Written by Romeo and Juliet cast member and Grassroots Shakespeare Company All-Star, Davey Morrison Dillard:
Shakespeare’s company didn’t seem to have much of a formal rehearsal process. They didn’t seem to need it.
Sources indicate that, at least in some cases, the only rehearsals for the entire company were to block fights and jigs–the most choreographed and cast-heavy scenes in the plays. Other scenes may have been worked out one-on-one between scene partners, if at all. It’s difficult for most actors to imagine performing a show with such a potentially limited rehearsal period, but, when you might be debuting a new show every night, it would have been necessary. And, as a repertory company, Shakespeare’s actors would have developed a number of tools to enable this sort of process.
As members of a repertory company, the members of the King’s Men probably saw each other every day. Shakespeare himself reworked familiar characters and relationships and variations on similar scenes throughout much of his work, so that, for example, William Kempe could take much of what he used as Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and easily adapt it for Dogberry’s scenes in Much Ado About Nothing just a few years later. Indeed, for decades the performances in these plays were passed down from one generation to the next, from masters to their apprentices, down to very specific movements and gestures.
While not strictly a repertory company, The Grassroots Shakespeare Company has maintained a number of familiar faces of the last several years, and, like Shakespeare, we have stuck with a strict policy of typecasting. Grassroots regulars have learned whether they are better suited to heroes or to villains, to clowns or to kings, and, in the process, we have also developed a kind of shorthand for staging. Putting an arm around a character and leading them down to the front of the stage suggests a secret. Certain lazzis (or stock gags) become familiar and easy to block. A challenge looks a certain way, while a surrender looks different. Raising your arms to the crowd encourages their applause. That sort of thing. Armed with these sorts of tools, rehearsing a play in twelve hours over the course of three days, as we are doing with Romeo & Juliet this year, is still a daunting task, but not at all an impossible one–it becomes an invigorating challenge.
At the time of this writing, two weeks before our show will have closed, we have not yet started to rehearse. We have not had a reading of the script–we have never even officially met as a company. I’ve never played this role, I’m still figuring out my character, I’m still working on solidifying my lines, and I’m brainstorming ideas for my costume. But there’s one thing standing between me and abject terror, and that’s the trust I’ve developed working with these company members over the past several years. These are some of the best actors, some of the most brilliant minds, and some of the kindest, funniest, smartest, most giving people I know, and I’d trust each of them with my life. In two weeks, we’ll all be getting up on a stage together in front of an audience, and it will be that trust that keeps us afloat. A company like this feels like a family, and there’s a sense of spontaneity and excitement that comes from discovering a show on its feet.
Ultimately, none of us is ever ready for anything, on stage or off. “Ready” is a myth. At some point, we just have to jump off the cliff.
I’m grateful to the members of this company for teaching me to take the plunge.
Davey will be playing Paris in Romeo and Juliet.
More about Davey Morrison Dillard:
Davey Morrison Dillard has been with Grassroots since its very first show in 2009. Since then, Davey has performed in ten different Grassroots productions, playing Richard III, Katherina Minola, Dogberry, Polonius, Touchstone, Feste, and Hermia (among others). Film credits include Alexis Thrill (WELCOME TO THE RUBBER ROOM), The Eel (MYTHICA), and The Writer (EUGENIE). When he’s not acting, Davey is probably writing something, directing something, watching a movie, or sleeping.
Our Valentines Day production of Romeo and Juliet will have a very limited run from Feb 13th-14th at the Ladies Literary Club (850 E South Temple) in Salt Lake City.
Get your tickets now HERE.