In theatre, it’s always a good idea to let go of your fears. Heck, in life too.
Malvolio is a bold, emotionally honest role to play. When he tries to grasp control over a situation, his commands are direct and terse. When he luxuriates in his own pompous sense of self-worth, he luxuriates. When he loves, BY GUM, DOES HE LOVE. When he is persecuted, his anguish resonates throughout the theatre, and when his heart is broken, he shatters. He is not a character for the wishy-washy actor.
(The rather-open yellow costume makes quite a statement as well. Come see the show for a rather visual explanation on THAT.)
When we last left our intrepid hero, he was discussing the difficulty of working through uncomfortable stage business in an important scene, and how honesty was lost. After a couple more weeks of rehearsal, both have been regained.
This past Saturday, we had our 11am-10pm Tech/Dress day for Twelfth Night. We worked scenes and ran the show twice – once in full costume and tech, and once without our amazing garb (well, okay, we wore our street clothes), so that our lovely dressers could have a break from laundry. A good, long day, and a real confidence booster.
I admit, I’d been a little worried over the past week, over my own performance. I’d never quite found a quick enough pacing in the letter scene (which is pretty much a lengthy monologue / read-a-letter-onstage), my advances toward Olivia weren’t quite reaching the bawdy levels they needed to, and I would get distracted by these directory things, which caused me to call line a couple of times in each rehearsal. At this stage in the game, that shouldn’t happen. And at the heart of it, I was worried because I didn’t want to let down all the fantastic cast and crew and design team and everyone else who are putting together this incredible show. It really is quite something.
I don’t get nightmares very often – typically, only when I’m feverish. I remember one from, oh, ten years ago, where I was playing hockey, and I missed an easy shot at the end of a game, and everyone, my team, my family, the fans, were all so very, very disappointed in me. So letting people down is a fear that is ingrained in me, and something I need to continue to conquer.
Anyway, our first run was much like this. I didn’t need to call line, but I flubbed the first part of when I pick up the letter (as my mind was on stage business soon to come), and had a few distracting issues with my costume items (which was to be expected, admittedly, as this was our first run wearing them). I didn’t feel on top of things, and left the run feeling like it was good enough, but I wasn’t overjoyed.
Our second run that day, however, was primarily for the tech crew, so they could get their lighting, audio, and revolve (we have a revolve) cues right, make sure props were where they should be, and so forth. Great for the actors to get another run in, sure, but to do a run in street clothes after just performing it in all our wonderful costumes… there was a… lack of weight of importance to it. And it was a long day. We were getting fairly silly.
This run, I decided to just have fun. As a worthy experiment, partially, but also, just because I wanted to, and if I was going to misbehave, this was the run to do it. So I was silently singing and dancing along in the wings to whatever was going on onstage, pretending to be a Hari Krishna alongside the others (but just offstage, so as not to be seen by anyone but them)… and it wasn’t just me who was being a bit daffy.
There’s one scene where Sir Toby and his company are convincing Viola, disguised as Cesario, that a knight has sworn to fight her. Viola exits the scene, and the conspirators giggle over their little prank, before leaving in turn. In the next scene, Viola’s twin brother, Sebastian, is being pursued by the fool, in the street. Well, in our second run, Sebastian accidentally stepped onstage, stage left, to start his scene a bit early… right after Viola had gone off, stage right, so that the effect (as they are identically dressed twins), was that of Cesario walking offstage one way, and then immediately coming on the other side. Sebastian quickly realized his error and walked right through, but myself in the Vomitorium and the actors onstage couldn’t stop laughing. I am still surprised it wasn’t on purpose – such great timing. (in his defence, it had been a loooong day.)
Well, I, thinking this was intentional funny business, became even more set in my goofy mood. I still played the part, but I made the decision to deeply enjoy every moment of it, both on and offstage. In a scene where I’m locked in a cellar, with only my hand poking out, I even flipped someone the bird – which the director missed seeing, perhaps fortunately.
And with all that energy and vivacity, you know what? It was my best run so far. I really hit the pacing in that difficult letter scene. I went all-in on the silly riding-crop enticements. I nailed every line. Because there was no pressure.
I didn’t need to get it right, so long as I hit my cues for the tech crew, and that gave me so much freedom to go all out, bold, extravagant, while my enjoyment of it all kept my performance honest. Heck, one of our two directors even then asked me, in notes afterwards, to flip the other character the English bird in the very scene I had done it in, unaware of what I had done in the run! Hah!
When I stopped worrying about not doing the best I could for my fellow cast members… my best came through.
Please, do come and share in this great show with me, my final mainstage at the Phoenix Theatre at UVic. We have 6$ previews on Tuesday and Wednesday (Feb. 22 and 23), and then the run from Feb.24th to March 5th. Click here for tickets.
- In praise of … Twelfth Night (guardian.co.uk)
- Twelfth Night, National Theatre, review (telegraph.co.uk)
- Stratford could film Twelfth Night with Dennehy (cbc.ca)