Be more cat-like…

Comedy of Errors opens (and closes) this week. During rehearsals recently, the director gave me the following note: be more cat-like.

Now, I have a healthy respect for cats. I’ve certainly never been a ‘cat person’ and would much rather own a dog any day, but I can observe our feline friends with something bordering on admiration. With an air of independence they roam the streets freely at night, a freedom pet dogs will never know. They fight other cats in the neighbourhood for their territory, and strut about with an air of unadulterated arrogance. Not that I think arrogance is a trait to be commended – it isn’t – but to have that much confidence in oneself is something to be desired.

Tom cat

I realised the director’s note made perfect sense. The Courtesan, with her sultry looks, fluid movement and self-serving character is feline personified. So I set to doing a spot of cat-watching. This turned out to be a lot easier than I had expected, as it seems cats like to have an audience. They may spring away if you get too close, but watch from afar and they will bask in the attention, preening themselves on display, or tiptoeing along a narrow wall like a furry tightrope walker before leaping onto a nearby rooftop in an impressive display of acrobatics.

The cats I observed all had one thing in common – their movement possessed a fluid quality, something I was already trying to adopt in my movement as the Courtesan. Now I had to use this in my voice. Unfortunately I am prone to mumbling, a very unfortunate habit for an actor, so in rehearsals I try to focus on really hitting the consonants. This would be perfect for some characters, but isn’t right for the Courtesan, for whom everything should be smooth and silky. So I thought of how the cat purrs and tried to adopt that smooth, low resonance while maintaining clarity. Ensuring the breath comes from the abdomen and tummy rather than high up in the chest is important for any actor on stage, and for the Courtesan I have to focus even lower. Not meaning to be crude, I have to find my ‘vagina voice’. The Courtesan’s voice should be rich, smooth and velvety but with a certain breathy quality. I feel my voice is my weak point as an actor, and one that would greatly benefit from the training I hope to soon undertake.

Hopefully, with a good warm-up and a warm drink or two I will be ready to hit the stage this evening and project to the back row and beyond. Now I think there’s just time for a bit more cat-watching…

For more Comedy of Errors rehearsal antics, read the SSA blog.

Comedy of Errors, performed by the Southsea Shakespeare Actors, runs from 13-16 November  at the Station Theatre, Hayling Island, 7.30pm with a Saturday matinee at 2.30pm. Book tickets online on the Station Theatre website.

Twelfth Night – The First Night

So the first night of Twelfth Night is done. Having felt surprisingly calm up to this point, I then awoke yesterday and went on a mad cleaning spree of the house, sweeping, vacuuming, polishing and washing up (my least favourite of the chores) – anything to keep busy and stave off the nerves! My mum and little sister were coming down to stay so the cleaning was definitely needed, but I’m not sure I’d have been quite so productive in the same amount of time if I hadn’t had the adrenaline to keep me going. Whenever I took a few minutes to sit down either with a cup of coffee or my lunch the nerves began to creep back, stealthily at first then full-on and frantic, so that I jumped up and ran to grab a duster and get back to it. By the time I headed off to the theatre I was babbling away (a sign of nerves), but when we reached the theatre I fell silent (a sign of extreme nerves), and got into costume in mute panic. As the house lights went down and the stage lights went up, waiting in the wings I felt the panic suddenly give way to a burst of excitement, fizzing through my entire body.

The performance went really well for a first night – people can often be thrown by the sudden presence of an audience after weeks of rehearsal rooms, but the energy was high and everyone gave it their best. Personally, I felt my performance in the first few scenes was rather flat, and after each I trudged backstage to forlornly stuff my face with Quality Street and make exasperated noises, but by my third or fourth scene I had warmed up, and the rest of the performance, though not my best, was at least satisfactory. During one or two scenes I really felt on the ball, and the last scene finally made Viola come fully alive, so I left the stage on a high, but with some definite areas to work on for the next show. Now I’ve just got to get it right on the mark for tonight’s show. I need to ground myself more on the stage, bring more of Viola’s presence to the performance, and hopefully it will be a show to remember!