ACTORS COMMENTS ABOUT ANTONY & CLEOPATRA 2013



ACTORS COMMENTS ABOUT ANTONY & CLEOPATRA 2013

There were 18 actors and one stage manager.
4 of the actors were youths and their drama teacher Ms. Lopes was acting in the production and was co-producer (Punchbug Productions).
Everyone was invited to contribute their thoughts about their own experience and Ms. Lopes was able to write on behalf of the youths.
Below are the comments of those who chose to contribute their thoughts.


First here are comments from Director Kerry Dwyer (original member of The Pram Factory, freelance director):

Ira Seidenstein's production of Antony and Cleopatra opened the text to me in ways I had never known before, even though I had studied it closely at school and at university. The actors playing the lead roles found nuances in their relationship that made emotional, intellectual and political sense of their relationship.  Cleopatra emerged as a cunning political operator as aware of the intricacies of macchiavelian politics as Antony and their lust only served to sweeten the intrigue.  The portrayal of Antony as louche and dissolute opened up many layers of their relationship that I had never seen exposed on stage before. This was a most articulate and detailed portrait of a doomed political affair driven by lust and ambition.
 
The actors were all very open emotionally, and very expressive physically, and at no time were they overawed by the fact that they were working with the great master's words.  Actors in Australia often put on a "Shakespeare" voice, but these actors found their own voice from a close and visceral connection with the text.  They allowed the emotional level of the scene free reign to take them where ever the impulse drove them, and as a consequence, their work held a very varied audience in close attention for three hours.
 
On the opening night, when I saw the production, there were a couple of actors who still had not quite found their way in to the text, but they clearly were working with precision to a deeper connection to the innermost truth of their characters, and would, I am confident, have arrived at a very powerful embodiment of that personage.
 
The staging was very spare, with screens upstage with several alternative entrances and exits allowing for snappy and fluid scene changes. The actors were dynamic, well-trained and quick to respond physically to the impulses of the scene.  Although they were disciplined, at no time was there any sense that they were puppets moving around the stage at the whim of the director.  They always moved with purpose and intense focus.
Berynn Schwerdt - Antony
I doubt I'll say much that hasn't already been said by brighter people than me. One of the big things for me was how the play keeps upsetting expectations. It is not a tragedy complete, nor a comedy, nor even a tragi-comedy.  It discourages an emotional wash for the audience, as each scene trips up what might be anticipated style-wise. We see the great queen and triumvir having a domestic quibble over responsibility and pleasure, with Cleo teasing Antony and Antony playing along to some degree. The first scene is like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe (was pleased to see someone else thought so in that analysis you linked a little while ago), the next A & C scene like Benedick and Beatrice in Much Ado, but far more cutting. Most of the scenes are domestic in nature, referring to the larger world of the Roman Empire. Fulvia's death is mourned for a moment, but used as an argument for the security of Antony's departure from egypt, and later Fulvia's 'garboils' are used as an excuse by Antony. We see that the response to what might otherwise be reflected on as a tragic event is various depending on context. Spek well of the dead? For a moment maybe.  And this is but one example of Antony's ignobility - there is no honour in how Fulvia's life and death is used by her husband. And this kind of behaviour mirrors real life. Shakespeare seems to be taking the mask off nobility, calling our attention to the difference between myth and reality, and how and why that separation arises. Cleopatra is described in different ways at different times, from the pomp of her meeting with Antony, her capriciousness of character, and none of these do justice to the character that is, finally realised throughout the play. Public perception and private reality seems to be a strong theme of the play.

I always enjoyed the unlikely humour in Antony's decent to dishonour, even to his botched suicide attempt, on what we know (but he doesn't) is a false pretext. Shakespeare doesn't let us off the hook. The tragedy of Antony is not that he becomes ridiculous, but that he fights against it or doesn't see it. He is unkown to himself, or tries to escape the fact of his decline - as can be seen in the turnaround after the first naval defeat.  In the final moments of death, there is a strange nobility in his insistence that he is noble, even when we know he is not. It's not one or the other, but both at odds - a disquieting experience for the viewer, happily. this is the great strength of the play - we are not allowed to settle on an expectation, and thus become more engaged. Cleopatra's death, elsewhere perceived as the great lovers gesture (Romeo and Juliet), is turned into a Brechtian scene with a clown robbing the event of its sentiment. Over and again the rug is pulled out from a comfortable, one note experience of the play, forcing the audience to reconsider their impressions. From what I have read, most productions cant one way or the other, or maybe combine the humour and tragedy, but avoid or overlook the many avenues the play trips down in literary style.

There is an absurdist element to Antony and Cleopatra - another genre that seems to be incorporated, albeit way before its time. All in all, though, I would say that the play does not conform to any particular genre, and defies conventional analysis. It is an intriguing challenge to put on and for an audience to view. The elements themselves are finely done, but they are not consonant to any particular style. Still, the whole piece seems balanced in the playing, which is a tribute, perhaps, to Shakespeare's theatrical instinct as much as his literary skill.

END


Bron Lim’s thoughts on rehearsal and performance experience of Antony and Cleopatra – June 2013  King Street Theatre - Punchbug - Directed by Dr Ira Seidenstein
Alexa/s, Varrius, Diomedes, Seleucus

Pre-rehearsal influences
Read
Antony and Cleopatra -  Arden text & RSC text
Watched
  • Steven Pimlott’s 2001 RSC production at the Barbican with Frances de la Tour and Alan Bates in the title roles
  • Jon Scoffield’s 1974 made for television version of the Adrian Noble 1972 RSC production with Richard Johnson and Janet Suzman in the title roles.  
  • Jonathan Miller’s 1981 made for BBC television production with Colin Blakely and Jane Lapatoire In the title roles.
  • Morcombe and Wise with Glenda Jackson spoof of the characters of Antony and Cleopatra
  • Excerpts of Charlton Heston’s 1983 film with Lynn Redgrave and Timothy Dalton in the title roles.
  • Excerpts of Warwick University’s 2011 production. Directed by Clare Byrne & Joshua Elliott.
I note title roles for identification purposes .
Listened
1963. The Shakespeare Recording Society / Caedmon Records.  Anthony Quayle and Pamela Brown in the title roles.

Preparation
I read through the Arden text which was useful for meaning, references and notes on how roles had previously been played.
On receiving the RSC text, I was able to mark up the text according to stresses, making notes of scansion: shared lines, regular vs irregular lines – short and feminine endings, and variance from the Arden text with editing.  
Characters
Alexa/s:  
Act 1 Scene 2
The scene opens with Charmian badgering Alexas for the whereabouts of  the Soothsayer.  After some flattery he relents.   This indicates Alexas is privvy to some information which Charmian, Cleopatra’s closest confidante, doesn’t have access to. As such, he wields some limited power within the court.  The dynamic between Alexas, Charmian, Iras and the Soothsayer as servants to the Queen was fluid throughout the rehearsals and performances.  We needed to function as a chorus and as individuals.
In terms of playing this opening, the shared lines after Charmian’s intial speech indicate a speed, which given the right attack could be thrilling.  Of the six initial speeches, five of them are shared lines.
Initially, I took the Soothsayer to be a parlour game to Alexas, much as the other characters within the court, however after some review, I realised that it would be stronger to acknowledge that the consequences of the Soothsayer’s words would sway Alexas, and that he would have a vested interest  in the fates of those around him.   He could believe the Soothsayer’s words to be absolute. As such, the lines:
    Vex not his precience: be attentive
And
    Nay, hear him
Bear more urgency and by contrast could heighten the frivolity of Charmian and Iras, whilst giving the Soothsayer more weight.  I was toying with playing a Malvolio character, but I think Alexas is more aware of his standing amongst his “peers and betters”.  Also, unlike Malvolio, there is more of a knowing sexual predator about him.
Alexas is made fun of in this scene  for being a knave.  It seems in Charmian’s line:  
    O that I knew this husband which you say must charge his horns with garlands!  
that there is some sexual tension between the two of them, with Alexas referring to himself as the adulterer, or at the very least, they are on flirtatious terms.  
I made the decision that the vehemence that brings Charmian and Iras’ wrath indicated a past sexual history with both of them.  
He shrugs off their humilating prognostications by calling them whores.   
I decided Alexas lived by his wits and by keeping his ears open within court.  He is an opportunist, eager to be of service to those who could ensure his position.  
T S Eliot’s The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock came to mind when unravelling this character:
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.
The scene‘s tone changes  upon the entrance of Cleopatra.  The servants return to their positions as servants.  
The Arden places Cleopatra’s entrance after Enobarbas remark:
    Not he, the queen.
The line is attributed to Charmian in the RSC text.
In retrospect, there was an opportunity for Cleopatra to be in the same disguise as Antony in order to walk about the city, and this is why there is a visual misunderstanding.
Alexas’ salutation to the Queen, nine speeches after her entrance, is pefunctory and deferential.  
    Here, at your service.  My lord approaches.  
The RSC performance text places the comma after ‘Here’, unlike the Arden, which runs  on.  The former allows for a little more personality to emerge.  Following on from the ‘heel clicks’ in a later scene, I inserted them here also, to further express the formality and protocol of meeting with the Queen.  
Act 1 Scene 3
We see Alexas briefly in this scene; he is sent on an errand to find Antony.  This could be completely unremarkable, however, Ira broke up Cleopatra’s lines:
    See where his, who’s with him, what he does:
    I did not send you.  If you find him sad,
    Say I am dancing; if in mirth, report
    That I am sudden sick.  Quick, and return.
With each addition to the inital order, Alexas was to leave and return.  Upon finding Alexas’ costume shoes,  I realised they made a very satisfactory sound when clicked together, so this punctuated each of the orders before attempting to leave Cleopatra’s room.    This routine was repeated in a later scene, in a slightly different way.  
Act 1 Scene 5
In this scene Cleopatra is pining for Antony.  Alexas enters with news of Antony’s departure and is keen to exploit this knowledge to gain favour with the Queen.
He greets Cleopatra in an outlandish fashion:
Cleo:     ...With looking on his life
Alex:    Sovereign of Egypt, hail!
The shared six syllable lines allow for overlap, or a nice pause to make an entrance, indicating a change of pace.  
Alexas is quick to sweet talk the queen, referring to her familiarly with
    Last thing he did, dear queen,  
This is a short line, and I could have made more of the flattery.
I made the decision that the description of Antony kissing a pearl many times before giving it to Alexas was an outright lie;  likewise his following speech.  I thought it would be amusing to concoct a story to alleviate Cleopatra’s sadness, whilst furthering Alexas’ standing in court.  He begins with:
    ‘Good friend’, quoth he
Antony’s favour would no doubt annoy both Charmian and Iras.
He goes on to describe the precious pearl as signifying a promise to gain kingdoms for Cleopatra to reign over upon Antony’s return.   This text is exquisite, it makes full repetitive use of plosive p’s and is almost entirely regular excepting the change of subject to begin the description of Antony and his horse.  Everything is grand about Antony in this speech,  including his horse and his horse’s neigh.   I wanted to indicate this referred grandiosity in my performance style.   Ira had me playing out and it reminded me of the Morcombe and Wise sketch I had seen previously.  He took this further by referencing Vaudeville, and expressed the need to create a ‘turn’.  In essence, it was a snippet of a self-contained performance within a performance designed to impress both Cleopatra and the audience.  This stylistic reference allowed me to free myself from the desire to be naturalistic .  
Cleopatra questions Alexas:
    What, was he sad or merry?
This line has only seven syllables.  So I allowed myself a pause to make up the ten.  This gave me an opportunity to come up with an answer that would not only seem plausible for this non-event, but would also not run the risk of being an answer Cleopatra would detest and thereby punish Alexas.
Conversely, Cleopatra’s  following question and Alexas’ reply:
    ...Met’st though my posts?

    Ay, Madam, twenty several messengers.
    Why do you send so thick?
Is met with Cleopatra’s ire, showing her changeability.  It was also an opportunity to physically allow Cleopatra’s superiority over Alexas, which I had the opportunity to punctuate with a Suzuki inspired mini backdown.  
This routine is immediately repeated by  Charmian when she dares to taunt Cleopatra with having previously loved Caesar before meeting with Antony.  
The court are shown to be at the mercy of Cleopatra’s whim, and the uneasiness brings a underclass solidarity to the servants.

Act 2 Scene 5
In this scene, Alexas has no solo speeches, but it is pivotal to the character.  Initially, Alexas is enjoying  the intimate surrounding of Cleopatra’s inner circle, until the arrival of the messenger bearing news of Antony’s marriage to Octavia.  
In this scene he witnesses Cleopatra threaten to kill the messenger and sees her hit.  I believe it is here that Alexas  fully realises the uncertain nature of being associated with this court.  Cleopatra’s lament:
    These hands do lack nobility that they strike
    A meaner than myself, since I myself
    Have given myself the cause
Does little to ingratiate her to him, as he knows the sincerest words from her mean little when tested.
At the end of the scene, Cleopatra bids Alexas to discover and report on Octavias features.  Again, Ira insisted on using the heel click exits after each section of the request:
    Go to the fellow, good Alexas, bid him
    Report the feature of Octavia: her years,
    Her inclination, let him not leave out
    The colour of her hair.  Bring me word quickly.  
Cleopatra recalls Alexas after having left the room completely:
    ...Bid you Alexas
    Bring me word how tall she is.

I found great difficulty in turning and clicking heels up to three times at some points in the text.  It became easier with practice, but within the middle of the run, my personal  frustration at my own ineptitude led to a revelation of Alexas’ frustration with Cleopatra and I allowed the character to crack, and go a little mad with a maniacal laugh on the last bidding.    The big question with Alexas was always, why does this man choose to defect ,unlike the others within Cleopatras inner sanctum?  And I think this breakdown allowed a little foreshadowing to Alexas’ revolt.  

Act 3 Scene 3
Alexas was cut from this scene due to rehearsal constraints.   But his lines in this scene are in defence of the messenger’s unwillingness to come before Cleopatra.  He also mentions Herod, whom he later visits on affairs of Antony before defecting and being hanged by Caesar.  

Act 4 Scene 2
Again Alexas has no solo lines, but this is the last time we see Alexas before he defects and is hanged by Caesar.  
The court are disturbed by Antony’s erratic and over-familiar behaviour.  When Antony begins to speak of defeat:
    Haply you shall not see me more, or if,
    A mangled shadow.  Perchance tomorrow
    You’ll serve antoher master.  I look on you
    As one that takes his leave.
My inner  dialogue was urging  Alexas to make plans to leave, culminating in him leaving the stage by crossing severally from the rest.  In doing so, he notices Enobarbas looking at him as though he may be planning on a similar course of action.

Varrius
Act 2 Scene 1
Varrius is seen once, with only one speech.  But his speech is remarkable in that it makes full dramatic use of the caesuras within it:
    This is most certain that I shall deliver:
    Mark Antony is every hour in Rome
    Expected.  Since he went from Egypt ‘tis
    A space for further travel.
The initial line has a feminine ending, indicating a conflict within the following lines.
The following two lines are regular, however in playing out the caesuras, it allowed for an unexpected  twist at the beginning of the third line, and an implied revelation in the fourth short line.
I needed a reference for the audience in order to understand Varrius quickly, so I donned a film noir trenchcoat and did my best to affect  an indeterminate European accent.  Ira took this further by suggesting taking my ‘spy acting’ to a Pink Panther extreme.  I played with this throughout the run, taking it further and pulling it back.  Together, with the quick change revelations  of text from line to line,  informing the absurd pauses and wariness of Menas when speaking with Pompey, this was a fufilling gem of a character.

Diomedes
Initially when reading Diomedes, I thought he must be a loyal and honourable fellow staying to the end to aid Cleopatra.  The text would support this, and all the other versions I’ve seen and listened to, show this interpretation. It was easy to fall in love with the meter of Diomedes largest speech with its inbuilt dramatic pauses and momentum of sincerity.  
Over the course of the rehearsals,  it occured to me that maybe it wasn’t honour that was keeping him in Cleopatra’s court, but a sense of fate similar to that of the Gravedigger in Hamlet.  This is crystallised in Cleopatra’s line:
    ...young boys and girls
    Are level now with men: the odds is gone
    And there is nothing left remarkable
    Beneath the visiting moon.
At the time when an empire was crumbling around him,  I wanted Diomedes to embody  this anarchic notion.  So he turned from a young girl in Cleopatra’s service to a drunken sot of a guard, neccessarily lower class  in order to highlight the levelling nature of the events surrounding everyone.   There is no real support in the text for this reading of this character.  But there is none to the contrary either.   I chose to play Diomedes drunk, bottle in hand, coming to terms with the end of the world as he knows it.   Rather than Diomedes simply explaining or sympathising with Antony’s situation on finding him mortally wounded, I chose to have him admonishing him or even, for some performances, taunting him.   However I alternately played the lines:
        ...and I am come,
    I dread, too late.
As horrified with Antony’s situation and being more concerned about the admonishment he would get when he tells Cleopatra the news.
During the following scene, Act 4 Scene 15,  Diomedes is bemused and disgusted by the over-the-top reactions of Cleopatra.  Bruno Lucia suggested Diomedes be rolling a cigarette during the scene, which I incorporated with a casual delight.  Antony’s pain-wrecked body was carried across the stage several times according to Cleopatra’s whim, and hauling Antony’s dead body offstage like a piece of meat further emphasised the anarchic principal of death.

Seleucus

Seleucus is another character who underwent a large character shift  throughout the rehearsal period.  All of my other characters were indeterminate gender (although I’ve been referring to them as male throughout this write-up) but Seleucus was the only definite female in my mind.  As such I chose a skirt and a tailored jacket, to indicate that she had been treated very well by Cleopatra during her service, and may have enjoyed her station.
She begins with a short line:
    Here Madam.
The remaining beats allowed for a hiatus as she was called onto the stage.  
Originally,  I played her as being timid, aware that there was no real way of getting out of this situation alive, in having to confront  both Cleopatra and Caesar with her findings of Cleopatra fiddling the books.   However, this reading gave nowhere for the character to develop in the short space of time she was onstage.  Playing her as a sympathetic character also lessoned the audience’s sympathy with Cleopatra as she threatened yet another equivalent of a messenger.  So instead,I made Seleucus’ admission a brazen attempt to curry favour with Caesar, demanding acknowledgement  from him for her sacrifice within Cleopatra’s court.   The outright contempt Seleucus shows at twisting Cleopatra’s own words against herself is astounding:
Cleo    ...Let him speak, my lord,
    Upon his peril, that I have reserved
    To myself nothing.  Speak the truth, Seleucus.
Sel    Madam,
    I had rather seal my lips than to my peril
    Speak that which is not.
Although urged by Cleopatra to leave earlier,  Seleucus remains onstage until Caesar gives permission and some nod of asuurance is given to her safe passage.  This is the first time we see a character change their allegience in the prescence of Cleopatra.
In parting
This quartet of characters seem to be unified by notions of loyalty and allegiance.  Alexas, although the most intimate with Cleopatra, defects. Varrius garners intelligence for Pompey and is suspicious of everyone surrounding him.  Diomedes admonishes Antony for his lack of belief in Cleopatra and his leaving her.  However in my interpretation, he is ultimately outside of the loyalty dichotomy.  And Seleucus chooses to change sides out of necessity, but also with lashings of joyous self-preservation.  
One of the many interesting things working with Ira’s acting method, was spotting how each of his warm-up exercises fed into the dynamics of scenes on several levels.  How energy moves about the stage and within the bones of the text could be found in the fall or thrust or reach of each of the exercises.  I found the natural timings of the swings allowed natural pauses within the text, allowing it to breathe.  The problems encountered with achieving a bridge more fully supported from the legs are not unlike the mental exertion required to prop up a particularly demanding piece of text.   I have no doubt that being pushed beyond my ability with those darned heel-click turns, allowed a greater understanding of Alexas to come to the fore.  
Ultimately, the sense of play I experienced physically, when I allowed it to take me over in front of an audience, was beyond anything I could plan, and I thank Ira for the amazing experience.   Thank you!
END
Antony and Cleopatra 2013

Nat’s Thoughts
Natalie Lopes - Charmian

This project found me. Denby and Berynn came to see 25Eight at the end of 2012 and from that evening grew the plan of Ira to direct them in Ant and Cleo. Ira then brought me into the project as producer and actor.
The relationships between the people involved in the project were varied and interesting. Denby and Berynn were past in relationship. Berynn taught Denby, Brinley and Robert. Ira taught Berynn, myself, Erin and Yiss. Erin and I studied together but had never been cast to act together before this show. Denby and Brendon work together. Bruno and Ira are old friends. Lara and Berynn are siblings nineteen years apart who had never acted together. Four of my current students in high school were in the show. This completed the three generations of theatre.
Wearing my actor/producer/teacher hat during this project was at times complicated and stressful but also greatly rewarding. Each person came to this project with enthusiasm, professionalism and dedication despite a lack of pay. My students grew immensely from the experience, and it was a unique experience for us to do a show together. That may never happen again. I felt a great deal of pressure for the show to be a success as producer.
The cast were a joy to work with and I found I wanted to spend more time with each cast member and get to know them. By the end of the run it felt like we still hadn’t really scratched the surface.
It was a very quick rehearsal period which in hindsight I would have liked it to be at least four weeks rather than three.
The character of Charmian was at times perplexing. She would say things to others, especially Cleo that Iras and Aleaxas would not and at times would “obviously” make Cleo look silly. i.e The brave Caesar, the valiant Caesar….
Charmian doesn’t let Cleo get away with much in the text but she also knows her place. She doesn’t challenge Cleo when Ira’s does at the end ‘No more…It were for me to throw my….’
Charmian is use to role playing the drama of life with Cleo. Cleo remarks numerous times ‘Mark him/her Charmian’ or ‘Cut my lace Charmian’ Is it any wonder that Charmian continues to play along by challenging Cleo to her most dramatic performance of faking her death ‘To the monument’.
When performing the servant scene where Charmian mimes the news behind Cleo’s back I found I was often met with confusion from the audience. Only 2-3 audiences laughed in that scene and seemed to understand the pressure to please Cleo was what motivated it. Sometimes it felt in that scene that the audience didn’t want to laugh behind Cleo’s back. The previous servant scene they would always laugh a great deal at Cleo’s attempts to make the truth not so.
All in all I had a great experience working on this show with the wonderful cast and with Ira as director. I feel I discovered some interesting things about Charmian, but I also would have liked more time to explore the play.
 END

Yiss Mill – Soothsayer, Mardian, Clown – and accompanying musician interspersed throughout the performance.
I will do my best to express my experience and discovery. Firstly, I think that you are truly an amazing educator and through your direction, taught us all so much. Your direction is very concise and little explanation of why, which I think gave us the opportunity to really think about what you said and discover for ourselves the importance of doing certain things overall and in the context of the play. Personally, I feel that i gained a lot in terms of learning stage craft. I haven't nailed it yet and still have lots to learn but as you say, which I believe  "it's all in there, it's all the same thing". I feel that in time and with more experience I will understand this more and derive more from what I have been taught, shown.....

Before going into my characters, I would like to mention Cleopatra. There was much to think about during the production in terms of how the character was portrayed and how I guess one might assume the character should be portrayed. I'll be more specific with one particular scene, Antony dying. "Noblest of men woo't die?" I thought about this line a lot. I guess my uneducated take would be that Cleopatra would be heart broken and would cry these words out in pain, and yet Denby's voice was so "you fucken serious?" I think it really tied the whole character together and made the rest of her make sense this way, after much thought. I think it is really in the text the whole play that this is her personality, even though at first glance it seemed so Romeo and Juliet. (I hope that made sense)
       
I don't have much to say on the soothsayer. I guess his role calls for a serious dude that can be taken seriously when prophesying the future. But then he grabs Iris' arse. I guess he is in the company of royalty and therefore has a certain boost of confidence on top of the fact that he is a seer. I also felt that he wasn't too awed by royalty or status anyway as a seer would hold himself with an above mundane status. This does come from the text as he is witty with his line " a million" and wont be treated like a servant with his line "I have said". It also shows with his confidence in telling Antony to go back to Egypt. Firstly, he is straight to the point, secondly he is so persistent with his message. It's like; what I'm saying is so real, you better listen to me!       

Mardian, the awesome :) I reckon he was such a fun role to play and a real challenge to stay true to the text. But he is referred to a saucy eunuch which doesn't translate exactly but I feel definitely infers that he is sexualised in his mannerism. I received comments from some friends that saw the show along the lines of "you needed to take your shirt off and hump the queen on stage to fulfill some Hollywood porn desires which had nothing to with the play; it's a modern take so you guys chucked that stuff in there" which are things I never thought about before opening night at all. It's all there in the text dummies! Mardian doesn't say much and in the first of his three conversations the queen asks him about his take on sex and he says that he thinks about it. This may mean that he doesn't act sexual at all if the queen needs to ask him, but after getting to know Cleopatra and her drama queen ways, it seems as if she is invoking the topic and what better way to get on topic than getting her saucy eunuch ignited. Otherwise, from the text, Mardian seems subservient and loyal. 
As an actor there was much freedom in character, especially with Mardian which allowed to bring out the clown in him, and also the occasional fighting stance'd male ready to protect and take one for the team. Your direction helped me find this in him, getting me involved in Cleopatra's outbursts at times, which at first made no sense to me but quickly sank in and allowed me to find what I should be doing on stage and how I should react (with no text).

The clown, I'm still unsure about. Obviously a lot of innuendo but I wasn't sure how to bring that out. His appearance is short but yet a really important moment, as it is the point in time which makes Cleopatra's suicide an actual reality. Why then a clown? I don't know. What in the text shows him as a clown? I guess the fact that he is a blabber mouth, but still not necessarily a clown so again I don't know. However, old Willie calls him a clown and so more important than understanding the reason for this, is to do the ensemble justice and be a clown. A red nose and colorful wig? Why not? Mardian wears a wig and blows a comically  long horn, and hey, even the soothsayer gets to clown about, sorta..But there is something special and much much deeper in this character, but I cant put my finger on it. Having lots of freedom allowed me to try different walks and movements which I thought were clown-like. I read a fair bit about the clown to understand him better but I didn't get much out of it.
Maybe he is called a clown as he represents the thing of disguise; He shows a basket of figs but in reality is delivering asps. A simple view.   

END
Paul McNally – Agrippa
I finally have time to write about working on ‘Carry On Up The Nile’ sorry ‘Antony and Cleopatra.’
In spite of being a week away from the play and travelling, I can’t stop thinking about and missing that time and group of people, more so than anything else I’ve worked on.
We’re in Hong Kong for the weekend before Tim starts work in Shanghai tomorrow. He had to go into the HK office today so that coupled with the pouring rain has given me some free time to write.
The week before I auditioned for you I had decided to pack in the acting thing as I’d been auditioning left right and centre for two years for TV, musicals, films and getting nowhere. I’d always get great feedback but no re-calls or gigs, which is hard to put into perspective and I wondered if, at my age, the Universe was trying to tell me something.
So, out of work for a total of four and a half years, since I left the UK and then the opportunity to work with you came along, which was the only reason I auditioned in the first place having seen some of your You Tube videos.  
It was a fantastic experience and learning curve both as an actor and an individual.
It’s only now in retrospect that I’ve discovered how much I’ve changed as a person since I last worked with an acting company in the UK in 2008/09 when I was morbidly obese and as a result a very different character.
I could have stayed in that rehearsal room for another three weeks doing all those ‘group exercises’ and learning the many techniques you introduced us to.
You created a very tight team of actors who moved both as one and also as individuals to create a very unique and varied journey each night called ‘Antony & Cleopatra.’
It’s one of my least favourite plays, I can’t relate to or find sympathy with any of the characters, but I’ve come to have enormous affection for some of them in the guise of the people who played them.
The work itself:
In spite of being such a physical person and always wanting to push myself to develop my physical abilities and in spite of the physical being so much of what you were teaching us it was the one thing I struggled with, wildly!
I couldn’t, couldn’t, stop theorising EVERTHING.
The swing exercises, the plastic exercise, I loathed them because they took me so far out of my comfort zone, I just couldn’t stop pre-empting what I was about  to do or what shape I would take or noise I would make before doing it. I only succeeded in letting go once and allowing the physical to take over and it was in a warm up in the first week at the theatre.
I’ve since realised how much I react physically in day to day life with other people and it feels so liberating just knowing how real that is or should be on stage.
When we get on stage, for one reason or another we employ a stillness, well I do, it’s appropriate in certain situations but it’s not real all the time. Even sitting in the hotel lobby and looking around myself now as I write I can see how animated everyone is as they communicate with each other.
Yet when art imitates life some of us take on a very weird surreal interpretation of what we feel we should do or be rather than just bloody well ‘DO’ or ‘BE.’
I always try to find reality and truth in what I’m doing on stage or with any character I play, that’s the whole point of what we do, isn’t it?
To find that from the physical happened quite a few times in performance which I’m pleased with, mission accomplished perhaps, even if it only happened a few times it happened and it was honest and real and in the moment.
When I went to see ‘Richard III or Almost’ there were many moments when I didn’t believe either of the two actors, it had nothing to do with the writing or direction or their character and it was only some time after seeing the play that I realised I didn’t believe their physicality or their physical reaction to what was happening.
To then experience ‘Slava’s Snow Show’ and see a troupe of honest to God clowns ‘DOING’ it was inspiring. Even Tim said it was one of the best things he’d ever seen!
The whole point of ‘taking ones time’ was magnified tenfold watching that show!
 Anyway, I’m going to take a break now and see if there is anything more to add to the thoughts above but I’ll come back to that, most likely in Shanghai in a few days time.
.......................So; Shanghai, two weeks later and I’ve had plenty of time to ‘mull’ further.
Agrippa:-
What an angry head fuck that guy started out as.
I found him emotionally draining for those first two weeks of rehearsals but didn’t realise this, nor did this manifest itself until after the run through on each of the two Saturdays, where, because of the way I was playing him at the time, I was in full on guard dog beast mode, angry and tense, physically and emotionally and I knew it wasn’t right.
Each of those Saturdays ended in tears at some point in the evening, a rare occurrence for me. The second time it happened it was triggered by something joyous so I knew it was due to the work and my heightened emotional state at the time.
Then in the third week you, Ira, gave me a note to ‘ease up’ on Lepidus, Brendan, which changed the game for Agrippa and opened doors I wouldn’t have otherwise considered. Agrippa didn’t have to go around barking and scowling at everyone, he became aware of himself and his capabilities rocked back on his heels and laughed at the world and my God it was liberating!
So beast mode in check and testosterone levels receding.........slightly, I was able to play with him more (and everyone else) with greater openness and roundedness rather than the dog with a bone approach I started with.
The most significant aspect of playing Agrippa was the casting of Brinley as Enobarbus. It allowed a relationship and presented opportunities for Agrippa that weren’t in the text. (I would imagine)
A fairly insignificant character, his main, probably only, plot contribution being the ‘Antony should marry Octavia’ speech, whole worlds of possibilities opened up with the Godsend casting of Brinley. It was this and only this that allowed Agrippa such significance and relevance in this version of the play.
After that first week of rehearsal, finding our feet and wondering who these characters are and how they relate to each other we had the weekend to ponder. Then out of left field a thought struck me, forcibly, we have to have sex, Agrippa and Enobarbus have to have sex, it was obvious, why didn’t I see it before?
Monday, back in the rehearsal room, Brinley and I start talking, I’ve had an idea, we each say to the other, but it’s a bit ‘out there’ we also both say to each other.............we should have sex, in that first scene when we first meet we should have sex.
‘BOOM’ I had no doubt we were on the right track when both of us independently came back on Monday with the same idea, but I didn’t want it to be gratuitous, in spite of the scenes eventual climax, so I suggested we ‘Tango.’
Our meetings, rehearsing, talking, discovering, abandoning and searching for what we wanted to bring to the Tango continued in several different venues developing and growing as it did until the final ingredient was added in the form of Yiss.
Not only did he bring his musical skills to our aid but his eye and attention to detail took our basic premise of a passionate but animalistic reunion between two soldiers to a whole new level, both in the Tango scene and in the boxing scene.
I could waffle on and reminisce for hours so it must be time to let go and hit send.
So, in closing, moments (In The Woods) there are many but those that are constantly with me:-
meeting Berynn at that first read through and the wonderful compliments he paid me having heard my audition,
just being in a rehearsal room, LOLLIES, fucking LOLLIES, dancing/working with Brinley in any space we could find, that first conversation with Yiss in the car and hearing his lyrics, Jonathans’ sleeping tablets episode, Jonathan and the rubber chicken episode (he knows) Roberts’ 7 seconds You Tube videos and the terrifyingly uncontrollable ‘waiting in the wings’ at the interval giggling as a result- Drop it like it’s hot, getting to see it happen on the TV in the foyer bar each night, talking to Miss Lobes’ Troupe about ICE CREAM, Satay chicken from the Thai opposite the Theatre, talking to Denby about Rock climbing, what Finn said and the lovely Tammy taking the piss out of me for calling Jonathans’ kitchen, ‘a country kitchen’ at the wrap party, I know what I meant.
Last but not least this photo which a friend took on the last night and sent to me after we closed, I see it every day and smile.
   END

Bruno Lucia -  Philo, Silius, Ambassador/Schoolmaster, Scarrus

I read though almost all of your blogs today - seems I did have time OR shall we say I made time to soak up your thoughts & indeed ignite mine! Well as you already know, the experience as a whole working with you and cast on my first ever Shakespeare Production was nothing short of miraculous! I have gone from fear to bravery (love!) one could say! When I use the word fear I don't mean sneaking up behind someone boo hoo fear - fear of the language, fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of not being worthy to even speak the words and language of shakespeare! I know it's ridiculous BUT these are the blocks we put for ourselves as we get older! In my case, you know it's the fact that I have immobolised myself and it's taken your constant reminder as a friend to look & explore more as an actor. I feel like I have started out in the business again! Only this time with experience and wisdom under my belt. A perfect segue to the fact that working with four school children and the way they stepped up to the plate - to use a baseball analogy - was also nothing short of miraculous!
When I think about your reference to the 3 generations in theatre I now can identify what that exchange was about in some ways, ie: the exchange of energy for experience, for enthusiasm and passion for technique and much much more! With every performance came something new. The text became clearer, the connection between my fellow actors. I played four characters. Philo being the narrator almost with a wonderful monolgue that allowed for even more than what I touched on! Silius was the most challenging of the shorter characters again with only one scene BUT rich in possibilities and obvious "silliness" that I took to a new level on the final show as I realised that even though my connection with fellow actor Lara playing Ventidius was always improving, it was this scene that opened up the importance of a deeper understanding and memorising of text for the whole scene as a way of opening up even more creative possibilites! As you put it - each "scene" in itself is a monologue!

TO BE CONTINUED... 

It was OUR production. There was a sense of community with the "all walks of life & all age group " cast!  With our limited time your guidance, microscopic eye and radar sensitivities we were allowed free reign to create - this was as you say a traditional theatrical co-op!

STILL MORE - TO BE CONTINUED...

Continuing on from my last email in regards to text and character (s) ... my third character being the Ambassador / Schoolmaster was extremely satisfying and again on my last performance felt like I really nailed it, not only from a personal perspective but in really connecting with my fellow cast members! I guess the two go hand in hand! With constant reminder via your direction - (and my perfectionist tendencies!) - to keep working & tweeking and feel alive with the other actors on stage - I was able to find even more comedic moments and connections with every actor in my two scenes! The first scene with Caesar, Agrippa. Dollabella, Proculeus, even though my lines/dialogue were with Caesar, once extremely comfortable with the logic and delivery of the text I was able to engage with every actor on stage even with just a look while bringing in the audience as well! It made me realize how important our time on the floor was with our limited rehearsal. It made me think/question my generosity as an actor and/or lack of? The second scene for the Embassador/ Schoolmaster with Antony even though only brief was equally satisfying - the notebook/prop which I'd thought about BUT instigated by you ended up being a wonderful bit of visual, physical exchange with Berynn who was a real team player - wonderful comic moment when after ranting & dictating he takes the notebook and pencil from me and exits leaving me with two empty hands and a glance to the audience - what the? His timing fabulous and again generous! Again in this scene came the importance of REALLY listening to my fellow actors text - I had a lot of this with Berynn /Antony and in this scene it brought up a couple of wonderful comic moments that would otherwise have been lost! ie: ...one of them being as I'm frantically writing he states, "tell me him/caesar to lay his gay comparisons..." I then stop gaze at the audience and ask with a look and mouthing gay?
My fourth and main character of Scarrus gave me a more well rounded feel of what acting in a Play / Shakespeare production was all about. I was able to explore relationships a little deeper, mainly with Antony, but also Enobarbus, Eros, Agrippa and to a lesser extent Canidius. I don't mean that they were more important - all scenes and characters and your realtionships are important - I mean that I had two or more lengthy scenes with them and our characters were emotionally linked to the whole story.
From my first scene - (originally a random soldier...) - given to Scarrus to come in to warn Antony of the perils of fighting by sea, where the audience has just heard Enobarbus trying to persuade him not to fight by sea, the importance of setting up a connection with Enobarbus in this scene which was not in the script made for a deeper connection for our next scene; "gods & godesses, all the whole synod of them - the greater cantle of the world is lost etc.." it was just a shared glance but I think vital - ie: ...we then shared the pain and frustration - which in turn set up the difficulty for Scarrus in delivering the news to Antony later that he had been betrayed by "one ever near thee" call for Enobarbus!
My exchange with Candidius in the earlier scene about the perils of fighting by sea set us up nicely here - in that Robert/ Canidius came in drunk and slagging off Antony which made me lose respect after we;d set up a mateship also. All my scenes with Antony and Berynn were shear joy - I really did feel like his right hand man - he made me feel like he was my brother in arms! From the returning of the battle scene which was also with Eros there was an honest / believable connection between us I feel that drove that scene. Our scene of celebration and meeting with Cleopatra became all the more joyful again as the "art of listening" to the other actors and the scene as a whole solid! By the time we got to Antony's death I really felt the pain of losing a great friend, brother, master which is what the script and writer obviously intended!
My final scene with Caesar, Agrippa, Proculeaus and messenger was my most difficult in that it required a deep emotional concentration. The text was also I think the most difficult. It might sound weird BUT originally it was to be played as Dercetus - (a fifth character for me...) - and when I first read the play and kept going back over my lines, I kept reading him as a Greek! I remember emailing you about the characters that had sprung up for me in the dialogue once I was on my feet. It really did happen organically. Consequently, sometimes I would wander between him and Scarrus as it was in the last week of rehearsals that you suggested to give his lines to Scarrus! It was only a couple of times I had this issue. Having said all this, it made perfect sense to do give the lines to Scarrus -  logically, technically, emotionally - one less costume change!!! Maybe this was due to the brilliance of the "character dialogue" that Shakepeare had given each of his characters??? The way my lines read as Scarrus had started to sound like they'd be delivered by Scarrus!  So then when I went to deliver Dercetus's lines as Scarrus certain phrases made me disconnect? I could just be talking out of my arse BUT - just now that I'm writing / dissecting it is interesting?

For nineteen or so people, ego's, personalities from very diverse backgrounds and upbringings to work together for five weeks, intensely I might add, and produce what we did was astounding! No one but us REALLY can understand that. You mentioned about the freedom of the actor - we could do anything! You did give us free run - this is rare I know! The fact we warmed up each session together, including our ritual etc... I think made us even more connected as people which essentially means more connected as actors / players. I did my best to keep the friend / director relationship separate / respectful if you know what I mean - and for the most part I think you'd agree it was great - you were hard on me when you needed to be, maybe once (ort twice?) over the top BUT that's all relative and probably necessary from your perspective as you had an enormous task (as we all did) of steering the ship and the last thing you needed was a comic cynicism! Which I can assure you even with the occassional reflex action I was so committed!

This is it I think? There's probably more. I'm sure there's more. I'll keep this aside for me also and read it in six months! Be interesting to see what else comes up - I'm sure a lot more!
Thank you once again - words of thanks are not enough!

Ciao for now

Bruno x

No comments: