Becoming Caliban
Chronicles of a production of The Tempest
Monday, March 14, 2005
'Tis a Custom with Him i' the Afternoon to Sleep

I hadn't been at a rehearsal for two days -- as I drove home after Friday's rehearsal, a lot of snow began to fall, and it didn't stop falling until Sunday morning. I took one look outside my window Saturday morning, saw that the plows hadn't been on the road in a while, and that the snow was still falling like flour from the sky, and I called the producer and said, "I'm not going to risk driving up to Tamworth today." So I didn't.

I did spend some time polishing lines, though. Friday we had stumbled through the first four acts, and some parts went pretty well -- II.ii seemed to amuse the audience quite a bit -- but I felt like I was stretching for too many of the lines and spending far too much time during monologues thinking, "What's next what's next what's next" rather than letting myself go with the actions and ideas.

Sunday was a day off and I spent some time shovelling, some time reading, some time doing anything other than thinking about plays or Shakespeare or acting or lines.

And then there was today. Two days off takes it toll, no matter how prepared you are. I thought I was in great shape, but discovered soon that every line I thought I knew did not think it knew me, while lines I'd always messed up suddenly came easily. This is not a good state to be in three days from opening. I.ii was slow, but bearable, and I thought I got through the "This island's mine by Sycorax..." bit without completely embarrassing myself, though I haven't yet figured out how to make the transition from the first line of that monologue ("I must eat my dinner") to the next. If I have to, I'll just play it that Caliban's compulsive, but that seems like a cop-out.

Then came II.ii. The scene that has always been our best. Today it took forever. Entire civilizations rose and fell during the time we slogged through that scene. Most of it was my fault -- I transposed a couple of lines, completely throwing the other actors off, so that we finally got to one point and had no idea where we were or what was supposed to happen next. "Let's stop and go back," the director said, much to our relief, although, of course, it was a dilemma, because if we went back then we'd have to actually do it right before we could truly move on. My mind filled with images of doing the same two pages over and over and over again like a scratched record of life. I had even somehow managed to forget a line I've never forgotten before -- there's a moment where I'm supposed to be crouching between Stephano and Trinculo while they talk about the bottle of wine, and finally I reach for it, miss, plummet between them, and look up to say, "Hast thou not dropped from heaven?" It's one of those simple little lines inextricably tied to an action that it's impossible to forget. I forgot it.

The rest of the rehearsal proceeded like that. I began to feel that my delivery was monotone, that I said everything in exactly the same way, that the tone was always the same. Blah blah blah with an occasional BLAH. Ending with an ugh.

The "Be not afeard" speech went quite well, however. The musicians and I have really begun to play off of each other, and I think that's going to be a good moment. It's a particularly nice one for me, because I get to feel like a sort of conductor, and I've always wondered how intoxicating the sense of power a conductor has is -- standing up there, and entire orchestra at your command, the sounds seeming to follow your fingertips...

Before the show a reporter came to do a photo shoot, and I threw on some pieces of clothing I found and did my best to look menacing for a photo. I'll be curious to see it. Theatre photos tend to be deeply unsatisfying; too wooden, too fake. The theatre is a fundamentally fake art form, but one that, with its appeal to all the senses, overcomes its fakeness. Reduced to a single sense -- sight -- in a photograph, the artificiality triumphs over all. (Speaking of photos, my mother let me borrow her digital camera. I loathe taking pictures of anything or anyone, though, and haven't yet had the courage to take it out and take any pictures. Maybe tomorrow, when we're all in costume.)

I have most of my costume now. It's very brown.

We finished the run-through (with lights for the first time, though not most costumes) and then did notes. We all had the obvious and painful note to pick up pacing, cues, and lines. I had a note to find some variety of tones. It was one of those things you hate to hear because you know it's true and had hoped hoped hoped nobody noticed. I've been telling myself to find tonal variety through the whole rehearsal process, and haven't found it except for the "Be not afeard..." speech. Just have to keep looking and hope by opening night (well, morning) that it's there.

After the rehearsal, I said to Caroline, "Have you ever considered doing maybe three-and-a-half weeks of rehearsal instead of two-and-a-half?"

"Yes," she said.


"It would bankrupt us." Indeed. I haven't been paid yet because Actors' Equity, the union, of which our director and three actors are members, demanded a lot more money than Caroline had planned on, so all of the grant money has been used to pay the union actors and the union, and the rest of us have to wait until there are some ticket sales. I try not to think about it, because I'm not doing this for the money, but I couldn't afford to be driving this much and putting this much time into it all without it. I hate even having to think about it. So I won't.

Two more rehearsals.

Music on the drive up: various Bob Dylan, some Natalie Merchant. On the drive home, listened to NPR.

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the production
The Tempest
produced by Advice to the Players
at The Barnstormers Theatre
Tamworth, New Hampshire, USA

March 17 & 18, 2005
at 10am & 7pm

March 19
at 7pm

March 20
at 2pm

shakespeare links
Open Source Shakespeare
The Tempest Text
Elizabethan Pronunciation
Perseus Project
Early Modern Literary Studies
collection of Tempest links
Images of The Tempest
The Tempest in old postcards
Post-Colonial Tempest Links

2005-02-27 2005-03-06 2005-03-13 2005-03-20

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about the writer
Matthew Cheney teaches English and theatre at The New Hampton School.

This weblog chronicles his experiences rehearsing and performing the role of Caliban in a production of Shakespeare's The Tempest.


Primary website: The Mumpsimus

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