We've just finished our first week of Shakespeare rehearsals,spending our time sitting at tables reading the play.
Not much happens in AS YOU LIKE IT. Some good people are banished from an oppressive court; they flee and find liberty and love in the forest of Arden. Then they all get married and go home. While in In the woods, they talk and talk and talk. Mostly the talk is about love, but not always. Years ago, when I first directed the play, I called Professor Stephen Booth at Berkeley, as I always do, to get my bearings and sound out the guru. I thought I was on safe ground when I began by saying, "this is a play about love, right?" "No," said he, "it's a play about lists."
And so it is. Everyone has a list, and sometimes more than one. There's a list about lies, a list about time travel, a list of love's ingredients, a list of how the court differs from the country, a list of grievances, and a list of the seven ages of man, which you may remember.
And that's for starters. The forest of Arden is full of list makers and talkers, including a loquacious duke, a chatty clown and a French philosopher (and you know what they're like). But the best and most prolific talker is a woman, Rosalind, the play's heroine, who has more lines than any woman in Shakespeare.
And more good lines too. More about her anon. But evyrone, including the shepherds, talk well in this play There's no clock in the forest. So what to do? Fall in love. of course. And talk.
So this week we've been sitting around, talking and listing and listening. What a good week! What better company than Shakespeare? And what's more fun than watching and hearing our cast begin to make Shakespeare's words their own. One way I've learned to do this is to ask everyone to paraphrase, exactly as they can, Shakespeare's language into modern English—into talk they could talk today. It's heady work—as you can imagine. Actor heads pound on the tables. But the results, however painstaking, are so worthwhile. First, it helps me track how well the actors are understanding what they are saying. But more importantly, as the actors begin to speak Shakespeare in their own words, they find their own voices and feelings come into play—we all make discoveries. Then I can ask them to go back to the text with what they've found.
The relief is considerable—they find that Shakespeare actually said it better (and more economically) than they could in their own words. Paraphrases this exacting take forever. But in the end, I hope, Shakespeare's words become the actors' own.
I'm posting some pictures from the first reading so you can get a first glimpse of the lovely gang we're taking to the woods this summer.