On the road again!

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… For never was a story of more woe, than this of Juliet, and her Romeo.

Blackout… applause… the lights come up, and we take a bow for the last time as a cast. We file out to backstage where we all hug and congratulate each other for a great last show; a great season of this very unique production of Romeo And Juliet.

It’s been such a blast bringing this show to life for you all. From early in the rehearsal process – when we first explored the set, learnt our lines and discovered our characters – to sharing the show with all the wonderful audiences who have come to see us at the Opera House and the Arts Centre… the whole experience has been amazing. And every cast is like a little family that you live with for a time; but like everything, eventually it finishes. No matter how many shows you do, it’s always a bit sad when it comes to an end. It reminds me of one of Prospero’s great speeches in the Tempest (which Bell Shakespeare is currently performing at the Opera House!):

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

So what’s next?

We’re back on the road!!

Yep – after a little sleep, a few naps, we’re back in the rehearsal room with our in school shows: Macbeth Undone, Midsummer Madness, and Just Macbeth (abridged). Now we’ve been split back to Team Ariel and Team Caliban and the competition is on! Both teams are going to Melbourne, then Team A are hitting regional Victoria and Canberra while Team C visit Tasmania.

Re-rehearsing a show that you haven’t performed in a while is pretty strange. Your mind can play all kind of tricks on you – “Is this where I moved on this line? Where have the purple flowers gone? We definitely need new magic thumbs!” – but it’s also really fun. Because we know the shows so well, we can try all kinds of different things with the characters. As an actor you can make lots of creative choices, and coming back to a show gives you the opportunity to branch out a bit.

This is also the time of year to start thinking beyond The Players… scary! One of the most important parts of being a professional actor is auditioning. It’s like having to constantly go for a job interview, and if you’re lucky you have lots of them. Some of us are starting the think about what we want to do next, and luckily we’ve got a whole year’s worth of experience under our belt which means we’ll be show-fit and ready to take on the next challenge. So keep an eye out for us, you never know what we might be doing next…

See you back in school!

Cam

THE MIGHTY TEAM ARIEL


Psst… I have a secret… I HATE SHAKESPEARE…

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Said my 15 year old self.

No, that’s a lie. I didn’t really “hate” him; I just didn’t “get” him and what he was harping on about. When I was in high school, I had some great English and Drama teachers. I remember studying Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear probably even a Sonnet or two. English was even one of my favorite subjects in school. But Shakespeare? Nope. Nadda. No deal. The groans and sighs from the students as his plays were being handed out in class were almost unanimous. Being a bit of an English nerd, I didn’t mind too much. I remember liking the stories but the actual language itself remained a big fat mystery. Shakespeare was something old and outdated that young people (like myself back then) had no use for and were being forced to learn…

 

So how did I get from thinking I hated Shakespeare to working for one of Australia’s leading theatre companies touring Shakespeare to schools?

I went to a school where most of the kids were from homes that had English as a second language or languages other than English. Most of these kids were also first or second generation Australians with parents who had migrated from another country. Shakespeare’s works were not something many of us grew up with around the house. And furthermore at my school, Sports was the Arts and English’s biggest competitor; and it often dominated with our attention and appreciation.

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So I left Shakespeare as a boring,incomprehensible old fart with my signed/graffitied school uniforms, old textbooks and letters on colourful Morning Glory stationary (which is like a Japanese Typo) as I farewelled high school.

 
 
 

Until I went to university. Here, I studied Shakespeare from an acting perspective. Not having to approach it as a compulsory English text, I realized that I had forgotten something so simple yet so essential. I had forgotten to play.

I always loved playing when I was a kid. What kid doesn’t? And actors are constantly playing- we ‘re imagining, role playing, “acting”. Our “textbooks” are even called “plays”!

This is what I ignored when studying Shakespeare in English class. My sense of play. Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be enjoyed and performed, not just read sitting down but feeling it in your body and allowing your sense of play to discover what else the words could mean. Also looking up every complex and important word I didn’t understand in a dictionary specifically for Shakespeare (even those words you think you might know as their meaning may have changed from Shakespeare’s time to now) helped enrich my understanding of what these characters were saying. Once I did all this work and research, I then let it go. So now, when hearing the lines again, the musicality and richness of the words washed over me.

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Even now, I am always feeling a small sense of pride and excitement when I discover something new about the lines. A new possible thought behind them which in turn can bring a new delivery to them, a new meaning. And trust me, I am still learning and still have so much to learn. You then start to realize that his stories are not so different to those contemporary novels we read today. There’s a reason why his works are being made and remade and re-imagined. They still speak to us today because his characters feel and express emotions we still have today: love, jealousy, betrayal, lust, anger, revenge, alienation.

 

Plus Shakespeare’s legacy can be seen all around us. He has had such a huge influence on our language. Shakespeare invented close to 1700 words (give or take); Words such as
assassination, aerial, bedroom, bump, countless, excitement, gossip, lacklustre, quarrelsome and watchdog. Phrases such as: “A fool’s paradise”, “a sorry sight”, “all that glitters is not gold”, “fight fire with fire” ,“fair play” and “send him packing”.

Working for Bell has made me look back on this journey I’ve had and renewed my appreciation for the Bard. My struggle with understanding Shakespeare in school is a huge reason why I love this job. I get to bring Shakespeare to schools across the country; allowing students to engage and access his work in a fun and entertaining way.
Isn’t it amazing how language can be your friend or your foe. It can add to feelings of inferiority, alienation, resentment if we can’t find a way in; and on the other hand, make us feel confident, open and proud when we do. The more we understand the language we are dealing with, the more we appreciate and open ourselves to feelings of achievement and wonder. Kind of like when you order something in another language for the first time successfully.

Lucky for us Shakespeare isn’t another language. It’s literally English. Just remember to have fun and play. Do your research and you’ll master it.

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That’s what I would say to my 15 year old self if I could. And also to stop spending so much money on those adorably cute stationary pads with the animals on them. Your friends you see everyday in class don’t need hand written letters telling them you’ll see them at school tomorrow Alice.

 
 

Spend it on something more important. Like gelato. Which I will do right now. Thanks Alice. You’re welcome Alice. (Insert fist bump)

Love,

Alice x
— Team Ariel

 

 


Throwback Thursday: Actors At Work Rehearsals

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Team Ariel and Team Caliban are on the road for one more month before we head into rehearsals for Romeo And Juliet. So, this week I thought I’d give you a little insight into how some of us worked on the script for our Actors At Work shows before we meet each other to rehearse.

Many weeks before we step foot in the rehearsal room, we are sent the scripts that we are to spend the year performing. As you probably know, the shows we bring you are abridged versions of Shakespeare’s plays so you can get the major scenes and a sense of the whole story in under an hour. This is no easy feat for the writers! And for us actors, first we need to read Shakespeare’s original, full length play so we know the full story we’re telling.

As beautiful as Shakespeare’s writing is, it’s not always easy to understand, so it’s good to have a dictionary handy. One of the first things many actors do is say the lines in their own words – this way you can get a more personal feeling for what your character is saying.

Shakespeare often writes in a poetic rhythm called Iambic Pentameter, which can give you an idea of which words are more important, and it can help you learn your lines quicker. It’s often referred to as ‘verse’. In Shakespeare’s time actors only had a few weeks to rehearse, so they needed all t help they could get. Each line has ten syllables, with every second syllable being stressed. It sounds like a heartbeat, or a horse galloping:

Da-dum Da-dum Da-dum Da-dum Da-dum

The rhythm of a line from Macbeth would sound like this:

So foul and fair a day I have not seen

If a character is speaking in verse but the rhythm is broken or inconsistent, this can indicate that the character is feeling unsettled.

Actors are known to do some weird things in preparing for a role, and one of them is skipping. Often to learn the lines actors will skip while speaking the words out loud to get a feeling of the rhythm of the poetry. It looks silly, but it really works!

Sometimes if a character is speaking casually, or is of a lower status, they will speak without poetic rhythm, which is called ‘verse’. The Mechanicals in A Midsummer Night’s Dream are a perfect example of this.

To get to know you’re characters, its important to go through the script ask some simple questions.

  • What do I say about myself?
  • What do I say about other people?
  • What do others say about me?

You can also look at who they are in society. Are they a King, or Queen? A servant? A warrior? A faery? Look at the images they use in their language. Macbeth is often describing dark and horrible images, while the Lovers from A Midsummer Night’s Dream talk about beauty, longing and heartache. This gives you a great idea of what their priorities are.

All of this will feed your imagination and give you an idea of where to start. And then it’s off to rehearsal to bring it all to life!

Cam

— Team Ariel


Darwin bound!

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After finishing our first tour break, in which we had a fairly relaxing week at Bell Shakespeare headquarters in Sydney, Team Ariel have officially landed in Darwin. The weather is sweltering and the flora is green. Fresh out of the wet season, Darwin is beautiful and lush; however, several locals have already warned us to BEWARE OF CROCODILES! There are many signs around the area warning not to swim with the ferocious dinosaurs. We hadn’t planned to, but it’s nice to know the dos and don’ts.

We performed two cracking shows at the hospitable Taminmin College in Humpty Doo (the best-named town in Australia) and from that came my QUESTION OF THE DAY:

How would a student living in Darwin get into acting?

There is no ‘correct’ path to follow to pursue acting. No matter whether you live in Sydney, Darwin or anywhere, everyone’s career path is different. It’s important to remember that, and to remember not to compare yourself to anyone else. You can, and will, carve your own path.
I think involving yourself in theatre is a great way to nurture an interest in acting. Going to see theatre is a great way to learn, and develop a critical eye. Also, doing classes inside and outside of school helps too. Do some research online and search for some acting classes in the local area. If acting classes are scarce and there isn’t a lot to get involved in, get a group of friends together that share your passion for acting and put on a play yourselves! Tell your friends and family about it, and get some people to come along. In doing this, you’re cultivating skills in acting, producing, directing, marketing and ensemble building, as well as other skills that are invaluable to an artist. Last of all, make sure you read plays and acting books. Lots of them.

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After the shows we decided we would go and check out one of the most hotly anticipated sights in Darwin, the Litchfield National Park. We were told this was the spot. It has waterfalls and walking trails, ponds, and native flora and fauna as far as the eye can see. On the way there, we saw a sight we hadn’t seen ever in our lives. We found a ‘130km/ph’ speed sign. I didn’t know these existed, and neither did the guys, so naturally we stopped to get some evidence, before doing some legal speeding.

 
 

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After driving really fast for a while, we turned off the main road and approached Litchfield Park. The soil that flanked the road, as we drove, was as red as you could hope to see in the Australian outback. It wasn’t until we saw that that we realised how far from home we were, and special it was to be there. Before we knew it, we had arrived at Buley Rockhole.
 





Pic 3After we had spend a good while swimming and jumping off whatever high rocks we could find, we packed up our gear and started the hour and a half journey back to Darwin city, but not before Cameron and I spotted a rather large and fascinating Goanna crawling along the rocks. The little guy (not actually that little) shuffled across our towels and shoes before having a quick sip of water and heading back up the rocks. It was quite the sight.

 
What an incredible week we have ahead in Darwin! Watch this space for more updates as we make our way across the country!

— Sam P (Team Ariel)


Exploring two versions of the same show

Team V plus Shauntelle

A little while ago, Ayeesha, also known as the #amazingyeesh became ill and needed time to recover. She’s fine and will be back better than ever, but while she rested, Team V needed someone to step in. For a week, I left behind Team A and went on a reconnaissance mission to learn the secrets of Team V and bring our shows to some of you in Tasmania. I caught up with the team in Hobart and we had a rehearsal. Just a mini one, on a Saturday morning, to figure out where the similarities and differences were. Yes, there were differences. And yes, at certain points I did just have to stop and look at what was going on, or explain where I’d disappeared to. I knew the lines, but I didn’t know how they were going to come out of this team’s mouth, nor did I know the way they prefer to move around the stage. The rhythms we have in Team A are very different.

I wouldn’t write a blog post about this, really, except that it’s such a unique position to be in. It’s incredibly rare to be involved, almost simultaneously, with two versions of the same show, and for those of you taking drama, I can tell you now that it’s quite…confusing. It’s like having your mirror image step out of the mirror and want to play with you, but doing everything in reverse. For those that play video games, it’s like playing with your controller on inverse mode. Unless you’re used to it, it’s a complete switch around.

Having said that, it’s incredibly fun and a completely new way of looking at the scenes I’m so used to performing with my team. Although we were only together for 7 shows, I learnt a great deal about Juliet and Benvolio, and about all the other characters, that I didn’t know before. And about how many different meanings all the lines can have.

Team V are fun and bold and bright – but I still miss my team and the way we do things. I highly recommend doing a role swap if you’re ever trying to understand your character more. Just changing who I’m performing with is changing my views, because the way that the other team look at my characters is different to how they’re seen by my own team.

Oh, and fights? Yep, they’re different. Eloise is left handed, so I learned a completely new fight in an afternoon. Yep. That was fun. No really, it was fun.

Shauntelle
Team V


Playing Multiple Characters

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Shauntelle, David and Felix of Team A as the Montague gang in Such Sweet Sorrow

Last week, during one of our Q&A sessions, a question came up about playing multiple characters:
“how do we do it, why do we do it, and is it better than playing only one character?” We gave a brief
(though hopefully satisfactory) answer, but it was a question that I have subsequently returned to,
and one that I aim to shed more light on.

Why play multiple roles?

During Shakespeare’s lifetime, acting troupes were usually comprised of 10-15 men (remember
women weren’t allowed on the stage!). These troupes worked in repertory – meaning they would
perform a cycle of different plays, depending on what was popular, or demanded. For example,
they may play Julius Caesar one day, then Henry V the next, followed by Much Ado About Nothing.
It wasn’t uncommon for a cast of this size to portray upwards of forty roles, collectively. This
amount of doubling was required entirely for economic and logistical reasons, rather than artistic
ones.

The actors who performed in a company such as The Chamberlain’s Men (the company to which
Shakespeare belonged), earned a modest wage, but a wage nonetheless. Therefore, in an effort to
keep costs down, and to make the theatre owners wealthier, the number of actors in the company
was kept to the bare minimum. In fact, not a lot has changed in modern theatre. In Julius
Caesar, for example, there are nearly forty named parts, not to mention all of the senators,
plebeians, attendants, etc. If you were to mount a production with one actor playing each role, the
cost of wages alone would ruin the company. So financial accountability was of the utmost
importance.

To bring it to a more personal level, we use doubling in the Actors At Work shows, not for
financial reasons, but for logistical ones. Because we are touring all over Australia, the
teams need to be particularly mobile. It is far easier to move and accommodate four people than
fourteen. But this, of course, forces us all to play multiple roles.

How do we play multiple roles?

I can only speak for myself here, as all actors will approach this differently. But for me, the most
important thing is having a clear and distinct shift between any characters you may be playing. This
means that regardless of costume, the audience should be able to identify which character you are
playing. The way I go about creating this distinction is vocally, physically, and with different
energies and intentions. What do I mean by that?

Well, vocally is pretty straightforward – use pitch, rhythm, and breath to give each character a
unique sound. Physically is pretty straightforward as well – find different ways of moving. Are they
old and stooped? Is the character young and energetic? Are they clumsy, or graceful? There is
always a lot to play around with!

In terms of energy and intention, what I mean by that is how the character relates to his or her
world. What is the attitude that the character has to all the different stimuli in a scene? I will use an
example from our play Such Sweet Sorrow.

In this play, I double as Mercutio, as well as Old Capulet. So to begin, vocally, I lower my voice
for Capulet, to give him a sense of authority. For Mercutio, I use more range and pitch, because I
want to emphasise a more playful side. Physically, for Capulet, I am more economic with my
movement to give the idea of age and a higher status. Whereas Mercutio moves all over the place
and is far more free. Finally, in terms of energy, Capulet is very direct with whomever he is
speaking. He is not used to having his authority questioned, so in his world, what he says, goes.
Mercutio, on the other hand, is far less direct. He talks in circles, riddles and jokes. His energy
drifts from one idea to the next, laughing one minute, crying the next. He is definitely the joker in
the pack.

This is a very basic outline of the process, and indeed, it is only my process. I’m sure the others
do things very differently! But without going into a lot of serious acting jargon, I hope it gives you
some sense of how to approach the doubling of roles.

Is doubling better than playing one role?

Personally, I really like it. There are certainly merits to investing yourself in one role alone, and for a lot of modern-day actors, that is the only way they work. But for myself, I love the challenge of creating different characters, and then switching in and out them. It’s like changing hats! Also, because doubling is such an old tradition in the theatre, there is a real sense of history to it. And it makes me think of all the actors that have gone before, and all those that are yet to come, and that we are still telling stories through the ages.

I will finish with a quote. Not from some lecturer, or scholar, or acting guru, but from The
Simpsons:

“Perhaps we are all a little mad. We who don the cap and bells, and tread beneath the
proscenium arch. But tonight, you will all be transformed from glassy-eyed suburbanites, into
white-hot grease-fires of pure entertainment! Except you… You’re not working out. I’ll be playing
your part.” Llewlleyn Sinclair, ‘A Streetcar Named Marge’, The Simpsons, 1992

Felix

Team A


Touring Tips

I thought rather than stating the obvious and rambling on about what a wonderful, fulfilling and challenging experience this has been so far, I would focus this blog entry on some little tips regarding the travel aspects of the job. During our recent tour to schools on the South Coast of New South Wales I realised there are some key things that one must be aware of when hitting the road.

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1. When checking into your accommodation, you shouldn’t necessarily expect your name to be correct. When I made it up to my luxurious hotel room in Wollongong, I was greeted with a note that said ‘Dear Snape’. At first I just assumed that all four of us would have had our names listed back to front, but after further discussion it became clear that someone at the hotel thought that my Harry Potter surname was amusing and I was the only one who had been welcomed in this manner.

2. Always carry essentials. This includes a coffee plunger.

3. Don’t get too excited by the spa and sauna. Baking yourself is not recommended before a 3 show day.

4. When booking a massage, check that you know where you are going.

5. Be picky with your music choices in the car. Your fellow tour friends might not appreciate listening to Nintendo 64 Mario Kart sound effects on repeat through a rather large sound system.

6. Jamberoo Recreation Park isn’t a school. Don’t encourage a detour there when you are on your way to a show.

7. Don’t spray perfume in the car when all of the windows are up.

8. The companions that share the road with you are not always friendly. Bumper stickers say a lot about a person.

9. Don’t have more than one navigating device going at once. 3 different robot voices from various countries will raise the blood pressure.

10. Keep reminding yourself how brilliant this job is. It really is one in a million.

Eloise
Team A