POETRY AND MADNESS
Why have I called this diary ‘Poetry and Madness’? Quite simply, in this show I play a poet who is believed by those around him, to have gone mad. However it’s always difficult trying to understand your character further.
Mathematicians refer to the knowns and the unknowns. Values which are understood and those that are not. So, at the very least, I have some knowns. I like to think of the rehearsal process as one where you are trying to get this balance to move more and more in favour of the former. Some of these knowns are going to be pretty banal. Some others are harder to come by: what should this guy sound like, look like, how does he move, speak, is he smart, do people like him?
There might be days at a time when it feels like these can be left in abeyance. You can’t just do it all at once. And as you get a hook on what the lines might be, what order scenes come in, then a natural evolution occurs. I look like I this, it feels right. I sound like this, it sound’s right.
So as the banal facts accrue, I am able to make educated choices. Gradual adjustments of rhythm and tempo can, for instance, yield a terrific amount of success in building a believable three-dimensional character. I like to be on top of my lines enough to allow this exploration. If I know them well enough I can have a great amount of confidence in not just saying them all the same way. Harder than it sounds, this. Some lines stubbornly resist being said in any other way. At the moment, Ivan (my Ivan anyway) seems to spend most of the first half of the play in quite a high state of tension. It’s easy for the lines to end up in a homogenous stew, so it’s important to remain in control enough to be able to find moments empirically – by trial and observation.
So, by experimenting when to push and when to relax, you begin to make character discoveries. For instance, in the asylum, Ivan has to realize at some point that if he just shouts at everyone all the time then he’s screwed. So there is a moment when he realizes that perhaps trying to be as relaxed as possible will make them him. There is no correct answer here in terms of the timing, and the moment Ivan realizes a change of tack is necessary doesn’t have to be the same moment as the audience. In fact it’s probably better if they’re a step or two ahead. They can see the trajectory of a doomed man condemning himself by bad choices.
I also find it very useful to keep lists of facts. Some are easy and obvious: Ivan is male, he’s a poet. We know he’s written a poem about Jesus Christ, that he’s a member of a literary group ‘Massolit’. The book gradually yields more facts and the hope is that with every sweep of a scene or page the more obscure and hidden facts will reveal themselves. Simon is constantly referring to our process as like filling a reservoir. I can only hope that I’m filling it with the right stuff.
I suppose my doubts are coming because this strange sinewy book gives you so many wonderful leads and ideas that at times it is impossible to square them all.
Sometimes it just all feels completely unknown, unknowable. It can be days at a time between being able to look over scenes or moments because there is always so much work to be done on everything. Quite often our rehearsals lurch from scene to scene with no discernable pattern. Great ideas and unlikely links are made this way. The brain does not shut down too much in one direction and the hope is that this creativity geyser will continue to spurt. Everyone is in every rehearsal (16 actors, director, two assistant directors, two or three from video, the same from sound, lighting, stage managers, assistant SM, deputy SM…). That’s a lot of people filling a lot of reservoirs. The downside is that this intense and fully peopled process doesn’t allow for much in the way of introspection. You are doing all of your discoveries in the moment. They are often instinctive choices made on one’s feet.
This is a crucial missing link in my process. I need dream time. This is where the relationship between the banal list of knowns has room to spread itself and develop, to take on a life of its own. Because, for me, this is where the scaffold of facts is most useful. It’s a proper solid structure from which the more abstract choices might hang. You find yourself able to justify your crazier ideas if that list of knowns is strong enough, has flourished enough. So. I’m just going to have to build myself some dream time, that’s the next thing on my list.