Malvolio Production Diary: carrying on

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I have been somewhat distracted by politics (I watched a portion of the roll call last night; it really does make me happy) but rehearsals do continue apace. My lines are beginning to sink in, somewhat. Malvolio is perhaps beginning to form. A bit. Certainly I am not as terrified as I was.

The actual rehearsals have been a little frustrating for me, largely because of everybody having trouble with their lines. Well, almost everybody. We have been officially off-book for a week and a half, and while it is totally appropriate for us to be calling for a line now and then, we aren’t getting through any scenes without stopping for a memory aid. It makes it difficult to work on the rhythm of scenes, or on any aspect of the acting tasks other than getting through the lines. Oh, we’re tidying up the blocking, which is nice, fixing things that turn out to be wrong, and we’re starting to really work out the physical bits (not having the script in the hand is essential for that) but the pacing and the character work and the interaction are being held up. And perhaps most important, it’s just taking up time; we’re on a fairly light rehearsal schedule to begin with, so not having time after running an act twice to run a scene or two for a third time in an evening is (to my eyes) holding us back. We’re just not having enough opportunities to try different things and see how they work, because that time is being spent stopping for someone to call line every page or two.

Now, having said that, let me make it clear that I am as bad as the rest of them. I am not sneering, I’m sighing. We should be doing better.

And there is in fact real improvement going on. Characters are beginning to come together. Interactions are beginning to take place. Such lines as we do recall are starting to be said to each other, rather than recited. Some of our stage pictures are becoming familiar, such that we don’t have to remember to create them, allowing them to occur naturally. Well, not naturally, obviously, nothing that happens on the stage is natural, but seemingly natural, such that we aren’t drawing the audience’s attention to the process of creating the picture. That fake-naturalism requires a lot of practice.

There is a strand of acting thought that is largely, right now, being attributed to the Meisner School (although the teaching is not consistent with Sanford Meisner’s own any more than the Stanislavski Method has anything to do with Konstantin Stanislavski) which emphases (amongst many other things) the actor’s focus on the other actors onstage. That is, instead of focusing on mimetic truthfulness, or sense memory, or for that matter style or elocution, the actor tries (through a variety of means) to respond to what the other actors are doing in the moment. This appeals to me both theoretically and practically. I don’t much care for naturalism, either as an actor or in the audience. I’d rather watch something fascinating than something real, although of course real-ness has its own fascination, and unreal-ness isn’t necessarily interesting in itself. And Meisner isn’t opposed to naturalism; it’s just interested in something else.

I don’t generally use the formal Meisner techniques, mind you. I think that if I had the time and the energy and the discipline, doing the improvisations and whatnot would be potentially helpful, particularly in situations where the relationship between two characters is at the center of the play. As it often is. On the other hand, I’ve seen really good blocking do the trick, so perhaps time spent on repetition improvs is in fact wasted.

As for Malvolio, well, part of the breakthrough for me was Chris Cobb’s notion of monomania in the performance of the role Malvolio imagines himself to be playing at the moment. My acting tends to be, I think, naturally over the top. Particularly in comedies, I aim for a certain intensity. How shall I say this… I try not to be afraid of overacting. Or, to put it another way, I am a great big scenery-chewing ham. This helps me with Malvolio, or at least with this conception of Malvolio. I don’t think Malvolio knows he’s a ham, mind you, but he doesn’t know how to tone down his performance of his various roles.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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