Whispers from the Wings

Moving to Stratford

April 27, 2012

On the 23rd of October we moved to Stratford, which would now be our homes until 10th March the following year. I rent a small Victorian cottage from the RSC which is a mere six minutes walk from the theatre.

In London it took me forty minutes each way to get to rehearsals. I have always enjoyed my seasons in Stratford. I grew up in a small town in County Cork called Mitchelstown, where the main entertainment was going for walks in the country.

Next day, Monday, we immerse ourselves in a very dark and then a very bright space for four days, and at 7.30 on Thursday the 27th we face our public.

So, I rise early on Monday. Get dressed. Go to the theatre and at 9.30am undress. I don the costumes, boots, wigs, beards etc. which feel stiff and uncomfortable.

Waiting to start, we spend a lot of time looking at ourselves in mirrors. We hope to see the characters we have been working on for all these weeks looking straight back at us. Yes, he's there! - a little strange and awkward, but definitely there. Do we like that hat? Yes, it's good. We try on the second hat for Character Two. We hate it. We later observe other actors in the Character Two Scene. Most don't have hats. It is a Summer Scene, we say to each other. Would we wear hats?

Those of us with hats we hate, begin to plot to get rid of them. This can start with not wearing them in the Tech. The designer notices. Wardrobe reminds us to wear the hats. It has been known for actors, who strongly dislike a particular garment, who feel it is 'not right' for their characters, to, in a fit of pique, throw the offending piece of costume out of the dressing room window into the depths of the passing Avon.

Well, the shallows really. We walk the corridors getting used to the long cassocks, soutanes, vestments, cloaks. We twirl, we gesture. We do sudden 180 degree turns. Suddenly we discover how to 'use' them. It is exciting.

We try a little makeup. Under the eyes, to 'bring them out'. The younger actors notice and scoff. Makeup is rarely used in the theatre by young actors. But we know it works. We were taught how to apply it at drama school. My God we've been doing it for decades!

We go on stage. We pace about, claiming the space. Walk the entrances and exits. We go through pass doors and are told where to wait to make front of house entrances. We clock the lighting. We are shown our cue lights. We go and handle the books, props etc. The furniture looks great, so authentic, all made with great care and craftsmanship. We love it. Suddenly I am aware that I do not sit down in this play. But then one rarely does in period plays.

How many Coronations, Trials, Battles, Speeches from Monarchs, Entertainments have I ever sat down in? None. Think about the opening scene in King Lear, and I won't even mention Julius Caesar. Stand. Stand. They had furniture in those days. They probably sat down all the time. And I'm sure they never walked about in steeply raked rooms. We are called for the first scene. The Tech begins.

by James Hayes  |  No comments yet

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Teaching Shakespeare