CYMBELINE – Week 10 – December 12

I consulted with Lisa Kornetsky (Professor of Theatre Arts, UW-Parkside) today, and asked her for some exercises to help actors with voice projection.  She offered two.  The first one involves counting from “one” to “ten,” or reciting a line, while projecting to the wall – first, just a few inches away from the wall, and then a few feet away, gradually increasing the distance and the projection.  A second exercise involves watching one’s own mouth in the mirror as one speaks.  The “big reveal” is often that one is not opening one’s mouth very much at all.

Lisa also shared a favorite acting exercise, in which the actors sit in a circle and address one another in character, sharing their feelings and their needs with one another.

Prison theatre facilitator Karen Hamer flew in from her home state of Texas to spend some time with us today – a real treat!





CYMBELINE – Week 9 – December 7

With Kellie absent this evening (she is on hiatus until February), I had the opportunity to reflect on the effect her presence has had on our process, and in particular, my own leadership.  In a nutshell:  Kellie’s style – gentle, open, relaxed, collaborative – has made me more aware of my own tendencies toward authoritarianism and rigidity.  I am allowing myself to relax a bit more.  That’s good for all of us!

This evening we read and rehearsed 3.1 (Lucius demands tribute; Cymbeline, Queen, and Cloten refuse; Lucius declares war); 3.2 (Pisanio gives Imogen Posthumus’ false letter); and 3.3 (in the mountainous country of Wales, we meet Belarius and his boys).

Some highlights:

3.1.  We spent a good deal of time discussing the Queen’s celebration of Britain’s glorious history.  Eugene (Cymbeline) noticed that his character felt strengthened and emboldened by her words.  I suggested that even though she is plotting against Cymbeline and Imogen, she is also genuinely loyal to Britain, and is unified with Cymbeline at this moment.  Carl (Guiderius) disagreed.  His feeling is that the Queen is inciting a war that she thinks Britain cannot win.  Carl thinks that she is hopeful that Cymbeline will die, or be dethroned, leaving the kingdom to her and her son.

3.2.  Patrick (Imogen) was appropriately girlish , boisterous, hopeful, and impatient – fun to watch.  Cory (Pisanio) delivered his lines with care, and with intelligence, but he is very quiet, and halting in his delivery.  Eugene and Terrance (Arviragus) have been cheering him on, and offering him tips on how to project himself more strongly.

3.3.  We have all been waiting a long time to hear from Foist (Belarius), Carl (Guiderius), and Terrance (Arviragus).  They did not disappoint!  The beautiful poetry of their lines merited considerable discussion.  Once again we received considerable help from our dramaturges in deciphering some of the more cryptic words and passages.  The lines that received most of our attention were 3.3.21-23:

O, this life is nobler than attending for a check, / Richer than doing nothing for a robe

We reached a quick consensus on “nobler than attending for a check,” agreeing with Wayne that this means “doing courtly service only to receive a rebuke.”  The final word is this passage is the controversial one.  The First Folio has it as babe, and the Arden keeps this, the sense of the passage interpreted as “more lucrative than assuming care for a child” (Wayne).  The Penguin edition also keeps babe, but justifies it differently:  “More rewarding than doing nothing for a child who is in one’s care” (Pitcher).  The New Cambridge, Signet, and BBC TV texts adopt Hammer’s emendation:  bribe.  The Oxford and Dover editions go with Rowe’s emendation, bauble (“worthless reward”).  The Folger, RSC, and Pelican editions, along with Ros King (Santa Cruz text, 2000) go with robe. 

The method we have developed for resolving controversies such as these is to first examine and discuss the alternatives, and then leave it to the director and the actor who speaks the line to make the final decision.  In this case, Foist preferred to go with robe because it is the word already set in our performance text – and he’s memorized it!  I agreed to keep it, and noted that it works for me, in the sense of “Richer in meaning and value than a life of ornamented idleness.”

We ended the evening by watching the filmed versions of 3.1 and 3.2.  Terrance was disgusted by Almereyda’s hatchet job on the original text (in both scenes).  Several of the men were confused and/or amused by the gender switches in Melly Still’s production (a female Cymbeline, the Queen changed to a Duke (male), and a female Pisanio).  Eugene very much liked the Pisanio in the BBC verison (played by John Kane) – and he urged our Pisanio (Cory) to observe it closely.






CYMBELINE – Week 9 – December 5

This evening Kellie led a brief warm-up (as she has in two previous sessions), first inviting the men to stretch for a while, then moving on to an articulation exercise.   The stretching, along with some lighthearted conversation, helped us all to relax.  Then we practiced delivering some challenging sentences from Edith Skinner’s classic text, Speak With Distinction – sentences like “These people feel that they can guarantee the suite for sweet Phoebe,” and “It’s a miracle that the ability of the English actress had been debated so belatedly.”  The men had a lot of fun with that – and would have kept going after three rounds if we had not called “time”!

In our circle, I initiated a discussion of Iachimo’s character, and more specifically, his motivation.  What drives him to make his wager with Posthumus, and to pursue Imogen?  Christopher again compared these actions to “frat boy behavior” – where self-worth is based on one’s ability to compete with other men, and to assert dominance.  The urge to dominate extends to women, who are seen as objects of conquest.  Iachimo’s “Italian style” of this masculine pattern brings to bear his special gifts for intellectual calculation and emotional manipulation, commingled with his highly refined appreciation of art and beauty.  Christopher said that Iachimo’s voyeuristic enjoyment of Imogen reminded him of someone sneaking into an art museum after hours, where he finds himself alone with a painting like the Mona Lisa, enjoying the artistry privately and illicitly.  (I was reminded of the fact – but did not speak on it – that many of the men in this particular prison are sex offenders.  Many no doubt have affinities for (or addictions to) pornography.)

What are the causes and conditions that sometimes pervert our very human, very natural urges (in this case, our natural aggressiveness and our sexual desires)?  I suggested to the men that all of us have an “Iachimo” inside of us – a potential to misuse our aggressiveness and our sexuality.  There were some murmurs and nods of agreement.

When I asked where in our lives we have seen this “Iachimo-like” behavior, Foist immediately responded:  “In prison.”  Kellie asked us to pause, and to consider that these behaviors also thrive outside of prison, in the highest circles of power.  The prison industrial complex disproportionately punishes offenders in the lower socioeconomic strata.  There was general agreement on this point.

We concluded the discussion for the time being, and moved on to work on 2.4 (where Iachimo convinces Posthumus that he has seduced Imogen) and 2.5 (where Posthumus rants bitterly against all women).  As we worked through the text, our dramaturges helped us to take a closer look at some of the more challenging words and phrases.  Christopher offered notes from the Arden 3rd Edition, Terrance from the New Cambridge, and Jarkese from the Oxford.  We spent a considerable amount of time discussing this passage from 2.4.23-26 (Posthumus):  Their discipline / (Now wing-led with their courages), will make known / To their approvers they are people such / That mend upon the world.  The most difficult part of this passage is “Now wing-led with their courages.”  There is considerable support for this interpretation: “Now led in wings or divisions (a disciplined formation) by their gallant commanders” (Furness, 1913).  Another possibility has also been entertained, where “wing-led” is replaced by “mingled,” and “courages” is changed to “courage”:  “Their discipline, now mingled with their courage.”  This is the reading offered in the New Cambridge Edition, following changes made in the Second Folio.  Wayne (Arden 3rd Edition) sticks with the First Folio text, while acknowledging that the Second Folio’s version may be more “accessible.”

I can see either choice working in performance, and I have left it up to our Posthumus to decide.  (In this rehearsal, he went with “now mingled with our courage.”)

We also viewed 2.4 and 2.5 as presented in the three film versions of Cymbeline that we have been consulting: the 1982 BBC TV version (directed by Elijah Moshinsky), the 2014 film directed by Michael Almereyda, and the 2016 RSC production directed by Melly Still.  At least some of the men appreciated the opportunity to see a range of interpretations and acting choices.  I certainly find it helpful, as an actor and a director.  I know from previous years, however, that Mike (our Posthumus) has a real aversion to looking at film versions, as he feels that it interferes with his own process of developing an individual, authentic approach to the character he is playing.  My own feeling (which I have expressed to him) is that it is possible to maintain one’s own originality and integrity as an actor, while at the same time learning from and being enriched by the performances of others.  We have agreed to disagree on this, and Mike simply turns his attention away from the screen when we show film.

Most of the group seems to prefer the simplicity, clarity, directness, and intelligence of the performances in the BBC version, despite its exceedingly dark tone, and “closet drama” feel.  Helen Mirren, Michael Pennington, and Robert Lindsay are really wonderful, in an all-round stellar cast.  The 2014 film, set in the context of a contemporary drug war between cops (standing in for the Romans) and a criminal organization (“the Britons”), slices and dices Shakespeare’s language, but it is helpful in connecting some of the play’s  actions and emotions to contemporary attitudes and motivations.  For example, when Posthumus speaks his diatribe against women (in voice-over narration), he is in a gun shop, selecting a weapon.   Melly Still’s RSC production, set in a “dystopian new future” (Michael Billington, The Guardian), is very bold, and although much of it strikes me as overly presentational, extreme to a fault, and sometimes false, the dynamism and physicality of the performances are creative and inspiring.

CYMBELINE – Week 8 – November 30

This evening was our first “line check.”  The goal was for each actor to have at least 25% of his lines memorized by November 30.  Three of our actors have been given some leeway, since they only recently were assigned to new roles.  Patrick, formerly Cloten, is now our Imogen; Chris, formerly Philario, is now Cloten; and I have taken on the role of Philario, in addition to my original assignment, Sicilius.

We worked in pairs.  I matched up with Jarkese, who is now playing the combined roles of First Lord and Second Lord.

I tested Jarkese on his lines (he’s just getting started), and he tested me.  My lines for Sicilius (5.4) are mostly memorized.  While the sing-song structure of the verse marks it as highly artificial (appropriate for a ghost, I presume), I am endeavoring to speak it in a naturalistic style, in the hope that the audience will be better able to relate to Sicilius as a (former) human being.

For the remainder of the evening, we rehearsed 2.4.  For now, we have Cloten singing a verse of “Love Me Tender” for the serenade at the top of the scene.