Scott Wright (Sly / Hortensio / Grumio / Vincentio) on the challenges of being doubled.
Try this on for disguise…
It always interests me to see how much of what we discovered, tried on, or experimented with during our initial read-through and in the early phases of rehearsal made it into the final production.
Especially with a very-small-cast where each actor, doubled into two or even more major roles, is asked to make character choices that will make it very clear to the audience who is being portrayed.
Some of the choices are easy and obvious, given to us in the text – the older men for example. The “Old Master Vincentio,” accustomed, by virtue of his age and wealth to deference and obedience, is taken by surprise when he stumbles into the topsy-turvy world of Kate & Petruchio and the goings-on in Padua.
As Kat Hermes has mentioned already, one of our tactics is to choose one character that will be simply be the most like me – that will speak in my (mostly) natural speaking voice and be mostly just me physically.
Grumio seemed the obvious one : self-aware (but not self-conscious…), smarter than average, fun-loving, attuned to what’s going on and to the people (…and their motives…) around him, and well adapted to the unique circumstances of living around Petruchio.
Well – maybe I’m not always all those things, but a little positive self-image never hurt, right…?
I’d never thought much before about Hortensio. Never had to. In my previous experiences with this play I’d seen Hortensio as someone Grumio has possibly ingratiated himself to or as one of the pawns in Tranio’s ex-machina.
But in our first read-through, under the pressure to come up with yet another character (especially one that someone else hadn’t already played with that evening…), just having a bit of fun and trying to make my cast-mates laugh, I tried on something so ridiculous, so completely improbable – something I was fairly sure at the time wouldn’t end up working…
The feedback was immediate (the expected laughter) and unequivocal as later review of what we had done and discussions about how to implement this crazy concept made it clear that it was something we would be keeping.
So then I had to start wondering – what is Hortensio’s deal…? There’s plenty in the script – Petruchio’s “best and most approved friend,” a man of higher social class – an at least moderately wealthy resident of Padua, and most notably – in love with Bianca, or at least in love with his ideal of what Bianca represents… and utterly blind to the fact that she just isn’t really interested in him.
So as I thought more about it, my very different characterization of Hortensio (…not that it’s never been done – I’ve just never seen it done…) sort of started to make sense.
It sort of fit with the way other characters treat him, and it made perfect sense that Bianca might prefer a young, good-looking (if somewhat thick-witted) gentleman to an effeminate, lisping, not-so-good-looking man who might one day be caught trying on her clothes.
You still have one chance to get out and see our zany experiment in small-cast Shakespeare at the fabulous Grant Fine Arts Center in Grant, MI next Saturday January 28th. You may never see these particular characters again…
Scott Wright (Hortensio / Sly / Grumio / Vincentio) on managing rehearsals for six people.
Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…
In the weeks leading up to the beginning of rehearsals for The Taming of the Shrew, I put my hand up for the job of Rehearsal Coordinator. I’d been allowed to “assist” the rehearsal coordinator on a past production but in truth, that was really more about officially observing the RC than what I’d been doing – which was watching & learning by experience how it all worked.
As the very small cast was set and rehearsals began, the first job was to lay out the schedule – particularly for the short-term (i.e. the next few days) – which is really a maze of conflicts, scene labels (do we work on I.iii or III.i …?), and dates. Not to mention the schedule of performances.
It’s a very eye-opening experience doing this job. I found that I made a number of miscalculations about the amount of time certain scenes would require (and possibly about how much time the characters in our cast of actors would require for debating character and scene choices…) Some scenes are significantly longer than others, and when looking at the list of scenes it was far too easy to make the amount of rehearsal time for II.i (which is ALL of Act II) the same as for IV.iv (a comparatively short scene.)
Something else that took me by surprise as a relatively new Rehearsal Coordinator was when, as we finished the time period allotted for a particular scene and the talk and debate and brainstorming (and laughter…) came to a natural ebb. Everyone turned and looked at me expectantly as if to say, “Ok, what’s next…?”
Good thing I had it all worked out…
As Many Of Your Players Do
When the small-cast concept for The Taming of the Shrew came up I couldn’t help thinking, “Six…? How is that gonna work…?” I’ve done The Taming of the Shrew twice before this, and there are a number of scenes where there are at least seven main characters on stage. This play also has a scene for Shakespeare’s typical army of servants and attendants, and in the final scene almost the entire cast of characters is supposed to be at table for dinner!
The small-cast thing is something we’ve done before too, but when we did it with The Tempest in summer 2010 there were a few differences. There’s generally a smaller cast of characters in The Tempest, and there are two fairly distinct groups of characters who don’t interact much but appear in alternating scenes, with the big exception of the final scene where, again, everyone appears on stage.
The challenges in The Taming of the Shrew for doubled actors in a very small cast are, as always, to make very distinct character choices that help the audience recognize who’s speaking at any particular moment. The addition of hats, costumes, and props help to further differentiate characters, but the demands of a small-cast production make it necessary for those costumes and things to be especially simple and specific.
This particular challenge – of making very clear character shifts, sometimes very quickly within a scene – has been, and continues to be, really tough for me personally. As our show continues to come together and prepares to open the first weekend of January, we’ll be working to make all those elements come together to make this familiar, funny, and fast-paced story come to life in the way you’ve come to expect from us.