Monday, January 31, 2011

Verse-Speaking for the Classical Actor

In the past few days since my last post, I have been eyes-deep in ADK Shakes work. While the immersion is absolutely wonderful, the downside is that I have (almost) completely neglected my reading for class! So after this post, I will be immersing myself in Arthurian Romances and Dante. Lots of immersion happening.

Here's a peek into the muddle that is my brain ... I have been painstakingly going through our Bookend scripts of Titus and Tempest, recording errors from our read-throughs of the 23rd. These are usually small errors in memorization -- transposing two words, perhaps missing or adding a word here and there. So I'm compiling them in order to email out a written record to each actor. Yesterday morning was also our first Board Meeting of 2011 and our big project is researching venues for touring our productions this summer -- pssst, upstate NYers -- leave a comment if there's a place you're dying to see ADK Shakes tour! In the vein of the summer, I am at a snail's pace with casting but it's like a constant hum in the back of my head :: visions of headshots, flashbacks of monologues, visualizing the coming productions. The buzz will hopefully come to rest by mid-March and everything will be settled. Until then ...

What has been occupying much of my brainpower the last few days is -- at bottom -- the language itself. How it gets performed. And how I want to hear it performed. I just did a quick Google search on the percentage of verse vs. prose in Shakespeare's plays and found this book by Ulrich Busse. It has a really cool table on page 66 which indicates that 76.95% of the complete works is written in verse. 76.95%!!!!!! This is exactly why we require actors to audition with a verse monologue! This, of course, leaves only 23.05% of the entire Shakespearean canon that is written in prose. And it really, really, really gets my goat when I hear an actor speaking the verse lines of Shakespeare like they are contemporary prose -- even more so when I know they have been directed to speak it that way. Speaking verse as though it is utterly pedestrian prose muddles the meaning. It disturbs the musicality and the rhythm, which ultimately undermines one's appreciation in listening to it. And to revisit my big research question of last semester -- in the end, I think it can also destroy the authenticity of a performance.

Romeo and Juliet, Summer 2010
When Patrick and I first set out on our journey of Shakespeare IN THE RAW, we were placing the highest emphasis on the text of the plays themselves. By extension -- emphasis on the verse! (If anyone has seen the third season of Slings & Arrows, Charles Kingman comes to mind here...) Patrick is a percussionist so the rhythm of the verse comes quite naturally to him. Not all of us are such natural musicians, of course, but I am inclined to think that musicians have a one-up on actors in this case. One example, and then I'll step down off my soap box (for now). This summer, we produced Romeo and Juliet and I gave a note to our Romeo (who, incidentally, is a wonderful musician). There's one line in the balcony scene that I consistently hear mis-read wherever I go, and I wanted to make sure he was going to hit the emphasis I wanted. The emphasis that *ahem* the verse gives us. 
With Love's light wings did I o'er perch these Walls, / For stony limits cannot hold Love out, / And what Love can do, that dares Love attempt: / Therefore thy kinsmen are no stop to me. (II.ii)
Specifically: "And what Love can do, that dares Love attempt" -- I consistently hear this line read with emphasis on the nouns and verbs, the so-called "important" words: "And what Love can do that dares Love attempt", right? No! The verse tells us otherwise! This is a complete thought, a stand-alone thought. "That" is not a linking word here -- it is the key to the meaning of the thought. "And what Love can do, that dares Love attempt." And if we ignore the verse, suddenly the thought does not make sense.

So. The point of this rant is to respect the verse. Use the verse. Iambs are our friends. Next time, maybe I will rant on the opening speech from Richard III. And to all my Bookend actors, in particular, and to our acting community in general, I hope you will take this very sincere message to heart. I love the poetry of Shakespeare's work. Let's not obscure it by trying to turn it in to prose. Let it sing. (And PS - as an added bonus, you'll also find the memorization so much easier!)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for that entry. I really Love all that seeming pickiness when it comes to Shakespeare. That pickiness leads to the true meaning and also helps me understand what is being said when my mind gets muddled.


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