The Shakespeare Warmup for a workout

The New York Times

November 14, 2013

Players, Here’s the Drill

By LAURA COLLINS-HUGHES

Less than an hour before he was due to roar onto the stage on a motorcycle in “Romeo and Juliet,” Orlando Bloom strode along the gilded balcony of the Richard Rodgers Theater, contorting his mouth and making peculiar noises. “Imagine managing an imaginary menagerie,” he said so fast that the words blurred together, then repeated the tongue twister, more complex this time. He fluttered his lips like a horse, exhaling.

In another empty balcony, at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn, David Harewood was warming up before the start of Theater for a New Audience’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” He did situps and push-ups, ran in place, dashed along a row of seats. He flexed and uttered gibberish: “Mmm, aaaa. Mm, mm, zz, zz!”

All this so that when Mr. Bloom took the stage as Romeo, and Mr. Harewood as Oberon, their bodies would be ready to meet the technical challenges of performing Shakespeare.

Recently, Laura Collins-Hughes spoke with actors from this Shakespeare-rich season about the requirements, roadblocks and rewards — physical and mental — that come with doing his plays. These are excerpts from those conversations.

Mastering the Lines

BIANCA AMATO [Lady Macduff in Lincoln Center Theater’s “Macbeth”] Funnily enough, contemporary stuff takes me longer to learn than Shakespeare. I certainly do beat out the meter for fun, in the early stages. I can just walk around the room and beat on my thighs with my hand while I’m saying the line. I get that in my body, and then I can let it go because it’s in there.

DAPHNE RUBIN-VEGA [Nurse in Classic Stage Company’s recent “Romeo and Juliet”] I’m just in love with Macklemore. The way he rapped was so helpful to me in terms of how to speak in poetry and how to roll it out. Of course, I didn’t just bust out rapping. The rap helped me with literal flow, the flow of words, and how words in and of themselves have a beat.

DAVID HAREWOOD If you get an “and” wrong or an “if” wrong or an “as” wrong, just one little word, it puts the whole thing out. I still find myself reading the script every night.

Conquering the Fear

ORLANDO BLOOM You can’t be afraid. And, of course, you are at times. Like, I mean, before the first preview. [The voice teacher] Patsy [Rodenburg] has said an actor’s emotional and physical experience of walking onto a stage for the first time performing Shakespeare in that first preview can be likened to going through a car crash. In terms of trauma, in terms of what that does to the body. Which is great, right? Sign right up.

ERIC TUCKER [Hamlet in Bedlam Theater’s four-person “Hamlet”] It’s very difficult to go out there. You feel people have this notion of what Hamlet is or what they like, out of all the other Hamlets they’ve seen. You have to somehow kick that out of your mind and just say, ‘O.K., well, for tonight, I’m Hamlet, and this is the one they’re getting — like it or not.’ So you’re kind of up against history in a way.

RUBIN-VEGA I think it’s a myth that Shakespeare is dauntingly hard. It requires attention, and I think that’s what we call hard. If we taught Shakespeare to kids as soon as they learned how to read, then in 20 years we would see how easy it is.

Revving Up

PETER HAMILTON DYER [Various roles in Shakespeare’s Globe’s “Twelfth Night” and “Richard III,” running in repertory on Broadway] We’re sort of playing an away game here. It’s an enormous privilege to come to New York and Broadway. But the necessity to focus and just make sure that one is not distracted by all of the marvelous things that you’re surrounded by becomes doubly important.

BLOOM It’s like being an athlete. A hundred-meter sprinter wouldn’t just sort of walk out of the changing room, stand on those blocks and take off. They’d stretch. In order to be able to really connect with the text, you need to be both vocally strong and at the same time relaxed. So it’s all about your breath, and then warming up the mouth: the tongue, the mouth, the respiratory system. You need to get it all kind of lubed up, in a way.

HAREWOOD It takes an enormous amount of energy just to get through the evening. It’s incredibly dense language, but if you get it right — if you warm yourself up enough — it’s just such a joy to play. Just in terms of your face, to be that expressive takes a lot of mechanical dexterity. You have to get your brain in gear as well. If I’ve warmed up my body and I’ve warmed up my voice and I’ve warmed up technically, then all that technique gives me access to my imagination so that onstage, I can do anything.

Winding Down

HAMILTON DYER Between the shows, you’ll find most of the company end up having a little lie-down to clear their heads.

BLOOM When I started, I was exhausted. I’ve never slept so deeply or so intensely. I consider myself to be quite athletic, quite physically fit, agile and so on. And I couldn’t sleep enough.

TUCKER It’s really the voice that gets so ragged. You can’t go out after and sit in some loud place and have to talk over everybody. If a place is open really late it’s probably playing music and there are lines of 20-year-olds out the door, so you have to yell.

HAREWOOD I’ll probably eat something after the show. I’ve actually been eating less — a lot more greens, a lot more healthy stuff, a lot more grains. Trying to cut out the burgers and the fast food.

BLOOM It’s O.K. to have a drink but not to get drunk.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 19th, 2013 and is filed under Food for Thought. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

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