Notes on theatre, music, and the spoken word.


Above all, some technical points have been impressed on me since playing for three years in theatres which have been too large for the plays we have performed in them. This has entailed first and foremost clear speaking – not shouting, but enunciating, with particular attention to the last word of every sentence. There is always a key word in a line, and if this is lost the whole
meaning of the sentence (and in comedy, therefore, the laugh) is lost too. Often this key word is the final one of t...
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This music does not need my assistance

The melodic lines themselves are expressive to me. Take, for instance, the works of J S Bach: in most of what I have heard in the interpretation of other pianists, I feel that too much is imposed upon the music. The very direction of the lines, the moving lines of notes are inherently expressive. Without the consciousness of what these lines really represent, one may feel that it needs an expressive addition. In my composing, too, I try to find something which expresses itself without adding. ...
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How we learn most

We learn most about people through the ear. We learn most about nature through the eye. The great Jacob Bronowski, from The Visionary Eye. I don't know if this is true. I instinctively feel that it is, but as soon as I acknowledge that feeling my mind runs to thinking about the power of body language and gesture, and the polyphony of the natural world. But then he's not saying we learn everything about people through the ear, but most. I worked with an actor once who said he was taught that ...
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Comic timing

My main thing as a director is that people need to face the front and you have to be able to hear what they're saying… Comic timing is all in the rhythm of the writing, so you don't have to grope around for that. Basically, if you try to gloss it or interpret it, it starts to go wrong… In fact the main thing to do was to just back off it. The comedian Stewart Lee, on directing Jerry Springer – the Opera. His advice in the first sentence sounds a bit flip, but I still regard it as an importan...
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Listen with your soul and with your ears

What he said that impressed me was: 'When one wants to find a gesture, when you want to find how to act on stage, all you have to do is listen to the music. The composer has already seen to that.' If you take the trouble to really listen with your soul and with your ears — and I say soul and ears because the mind must work, but not too much also — you will find every gesture there. And it is all true, you know. Maria Callas on advice from Tulio Serafin, during an interview in Paris with Lord ...
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How beautiful it is

You need not see what someone is doing to know if it is his vocation. you have only to watch his eyes: a cook mixing a sauce, a surgeon making a primary incision, a clerk completing a bill of lading, wear the same rapt expression, forgetting themselves in a function. How beautiful it is, that eye-on-the-object-look. W H Auden, from Horae Canonicae. I love the spoken word, but not to the exclusion of everything else. Auden is right – you can see thought. And if you can genuinely ...
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An unexplored world

There is a part of everything which is unexplored, because we are accustomed to using our eyes only in association with the memory of what people before us have thought of the thing we are looking at. Even the smallest thing has something in it which is unknown. Gustave Flaubert, in a letter to Guy de Maupassant, 1870. The world around us is infinitely astonishing. To me, the best theatre is made by those who refuse to take what they see for granted. They cause a revolution not by tearing d...
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The fruit of exercise

The style of an author should be the image of his mind, but the choice and command of language is the fruit of exercise. Edward Gibbon, from his Memoirs. Might not this sentence, misappropriated, be true of acting? That the style of an actor should be the image of his mind – that is, his actions are a clear expression of internal psychology – but the way in which he communicates that, through verbal and non-verbal language, is the fruit of exercise. Perhaps this is self-evident. Intellectua...
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Acting and speaking are bound together

There seem to be two key aspects to speaking well: phrasing and tone. I derive this distinction from my reading of Peter Gill's introduction to Actors Speaking, a collection of interviews with actors that he commissioned while running the National Theatre Studio in London. Gill is known to take speaking very seriously, and I can find no better introduction to the subject than the following It seems to me that good speaking requires first of all the development of an ear. An ear for what the wr...
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