Over the course of prep, rehearsals, tours, and performances, various members of the creative team will contribute their reflections on the processes here, in the rehearsal blog.
If you are a member of the creative team (cast, crew, graduate student, faculty member) and would be interested in contributing observations or to begin a conversation, please contact Toby Malone here, either with your post or with an idea about what you might like to add!
June 28, 2015
For the past seven weeks, I have found myself rushed into an exciting and terrifying project: Performance as Research (PAR). As a graduate student of English Literature in Dr. Jennifer Roberts-Smith’s seminar on PAR and Early Modern English Theatre, I have been immersed into a thrilling new area of study. Although my “comfort zone” is definitely being buried under hundreds of pages of text, this course has taught me that research comes in many different forms -- even performance! Since we are English graduate students, of course, we have read many scholarly works on performance studies and have also done a fair amount of archival research to try to find answers to some very challenging questions about Elizabethan plays, whose answers just cannot be found in the texts themselves. The best part of this project is piecing together bits of evidence collected from a variety of sources in order to make an educated guess about what Shakespeare’s audience would have experienced in 1592 when Henry the Sixth, Part One was performed at the Rose Theatre.
In addition to our weekly readings, we have also been involved in the rehearsal process for the undergraduate performance of Henry the Sixth, Part One from day one. Rehearsals can be fun, frustrating, and sometimes scary. Watching rehearsals is nothing like watching a complete performance (which I did see last Saturday). In rehearsals, nothing is sequential, instead, everything is repeat-repeat-repeat! Whether it is Talbot practicing the same line over and over again in different ways, or the Dauphin trying to figure out what sort of “kissy sounds” s/he should make at Joan, the actors and actresses in Henry the Sixth, Part One have put so much thought into every action they perform on stage. As anyone who has seen the play might imagine, the rehearsal process can also be scary, as the actors needed to learn how to fight in a convincing way without causing injury to the audience. As such, we grad students have often been placed as sacrifices in the “splash zone” for the actors to get a sense of their surroundings so as to not injure the actual audience during performance. I think we only had one “casualty”, which is quite impressive, considering how much fighting and running through aisles with weapons takes place in the play.
The third component of our course has been attending conferences. Our first conference was the “Shakespearean Theatre Conference: Language in Text and Performance” held in Stratford, where many speakers delivered papers on a variety of topics relating to Shakespeare’s plays. Afterwards, many of us went to see a professional performance of Hamlet, which was spectacular. The second conference, “Performance as Research in Early English Theatre Studies”, was held at McMaster University and was more directly related to our PAR project, and at the end of the day, we watched a performance by McMaster students of The Three Ladies of London. In the morning, we listened to the keynote speaker, and in the afternoon, Dr. Roberts-Smith hosted a workshop (does she ever sleep?), where we were put into groups with other conference attendees to collaborate on an imaginary PAR project. At first, this was rather intimidating, but once we all got to know each other and our research interests, we had a lot of fun discussing our imaginary project. There was, however, one question that arose in our group that we were unable to answer: who benefits from such research? Some of the other groups’ ideas clearly benefited particular groups of people, but the weakness of our imaginary project was that we could not identify who would benefit from the exercise except, perhaps, the researcher. This question alerted me to what constitutes a truly successful PAR project. Whereas our group’s idea would require many resources and would essentially use actors as tools to perform experiments, a good PAR project benefits many people, such as the research community, the actors, the general audience, and etc. I think that the PAR project I belong to at Waterloo is just such a project, as it provides knowledge and pleasure to everyone it engages.
June 12, 2015
I am a senior student in the University of Waterloo drama department and have participated in multiple productions in different capacities over the years, but nothing like the process for Henry the Sixth Part One. This is a new way of making theatre for a lot of us in the department and there is no one more fit to lead us through this research-led exercise than Dr. Jennifer Roberts-Smith; with her guiding and instruction, we have been able to pull together a piece of theatre that is not widely performed and use a research model as our basis of creation. In the role of the Duke of Gloucester, I have been placed as a Master Actor since we are trying to closely follow the Queen’s Men research done over the last decade by Dr. Roberts-Smith and her colleagues. While rehearsing for the show, this role has been great to dive into and learn more about the character and the other people in the world of the play. I think I can speak for the whole class when I say that we are always making new discoveries about the characters and how the world of Henry the Sixth Part One changes over the course of the play, and subsequent plays in the trilogy and connected plays (Richard III). The interesting part of that is that we recently did Richard III at UW and those of us that were involved in that production have been able to work backwards from the work we had already done and see how those characters came to be from the characters we are now studying.
An example of discoveries we have been making happened at the Toronto performance this past weekend. This was our first time performing in front of an audience and we were especially nervous as, with the shorter timeline than usual, we had only finished blocking the show a few short days before which not a lot of us are used to doing in our past shows. Nonetheless, our worries weren't warranted because we ended up coming together and putting on a great first pass at the production which gives us a lot of good material to build on in the next stages of rehearsals. Since this was our first time with an audience, we had never had genuine reactions to our work (other than our fellow classmates supporting us throughout rehearsals). This was a great addition to the production because things we never even considered as being funny got laughs, the fights had new energies, and the characters really had to work to win the hearts of the audience with the direct address that had been a focus in the process. We all learned how people would receive the work we had done and, more specifically, how they would see our characters in relation to our peers on stage with us.
Going forward in the process, we now have one performance behind us and three more to go. We have two shows on our campus and this final show in Hamilton. We continue to build the show at all stages of the process and understand that it is never a finished product, but simply a platform to further develop the work we have done and understand the research more. This experience has been everything I thought it would be – and more. Working with Dr. Roberts-Smith is always a pleasure and getting to work on this project with her and my fellow classmates has been a great learning opportunity. We are now part of the small community that can not only say we have been in a performance Henry the Sixth Part One, but has studied the play in depth and left no stone unturned.
May 20, 2015
Every single dramaturgy job is different, without exception: of course you're dealing with a different script and playwright each time, but more than that, you're approaching your work with a different production crew, in a different time, for a different audience. There are a lot of dramaturgy manuals available that tell you the way it 'should' be done, but few take into account the fact that each production needs different things. I have worked with Jennifer Roberts-Smith before, of course, on our 2013 collaboration on R3, and have good working relationships with a lot of the production team members and students who were here then, but this does not mean approaching Henry the Sixth is taking on the same work. This production, while definitely an adaptation, is an entirely different beast from the free evisceration that we gave R3: at times, we were downright gleeful with our manhandling of that script to fit to Jennifer's vision of the production. This time, the script takes a backseat to staging, so although it has been cut, it's not a familiar enough script that audiences will miss key speeches (at least until we get to the conference in Hamilton!). For this production, research has been paramount in my role, based on the fact that so much historical detail whizzes by that if we don't have a good basis for what we're saying, it's easy for us (and by extension the audience) to get lost. This Hub has been a good way of compiling material without worrying about getting print-outs prepared for the company, or relying on maintaining a binder. Being able to consult in rehearsal by Skype has been a terrific boon for me as well. Some dramaturgs like to be in rehearsal all the time, to get their hands dirty and really get a sense of what is happening day-to-day - I have worked that way in the past and I am sure I will do the same in the future when a production calls for such engagement. On this, the actual on-stage product is going to be a surprise for me on the first stumble-through day: at that point, I can watch the piece as a completely fresh-eyed audience member, and offer suggestions based on what I see. I'm looking forward to that point!
If anyone has any questions about dramaturgy or clarification on anything at all to do with the production, please get in touch here.
May 19, 2015
The rehearsal process is interesting because a lot of elements that we will be implementing are being discovered during rehearsals. It's a lot less of a composed design compared to what we normally see in our current productions. It's close to the process that they would have in Shakespeare's time and the comparison is quite apparent. Being the only member of the stage management team, it is imperative that I get all of the information as I can through our table work, fight choreography, blocking, and our meetings. It's amazing to see how Jennifer Roberts-Smith dissects the text and brings out such vast ideas and concepts and as we progress: this extraction process is developing through the actors as well. It's a joy to see the knowledge, creativity and development unravel. Daniel Levinson and Paul Hopkins are amazing resources for this production. Daniel's vast fight knowledge is highly useful in this process and the actors are getting a lot from his skills. Any actors who have taken his Drama 363: Stage Combat course in the Winter term are stepping up to help others out when they are uncertain. The use of shields, axes, and swords in combat provide new learning approaches for everyone. This process is a learning experience and Daniel's contributions give everyone an amazing opportunity for fighting experience. Paul Hopkins' paraphrasing, iambic pentameter, and rhythm work gives all actors another technique to use for their character development. The greatest aspect of a university degree in acting is that it provides different methods of approach to character development, text analysis, and performance. Paul's work is one of many ways to approach the text and is beneficial to finding the meaning within Shakespeare's work.
As a stage manager, one of the pleasures is seeing this development, and my work is to provide resources needed for a spectacular performance. It is a lot of information to acquire in a short period of time. As we continue the table work, and then blocking, we will see even more what our show requires.
May 18, 2015
Toby asked me to write up a blog post for what we have been doing for Henry VI in preparation of building the fights. I had an interesting opportunity of having a mixed group of performers. A large group of the class had previous training with me and the majority were new to stage combat. Even the previously trained would be working with new weapons that would be eclectic and demanding. We began by reviewing some good foundational movement and technique: how to fall both forwards and back, universal parries, medieval sword guards, sharing movement and energy with our partners, and trying out different ways to attack and defend unarmed while moving in a slow steady pace. The other important work we focused on was why our characters need to be violent at that moment in the play. How to make the violence specific and immediate. The work will be helpful now that we are beginning building the fights. We will see what we covered sticks and what will need to be further explained to allow the performer to make the most out of the techniques.
SHARON SECORD, Costume Designer
JENNIFER ROBERTS-SMITH, Director
PAUL HOPKINS, Acting Coach