The rehearsal process is often mystifying to the general audience. What exactly goes on in preparation for a performance? How do the actors make sense of and breathe life into the words on the page? The Education Department has asked three actors from this season’s production of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Tim Carroll, to share with us their experiences and discoveries while rehearsing the play.
Daniel Briere plays Romeo in this season’s production. He shares with us his first-day experience of being on the “Tanya Stage,” and the various exercises involved in understanding the power of the narrative and the importance of connecting with the audience and his fellow actors.
Keep your eye out for further blogs on this site from Tyrone Savage, who plays Tybalt, and Skye Brandon, who plays Benvolio!
Walking for the first time out onto the Festival Theatre stage, complete with the newly restored Tanya Moiseiwitsch floor plan, I am immediately struck by how small the room feels. I remember when I was a wide-eyed theatre student—on my school’s yearly trip to the Stratford Festival—sitting at the back of the balcony before the show, imagining that home plate in a baseball stadium was closer to me in that moment than this stage. I recall how when the actors took the stage, their warmth and energy soared across an ocean of heads, bodies and attentive ears. I think of how monumental this room felt, like an Olympus peopled with the demi-gods of Canadian stage. And yet, here I am today, standing centre stage, acutely aware that it is only 66 feet from centre stage to the very back of the balcony.
This is my first season with the Stratford Festival, and I will be spending a lot of time upon this stage. In fact, all three of the shows in which I will appear will be on the Festival stage. Today is the first day “on deck” for the cast of Romeo and Juliet, and we have a lot to do. I am not the only rookie in the room, and while we test the space with all sorts of strange vocal sounds and exercises that actors do, many of the veterans experiment with the extra steps and playing spaces provided by the “Tanya” configuration. There are fights to work through, dances to space out and all kinds of entrances and exits to discover. Later on, we’re scheduled to do something called a Rope Theory Test, which raises more than a few hairs and much confusion throughout the company.
After a quick group warm-up, Tim Carroll, our director, teaches us a simple song, which we sing in a round. This being the third week of rehearsal with TC, we have become very familiar with his method of launching us into exercises before we have a chance to think about them—thereby allowing us to make unexpected discoveries. So with little explanation or pause, we are moving single file between aisles in the audience, up to the balcony, around backstage and through the underground passageway, sweetly harmonizing a round of In My Lady’s Garden. When we land back on the deck, the space newly christened with our voices and energy, the air seems thick. “Now spread out and find a seat somewhere in the house,” instructs TC. “Who knows a bit of their text? Daniel. You shall be our first victim. Give us ‘But soft…’”
I have managed to blend in with the crowd somewhat effectively in the first part of this rehearsal process, mostly as a side effect of Tim’s democratic rehearsal process—where no one was allowed to read his or her own character’s lines in the first week, as we worked on the structure and sound of Shakespeare’s verse lines. As I mentioned, this is my first season with the Festival, and starting with a role portrayed by such greats as William Shatner, Christopher Walken, Paul Gross and Stratford’s current Artistic Director, Antoni Cimolino, I certainly feel pressure to perform. I have to prove that I deserve to be here, after all. So, about to speak Romeo’s lines for the first time, on this historic stage, in front of the entire cast, I forget to breathe.
Tim quickly and efficiently distracts me from my self-doubt, though, asking me to give each verse line to a specific person in the audience, and then say their name aloud. Even with all the lights up, this proves very difficult as I can’t clearly see some spots of the audience, so I spend most of the time trying to determine who I’m looking at and speaking to. I am starting to get a feel for actually speaking to the audience though, asking real questions, making real points. Then, to take it one step further, I work the final tomb speech—line by line to a specific person in the audience, saying their name aloud—and the listener has to repeat the verse line back to me word for word. If they don’t repeat it correctly, I haven’t communicated the idea/thought/image clearly enough, and I have to give them the line again until they receive it. Great: I sense some development there. Then we break quickly for coffee.
The scheduled Rope Theory Test turns out to be an opportunity to try out the corded ladder which I will use to descend from the balcony in Act III. The theory (I think) is that they will need fewer rungs on the ladder than originally thought, due to my long legs. Trying out the ladder myself, I find that I take most of my weight in my arms anyway, and my feet easily get tangled in the ropes. So the theory seems to be correct, and more experimentation is required.
At the end of the day, I’m still here, breathing, still standing, and still with the support of my director. We clearly have more work to do before we’ll be able to play our games in secret in front of an audience, but isn’t that the fun? Today was like a first date—somewhat sweaty, pretty self-conscious and full of questions. “But he that hath the steerage of my course / Direct my sail.”