A Rose By Any Other Name…?

“Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou, Romeo?”

“The quality of mercy is not strained; It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath.”

“Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, and fill me from the crown to the toe top full of direst cruelty.”

“Think not I love him, though I ask for him; ‘Tis but a peevish boy; yet he talks well.”

“Call you me fair? That fair again unsay.”

So many options and so little time!  Oh, my goodness!  I am overwhelmed with the wealth of wondrous words open to me (you like that? That is an alliteration).  How many of these quotations from monologues do you recognize?  They are all beautiful characters whose words flow from their tongues like so many crystal water droplets, one following hard upon the next (that is a simile) and yes, I am getting carried away with this rhetorical speech.  Fun fact: In Shakespeare’s day, “rhetoric” was not a word which implied insincerity or any sort of negative connotation.  To speak “rhetorically” simply meant speaking in figures and artificial patterns which were not usually used in everyday life.  Some people say that everyone in Shakespeare’s day understood his verse because that was just how people spoke.  While the audience did understand his verse, it was not because this was how they spoke in real life; it was because they had a much more auditory culture.  Interesting, no?  We studied more of these Shakespearean forms of speech in class this week and so many of these things are coming together to make sense in my mind.

Liz asked us to read a really helpful little book called “Shakespeare Alive” by the famous director Joseph Papp which was packed full of helpful little historical tidbits for better understanding of the Bard’s work and world.  For instance, did you know that the players in Shakespearean theatre presented a different play every day and a new work somewhere around every two weeks!?  Can you imagine the work involved in doing that?  With this in mind it completely makes sense that so many works are in verse…to help the actors memorize quickly and create word pictures in the minds of the actors and audience.  Liz reminded us that before we speak any kind of imagery in the text we must first see the image in our mind’s eye.  It is these images which produce life in the imagination of the actors and enables them to convey that energy and passion to the audience.

Although we touched upon language and rhetoric again this week, Liz’s primary focus was on breath and breathing.  I have had only a little bit of vocal training in my theatre education so far and some of the vocal exercises she gave us were fairly difficult for me, requiring my full attention.  However, she gave us a mental image that really did stick in my head and helped me so much.  She told us to think of our breath as being a line which we were throwing to someone as we spoke to them.  Every single thing we said had to be thrown to the person we were speaking to and connect us to them by a line.  You try it…take a deep breath and feel your ribs swing out to let in more air, then toss a line on your breath to someone.  This vocal support really feels very enjoyable, particularly when paired with those lush, round Shakespearean words I mentioned last week.  I will hold this picture a long time.

So now, the moment of truth……….What am I going to do for my monologue?  It has to be good, something I can really enjoy as I work.  It should also be something with a lot of imagery and rhetoric which I can sink my teeth into as I play with this language.  And Liz said it should be a character we could actually play now, someone near our own age and experience.  Well……..I think I have made a decision.  “As You Like It” has always been my favorite comedy…. Can I handle it?  I’m going to go for it.  I may not have this chance again!

Ladies and gentlemen, for my first performance as the Antaeus Intern in Shakespeare, I will be presenting Rosalind (my dream role) from “As You Like It,” act III, scene v.

I thank you!

–Hanna Mitchell

14 Lines In One Breath???

“When forty winters have besieged thy brow

And dug deep trenches in thy beauty’s field…”

Oh, I’m sorry everyone!  I was just working on my sonnet. 😉  It is so much fun playing around with the sounds and the pauses and the iambic pentameter!  And yes…the class…oh my goodness the CLASS!  I am way in over my head in this talented group of people, but I had so much fun and I absolutely love every minute of it!

First of all, Liz Swain is amazing!  She has so much knowledge that she is waiting to share and so many fun stories that I could sit and listen to her for hours.  She drew all of us into the group, regardless of our previous Shakespeare or theatre experience and met us right where we are.  The people is this class come from a vast majority of places and backgrounds and she matches her teaching style to each of us, praising our successes and helping us pinpoint our biggest points for improvement.  I was really thankful for this since I try to remember too many things at once when I act.  I let my brain run away with me and fall head over heels…well, at least tie my tongue in knots.  And my class mates are the best!  I got really nervous going into the evening, I always do in acting classes, but they welcomed me in and encouraged me as I fumbled along in my ignorance of this bright new world opening up before me.

We ran through some basic Shakespearean writing tools (well basic to people who are more familiar with Shakespeare) and methods of speaking first.  How many of these do you know?  No cheating…just right off the top of your head:  scansion, spondee, caesurae, elision, onomatopoeia and dactyl.  You think I’m making these up…but no.  How many did you get?  Well I knew only one, but now I know them all!  Hurrah for handouts!

When we got up to begin our sonnets, I took one look at my classmates and got so flurried I think I said the whole sonnet in one breath.  No pauses, no emotion, nothing.  Liz patiently slowed me down and pointed out that the sonnet is divided into fourteen lines for a reason (wow! He did that on purpose?) and let me go back over the piece with some technical ideas in mind.  I was blown away by how much more relaxed I felt and how I was able to really focus on what I was saying, an important detail when working with Shakespeare.  Even when I was sitting back just watching the other actors I was able to glean so much helpful information from their artistic choices and thoughtful conversation.  I think I could learn in this class by just sitting in the room and inhaling all the talent there.

So now, armed with my notes, I prepare for week two of sonnets.  I am slowing myself down.  It’s hard, but it does make breathing and not passing out much easier.  I am also on the hunt for a monologue.  The problem is there are just SO many from which to choose!  Which way should I go?  Any suggestions?

–Hanna Mitchell

Brave New World!

Hello, world!  I’m Hanna, the new Antaeus intern and your guide for the next fourteen weeks on a journey of playing Shakespeare!  How fun is that?  I am so excited about this class with the fantastic Elizabeth Swain and an inspiring group of professionals brought together by a love of learning and a love of the Bard.  I’m sure there are many of you out there who are just as passionate about Shakespeare and his works as I am. How did he manage to come up with so many engaging and brilliant plots?  How could he breathe life into characters hundreds of years ago who still fan our emotions to flame today?  How can any actor or director feel that they are really doing justice to works considered foundational to society for ages?  I am looking forward to learning the answers to these questions as much as you are and I thank you in advance for venturing off with me!

To set the stage for this tour on which I will be your eyes and ears here are a few details:  I am a senior undergraduate student at a school with a brand spanking new theatre program.  We are so very new in fact that I will be a part of the first graduating class ever!  While this is all well and good and we have many opportunities to do things other students don’t, this also means we have a very small class roster so far.  Although I have been in love with Shakespeare since I was very small, I have never had an actual class to learn about him and bring his works to life.  When it was suggested that I, as the Antaeus intern, should participate in the Shakespeare class and blog my way through it, I jumped at the opportunity!  I could not believe my good fortune!  And so here we are!

Our task for the first class is simply to memorize a sonnet. I have selected Sonnet 2.  I am memorizing it in the car on my way to and from Hollywood (this is something else you must know…”I am slow of study,” at least as far as memorizing goes) and I’m in love with the images in the piece and the feel of the words on my tongue.  I know that sounds strange, but try it sometime.  Read a sonnet out loud and tell me it isn’t a strange and wonderful feeling letting those rich old words flow over your tongue.  That is your assignment for this week.

As for me, I’m off to my first class session!  Bid me godspeed!

When forty winters shall beseige thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,
Thy youth’s proud livery, so gazed on now,
Will be a tatter’d weed, of small worth held:
Then being ask’d where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days;
To say, within thine own deep-sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserved thy beauty’s use,
If thou couldst answer ‘This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count and make my old excuse,’
Proving his beauty by succession thine!
This were to be new made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feel’st it cold.

–Hanna Mitchell