Table Talk

Posted in Dramaturgy, Rehearsal, Summer 2009, Twelfth Night on May 30th, 2009 by kellinewby

As we go through the rehearsal process, I hope to update you on how we work.

The first part of the rehearsal process is what M calls table talk.  Essentially, we spend the first two weeks sitting around a table with a bunch of dictionaries, a dramaturg, a director and a stage manager.  During this time we:

  1. Figure out exactly what we are saying
  2. Discuss the importance of the beat within the context of the play, Elizabethan culture, and the period in which we’re setting the production.
  3. We begin the character work.
  4. Eat and get to know each other.

It is a time of discovery.  First we read the scene aloud, focusing on the words.  No acting allowed.  This is a great time to look at each word, listen to the iambs and take in the sound of things.  Next we look up words in the reference books strewn about the table, including books that give definitions based on what they meant in Shakespeare’s time as well as various copies of the play with footnotes galore.  M. encourages us to look up words we understand in addition to words we do not because we often find alternate meanings that give us a new perspective.

Then we have an in-depth conversation about all the things we’ve found.  The dramaturg will tell us about his research and help us out with particular lines.  The conversation is lively and creative.  It’s like a really great lit class.

Sometimes M. then has us “unpack” the text.  She is insistent that we don’t paraphrase the lines.  It’s about finding all the nuance of each line.  It can be a little silly.   So, for example, in Olivia’s line: “I heard you were saucy at my gates”, I might say something like this:

I, me, myself, eye ball, heard, listened, eavesdropped, was told, gossip, you were saucy, cheeky, bratty, unruly, naughty, plucky, marinara at my gates, barriers, doors to the outside, chastity belt [everyone giggles and throws out other ideas], Bill Gates, gated community…

You get the idea.  It is a long slog to go through an entire beat this way, but it does yeild one or two interesting associations when we do it.  It also makes you think about how well you know the meaning of a word, and the meaning of your line.  It helps the director see the sort of instincts you’ve got about motivations early on.

This is also a time for the director to begin asking questions that she wants us to consider as we move forward.

From the Dramaturg

Posted in Dramaturgy, Summer 2009, Twelfth Night on May 29th, 2009 by kellinewby

We are fortunate at the Main Street Stage to have had a dramaturg for our past two Shakespeare productions.  He is also a major contributor/planner/co-conspirator of the Redroom.  Here are some of his thoughts as he begins his research for Twelfth Night.

My mouse-clicking finger rapidly cramping up, I clicked on a link headlined “Shakespeare’s Songbook.”  I wasn’t expecting much by now and had resigned myself to the fact that there was absolutely no authoritative source to be found regarding my current research.  The page loading, my glazed-over eyes rapidly refocused.  Could it be . . . yes!  Yes it was.  A line of quarter and eighth notes, specifying the tune to “I Am Gone, Sir,” a verse sung by the fool at the end of Act Four Scene two in Twelfth Night.
Such is at least part of the day-to-day life of a dramaturg.
Tasked with verifying authenticity and researching social and cultural developments during the period in which a play is set (pretty much anything from “how low were hemlines” to “who was invading whom”) dramaturging a Shakespeare piece is a particularly daunting task.  For one thing, virtually every word the Bard set down has both a literal and subtle meaning.  The word “blaze” might not just mean “really really bright light,” but can also mean “his coat of arms.”  For another thing, the timelessness of Shakespeare’s plays makes them applicable to virtually any time and place.  The average dramaturg might find him or herself researching turn-of-the-century Sicily, 1960s Brooklyn, 25th century Botswana, or any time in between.  Worst (or best, depending on your point of view) of all, sometimes there is no hard and fast answer.  “I Am Gone, Sir” has a generally accepted melody, but no verifiable source exists as to what the original, Elizabethan melody might have been.  Most famously, the eternal question of what Shakespeare intended by having characters speak in prose versus verse has a general consensus, but is still open to debate.

Still and all, I get to be a professional nerd.  Which is always fun.