LSW Sunday 13th February 2000

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LSW Special Guest RONA LAURIE works with LSW Members MAX BONAMY,
currently appearing in the West End production of The Chiltern Hundreds
opposite Edward Fox and JESSICA BARNES

A Brief Biography of RONA LAURIE and Texts Employed

We were privileged to have returning as our guest at the LSW Session on Sunday, 13th February, RONA LAURIE who, although she trained as an actress at RADA many decades ago and worked with such great practitioners as Tyrone ('Tall Tony') Guthrie, has long since been a Voice and Speech Teacher at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, as well as the primary Drama Couch for the Opera School at the Royal College fo Music.  Among her many achievements, Rona has written two books in regards to the theatre:  The Actors Ardent Craft and Audition!  Rona's session was entitled Acting Style in Shakespeare, and it was one which, hopefully, all could gather some pointers from.  The texts employed for the session you will find here

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Editors Commentary Gallops Apace     

The numbers this past Sunday were down to just under twenty from usual highs due to the an almost freakish spurt of Spring like weather.  Still, it was an invigorating session.  Many new aspects were employed in an effort to come up for some fresh ideas for games involving textual and performance awareness for both the LSW: Prison Project and LSW: Junior Inter-ACT.  Drawing upon the 'sound ball' where sounds is passed, and mirrored when caught between members in the circle, we did the same using a word, where the word itself had to be reversed.  This lead to much merriment as did the 'gibberish' round where one person turned with a word -- or in some cases a line of gibberish -- which then had to be translated by the next member before they turned on the next victum with their own unique lexicon of sounds.  We then had a Round Story which was told one word by one person at a time.  This began begin light involving as it did a dog and his pencil and became much more dark towards its end very dark.   Following upon this was, perhaps, the most interesting experiment.  We tried to adapt the 'Here Comes the Bus' game to Shakespeare.  Two actors came into the centre of the circle, having a conversation 'in Shakespeare' a la Clumps at any given point one might drop out saying 'Here comes the bus' and another would have to go in utilising their Shakespearean knowledge to carry on the conversation.  The results were most intriguing and, as in Clumps, the passive activity on the sides became extremely active.  Electric.  WitSlings this week set their usual high standard and turned largely on the idea of love and all of its many ramifications given that the next day was to be St. Valentines.  The text for the LSW WitSling segment on 13th February can be found here.   Yvonne delighted all with her Australian matron locked in a Sydney penthouse with harbour view embittered by a recent divorce.  Jessica Barnes was most revelling in the enactment of her WitSling a la Margaret of Anjou.  A first spat out in bitterness, Jessica then addressed her focus simply, with an intense laughter, which she turned in simple measure on herself and by doing so forced her auditors to suddenly twist the knives in for themselves.  Magic.

Clumps proved an absolute delight taking up on the wonderfully sharing atmosphere of 'Here Comes the Bus'.  The theme which came to be employed throughout was 'conscious' and the echo of that word reverberated inside the laughter mixed with tears.  A truly incredible voyage.  Michael Good was outstanding in his ability to turn his vocal sensitivities on a dime and all were delightfully engaged.  What an incredible performer this young man is.  For me, however, the most extraordinary moments of this Workout were reserved for the end of the guest segment.  Rona Laurie worked old school magic, taking us all back to a drama school of another time, one of a definite performing exactitude.  At the end she coached Michael Good and Adrian Fear in the confrontation scene between Brutus and Cassius in Julius Caesar.  (The texts for the entire guest segment can be found here.)   Never before have I heard the humour of this scene wrought through its true.   It was a revelation, one worthy of the price of any ticket.  Congratulations to the Michael and Adrian, and our thanks to Rona for helping to define this extraordinarily theatrical outburst.  The best, here, had certainly been held to the last.  Enchanting.

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LSW Participant Commentary by Louise Burns

I have just left my third Sunday London Shakespeare Workout session, appropriately held in trendy Camden. (Had Shakespeare lived today he would have no problems finding characters to write about in and around the local streets). My mind is flooded with lines of Shakespeare, so much so that I am finding it hard to think in plain English. After three and a half hours of playing with the Bards language, I am even thinking in Iambic Pentameter.

Today’s group started out as an intimate size. Bruce quickly adapted the starting physical and vocal warm-ups to the size of the group. Similar to the three tone exercise, we played a super vocal/ physical game where we threw a sound to someone, who in turn, caught it but reversed the tone as they did so before throwing it to someone else. The sounds then became words. This led to wonderful and imaginative interpretations of words like ‘banana’, ‘lips’ and ‘oregano’ spoken backwards.

Next, two actors stepped inside the circle (the circle is the usual formation the workshop takes – a friendly and unthreatening atmosphere in which to work and play) and started a conversation but using only lines of Shakespeare. Listening and watching the action inside the circle was very revealing. The scenes took on a life of their own – sometimes quite poignant and often comic as actors found the joy of merging lines that unexpectedly made some kind of sense! It was a terrific exercise. I found myself responding with text that I didn't even realise I knew!

After a play with "clumps" - which had a charming ending when most of the circle chanted the closing speech to Midsummer’s Night Dream – we were introduced to this weeks guest, Rona Laurie, who immediately took the lesson by storm. Rona’s opening words were witty as well as true: "Misconception: Shakespeare is hard, well, I think it is much harder to act in a badly written play". And with that we were handed the text that we would be working with. Definitely not badly written!

Rona reiterated what it is sometimes easy to forget: Make the language your own, but do not forsake technique. And with this, she made right another misconception: "The English may have technique but the Americans have feeling". Rona showed us that both are equally important and through proper text analysis, it is easy to have– and it can be found in technique.

We began with what could be a rather difficult speech: The Chorus in Henry V. We read it as group and it sounded all right – but dull. As she reminded us to "point" the speech and recognise "scanning", however, it came alive. The whole group had the same direction, and form was established. Pointing the speech was particularly useful, as it is a tip that allows one to show emotion through means other then volume. And as Rona confirmed, it is sometimes much more effective.

Rona shared many tips and insights that sometimes one forgets: for example, ‘pointing’ takes away the urge to stress the iambic pentameter rhythm – which can kill the speech and when reading a soliloquy, actors should remember not to stress the word ‘I’ – the audience know it is you on stage!

I was asked to read aloud a soliloquy from Cymberline (III,iv) - the heroine Imogene. Rona took me through the speech and we pointed it. Within a few minutes, the speech had direction, notable character and by the end my voice had more control. Rona took all the time needed to work this speech and her time was invaluable. She knew immediately where and how to guide me. I was familiar with the play and this speech beforehand, but it was ‘tired’ and needed ‘waking up’. Rona woke up the "old" up we found another way of playing this speech - recognising what may have been missed through past ‘tried and true’ readings.

When Rona turned to working with dialogues we are all a bit amazed, I think, when the well known scene between Brutus and Cassius (IV;iii) had comedy within it. Firstly, by ‘balancing’ the two actor’s voices, it became clearer who was speaking and who was leading the scene. (Another tip from Rona). Then, through rhythm and breath control, the scene became comic, with poor Cassius desperately trying to persuade stubborn Brutus that it is indeed him!

Finally, we were treated to a rare delight when Rona told a tale or two of working with the legendary Tyrone Guthrie. To be invited into these stories is always a treat, and a story involving such a character is a gem. Rona reminded me, with the recantation of a little past stories, why we all live the crazy lives actors do: To feel alive and live the text.

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