"Seem they grave and learned? Why, so didst thou."
Henry V II.2
The other day, my intrepid Co-Chair Michelle asked me if I thought I might be interested in "teaching" a couple of three-hour workshops with the Prairie Theatre Exchange's PTE @ PTE Company. She had been approached by PTE's Community & School Programs Director John B. Lowe about sharing all the wisdom and experience she has gained from nearly twenty years of performing and directing Shakespeare. Having decided that she would prefer to keep that wisdom and experience to herself, but not wishing to leave poor John entirely bereft, Michelle artfully shrugged the invitation off of her shoulders and onto mine.
Obviously never having been one to turn down an opportunity to bestow upon a captive pair of ears my own personal Shakespearean dogma (nor to turn down a quick buck), I hungrily pounced on the offer before affording John even a moment's clarity of thought, and the deal was sealed.
I spent the first hour and a half with (in no particular order other than, from my seated perspective, house right to house left) Samara, Adam, Gislina, Dan, Lisa, Christine, Alissa and Jessie explaining (to the best of my ability) who I was and why I was there, and going over the
10 Things I Do When I Have To Perform Shakespeare
(Which I will now gladly share with you, sans the 90 minutes of elaborative blah, blah, blah, which is really the meat of the matter, and for which I would have to charge you whatever portion of their registration fee my unfortunate acolytes forked over for the privelege.)
1. Read the play
2. Read another (complete) version of the play
3. Cross-reference the punctuation & formatting of the working script with that of the First Folio
4. Scan the verse
5. Chat with the director and various scene partners
6. Revisit scansion
7. Learn blocking/movement & apply it to the text
8. Learn lines (out loud!)
9. Revisit scansion
10. Integrate text/scansion/blocking/wardrobe/set (revisit scansion)
Once all that was out of the way, we had a look at a popular little Shakespearean number that goes something like: "To be, or not to be, etc, etc…", starting with Step 3. I don't think I exaggerate much when I report that we were all surprised and delighted (not to say titillated) by the differences between the Folio text, and that of the version I had taken from the inter-web.
We proceeded to make collaborative decisions as to which version of any given choice best served the needs of the actor (id est: which was the most active, natural, interesting choice [in that order of priority]) by speaking the text aloud, according to the various incarnations. Once we had settled on a text that incorporated the most desirable punctuation, spelling, and (in some cases) choice of words, we started in with Step 4: scansion.
The process of scanning Shakespeare's text (selecting which syllables deserve the most emphasis) is a surprisingly rich and rewarding exercise for the serious Shakespearean actor, presenting the reader as it does with such a myriad of thought-provoking choices that we only managed to work our way to the end of the third line of verse:
"The Slings and Arrowes of outragious Fortune,"
before having to call it a night. I assigned my new friends the task of scanning the rest of the soliloquy on their own time (on their own terms) before we reconvene next Wednesday, and I look forward with giddy anticipation to hearing, seeing, and experiencing the discoveries they have made. (Hopefully, enough to eat up another full three hours…)