Wed 9 Feb 2011
Hi! I’m Brooke Heintz, and I’m playing Anne Page, the young love interest of Merry Wives, as well as the boisterous Host of the Garter. I’m also working with Katherine Mayberry on Props.
We’re a couple of weeks into rehearsals, and at this point we’re still working through our first few runs of some scenes. There’s a lot of focus, at these early stages of the process, on text work before we even get things on their feet and books out of our hands, so I’d like to talk about what I get out of the importance of this kind of work.
Working with Shakespeare’s language presents a number of unusual challenges, but that’s also part of what makes it such a rewarding process. As someone who got their degree in English, decoding what lies beneath and within the words of a text is fun for me, as well. While dictionaries and annotated texts can be helpful to us, as actors, to learn the meanings of words or even of entire phrases that are no longer in common use – or mean something entirely different nowadays – our audience doesn’t have that advantage when watching us perform. It becomes the task of the actor to convey the meaning of these words and phrases through a combination of intonation, physicality, and playing the intention of the meaning. When we invite audience members to watch our show, it is not our goal for them to walk away able to give a dictionary definition of each word they might not have heard before. However, we believe it’s possible that with a well acted scene, even Shakespeare’s most obscure vocabulary won’t obscure the action of the play, or the emotional content and dynamics between characters.
Of course this means that part of our job as actors is to understand that action, meaning, and emotional content as much as possible. Luckily, Shakespeare’s all about giving us the clues we need (in most cases) to figure this out in the text of the play itself. Given that we’re working with limited stage directions (usually entrances and exits), when it comes to what we’re doing in the scene, we have to examine closely what we’re saying. Some of it’s pretty basic: when Anne enters, for example, her Dad tells her to carry the wine in, so it’s easy enough to infer that she’s probably lugging wine from somewhere towards the house, and perhaps hesitates enough that her father has to direct her where to go with it. Some of it’s implied in what other characters say about yours: when the Host enters, Page and Ford comment on his ‘ranting’ and how merry he looks, and he doesn’t seem to notice them initially, which leads me to enter laughing at slow paced Shallow, and focusing my attention offstage until spoken directly to. Many times, it’s even much more subtle than that, and can stem from a single word choice in the text that stands out. As actors we constantly have to take a magnifying lens to the script and ask ourselves: why this word or these words? So much of the first few weeks of any show for me is sitting with the text, Shakespearean dictionaries, and a pencil, going line by line to battle these things out.
All that focus on the minutiae on our end allows audiences to be able to absorb the “bigger picture” on theirs without getting hung up on the details or meanings of individuals words. Part of the goal of Pigeon Creek is making Shakespeare accessible to everyone, and an actor’s text work goes a long way towards making that possible.