I have done it again; bitten into more of life’s big crème brûlée than I can reasonably handle and am now valiantly swimming upstream like a desperado golden Labrador, stick in mouth, having a great time but with back-of-the-mind terror at the thought of being swept away. And yes, two completely unrelated similes in one sentence. Maybe now you have more of an idea of my state of mind.
Because life as Jo Rittey was already doing a fairly good impersonation of chaos. Now I have thrown teaching my neighbours French once a week and acting in a French play into the mix. The teaching part is fine. The acting…weeeeeelllll, that remains to be seen.
Acting is an art. People devote their lives to it. I, on the other hand, just turn up and hope for the best. And I’m not sure that’s going to cut it.
Exit the King is an absurdist drama written in 1962 in 15 days by Eugène Ionesco who, recovering from a serious illness at the time, felt as though he had perhaps flirted with death and felt compelled to convey those emotions. Exit the King is all about death. A fairly long one act death-knell, in fact, although the Melbourne French Theatre version is considerably shorter than its original incarnation. The King, understandably, does not want to die, despite his first wife Queen Marguerite announcing that he will die in an hour, he will die at the end of the play. Because this is meta-theatre in all its glory. The audience is not for one minute fooled into thinking this is realistic. It’s theatre about theatre, undeniably a work of drama and should be enjoyed as such.
So. How to approach the role of Marguerite.
She is portrayed as the voice of reason, a pragmatist whose duty it is to ensure the King understands that he is dying and to prepare him for his death. In comparison to Marie, the King’s second wife, who is light and bright, pretty and optimistic, Marguerite is often seen as severe and unfeeling. Ageless and somewhat hard, she embodies the truth. Hers is a difficult and thankless task, but one which must be done. In some respects her role is that of psychopomp, or spiritual guide, nurturing the king’s soul as he approaches death.
I asked the drama teachers at school for some ideas on how to portray this complex character and how to manage her/my interactions with the other characters. They talked about the importance of knowing what it is I want to have happen from the words that I’m saying and so allowing that intention to guide the delivery.
I needed more.
I needed more.
Dee Cannon from London’s RADA, has 10 questions she believes are crucial to discovering your character and which will inform the way you bring the dialogue to life.
1. Who am I?
2. Where am I?
3. When is it?
4. Where have I just come from?
5. What do I want?
6. Why do I want it?
7. Why do I want it now?
8. What will happen if I don’t get it now?
9. How will I get what I want by doing what?
10. What must I overcome?
The key question is really what do I want? What is my intention, my motivation. Want also means, what do I need. Dee says you should never walk on stage just to play a scene. You should always have an objective and then know what it is you need to do to get what you want or need.
It’s like life really. What do I want from the relationships I have with other people? What do I need? What do I need to do to get these desires and needs met? And I don’t mean that it’s all about me and how I can manipulate others to my own ends. Not at all. It’s just not about operating in the space, saying my piece into a void. It’s about making myself heard, but also listening and responding to what others are saying to me. And most importantly, it’s about timing. There is no point rushing headlong into a monologue or a plaintive appeal if the person I am saying it to is not ready to receive it or is looking in the other direction or hasn’t even come onto the stage yet.
One of the other vital questions is what must I overcome in order to make things happen the way I want; the inner and outer obstacles that are imposed or that we impose on ourselves. We do need to be clear about what the obstacles are in order to convincingly overcome them. And in fact, we do need the obstacles, as annoying as they may be, because they galvanise our resolve and our desire.
As with acting, so it is with life. To paraphrase Lyn Gardner, a Guardian Theatre Critic, you can teach people timing, you can teach them how to stand; you can provide them with a setting that will allow them to take risks, but you can’t teach them to be in touch with their own spirit.
Much to learn, I still have.