Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Law and Justice {belated Week 3 Response}

This post is coming to you a few days later than my usual Friday response. I took a break from my regularly scheduled reading because we began rehearsing for The Justice Project just a week ago today. (How is that possible? It feels as though it's been at least a month.) We then opened our first production of Measure for Measure on Friday night and The Merchant of Venice on Saturday. So reading, writing, and scholarship gave way to practice.

We were faced with questions of each character's arc, where to stage Belmont and where to stage Shylock's house, how to navigate placement of chairs, should we use a prop or mime it? With only twelve hours to stage each production, we were out of time to spend with learning lines, with looking up shades of meaning, with notating scripts. It was show time.

During Shakespeare IN THE RAW rehearsals, we strive for 100% accuracy with the text, and that is where the vast majority of our rehearsal time is spent. Speaking the text through, holding if a line is spoken incorrectly, then fixing the error, and speaking it correctly. It can be a frustrating experience for an actor who has learned even a single word wrong or made an inversion early on in their memorization process. There have been tears on more than one occasion. But of course (as we love to quote Hamlet), "The play's the thing" and all of our preparation and rehearsal is in service of the play.

My own preparation is heavily academic. (Shocked, right? I know.) Before I can even do anything as actor, however, Patrick or I spend innumerable hours preparing the script. We do not cut any of the text, but we format it preserving Folio capitalizations, punctuation, and some spelling. We also have very often to make choices between various editions of the text. Do we go with Folio 1 or with Quarto 2? Decisions, decisions! Once the script is finally prepared, I switch over to "actor mode." I scan the verse in my script. I look up meanings galore -- even (or rather especially) of words that I know. What is the real difference between "dread" and "fear"? Imagine my frustration with the Lexicon when it defined each word with the other! I highlight in different colors word repetitions. For The Justice Project, I used orange to highlight all the words associated with the law: justice, mercy, law, bond, slander, sentence, etc. My script has a lot of orange blobs in it now. This work gives me a strong base of support, of comprehension, of through-line when it is time to put the script away and focus on the acting ensemble around me.

I am a big believer in marrying scholarship and practice. I wouldn't be juggling a doctoral degree program with running a theatre company if I weren't. A production will always be stronger when supported by the rigor of academic study and questioning, but at the end of the day, these plays were written for the stage, to have life breathed into the words, to be performed by a talented ensemble of actors. I can't say how proud I am of The Justice Project, which has so beautifully balanced academic scholarship and theatrical practice. These productions are not only smart and clearly delivered, but they are also emotional powerhouses. This weekend, our audience laughed out loud. They wept. They cheered and clapped, because they were moved. Which tells me ... we did our job, and we did it well.

Antonio (Julia Jones) and Portia (Tara Bradway)
Photo by Michael Bernstein.

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