf I would never know that I needed to have it. The whole cover looks like a really long title. Not a big deal, I can take off the dust jacket if needed. But don’t judge this book by its cover!
There are other pronouncing dictionaries out there for less, but if you are an actor, director, teacher, or other serious Shakespearean, I would recommend spending a little extra to get this nicely produced, authoritative, complete, hardcover (long-lasting), and easy to navigate resource.
A Little Night Hamlet by Gedaly Guberek
Back in May I had the good fortune to perform in Hamlet. While all others played one role, a fellow actor and I had the honor of playing “everybody else.” I was Barnardo, The Player Queen, First Gravedigger, and Osric.
There was a lot that was unusual about this performance. Unusual, that is, if you’re theatre-going experiences have been limited to mostly high-budget, indoor, full length, late evening performances. This play began at 6pm in an outdoor amphitheatre, no set, minimal props, costumes out of the actors’ closets, was a one-night-only event, and ran no more than one hour and forty minutes, sans intermission.
That’s right. We did Hamlet in less than 100 minutes. How? We cut. A lot. Now let’s not turn this into a discussion of the blasphemies of cutting so much text out of a play or how it’s not the play as Shakespeare intended. That’s not what I want you to take away from my telling of my experience.
The play was, among other things, lots of fun. Both for the actors (all eleven of us) and for the audience — of which there were a few hundred. As you may have surmised, we took a very bare-essentials approach to the play. It moved very quickly. The story not only moved quickly because of the cuts, but we aimed for a fairly fast pace as well. Our goal was to tell a good story before the sun set. I think we did that much.
It really brought to my attention that there isn’t a whole lot that is necessary for good theatre. Theatrical philosophy texts often repeat the fact that theatre consists of at least a space, a performer and a spectator. We had no fancy proscenium to hide behind. We were outdoors. No electrical lights, we used the sun. No sound system, but we had a guitarist and the chiming of a nearby clock tower. No microphones. The costumes consisted of articles of clothing in our closets. Nothing fancy, just something to suggest the character.
And it worked! If the story is good (and it is) why confound the play with bells and whistles? I talked with some audience members after the show, many of whom were actors too, and were very impressed with what they had just seen. I don’t think most of the people there really expected a bare-bones production of a heavily reduced script in an outdoor daylit location to be as good as it was. I don’t think I expected it either, to be quite frank. Having all talented actors was a a great bonus and we all worked hard, but we didn’t know what the outcome would be.
I had done a fairly bare-bones production outdoors before, but we had digital sound system for playing music, as well as an intermission. We didn’t have a whole lot, but it felt much less of a bare-essentials type of set up.
After this Hamlet, both actors and audience learned a great deal about what theatre is and what it needs and more about what it doesn’t need. We take for granted sometimes the things we have available to us and what is really most important when producing art.
Even so, I would still prefer to have a dressing room.
Shakespeare’s Sonicky Language by Gedaly Guberek
Humorist and language expert Roy Blount Jr talks about the concept of “sonicky” words in his new book, Alphabet Juice. “Sonicky” is a term he uses to describe language that sounds like what it is. Not onomatopoeia exactly (whoosh/boom/splat), but thing of the words “oak” and “willow.” There’s a reason the tall, thick, strong tree has such a strong sound, while the droopy tree has a droopy-sounding name. Say the words “oak” and “willow.” Picture the trees in your mind. The image in your mind affects what you say and the word you say affects the picture in your mind. That’s sonicky.
This is a concept that I’ve been a fan of for some time but never had a word for it. Thanks, Roy.
In one of my very first posts on this blog I advised that it is necessary to love language in order to effectively speak Shakespeare’s language. As time goes on I believe it more and more. It’s not enough to understand the words, to know what you want, know who you are, know the relationships. You need to enjoy the SOUND of the words. That’s where sonicky comes it.
Everything in Shakespeare is sonicky.
Today we’re concerned with meaning. Look up definitions of the words or check No Fear Shakespeare for a translation. Okay, now it’s act-able. Well, yes… but that’s not all there is to it. There’s a whole world of work to do, but I’ll try not to get carried away. We’re still talking about the sound of words.
Back in the day the actors, authors, and audiences cared much more than we do about the SOUND of words. Audiences went to HEAR a play. Not only did they want a good story, it had to sound good too. This a huge aspect of the word choices that Shakespeare makes in his plays.
When Richard of Gloucester (soon to be Richard III) speaks “Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths” there’s a lot of meaning contained in just the sound of his words. Look at the first five words. They all have huge, open, similar-sounding vowels. They’re followed soon after by “victorious,” whose change in sound is like that of trumpets welcoming the victorious champion.
How about the line “Grim-visaged war hath smoothed his wrinkled front.” Say “grim-visaged” with a sweet and smiling face. Now try it while scrunching up your face. The image it conjures lends itself to how to say it, and vice-versa. Next — “smoothed” — which is a rather smooth word. “Wrinkled” falls into the same category as “grim-visaged.”
Are you starting to see (or hear) what I’m getting at here?
These words have a particular sound, they conjure a particular image, they serve a particular purpose. The specifics are for you to decide but the point is to be specific in the choices you make. The sound of each word carries much of its emotional content as well as meaning. The sonicky-ness of a character’s words is both his/her head and heart speaking together. Yet another reason why Shakespeare’s works are magical to me.
I’d love to dissect more speeches and concentrate on their sonicky properties, but I’ll let you get to work on that first before you hear any more sound and fury from me on this subject.
Let’s hear it for the Bard!
by Scott Kaiser
This is a wonderful book with great insights for actors, directors, and anyone who speaks shakespeare to help you bring the text alive. It retails for $19.95, and here’s a chance to get it for free! You can read my review for more info about it.
Here are the rules:
- Link to this contest on Twitter, Facebook, your own Blog, wherever.
- Fill out and submit the entry form.
So simple! Basically you just have to spread the word. Here’s the neat thing: for ever person you refer that enters the contest, you get an extra entry! There’s a line on the entry form that asks who referred you to the contest, so be sure that they fill that out so you increase your chances of winning.
Contest ends on April 30th at 11:59PM Pacific Standard Time.
If you just can’t wait for the contest to end, you can Order Mastering Shakespeare from Amazon.com
So start spreading the word and then fill out this form. Good luck!
Mastering Shakespeare from the Bard Blog by Gedaly Guberek
by Scott Kaiser
What is it that British actors have over American actors that aides in performing Shakespeare? Scott Kaiser raises this question in the introduction. Many American student actors ask themselves this question all the time in training and afterwards. No wonder that the topic comes up, most of the great Shakespearean performances in movies are by Brtis, while the Americans are generally there to sell tickets.
The answer? It’s not that Americans lack anything, but that the modern acting tradition is strongly based in a seemingly not-classic-friendly style: Lee Strasberg and his teachings of the Stanislavsky System, which only included the methods described in one of Stanislavsky’s book and excluded all information about voice, diction, rhythm, verse speaking, punctuation, body, etc. All the stuff important to acting Shakespeare.
Scott Kaiser endeavors to bridge the gap with his book, by explaining “how to apply a Stanislavsky-based approach to the challenges of acting Shakespeare.”
In the introduction Mr. Kaiser acknowledges that it’s impossible to really learn acting from a book. Instead, he turns it into a play. Based on the form employed by Richard Boleslavsky and his book, Acting: The First Six Lessons, Kaiser writes dialogue between a master teacher and his sixteen students. Actors are, after all, used to reading scripts and translating it into personal experience.
In that regard, the book is very effective. Reading along with the students process with the master teacher, Mr K., is a very nice change from other acting books that have a technical manual kind of approach. This book is much more practical. The questions the students have might just be what any other student would ask. Years of teaching experience has obviously culminated in this book.
Mastering Shakespeare doesn’t spend much time talking about meter, scansion, or verse vs. prose, there is an assumption that the student knows about this already. What the book really concentrates on is what inspires the text. “Why am I saying these words right now?” Reading the book offers many different tools to answer that question.
The only thing this book lacks is more introductory information on acting Shakespeare: Scansion, rhetoric, verse speaking, etc. This book assumes that a student has a fairly solid foundation in acting and acting Shakespeare. That being said, it probably shouldn’t be the first thing you read if you’re a beginning student. It is one of many books that should be a part of the actor’s arsenal. Directors and teachers should pick up a copy for insight in helping an actor create specific choices and a believable/sustainable performance.
Mastering Shakespeare is available for $19.95 on Amazon.com
Evoking and Forgetting Shakespeare from the Bard Blog by Gedaly Guberek
by Peter Brook
Peter Brook is one of the most influential minds in today’s theatre. The impact he has had as an author and director of plays and films might just be immeasurable. His 1968 book The Empty Space as well as his 1970 Royal Shakespeare Company production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream have been hugely influential upon today’s scholars, directors, teachers and actors.
The Theatre Communications Group (TCG), has produced the Dramatic Contexts series to document “important statements on the theatre by major figures in the theatre.” Thank you kindly, TCG.
Being part of the Dramatic Contexts series, this isn’t a book that Brook published. This 47 page, large print book contains transcripts of two speeches Peter Brook made in the mid 1990s: Evoking Shakespeare and Forgetting Shakespeare, delivered in Berlin and Paris, respectively. If one were to compare this to Brook’s other works, Evoking and Forgetting Shakespeare leaves the reader wanting more.
The book is not large and can easily be read in an hour. This reviewer was left unsatisfied with only 47 pages of Peter Brook’s ideas. Why not include more speeches and articles? However, in so few words, the Brook still manages to make some profound statements about producing, directing, and studying Shakespeare’s works today. The first section (Evoking…) raises and attempts to answer questions such as “Why is Shakespeare still relevant today?”, “Who was Shakespeare – the man?”, and “What do we mean by calling him a genius?” Brook explores Shakespeare’s capacity for memory. An author whose writing contains such densely-packed language full of imagery must have had a super-human talent for conjuring such images and in his mind (and linking them together). He speaks of the challenges of producing Shakespeare’s plays today and attempting to make them feel new and “modern” without losing the power of the language.
Forgetting Shakespeare asks the actor (or director, etc.) to “Forget that these plays had such an author. [...] So just assume, as a trick to help you, that the character you are preparing to play actually existed.” Why? Because you are not like Hamlet. Because you are not the news-caster for Shakespearean headlines. Because actors seem to do very well when the portray people who actually lived. Just look at any of your favorite biography films.. it’s true. This way we forget about the author, what his intentions may have been, his philosophy. All things that get in the way. So the only way to find Shakespeare is to forget him. My summarizing and paraphrazing is not nearly as eloquent or inspiring as Brook’s so I suppose you’ll just have to buy a copy and read it for yourself.
At nearly $9, it’s a little pricey for the amount of paper they used, so if you’re a casual Shakespeare reader this probably isn’t for you. This work, though, should be read by the die-hard fans as well as actors, directors, and teachers of The Bard. The ideas inside are well worth the price. And because of the short length, it’ll be easy to come back to again and again for inspiration.
Highlights, Underlines, and Footnotes, Oh my! by Gedaly Gederek of The Bard Blog
I have previously shared that text analysis is an important step in speaking Shakespeare. There are infinite ways of going about it, the best way will most likely be unique for each person. I thought I’d share an image with you that will give you a rough idea of my process.
I’m a very visual person, so my scripts are always littered with lines, arrows, pictures, different colored highlight marks, notes, abbreviations, and other gibberish that only I can understand.
This is a short monologue from I.i of Love’s Labour’s Lost, spoken by Berowne. About one minute long and comedic, if you happen to need a comedic one minute piece for a man. So here’s a rough outline of my process:
I almost always prefer to have a digital copy of the script (full play, scene, monologue… whatever I’m working on) first. I’ll download it from whatever site I get to first and paste it into word. Then I head to my Facsimile edition of The First Folio and compare the texts. I change the punctuation and capitalization in my document to match that of the First Folio. I don’t want to have other editors messing with my work. Then it’s time to print. I could do most of the rest of the work on my computer, but it feels good to mark up a paper with pens and highlighters.
I start by highlighting all the verbs, which are the real action and story-telling parts of the piece. Just a little reminder to emphasize these. I’ll usually emphasize the punctuation marks that are there with pen to make sure I see them. I highlight (in various colors) repeated words, comparisons, big shifts, and other things I think need to be emphasized. I’ll determine whether a line is full of vowels or mostly consonants – emotional or rational. I’ll count syllables, decide on any elisions, mark words that I need a definition next to (and then look up the definition and write it off the side), note any changes in the rhythm of the meter… it goes on.
I will do this for every line in a show that I speak. If I’m vocal coaching or directing a show I’ll try to do it for the whole show, but that might not always happen. Now you’ll notice that this example monologue takes up the entire page. I don’t actually do that when working on an entire show, that would be a waste of paper. But if I’m working on short piece – perhaps for an audition – then it’s nice to have larger text to look at. More room for scribbles, too.
By no means do I require or recommend that anybody does exactly this. If you can just look at it and be a brilliant actor, awesome. But if you’re not a genius then I would suggest that you experiment with different ways of emphasizing the important parts of a text.
I did say that I would do this for an entire role, and quite possibly an entire script. Yes, it takes a very long time to do all that, but the reward for the work is immense. That means I’ve spent hours and hours on the text. I almost always speak it aloud as I work. When I’m done I am very familiar with the text and have a pretty good understanding of what’s going on. You really own the text after spending so much time with it – and a performance won’t be great until the words are really yours.
You have to love language to do this sort of thing – this is how I express that.
Finishing The Thought by Gedaly Guberek
In the recent post, “Now is NOT the Winter of Our Discontent,” I mentioned that people are misreading and misunderstanding verse because they are reading to the end of the line. That’s not right!
The end of the page limits the space of a line in a book, website, news article, etc. In Shakespeare’s verse, there is a syllable limit instead. Imagine, if you will, that the page is much thinner when reading Shakespeare. A line of iambic pentameter is only a rhythm pattern with a syllable limit. The thought does not stop on the line, it ends with the punctuation mark.
The following passage of verse I have taken out of the line form, and punctuated as if you should stop at the end of every line. Read it aloud and see what happens.
Horatio says ’tis but our fantasy. And will not let belief take hold of him. Touching this dreaded sight twice seen of us. Therefore I have entreated him along. With us to watch the minutes of this night. That if again this apparition come. He may approve our eyes and speak to it.
Does this make any sense to you? Didn’t think so. It is, unfortunately, a common practice for actors of all ages and experience. Don’t be like them. Let’s try some normal punctuation but still without confining the text to seperate lines. Read this one out loud too. Use the punctuation and your smarts to make sense of the words as you read it.
Horatio says ’tis but our fantasy and will not let belief take hold of him, touching this dreaded sight twice seen of us; therefore I have entreated him along with us to watch the minutes of this night, that if again this apparition come, he may approve our eyes and speak to it.
It’s all one sentence! So there’s no reason to pause or lose energy at the end of the line. You have to continue the thought when speaking and reading until you reach the end-stop punctuation mark. Here’s the text as it appears normally. Read this out loud too and notice that you’re now able to make sense of the text better than before.
Horatio says ’tis but our fantasy,
And will not let belief take hold of him
Touching this dreaded sight twice seen of us;
Therefore I have entreated him along
With us to watch the minutes of this night,
That if again this apparition come,
He may approve our eyes and speak to it.
- Hamlet (I.i)
If you’re having trouble breaking the habit of stopping at the ends of lines you can try editing your lines to look like prose instead for easier reading. Always remember that you’re not saying words; you’re telling a story.
“Speak to be understood”
- Love’s Labour’s Lost (V.ii)
Speaking the words, seeing the pictures by Gedaly Guberek
I’m not talking about illustrated editions of Shakespeare’s works. Will uses a lot of very descriptive words to help both the actor and the audience imagine a visual picture from the words being spoken. Metaphors and similes galore help us understand exactly what’s going on in the character’s minds, and what they are seeing. When Horatio says “The morn, in russet mantle clad, / Walks o’er the dew of yon high eastward hill,” (once we know what all the words mean) we can see the morning sun rising through a red and yellow sea of clouds, illuminating the large rolling hill in the distance. It captures the imagination – a great tool to use when you can’t afford the best sets and costumes.
The prologue of Henry V is all about this. He wishes for “A kingdom for a stage, princes to act / And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!” but that would be impossible. “…can this cockpit hold / The vasty fields of France? or may we cram / Within this wooden O the very casques /That did affright the air at Agincourt?” As he apologizes, he then mentions that the company will “On your imaginary forces work” and entreats us to imagine the horses, the giant armies, the riches of the Kings.
Shakespeare doesn’t make it too hard for us to imagine this. Just as with Horatio’s line, images fill Henry V – and all the rest of the Bard’s poetry and prose. In a very visual age of TV and movies we are a little spoiled – we often expect the images to be ready made for us. But with a little practice of using your imagination again (remember your imagination? You used it a lot when you were younger. It never really leaves you.) you’ll be seeing Shakespeare’s words in no time.
When reading a play for enjoyment, school, or for an upcoming production it is essential to pay attention to the images provided. If ever you’re reading silently… stop. Speak. First, it’s much easier to uncover the meaning when you speak the words. Second, if you are ever planning to speak these words onstage don’t get in the habit of hearing how the words sound in your head. Everything sounds better in your head. Don’t try to copy that performance. Even if you’re just reading for school and don’t plan on speaking the text aloud for any other reason – do yourself a favor and speak out loud to yourself. Now while reading to yourself, look over the very visual passages and really put pictures to these words. See the morning sun, what image does “in russet mantle” bring? See that “high eastward hill”. Now speak the words slowly while keeping that very specific image in mind. Notice that the words hold greater power now. They will to your audience as well. The better you get at this, the more captivating your performances will be.
Suddenly all those extra passages in Shakespeare that you thought were boring and meaningless and could be cut start to make sense, right? The images contained within the text are a HUGE help to getting inside the mind of Shakespeare’s characters. The images each character speaks are very personal and are never spoken without cause. Use them. When Macbeth says “O, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife!” you know just how vexed he is.
What does it all mean? by Gedaly Guberek
(To the casual reader of Shakespeare: this might not apply to you directly, but remember that to enjoy these works you have to know what they mean too. And when you are an audience member who has done some research, seeing an actor who has done his share as well will make the experience all the more rewarding)
Shakespeare’s use of language can be a little daunting. The words often mean different things than you think, there can be words you’ve never heard before, and the grammar isn’t always what you’d expect. You will often hear that an audience at a good production of a Shakespeare play will only really grasp a third (ish) of what is really being said.
Actors/Directors – THIS DOES NOT GIVE YOU PERMISSION TO GET LAZY!!!
To the actors: just because the audience doesn’t always know what you’re talking about NEVER means that you don’t always have to know. You don’t spout off words and facts on a usual basis that you have no idea what they mean, do you? Don’t get smart here. Even if you do, you are trying to achieve a certain effect by using those words and you know what effect that is. Maybe YOU don’t know what Shakespeare is saying, but the CHARACTER knows exactly what s/he’s trying to say. And since YOU are playing the CHARACTER it is essential that you find out what everything means. And not just your own lines. You need to know what is being said to you, and about you. If you are playing off someone else’s line but you haven’t bothered to realize that then you’ll be missing something! Not that you have to do all this work alone. Ask your scene partner what it is that they’re saying to you.
Directors: it would be absolutely insane of me to suggest that you look up what everything means in the entire play for all the characters… so I will. It’s a gargantuan task, but you as a director most likely have had something to do with the cuts made to the script and you need to know exactly what is being said and why and what significance those cuts you made have to the story/characters. In addition to that, the more familiar you are with the text itself will give you a better feel for what the actors are doing, or what they should be doing. And if they haven’t done their homework, you will most certainly know. Then you can call them out on it. Busted!
When working on one of the Bard’s plays, you can expect to do a lot of research. What do these words mean? What is this place he’s talking about? What is this reference to Greek mythology? All these and many more are things you need to answer, and it can’t all be done in the rehearsal room. Plan to spend plenty of extra time trying to figure this puzzle out. And remember that it is a puzzle! Not some boring research report. It’s a journey full of surprises, discoveries, and education. It can even be a good way to bond with your cast. Research party! Chips, Dip, Dictionary and Script!