Midshizzle – in rehearsal

18 Aug

This follows on from my last post – Midshizzle – the faerie connection.

Photos in this post were also all taken in rehearsal by Benjamin Prindable.

Our rehearsal process, as usual, began with a very close examination of the text through breath, body, and relationship called dropping in. Developed in the 1970s by Tina Packer, Kristin Linklater, and John Barton, the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble uses this technique to connect the actor viscerally, emotionally, and intellectually to the word, in relationship with their scene partners. The boundary between actor and character is set aside, and the actor is asked to observe how they respond to the words in the presence of the other actor(s).

Benjamin Prindable Photography-25

Immediately many things fell into place. Because the human world is suffering, as Titania describes, Athenian society is harsh. This is no classical democracy, but rather a rough order forged through warfare. Like Macbeth’s Scotland, leadership passes not necessarily by blood, but to the warlord most capable of forging a sort of peace. We got the whiff of a society in decline – many of the formerly great building falling to ruin, as the land is less able than before to support great city-states. This is no classical Athens – Lysander tells us that a mere seven leagues (less than forty kilometres) outside the city walls, Athenian law no longer holds sway. The play begins with Theseus taking Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, as a war bride – “I wooed thee with my sword.” That is not to say that a real affection, admiration and love does not grow. But the play begins with the defeat of the Amazons by the Athenians. It does not tell us why they were at war, but it fits with the idea of changes in the natural environment forcing people to move to different areas, resulting in battles over land. The Athenian warlord Theseus has either conquered Amazon lands or fended off an Amazon incursion.

Benjamin Prindable Photography-3

By contrast, the same actors in the roles of Titania and Oberon discover that their relationship “always has been.” They did not meet and fall in love, they did not become a couple – their existence has always been together. We might assume that fights and separations such as the one we witness have happened before from time to time and will happen again. If they are our shadow selves, then this is akin to saying that the human psyche, from time to time, loses its way.

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Within this context, the story of the four lovers – Hermia, Lysander, Helena and Demetrius – begins to fall into place and to make sense. The world in which they grew up is a harsh one. Their role models are people who take what they want, often at great cost. Almost all of Shakespeare’s comedies begin with a death or the threat of death – Twelfth Night begins with a shipwreck in which the twins Viola and Sebastian each presume the other drowned, and Countess Olivia has recently lost her father and brother; As You Like It’s Rosalind is banished on pain of death and Orlando flees in fear for his life; Comedy of Errors begins with a Syracusan merchant arrested and soon to be execute, while his unknowing son adopts a local disguise for fear of his own life; Measure for Measure begins with Claudio on death row…  A Midsummer Night’s Dream begins with Egeus seeking a death sentence against his own daughter if she will not marry in accordance with his will. This is what leads the lovers to escape into the forest: Hermia and Lysander to elope and avoid the sentence,  Demetrius in pursuit of Hermia, and Helena in pursuit of Demetrius.

Benjamin Prindable Photography-12

Their behaviour in the forest is as callous and urgent as the world they were raised in. Demetrius threatens to do Helena “mischief in the wood” – to rape her – if she doesn’t stop throwing herself at him, and Lysander puts the moves on his sweetheart on their first night away. This is something that every production I had ever encountered assiduously avoided.

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Only once the psyche – the masculine and feminine of the faerie/shadow world – stops warring with itself does the cruelty among the humans end. Yet even at the end we see the callous spite which this history has engendered, in the treatment of the passionate amateur actors by the newly-wed nobility.

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From very early in the rehearsal process, I began to develop and incorporate music to go within and around the show. Live music has always played a key role in QSE productions, with original music composed and performed by Ensemble members. As soon as I knew I was going to direct Midshizzle, I put together a play-list, without thinking too much about why I chose the pieces, though some are obvious. My playlist included songs by The Waterboys, Nirvana, C. W. Stoneking, The Church, The Triffids, System of a Down and Jeff Beck’s version of ‘Nessun Dorma’. A couple of these songs actually made it into the show, the first time we’ve used covers. These occur alongside a new suite of original music, much of it inspired by the playlist, fused with our explorations of the play itself.

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The musical themes reflect the mortal/shadow dichotomy of the play – the same basic chord structure is used to signify both worlds, but with different pace, melody, and mood. I’m not so great as describing my music, you’ll have to come along and have a listen.

The next post will look at the costume and set design and how these grew out of our explorations.

If you’re reading this before September 7th 2013, you can get details and book tickets for the production here.


3 Responses to “Midshizzle – in rehearsal”

  1. Karen August 18, 2013 at 1:34 am #

    So bummed I’m missing this. Do it again!

  2. Mary August 18, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

    I wishnI could see the show.. I love what you write. I’m hooked! And the photographs are really really good. Bravo Rob.


  1. Midshizzle – the visual aesthetic | The Fifth Columnist - August 28, 2013

    […] maximum effect, read the first three posts, here, here, and here. Otherwise you are of course welcome to just enjoy the pretty pictures (by Benjamin […]

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