Just finished reading Antony Sher's Year of the King--an actor's diary tracing his process of becoming Richard III at the Royal Shakespeare Company. I can't believe I hadn't read this before. I had stumbled across Sher's essays on playing Macbeth and Leontes in the Players of Shakespeare series. That is one of my favorite acting resources. The British acting greats share their respective processes and thoughts on playing a variety of Shakespeare characters. It's as if you've been given a chance to have a drink with them at your favorite bar.
Anyway, I finally dove in, bought Sher's book, and devoured it. I learned Sher regularly writes about his process (whether it's for a book or not). The offer for this one wasn't made until halfway through the process. Rehearsing at the RSC in the early eighties is ridiculously luxurious (they had like eight weeks to put up RIII). The squabbles, frustration, and insecurities run rampant. It's comforting to know how much Sher danced a fine line of terror and joy throughout.
Year of the King begins with the tiniest seed that he would maybe play Richard III in an upcoming season. The idea begins to overtake him and the dream state of creating a role begins (even before he accepts the part). A mountain in South Africa reminds him of Richard's deformity. An opera chorus sends him to Richard's coronation. A serial killer in the news gives insight to personality traits and actions.
This is one of my favorite times in the process. A professor of mine called it the incubation period. This is the time when the imagination and subconscious swirl around. Possibilities are endless. You read the play. You might try on a few of the lines. You might stumble across a painting or piece of music that reminds you of the character. The key is that there isn't any formal work being done. I don't say: “Oh, I've got three hours free, I'm going to daydream about playing the Dauphin.” The work and the role aren't at the forefront of the mind, but wisps are present.
I love it.
And now, I'm transitioning into the next phase. I don't know what you'd call it, but it's more active. It's that step between the incubation and memorization. This involves hearty effort in learning the play inside and out. Doing research. I've scanned all my lines of verse. I've completed paraphrasing for The Life of King Henry the Fifth and Julius Caesar. The thinking is heading toward setting down ideas completely. They will likely change, but it's more about committing to the idle brainstorm that was happening previously.
I hope to share more details about the scanning and paraphrase process later on.
It's been a while since I've felt so energized about working on a new set of plays. Part of it comes with comfort. I've been with the ASC for two full years. I get to work with four other actors whom I've shared a lot of time with on stage (a blessing). I'm going on tour again. I'll be with some of the same directors. There's an ease and trust that comes along with this familiarity. And, of course, I cannot wait to meet the new folks and tap into their energy. It's ideal.
The other thing: I'm playing some big roles, particularly Cassius and Jack (in The Importance of Being Earnest). These are dream parts. I feel an affinity for them. I also feel a big responsibility to them, but, right now, I'm pleased to say I'm not intimidated by that.
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