“Why, Man, We Are All Philosophical Monarchs Or Natural Fools.” Malevole, THE MALCONTENT, Act I, Scene 4
Tablework with cast of The Malcontent, including Abby Wilde (center)
The cast we’ve assembled is truly fantastic. It’s a wonderful mix of Company members, members of the A2 Ensemble, and illustrious guest artists, and aside from being blindingly talented, they are all delightful, lovely, and frightfully intelligent people.
Our first week of rehearsal has primarily been spent going through the script line by line, pencils in hand, dissecting and defining absolutely everything. The thing with classical theater is that you often find yourself working with a script that uses customs, philosophies, and language which seem utterly foreign to modern behavior. Aside from the obvious hurdle of making all of that understandable for the audience, it has to start out by being playable for us. As such, our process for this play began with two straight-forward solid read-throughs, and then roughly 2 days of line by line exploration, the sole purpose of which being to answer the question, “What am I saying here?”
It’s a question that applies to all of us, and it’s not merely a matter of the obscure words (such as Lacedaemonian and lickerous, the one being slang for “whore” and the other meaning “lustful”), but the context in which the phrase is meant (for example, we eventually concluded that the line “one man cannot deserve only to enjoy a beauteous woman” roughly translates to “one man only can not deserve to keep a beauteous woman all to himself; he ought to share” …it’s a delightful play). Our most valuable resource in all this is our wonderful dramaturg, Antaean Christopher Breyer, who both clarifies the meaning for us and puts it in its appropriate historical context. Discussion is also open to every cast member present, whether they perform in the scene in question or not, so that we can collaboratively draw on each other’s experience.
More tablework, from Abby’s view.
“What am I saying here” applies to motivation as well. It’s fascinating to watch each actors different methods of reaching their characters; for example, during table work Bill Brochtrup, who shares the role of Duke Pietro along with Mark Doerr, put the subtext and action of each line into words, revealing the dense language to be a natural reaction grounded in his reality. It sounds like this:
“My lords (listen up, I’m about to say something), the heavy action we intend
Is death and shame (this is getting real), two of the ugliest shapes
That can confound a soul. (This is a really big deal)
Think, think of it. (Are you with me?)
…Therefore, I do conjure all secrecy; (and now I’m about to change the plan, here)
Let it be as very little as may be, (Do you understand?)
Pray ye, as may be. (Do you agree?)“
I wish you could see it; it’s amazing how well it works and how clear the story becomes this way.
The last goal of the tablework is to find the holes in the script, of which there are always a few; for example, the text of King Lear does not specify exactly when and where the Fool meets his end, so our production had to fill that gap through our staging. Similar acts of ingenuity will certainly apply to The Malcontent, and tablework is the perfect place to find those trouble spots and start thinking out our solutions.
You can probably already tell, but I really love tablework; it’s not something I see done in many other places I’ve worked, but I think they’re missing out on something big. For one thing, it alleviates the danger of reaching the end of a run having never had a clue what that one odd line meant (which happens to me as often in contemporary theater as it does in classical), but for another I think it gets everyone on the same page, and helps to build that collaborative attitude you want in a large cast. We’ve kickstarted the process of creating a group interpretation of the play, so that we’ve already begun to know and trust each other before even standing on stage. As of yesterday, we have only just begun putting this play on it’s feet and it is already amazing how well we play together. The staging process continues through this next week, and I promise you shall know all.
A2 Ensemble Member, Abby Wilde, will be sharing her experiences working on our production of The Malcontent . This is the second installment.