Sunday, March 18, 2007

Advance! Surround! Retreat!

A long, busy rehearsal today -- our first five-hour one, although more than a few actors curtailed that length by accident (check your schedules, please!). Most of the time was spent on battle scenes, and we managed to get through all three of them, plus a few surrounding scenes along the way.

Some thoughts about battles. Shakespeare didn't do 'em. He apparently felt his company's resources were inadequate, and even asked for his audience's forgiveness in Henry V for having "dared / On this unworthy scaffold, to bring forth / So great an object" as the battle of Agincourt. Mostly, his skirmishes were confined to offstage alarums and occasional, one-on-one scuffles (which, as often as not, started onstage but quickly moved offstage, as if even the combatants were embarrassed or shy).

This is odd, because overall, Shakespeare really seemed to dig spectacle. Elaborate pageants, parades of kings and princes, witches' dances (okay, the dance in Macbeth may have been written after Shakespeare was dead...but he probably would've liked it). The duel at the end of Hamlet is chock full of pomp and circumstance, with cannons firing, trumpets sounding, and of course plenty of poisoned, unbated fencing foil a-flying. Why, then, did he deliberately push all his wartime spectacle offstage?

Having incorporated stylized battle sequences into both King Lear and A&C, I believe I can provide an explanation: they're bloody hard. Pageants and dances are difficult enough to choreograph, but the thing about them is, they're meant to be aesthetic and symmetrical. War is messy, random, chaotic. Choreographing chaos is hard.

But, as always, my actors were troopers, and we got everyone's roles in the chaos straightened out. I think the results will be -- well, not exactly stunning, but impressive. Ultimately, they feel as though, for a few moments, the rigorously structured world of Rome and Egypt shudders, threatening to collapse. And that's what war should feel like: the potential decimation of society. Now, as long as the play doesn't collapse, we've done our jobs.

Oh, and I think I've started to devise a solution to the Antony trajectory issues I mentioned in my last post. More on that soon.

No comments: