Two Gentlemen of Verona (2009)
By Tom Markus
May we watch a rehearsal?” I’ve been asked that question hundreds of times. When I was a young director, I supposed people wanted an early viewing, and I replied, “You’ll enjoy the play much more when it’s ready for an audience.” I was right when I said that, but I had missed the point. They didn’t want a sneak preview. Those folks truly wanted to watch us work.
What work happens in a rehearsal? We talk a lot, analyzing the script to understand the characters and the story; we try out different ways to say the lines; we invent varying ways to move around the stage so as to tell the story most clearly; and we repeat things over and over and over again. To “rehearse” means to hear again. The French word for rehearsal is repetition, and that’s wonderfully accurate. When folks do watch us at work, they are often disappointed because we repeat things over and over. We revise and refine, revise and refine throughout the entire rehearsal period.
However, ask actors, directors or designers, and they’ll tell you that some of their most exhilarating theatrical experiences happened on a bare stage when the actors did a run-through of a play with makeshift scenery and wearing rehearsal clothes. Ask them why, and they’ll eagerly tell you that they were free to focus on the characters and the story, and to imagine the visual world the way they wanted it, to see the scenery and costumes in their mind’s eye. They’ll use Shakespeare’s phrase from the chorus in Henry V and tell you that watching a rehearsal gives you the freedom to let the play “on your imaginary forces work.” This production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona is inspired by the experience inherent in a rehearsal, and we intend it to appear to be one. Our concept is especially appropriate for this play because the title characters revise and refine their understanding of true love and honorable friendship through the twists and turns of the plot, rehearsing until they achieve a complete knowledge of honorable friendship and true love in the final scene. As young Proteus and Valentine rehearse the values that form their maturity, so we rehearse the play to find its mature form.
We invite you to find our “work” entertaining.
By Elizabeth Ann Jochum
Scholars and theatre artists have long speculated about how Shakespeare’s company rehearsed their plays. While little is known for certain, it is possible to imagine what this process looked like (as was done in the 1998 Oscar-winning movie Shakespeare in Love). Some of the rehearsal practices differ greatly from the way we prepare plays today, but others are similar. Shakespeare’s company was originally a traveling troupe that performed a different play each day on the road, never performing the same play two days in a row. This repertory practice continued even after the company settled in London. Scholars estimate that the group performed between 30 and 40 plays each year. This meant that an average actor might have committed 30 or 40 parts to memory, while learning a new role every two weeks. Shakespeare’s actors performed six days a week, just as CSF actors do. Scholars believe that rehearsal periods lasted from three days to five weeks, and that rehearsals were held onstage in the morning before the day’s scheduled performance. While CSF actors might memorize 2,000 lines for the summer shows, Shakespeare’s leading actors had 10 times that many in their heads, with much less time for rehearsal.
Elizabethan actors were given just their own parts and cues on a roll of paper (perhaps the origin of the term “role”). As a result, they prepared their parts alone and probably had only one or two run-through rehearsals before opening. CSF actors, by contrast, receive complete scripts and run through the play numerous times during roughly four weeks of rehearsal. The role of theatre director did not exist in Shakespeare’s time. Young actors created their parts with advice from senior company members (there was no formal training for actors). As company playwright, Shakespeare most likely instructed his fellow company members on how to deliver their lines. He knew the actors and could tailor characters and dialogue to their strengths. For example, the comedian Will Kempe seems to have specialized in wordplay and clownish characters; he probably originated the role of Launce in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and played Dogberry inMuch Ado About Nothing.
Elizabethan actors worked together as an ensemble day after day, playing old parts and preparing new ones with astonishing efficiency. Their collaboration with the playwright likely made for a lively, improvisational atmosphere in rehearsal, a spirit our production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona aims to recapture.