A Response from Up The Creek.

You have a very powerful point, Nigel T.

I do not deny the primacy of the verse. I do not pretend that the verse is in any way unnecessary or superfluous to the acting, nor the action of the play.

My (albeit poorly phrased) intention was to address the problem caused by the number of awkward, intricately tangled constructions in Othello’s verse. His passions contort and inflate even the most straightforward of his sentiments to truly epic proportions.

The problem becomes one of pacing, and of that which is possible. I am the first to admit that I’m nowhere near the capability necessary for this role; the fact remains that I was cast purely out of necessity—there are perhaps 4 actors of color in this city—and the fact that I’m about two decades too young doesn’t help much, neither.

An example:

Act 1 Scene 2 Lines 17-24 read:

Let him do his spite;
My services, which I have done the signiory,
Shall out-tongue his complaints. ‘Tis yet to know—
Which, when I know that boasting is an honour,
I shall promulgate—I fetch my life and being
From men of royal siege, and my demerits
May speak unbonneted to as proud a fortune
As this that I have reached.

Our script simply has,

Let him do his spite;
My services, which I have done the signiory,
Shall out-tongue his complaints.

I’m certainly eager and willing to play the former. But I recognize the necessity of reducing it to the latter. If, by attempting to articulate the necessity of reduction, I inadvertently tossed my paddle over the side of my kayak, why then I suppose I’ll just have to learn how to swim, now, won’t I?

I suppose I’m a bit provoked by your comment, Nigel T., if only because the last several weeks have seen a number of steady rearguard actions conducted in defense of Othello’s verses, against powerful voices in my cast who advocate further streamlinings, further economies in the script. I’ve been very anxious to preserve the integrity of Othello—the integrity of the verse, of the characters, of the actions, etc. It is not willingly that I have drifted beyond the balmy currents of Patsy Rodenburg and her venerable ilk.


Nigel T. said...

dear paulmonster:

Oh dear me love, I don't know what to say!

But isn't brilliant that we find ourselves in this conversation! Complete strangers and such! I love the web. I'm really not quite sure how I got here.

Now, to your query.

My point is that the word comes first in Shakespeare, and that performing the text requires a good deal of training, and that successfully realizing the acting of a role is entirely dependent on that training. You must come to have it in your bones. Some people have natural gifts of course (bugger them!), but, as with experience, there simply is no substitute. I suppose you can get there without it, but I've never know anyone who did....I suppose your point of view set me off because it's just so terribly wrong - Shakespeare is an actor's best bloody friend - and it tells me that you don't have the training to find all the complexities in the character IN PERFORMANCE, which are tied, DIRECTLY to Mr. Othello's words. If there are "awkward, intricately tangled constructions" in Othello’s verse, then that tells you an awful lot about his character at any given moment. You must embrace that. That is the man, isn't it? Now obviously you're a bright chap, but dramaturgical dissection of a text ultimately has little to do with the act of playing the action of it. You seem comfortable with that kind of work (are you a dramaturge?) and that's fine and all, but what I'm on about is a beast with a different back. Am I making any sense? Not much! Go get yourself some training darling! If you're 20 years to young to play him, you have plenty of time. you will love the Bard even more.

As far as the cuts go, there's always some idiot director somewhere shredding Shakespeare. Some are better at it than others. It's the lay of the land lovey.

As to 4 actors of color...WHERE the bloody hell ARE YOU? And what kind of theatre hires someone 20 years too young to play the man? Bollocks.

But don't you worry about your "capabilities!" We all start somewhere, and you just go give it your best go! Someday you'll play the role again and it'll be even better with experience and work.

And by the way, I quoted Patsy because she is a well known teacher over here, and you should certainly read her book! Or books. I mean the last one in particular, Speaking Shakespeare.


Nigel Tufts
originally from Melbourne, Australia, now a POME.

Sallyacious said...

Paul is in Portland, Oregon, one of the whitest major metropolitan areas one can imagine. It's also a place with very few opportunities for training. One has to leave to get it.

That being said, I myself am in an even more white (albeit much smaller) place. One of our 3 actors of color (in the university program I attend) was hired this year by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival because *they* couldn't find enough people to do Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, and OSF is one of the biggest, best-known regional theatres in the country.

It's getting harder and harder to find people with any chops whatsoever here on the West Coast unless you're in Seattle, much less people who aren't white white white.

paulmonster said...

Yes, the internet is a funny place, isn't it?

I should step up and say right now that I'm quite familiar with Patsy Rodenburg's works, I've read a number of her books, including her latest, and I've trained at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco and the British-American Youth Festival Theatre in San Diego. I've performed in regional professional theatres here in Portland, OR, at Berkeley Rep in the Bay Area, at Vermont Stage Company, and with Stacja Szamocin in Poland. My respect for verse is as deeply rooted in training and experience as I believe it can be, at this stage in my development.

In this discussion, I think it's important to distinguish two distinctively compelling theatre ethics at work in my perspective: the first and foremost, rightly so, is my loyalty and passion for this Text, which it's evident we both share. On this point, I believe we actually don't have much to disagree on. What you find provoking, on the other hand, is what I interpret to be the secondary--but nevertheless important--sense of loyalty I feel to this individual production.

It is my job as an Actor, to serve two masters--my text and my director. Now, since the director serves the text, too, this presents no difficulties on its face. The director is always my Caesar; where s/he commands, I obey with alacrity. I dig deep and bring out the everlasting whup-ass whensoever they beckon it. I'm not a mindless automaton; but I do believe that demonstrating consistent discretion and trust makes those moments when I do question my directors that much more compelling.

Now, critics and audience, artists or not, are entitled to call things as they see it, and, as you mentioned, it's not unknown for directors to revoke their trust. Hence why I distinguish the two masters.

My purpose in these posts has been primarily to elucidate, for myself, the causes and courses I pass as we inch ever closer to Opening (within two weeks' now, Christ on a stick!).

I rely heavily on these posts. Written words, language, the stuff and substance of ideas and imagination made manifest, these are the voices of Whitman's multitudes pouring out of all of us. Of course there are contradictions, of course there are inconsistencies. I say that I serve two masters, but the point of all of this is to say that really, at the end of the day, I only serve the Text.

I have negotiated every unavoidable cut. I have strived to preserve as much of the verse as possible, and I have been at particular pains to protect the scansion. Every hour in rehearsal is accompanied with twice as much working alone on my text, exploring the wilderness of scholarly criticism, listening to BBC recordings of Paul Robeson and Olivier and so forth.

I would love to have more training. But I'm not going to shy away from serving this play solely because I'm not fit for it. Of course I'm not fit for it. But this makes me no less determined to serve it.

Thanks for commenting, and please keep commenting as you see fit.

Anonymous said...

Re: Sallacious comments...
"Portland, Oregon, one of the whitest major metropolitan areas one can imagine. It's also a place with very few opportunities for training. One has to leave to get it."

Methinks Sally's 2-year absence from Portland may be mis-coloring the situation... Andrew Wade (head of Royal Shakespeare Company voice was in Portland last summer for voice workshops. There are now Alexander Technique instructors, and a number of good folks offering private instruction. And Portland is home to Miracle Theatre Group, the Northwest's premiere Latino arts & cultural organization, opening it's 22 (yes twenty-second) season in the fall.

Sallyacious said...

Anonymous, you are absolutely right. Things could have changed significantly in Portland over the last couple of years. I have no right to make pronouncements without all of the information. I apologize if I offended anyone.

sirbarrett said...

Some say that Shakespeare is the author and originator of personality. I don't know whether the word takes primacy to anything or not (and this coming from an English major) but if it helps to think of the words, than do it. What I love about Shakespeare is that he draws up so many images, and themes, and ironies, and puns. Would a realistic person be able to process and express all that there is in those words? Impossible I'd say. Othello is too caught up in being a toy to second-guess or curb his flights of fury, but Iago seems like he'd be a poker-face. Therefore, I'd think Othello's verse would be more irregular, unpremeditated, and even sloppy at times. I think it is possible to tease out the multiple meanings of each verse with certain inflections and rhythums, but personally, I think that's done best when it's unpredictable, as if coming from some mind and mouth that you can't distinguish as either mad or brilliant. Othello is certainly a very passionate, hot-blooded character, stereotypically Venetian. Don't be afraid to growl or wimper. If you can show that erratic psyche that would be swell. I don't know what method you use but some actors find it most effective when they actually feel the emotions they express during their expression. Others project an idea of self that they have and can separate themselves perfectly. It seems like a topic that goes back to feeling and James Bard: whether we are scared because we scream or we scream because we are scared. I don't know the answers, but it is fun to elucidate with you. I wish wish wish I could see it!