I have learnt a lot in my year in Stratford. It has been so busy that it is surprising that we are already at the end of our time here. We have moved from one event to another with such speed: first day of rehearsals, first preview, then opening, understudy rehearsals and performance, Cymbeline and Lear camera lives. And all of this just in the last three months.
I have learnt that for any Shakespeare play it is essential, although not necessarily pleasant, to do at least a week of table work. We need to pull the script apart, paraphrase lines to make sure we know the modern meanings of what we are saying, go through the text line by bloody line. It can be a tedious and laborious task at times but it makes sure that everyone has input and puts the entire cast on the same page and in the same story. This creates your first cast feeling of ownership of the play. Without it you are lost.
Something I learned from Lear rehearsals that I hadn’t really come into contact with before: CROSSROADS. Greg [Doran - Director] kept on making us aware about the overt nature of CROSSROADS and what they give us as actors. It is those moments where paths cross for a character and they can choose to go down one road or another. The one road can be a very bad decision the other a good. Shakespeare provides you with the result of the decision made (every writer does) but you must be aware of those moments so that you can find out more about your character. You can play those decision moments and they can provide a good idea of what your character is thinking and feeling at the moment the decision is made.
Endurance: you need a lot of it. A three show season is hard at times. I have performed 11 different characters, mostly speaking parts, so there is a lot of Shakespeare in my head. Sometimes endurance eludes you when you need it most. But you do learn how to dig deep and find that extra bit of energy that gets you through a show. I don’t know how or where it comes from but when you know that audience is waiting it helps…no matter how much you might want to escape into a dark corner and cry! Maybe it is just that. You have a job to do and the audience are ready.
On a personal level, I learnt I also needed to take some time for 'ME'. Closing the door on my apartment and just taking a couple of hours to be quiet was invaluable. Sometimes I felt guilty but mostly I recognise that I am the kind of person that doesn’t need to be around people all the time. That being around people sometimes stresses me out and I learnt this year that it is absolutely necessary to shut the door. Shut out the world and regroup.
Panic attacks have been largely under control this year. So let’s celebrate that! But I also learnt that when they do come there is a whole bunch of really great people working around you and someone will know how you feel. Someone will be dealing with the same thing as you and they will take your hand and lead you to a light corner of the theatre and help you out. There is always support no matter how alone you feel in the moment.
I have learnt to respect the dressers/wigs trade more than I ever thought possible. Mostly I have worked in theatres where you do not have a dresser access to wigs. It is a wonderful privilege having someone look after all your costumes for you, making sure that everything is set up and ready for you to do your work. You take that for granted at your peril. It is a lot of work creating a wig but it can transform your character immensely. And to have someone always looking after it for you and making sure it sits on your head right is a joy. The RSC have an incredible team of dressers and wig makers. But I have loved meeting so many different people from crew to costumes that have done such amazing work bringing Hamlet, Cymbeline and Lear to life.
Understudying is difficult and intimidating. Difficult because you have so little time to do the work that took eight weeks for the lead to arrive at. Intimidating because of sheer amount of work you do in silence. Understudying is all about observing and doing a lot of work before you even start rehearsing for the understudy run. I have said all this before in another blog but it truly has been a rewarding experience being an understudy. In fact, for Lear, I hit a beautiful career high. These highs do not happen often and so it is good to have the respect of your fellow colleagues and audience. And to make yourself proud in front of your family and friends. These understudy runs provided me with some of the greatest moments of the year. That’s why they are important and should continue.
In fact, this year has been the most incredible of my career. There have been so many highs before this one but the constancy of work, the type of work, the theatre company and the theatre, the amazing talented actors that I have worked with have all made this year very special. Goodbye Stratford and Hello Barbican!