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12 inches of the inside of the boxes painted black. As a substitute for the clusters of lights, automobile searchlights can be attached to the lighting circuit and placed in the wings. By using the colored plates and moving the searchlights back and forth admirable lighting effects can be secured.
THE PREPARATION FOR PRESENTING A PLAY
Study of the Characters. The playlets in themselves are probably complete enough to give clear-cut characterizations to many of the parts. For all classroom purposes this should suffice.
However, for a public performance, it may be worth while to consult the complete plays themselves, especially on characters underdeveloped in the playlets through the necessities of shortening and subordinating parts. Thus Launcelot Gobbo and Gratiano may discover the rich, racy flavor which an audience familiar with the complete play expects from them and learn to display it even for the flash during which they are allowed to speak. In no case, however, will it be wise for the director to allow a great number of extra lines to be restored to the cutting, at the instance of one who has looked up the complete play in order to take better such a minor rôle. For the good of the little play, minor rôles must be subordinate in interest to major parts. The equilibrium of a short play can only too easily be upset.
A deeper study of any of the rôles can be made by consulting the character studies in the Tudor, Hudson, Rolfe, or other editions of the plays.
Perhaps the most penetrating study of the atmosphere of the plays is found in the work of Dr. George Brandes, William Shakespeare [The Macmillan Company].
The best detailed statement of such stage business as brings out the meanings of the lines is given in the stage directions of the new Cambridge Shakespeare volumes edited by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch and John Dover Wilson [The Macmillan Company]. This is an extremely helpful edition for many purposes.
Development of the Characters. Once sufficient conception of the parts has been attained through silent reading, characterizations are perhaps best developed in class or at the round table. Here each
one of the players during the earlier stages of the preparation is invited to read as many of the rôles as he desires. There need be no long discussions as to which of the characterizations of the parts are best, but gradually the best will emerge a composite of what has been best in all the readings. The process is not only a competition, but an experiment in building up the broadest and strongest characterizations of which the company is capable. The players should be encouraged to see it in that light and contribute readings to the minor rôles as well as the greater ones, for the elevation of the reading parts of the whole playlet.
The principal rôles in every play should not always be taken by the same people. There is little progress or all-round development in that. Each member should be given the chance again and again to obtain a substantial rôle. The company should experiment in all of its plays. If a company interest is thus built up, any actor will be satisfied to step back into a minor, almost wordless rôle for any play and not feel that his interest has then ceased in it. He has contributed something to the success of the company in this play, and he has received development that will stand him in stead for another one. Reinhardt gives the second best characterization of a rôle the chance to appear at some of the performances of every play. The best actor should not always take the leading part.
The reading is probably better if the lines are learned before the players rehearse upon the real stage. Then more attention can be given to the problems of expression and the meter. This is not the method of the professional manager, but it results in a more finished development for the amateur player. The problem of reading Shakespeare is not easy. A great deal of the charm lies in the beauty of the lines. To make them clear and beautiful at once, a variety of tone must be employed, and contrast in pitch for the parts of long speeches, so that the sense may not be lost through monotony of expression; and yet a certain musical uniformity has to be maintained, so that the rhythm of the poetry will be clear.
When the platform rehearsal upon the stage is reached, the significance of certain factors of effective stage movement and stage business should be considered and experimented with.
1. The employment of symbolic stage movement is a great help
to any play. The entrances and exits in the playlets have been marked in the text to give symbolic significance as well as significance of place. R. symbolizes at-homeness with the surroundings or with what is about to happen, preparedness, confidence, aggression. Entrance L. may indicate a stranger, a person plotted against, or one who is unwittingly to fall into a trap. C. implies the idea of disinterestedness, formality, or that the person is as yet unaffected by the plot. The audience need not be informed of this symbolism to be affected by it. Subconsciously they will feel its force. Certain entrances and movements will become associated with certain ideas. Theoretically the effectiveness comes merely from associations established through repetition, but practically this is one of the subtlest forces with which the actor can work, the simple crossing of the stage or mere glancing in a certain direction often becoming charged with meaning.
2. The application of the principle that the repetition of a mannerism helps to familiarize and endear a character to the audience should be worked out. Bottom may adopt the knowing tap of fist upon strutting chest for repetition at appropriate intervals. The vanity of Malvolio may be shown in the solicitous protection of a curled little finger. The grotesqueness of Caliban can be emphasized by an occasional wide opening of the mouth followed by a thrusting forward of the lower jaw and lip. In Reinhardt's company at the Deutsches Theatre the veteran Pagan employed a vocal variation of this principle when he adopted a motif cry of nyă-nyă-nyă-nyă — whined sillily through the nose for Sir Andrew Aguecheek. After a few repetitions, the audience became convulsed with laughter whenever this prelude to Sir Andrew's appearance was heard off stage. Basserman used a chuckle for Falstaff. Biensfeld sputtered on all his sibilants for Don John. Mannerisms employed at appropriate places are of tremendous effect in completing characterizations.
3. An actor who stands nearly still maintains attention better than one who moves uneasily or wildly about. A drunken Sir Toby standing reeling in his tracks is better appreciated by the audience than one who wheels with precarious footing all around the stage.
4. The climax of each episode, and of the playlet itself, must be
guarded carefully by all the company. Getting out of character, dropping the atmosphere or the business of the playlet at any time before the end, creates weakness immediately communicable to the rest of the players. Slurring ends of speeches or necessary stage movements greatly mars the play. Finish must be striven for, and buoyancy, to maintain the movement of the play to the very end.
5. Stage movement must be characterized by ease and by lack of constraint. Strain is the worst enemy to naturalness.
The manager of the lights, the musical director, and the prompterand-manager-of-the-curtain should be as much members of the company as the players and know the play as well.
Support from in Front of the Curtain. The following hints need not apply in full to every production of a play, but there are few productions for which they will not apply in miniature.
Large audiences inspire players to better and more sincere work. Sometimes the only difference between whole-souled acting and timid half-heartedness springs from the difference between a hearty response from in front of the curtain and the chill of a meagerly filled hall. Voices carry better in a crowded place. Large audiences are better natured and higher spirited; the atmosphere they bring seems to vibrate with dramatic possibilities.
To secure such an audience usually requires great energy. Close canvass should be made to insure that everyone who should be there will come. Publicity and a business manager are almost a necessity. The issuance of tickets often helps. Members of the cast sell tickets most effectively and are of genuine help to the business manager. Brothers and sisters and enthusiastic chums of players may infiltrate the community with enthusiasm in advance, and afterwards account for many tickets sold through friendly rivalry. However, some reward in the way of a free admission for the sale of a certain number of tickets is necessary to induce children to a supreme degree of ticket-selling activity.
News items handed to the paper at intervals during the preparations make good publicity. Fifty or a hundred words when the play is chosen is a good start; then the list of names when the cast is determined on; after that a line when the musical director is appointed or other persons are added to the staff or called upon in ad
visory capacity. The approximate date of the production should be given in each news item from the very first.
Photographs of different scenes in the play or of members of the cast are often a means of getting write-ups in the dramatic pages of the newspaper. Sometimes cuts must be paid for, and the material for the dramatic pages must always be handed to the dramatic editor three or four days in advance.
A picture of one of the old-time players of the community, with his recollections of an early play and reference to the approaching production, is often very widely noticed. An old photograph of a cast or a scene from an early play will be of similar benefit.
Last there must be the final news items and a close canvass to make sure that every influential person, enthusiastic friend, and hearty supporter has tickets and will come. Watchfulness never to let the opportunity for a word of publicity to pass or to sell a ticket to the play will bring whole-souled, invaluable support from in front of the curtain.