Bard’s Workday: What I Learned from Listening to RSC Rehearsals

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Bard’s Workday: What I Learned from Listening to RSC Rehearsals


TThe creation process normally takes place behind closed doors. But the RSC bravely reversed that idea by releasing its open rehearsal plan for Henry VI, Part 1. This means, in practice, that cameras are allowed for three sessions per day. At 10 a.m., we attend a half-hour warm-up in the company. From noon, for 90 minutes, we attend either a course (movement, fight, worms) or the rehearsal of a scene. Then, at 6 p.m., we listen to a green room chat, in which members of the company reflect on the progress made so far. After diving in and out of the first fortnight – and there’s still over a week until a streaming performance on June 23 – I’m intrigued by everything I’ve learned.

But are open rehearsals a good idea? There was a pivotal moment when Gregory Doran – who shares the project management with Owen Horsley – quoted a letter he had received from an actor that said “the rehearsal room is sacrosanct – actors should not. not be exposed like that ”. I spoke to a seasoned actor who said that she too was horrified that audiences would witness the trial and error that goes on in a rehearsal room.

I fully understand, but there are extenuating circumstances that justify this experience. As Jamie Wilkes, a member of the company, put it, “It’s about the process, not the product. There is no pressure of an impending press night or a fully staged production. Mariah Gale also astutely observed that what works for an ensemble piece like Henry VI Part One would be less suited to Hamlet or Macbeth, where individuals grapple with intractable issues. But the ultimate rationale is that, for both participants and spectators, there is special joy in the idea of ​​full immersion in Shakespeare after 15 sterile months, largely without a bard.

A special joy… Henry VI First part: Open Rehearsal Project. Photographie : Ellie Kurttz. Copyright @ Royal Shakespeare Company

The main lesson, for me, has been that warm-ups and movement classes are more fun for actors than for observers: there is only a certain pleasure in seeing actors engage in exercises. applause to encourage the community. The real eye-opener came on the Friday of week one when Horsley led a verse session with six of the cast. He first had them materialize the iambic pentameter by counting several times from one to 10, with appropriate accents, as they crossed the floor of the rehearsal room. As he said, “It’s kind of like Sesame Street to begin with,” but it paid off in that he instilled the rhythm of the standard Shakespearean verse line.

The actors then worked painstakingly on a speech in act one, scene two, when Joan la Pucelle takes on the French dolphin. They found that in her very first line – “Dolphin, I was born a Shepherd’s Daughter” – Joan is shifted in that the emphasis is on the first syllable. “She uses the beat,” Horsley suggested, “to get his attention. The more they worked on the speech, the more the actors realized to what extent the regular iambique mixed with the irregular – as “the mother of God deigned to appear to me” – and how Joan used language to enchant, to captivate. and convince his listener. Watching this session took me back to John Barton’s 1984 TV series Playing Shakespeare, which offered definitive analysis of Shakespeare’s verses.

We’re looking at you… Henry VI Part One: Open Rehearsal Project. Photographie : Ellie Kurttz. Copyright @ Royal Shakespeare Company

The fun, as always, is in the detail: the more you explore the details of a Shakespeare text, the more fascinating the pieces become. One morning we saw Doran and the cast working on the crucial scene in Act Two, Scene Four, when Richard Plantagenet and Somerset engage in a feud in Temple Gardens that leads to the Wars of the Roses. There has been a long democratic debate about the meaning of the stage. After listening to everyone, Doran concluded that “this is one of those arguments it’s not about” and behind it lies Yorkist Richard’s claim to the throne. This was something that was made clear in a previous green room session, where Doran explained to Michael Balogun (who plays York) and Marty Cruickshank (Mortimer) the complex genealogy in which the roots of civil disorder go back to the birth of seven sons. to Edward III.

These rehearsals explore the many facets that make up a Shakespeare production – such as the fighting, the movement, the music, the staging – but for me two memories prevail. One is the relief visible among the actors at having been freed from the deprivations of the past 15 months: “I feel like I have entered a rehearsal room,” someone says. The other is that the heart and soul of JSR lies in the detailed exploration of the text. “Curiosity for the language is integral,” says Horsley. This line could serve as the final justification for breaking an age-old code and demystifying the theatrical process.

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