Archive for May, 2012

Scott Lange (Biron) on one of the greatest Shakespearean challenges, the dreaded (and delightful) soliloquy.

There are a lot of elements that go into creating a soliloquy. You can’t just stand on the stage and talk at the audience. You need to be as engaging as a big, fancy, fight scene. My goal, typically, is for my soliloquies to be the most entertaining or moving thing that audiences see on stage for that performance. Often those speeches are the ones that are the most famous. “To be or not to be,” “Is this a dagger I see before me,” and “Once more unto the breach dear friends” are all speeches that are extremely well known even to people who are not avid Shakespeare fans.

For me, my work on a soliloquy has to begin with memorization. This may seem obvious, but I don’t believe everyone works this way. There must be actors somewhere in the world that can work on blocking, vocal variety, and audience contact all while holding script in their hands. I generally am able to do that with scenes where I share the stage with another actor. But I have to be memorized before I can really start working on a soliloquy.

To be clear, however, memorization is not simply learning lines so that I have the ability to regurgitate them. There is quite a bit of table work that goes into it. I do my scansion first, noting where I have short lines, feminine endings, strange meter and alliteration. After that, I break the speech down into smaller manageable chunks. I start with looking at each individual sentence. In a long soliloquy, you may actually only have four or five sentences. This helps me to figure out what I’m saying and what story the speech is telling.

After I’ve done all the heavy mental-lifting with the speech, I can get it up on it’s feet. For my memorization to really have effect, I have to move while I recite the lines. Usually this is just pacing, although I will often memorize my lines while I walk my dog.

After the speech is completely in my head, I can really begin to plot out my staging of the piece. There are a few different ways that I have done this. In some instances the staging will evolve organically. I won’t necessarily plan out where I will move exactly on stage, but let the speech dictate how much I move around the stage and where exactly I will go. In this situation, I experiment with the speech over and over, moving from what might look scattered into an effective piece of staging. This organic way of staging looks to me like a puzzle, with each piece falling into place one by one. With some other speeches , I will spend a large amount of time plotting exactly where I move and on what lines I do that. I will write out a blueprint of what I’m going to do. As I rehearse the speech, I will perform the blocking exactly as I have planned it each time, adjusting individual bits where the staging seems forced or inappropriate.

The final piece of the soliloquy puzzle is audience contact. This is a combination of planning and organic evolution. The inconstant variable is the audience. We perform in many different audience configurations. Also, the audience will invariably sit in different places for each performance, so it is impossible for me to plan exactly where I will look at what moment. I usually do plot out the moments when I will connect directly with an audience member, but will vary where I look based on where audience members are seated. What I can know for sure, however, is that the work I have done prior to the performance will help tell the story and communicate a truthfulness of character to the audience regardless of where they sit.

This summer, PCSC is starting a new means of gathering the inside scoop of our actors in their processes. In addition to the normal blog entries you read on here, there will also be a series of questions posed to our actors. Enjoy.

This week: Kilian Thomas G. (Dumaine / Sir Nathaniel) and Joseph Valente (Navarre / Forestor) are in the hot seat for Love’s Labour’s Lost.

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How do you typically go about preparing a Shakespearean character?

Kilian – Reading, reading, reading, and reading. I read the script, then re-read, then reflect on what I’ve read. The text usually provides a foundation for character. I go through the text and divide my lines into thought measures and try to find the why behind the lines. I want to know why my character wants to say what he says, and what he is trying to achieve by choosing the words that he does. The thought measures are then broken up into sub parts. These sub sections are each given a specific way of delivery that, I think, best coincides with the motivation for the line.

It is also important to know who the character was before the events in the show. I make up back stories for my character and infer about the relationship my character has or has had with other characters, and who he has become as a result.”

Joseph – “I usually first try to research the character’s surroundings and status. This helps me get an accurate vision of what that character’s background is and where they are coming from. I then break down the text into objectives, finding why Shakespeare included the role, and what the character is doing in the scene. Sometimes I paraphrase the lines into my own words in order to full understand them.I then try to find objectives and motives for what my character does. Finally I’ll come up with mannerisms, and physicalizations that help me paint a clear picture of who that character is. I try to always experiment with everything, and always be open to new ideas and/or inspiration. In actor terms: I play.”

What, thus far, in rehearsal has been helpful?

Kilian – “Having people able to give an outside eye to the choices that I’m making, and suggestions of where to do more, or less depending on the case. Feedback is important, since we are hoping that our story is well-received by the audiences, and it is impossible to get that perspective while on stage.”

Joseph – “Rehearsals have been helpful in experimentation. I love how we start each scene by improvising blocking. This helps me attempt to stay in the moment and be open to any inspirations. The early work on defining prose and verse was helpful review, as motivations and objectives can often be found in how the lines are structured.”

What do you like to do for fun outside of theatre?

Kilian – “I love to play tennis. Every Wednesday, across from my house, the Cherry Park Tennis Club meets up for refreshments and tennis while trying to raise money to refurbish the Cherry Park Pool for children. I’ve also found myself increasingly more interested in tailoring. I’ll work on some of my own clothes, as experiments if you will.”

Joseph – “I love movies, and go to the theater about once or twice a month. I also enjoy sporting events such as pro football, basketball, and baseball. Favorite teams include the New York Giants, and Detroit Tigers.”

What is your day job? What do you want to BE your day job?

Kilian – “I am an apprentice tailor. It’s rewarding, although I’m just starting out. I am working on a degree in French so, someday, I would like to use my language skills for work. Until then, ripping up seams is good enough for me.”

Joseph – “I’m in the process of becoming a certified teacher for the state of Michigan, and I work part-time at Sears in the electronics department. My dream is to make acting my full time job.”

What do you plan to do after this show?

Kilian – “I will be involved in Pigeon Creek’s next show, Antony and Cleopatra. I plan on continuing with theatre as long as I live. I can’t imagine a day when I will find it boring or unsatisfying. I will also be involved in a movie being produced by a Grand Valley alum. I have found where my interest lie, and plan on following them to my bitter end.”

Joseph – “I’m currently trying to coordinate a move to Los Angeles to pursue a film and television career, so with any luck I will be out there after the summer.”

Joel L. Schindlbeck on Music Directing for Love’s Labour’s Lost

For Shakespeare’s theatre, music seemed to be a necessity. Not only the interior songs that Shakespeare built into his works, but also the interludes between acts, and musicians performing before the show to help appease the arriving mass of audience. We see this in modern theater all the time. Most musicals, operas and ballets have overtures, although those are usually played after the audience has already arrived and seated. Some theatre companies will use pre-show music while the audience is arriving in order to help put people in the mood. Outside of theatre, music is also used to persuade. Television is riddled with jingles and music to play during the titles and credits of shows and advertisement. Almost all movies come with a complete underscoring of music to retain a mood throughout the film. Even in personal life, I see so many people around town or on the bus wearing iPods while they work out, or travel, or go to work, or simply walk to the store. It’s a way of life. Music moves.

I can only imagine that in a world of no radio, no iPods, and no TV, the impact of having music was just as strong a means of putting people in the mood for what they’re about to see or do. At Pigeon Creek we don’t often have complete underscoring for scenes. We like to let the lines speak for themselves, unless a surviving stage direction in the script prompts us to create music; (and yes, we make sure that it comes from the source of prompter scripts.) However, we do follow the original practice of musical interludes. In the modern conventions of theatre, Pigeon Creek will not do breaks in between every act, instead opting for an intermission. And it is there that we attempt to use music to motivate.

As music director, I have a responsibility to serve that purpose. To put people in the mood for what they’re about to see, or in the case of interior songs, what they ARE seeing.

I won’t go into too much detail about the songs we’re using for Love’s Labour’s Lost. Part of the fun of our music is letting the audience experience it as a surprise. What I will say is that the music in this instance aligns itself perfectly with the point of this play. Love can be fun, even when we create roadblocks in the way and make trouble for ourselves. As I was trying to find the theme for our show’s music (and then find appropriate songs to match that theme), I started with a couple thorough readings of the entire play. I focused on the general concepts: what is the play’s point, how should a general audience feel about the play or the theme of the play, and what is the broad stroke of the play that we should let the audience go home with.

From that point, it was a matter of finding thematic songs that meet the following criteria: do the actors have the ability to sing and/or play the necessary musical instruments, can we perform this song acoustically (I tend to always say yes and find a way), when I listen to the song do I generally get the required emotion even without listening to the words if necessary, and is it possible that at least some of the audience will recognize the song. (We tend to pick what we call “Top 40 Songs”, be they from either today’s music charts or past decades.)

Then, it’s rehearse, perfect, perform and enjoy. We hope you do as well.