Becoming Caliban
Chronicles of a production of The Tempest
Thursday, March 10, 2005
I'll Be Wise Hereafter

The Saga of Learning the Lines is slowly coming to an end, and the words are beginning to stick in my skull after hours of practice. I'm not sure why it was so hard this time; maybe I'm just getting old. Most likely that I've just been trying to think of too many things at once and haven't been able to focus on the play to the exclusion of everything else I need to get done.

In any case, yesterday we worked IV, V, and I.ii. Acts IV and V went relatively smoothly, and I even got through V without a script (this isn't a huge accomplishment, it being my smallest scene). I.ii we hadn't done in a while, and it felt clunky (though I was also off book for it -- IV was the only thing I needed a script for). The problem is that the scene doesn't become particularly dramatic until Caliban enters, and that's about 300 lines into the scene. Everything before that is exposition of some sort, with Prospero pontificating a tremendous amount. Yes, the play is about telling stories, and how stories are told, etc. etc., all of which makes for fascinating reading, but when it comes to giving the play life on the stage, the best thing I can think to do with everything before Caliban's entrance is get through it as fast as possible.

(An aside: I hate the character of Prospero. Clearly, I must be missing something. Why did Gielgud love the role so much? Some lovely poetry, yes, but what an insufferable character! Or perhaps it's just that Caliban is affecting my vision of it...)

None of my scenes had been scheduled to be rehearsed today, but we all asked if there would be time to do I.ii again, and so we found time in the schedule, and today spent half an hour or so on it, reblocking some spots and generally polishing it. More and more musicians are being added in the pit, which makes my entrance a bit difficult, as I rise first with one hand on the edge of the pit and then another, then peek over. Now I'm doing it with musicians directly in front of me. With luck, it won't look too awkward to the audience. I then climb up the ladder, which felt, for one reason or another, particularly good today -- I think I've done it enough that the ladder doesn't seem tremendously foreign anymore. This may not sound like much of an accomplishment, but any little thing like that that indicates I'm feeling my way into the physicality of Caliban makes me happy.

It got a bit more awkward-feeling with the "This island's mine by Sycorax, my mother..." speech, because I'm supposed to range from one part of the stage to the rest while all the time keeping some distance from Prospero. This is kind of like trying to drive to Manhattan from Boston without going through Hartford. Possible, certainly, but not particularly easy. I also get to climb up some little steps that are primarily used by Ariel; never having been on them before, today I nearly plunged flat onto my face.

The voice is developing differently than I had expected; far less of the ultra-Americanized accent now. I still like the idea, but I haven't been able to feel my way through the idea, and so it hasn't been consistent, and I'll probably just end up going with the style of speaking that the words seem to impel me toward. I like it best when the tone and pitch seem to come from the rhythm of the written words, anyway, so I'm not unhappy with this. (A couple days ago when I was trying to learn some lines, I practiced them in Brooklynese. Too bad it would be really distracting in the show, because I kind of liked the effect!)

Tomorrow is our first full run-through. Completely off book.

A week from today is our first (and second) performance. A week from right now, I will have completed two performances. Huh.

Music on the way to rehearsal today: A Radiohead mix. On the way back: lines.

Monday, March 07, 2005
Learning Me Your Language

Today I spent some time in the morning trying to learn lines, then did what learning lines always tempts me to do: procrastinate by pretending to do something related to learning lines. So I decided I would create a CD of my lines that I could listen to in the car. This meant I needed, of course, to get something other than the demo version of an old edition of the Audio X Mac software, since the demo only lets you record for half a minute. So I downloaded the new edition demo to test if it would work, and it did, so then I went through the process of paying $19.95 for it (justified by the fact that I used the demo quite a bit, even with the limitation on length, and so now that there's no limitation on length I'll probably use the software even more) -- notice that none of this actually involves learning lines.

In fact, by the time it was all done, I only had time to record one scene before I needed to leave for rehearsal. I wasn't about to waste a CD on one scene, so I abandoned the project for later, not having learned many lines at all. But now at least I can record them.

At rehearsal, somebody asked the director when we should be off book, and he said Wednesday would be good. I nodded. Wednesday would be good.

First we went through II.ii and III.ii, then did all of acts III and IV. Things are getting smoother. It will be wonderful once we don't have scripts in our hands (I keep reminding myself). The fun today was doing some work with the musicians. We came up with a plan for how to approach the "Be not afeard..." speech -- sounds growing and growing, then stopping after "when I waked" so I can say "I cried to dream again" in silence. The director loved it when he heard it, and I thought it was a vast improvement over what I'd done before.

I had less success doing my song at the end of II.ii, because the musicians and I kept trying various rhythms, but never tried the same rhythm at the same time. Rhythm is something that has always challenged me, and is one of those things that, like brussel sprouts, I try to avoid. I have no idea what we'll come up with that will work, but it's probably best for the musicians, who are talented and flexible and not rhythmically challenged, to try to follow me, because I know that once the performances begin my brain will panic and I'll just come up with whatever rhythm happens to occur to me.

Music on the way up and back: Bob Dylan Live 1975, a very Calibanesque album, and one of my all-time favorites (I'm one of the three people alive who never heard the Rolling Thunder Revue material on bootlegs, so this album was a revelation to me).

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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