Hello, all! Cass here again to live-blog the Scott Kaiser Keynote Address from 10:30 to 11:15am on Friday, October 28.
Ralph introduces Kaiser by discussing his delight in discovering Kaiser’s book, Shakespeare’s Wordcraft. He says, though, that by removing the classical Greek and Roman terms for rhetorical devices in an attempt to make the topic more accessible, “you have underestimated the appeal to word-nerds”. He half-jokingly suggests, along with his grad students, that he consider reinstating those terms in the second addition. Ralph thanks Kaiser for joining us on behalf of “all the other word-nerds here”.
Acting Shakespeare’s Wordcraft
Scott Kaiser, Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Kaiser prefaces his speech by introducing his assistant actors, Dan Kennedy and Doreen Bechtol. He’ll be talking today about “how to act Shakespeare’s figures of rhetoric” by demonstrating how he works with them in rehearsal. Kaiser defends his choice by stating that the classical terms are almost always an impediment for actors — that his book “is primarily not a scholarly book, but a book for actors and actors-in-training.”
Of vital concern to the actor working with rhetoric is “to illuminate the figure to the audience through voice and body.” He begins with the “speech measure”, using a quote from Stanislavski to explain his meaning: to break down a speech by thought patterns in order to get to the meaning and to make the speech more graceful in form and content. A speech measure, then, is a moment for a choice, “a unit of sense that contains one inhalation, one operative word, one focal point, one image, one action, one moment of human behavior.” He then invites Dan and Doreen up to work through some examples.
Dan: “Cassius from bondage will deliver Cassius.” Kaiser calls this one parcel of text, bookended with ‘Cassius’. Doreen: “I see you what you are; you are too proud.” Kaiser calls this two speech measures, pointing out Doreen’s inhalation between the two phrases. Dan: “Seems, madam? Nay, it is. I know not seems.” Kaiser delineates this as three speech measures, connected by the “seems” on either end, with “is” as a fulcrum in the middle. Doreen: “Come weep with me, past hope, past cure, past help.” This Kaiser identifies as four speech measures, but notes that this is not necessarily the only choice — but that it may “illuminate ‘past’ in a different way.” Dan: “Oh Helen! Goddess, nymph, perfect, divine!” Kaiser points out that this line mostly comes out as one exhalation, and asks Dan to try it again as five speech measures. Kaiser points out that this then differentiates each speech measure, automatically conferring greater emotional variety to the line.
Kaiser then moves on to finding the “operative word” — the one word in the measure that is key. It can be created through pitch, volume, or duration. Dan: “What lusty trumpet thus doth summon us?” Kaiser asks Dan to pick one word to make the operative; he chooses “trumpet”, using volume and pitch to key it. Kaiser has him try again, this time with “summon” — he helps Dan out by giving him the incipient action, having him imagine the actual trumpet before delivering the line. Kasier points out that he “stacked the deck” against Dan by giving him a line full of schwas — and that holding that vowel “would make it Transylvanian”.
Dan: “One woman is fair; yet I am well; another is wise; yet I am well; another virtuous; yet I am well.” Kaiser identifies this as three measures, and says he heard three operative words from Dan’s first reading: one, wise, and virtuous. He redirects Dan to make the new word in each phrase the operative: fair, wise, and virtuous. You then hear the operative word “build in a staircase”. Kaiser points out where Dan held his breath during the line, rather than inhaling as he could have to break it into 6 measures.
Doreen: “I’ll tell you who time ambles withal, who time trots withal, who time gallops withal, who he stands still withal.” Four measures, and Kaiser points out the different operative verbs. Doreen used what Kaiser calls “a Ted Wright ladder”, with a build of three and then a drop in pitch for the fourth. He has her do it again, this time bringing the “tell” down so that it doesn’t overwhelm the “amble”.
Kaiser then examines “focal points” — a visual target, “at which you can inhale, towards which you can ascend your energies”. Doreen: “Husband, I cannot pray that thou mayest win. Uncle, I needs must pray that thou mayest lose. Father, I may not wish the fortunes thine. Granddam, I will not wish thy wishes thrive.” Kaiser asks Doreen to try it again without breaking into new measures at the commas. The result is “greater drive; it could not bear all those breaks.”
Dan: “Put out the light, and then put out the light.” The focal point changes between the candle and the sleeping Desdemona. Kaiser states, “It’s the movement of the focal point that makes the figure work.”
Doreen: “Thy deed, inhuman and unnatural, provokes this deluge, most unnatural.” Kaiser says she’s working with two focal points, which he calls “panning and scanning” mid-measure. He suggests that each measure should have a single focal point for greatest clarity on the stage. He wants the first part to focus on Richard, the second to focus on the body. “The reason I coach this way is because, if your eyes are darting back and forth,” the meaning can be lost, especially for audience members farther form the stage.
Dan: “Boldness be my friend! Arm me, audacity, from head to foot!” Kaiser says that Dan’s focal points slipped around. Kaiser points out the figure of personification, that Dan is literally talking to Boldness and Audacity, not to himself — he asks Dan to choose a focal point for each. Finding a specific point for each brings the emotion forward more clearly and makes the point easier to arrive at for the audience; Kaiser points out, “I didn’t tell him what to imagine. I just asked him to structure it in a way that would be clear to the audience.”
Kaiser then moves to the “image” — a complete mental creation, which invokes the imaginative aspect of all five senses. Doreen (as Constance in King John): “Grief fills the room up of my absent child, / Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me, / Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words, / Remembers me of all his gracious parts, / Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form; / Then, have I reason to be fond of grief?” Kaiser thinks it communicates more clearly the depth of her despair when she doesn’t shift her focal point; he asks her to try it again with one single focal point, letting the pressure build up there. Kaiser explains this as finding a single focal point and adding a new layer to it with each measure. “The inesntiy of that single focal point… is so strongly communicated by a single focal point that you understand what all the men are talking about when they call her crazy.”
Next: actions — played in pursuit of objectives against obstacles. Each measure should have one and only one. Dan: “Fool, of thyself speak well. Fool, do not flatter.” Kaiser asks Dan to encourage himself in the first measure, then admonish himself in the second. He further examines the shift, particularly with regard to where the inhalation is positioned and where it comes from — “from his imagination” rather than from the text.
Doreen: “Sweet, sweet, sweet Nurse, tell me, what says my lo
ve?” Kaiser says that Doreen has made this three measures, and suggests that the second measure tends to have the same emotion as the first. He asks her to find three wildly different things to play in the three measures (and comments that this tactic is typical of thirteen-year-old girls).
Kaiser then adds the idea of subtext to the lines, which he calls “the realization.” Dan: “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.” Kaiser has Dan break that into two measures, asking Dan to realize in the middle, at the comma, that he’s now going to die without having accomplished his goals. “The figure is illuminated by the realization at the comma in the middle of the line,” by the reversal of emotions that the active silence causes — “a moment of human behavior that is atextual.”
Doreen: “Seeming, seeming! I will proclaim thee, Angelo; look for’t.” Kaiser suggests that Doreen realize the depth of Angelo’s corruption at the comma between the two “seeming”s. Kaiser points out that the repetition requires a variation in delivery, discussing the reasons why people repeat themselves.
Finally, Kaiser comes to decisions, a different type of subtext. Dan: “She sees not Hermia. Hermia, sleep thou there, and never mayest thou come Lysander near.” Kaiser suggests the first focal point be on the audience, and that he then make the decision “to leave Hermia there, by herself, unguarded, in the dark.” Dan’s callous deliberation makes the decision hysterically funny, and Kaiser suggests that seeing the choice happen is what makes that humorous for the audience.
Doreen: “What if this potion do not work at all? Shall I be married then tomorrow morning? No, no, this shall forbid it.” Kaiser points out that Doreen has several focal points operating, talking to herself but also indicating the dagger that she will use to kill herself. He asks her to make a decision between the two “No”s. Kaiser notes that this speech complicates delivery, because it layers the decision on top of multiple actions, moving from measure to measure.
Kaiser wraps up by saying that effective theatre lives in these decisions, “not in when the giant neon apple flies down out of the ceiling.”