AN INTERVIEW WITH MACBETH VOICE AND TEXT CONSULTANT ANDREW WADE
Walter Bilderback: What is the importance of language to doing Shakespeare?
Andrew Wade: The importance is that the whole storyline is driven through the language. It’s very easy to talk about text-driven plays, because most plays have words in them. But in Shakespeare, the whole narrative is driven by how the language works, how we relate to that language, and therefore how a story is told to an audience. Shakespeare is verbalized thought.
WB: What are some of the ways in which you help actors to get a feel of that language?
AW: We are always having to find our relationship to form, so the work always seems to be changing, decade to decade, generation to generation, in how we relate to form and writing. How do you react to the form of the text? When I started teaching in the late ‘70s, working with a group in a drama school on the Romeo and Juliet prologue, an actor came in, and brought a sword, and ran around and jumped around the stage. And when I said, “Well what about the shape of it,” he said, “Oh, ____ the shape. I just wanted to be creative with it.” And I think in England during the Maggie Thatcher years everything became about qualifications and rules. There was a whole generation who just wanted answers on how to speak Shakespeare. Wanted to know what the rules were.
AW: I may be wrong, but it seems to me that politics has a huge impact. And now I think the need is to open it out again. In a way that is not just about having answers. That it’s about what do I personally hear from it, as opposed to what I should do with it. The work I do is designed to give actors the opportunity to listen to the possibilities in a language – h
ow does the meaning of a word or phrase change when I speak it aloud? – as opposed to imposing a meaning on the text before we’ve heard what the shape of it can carry and contribute. An example might be the size of words. In a society where most communication is through the written word, I think we start to think that the most important words are the longest. In a spoken culture, this isn’t necessarily the case. Some words that are short when written are actually long when spoken. Look at the word “if.” It’s full of potential, it’s a huge word!
WB: During the workshop you said something about relating the shape of words and the shape of thoughts.
AW: I believe it was the poet Louis MacNeice who said, “the shape is half the meaning.” So beginning to trust that is important. You have to find the shape of the words in order to find the shape of your thoughts. And sometimes the pattern, or just the sound, is as important as “meaning.” We can sometimes laugh at a piece of Shakespeare and not quite know why we laughed.
We probably laughed at the patterns, the rhythms, the nuance, and that is all part of understanding communication. We can be listening to a piece of Shakespeare, and we seem to be able to follow it at the time. But if we stopped, and had to
analyze it, we probably would have trouble analyzing it. Just the whole area of what it is to understand something, I think is very interesting. Even the very word, “under-stand.” We all seem to use it, but it’s a very, bit of an odd word, isn’t it, to “stand under” something.
WB: It’s early in the process, and much of the work we’ve done with you has been on texts that aren’t from Macbeth, but with the work we’ve done on some scenes, and from your previous work on Shakespeare, are there things about the language of Macbeth you think audiences should be aware of, that feel more peculiar to the tragedies or to this play?
AW: I’m not sure how much an audience should be more aware of, coming into the play, but we’ve observed this week that there are huge amounts of what we might call “shared lines” between characters, instances where one thought seems to end, and a new one begins in the middle of the line of verse.
There’s no direct answer to what that means, but it’s very important to keep being alert to that as the rehearsals go on, and to hear what energy and rhythm that gives. There’s a lot of speed in other ways about the play, which I think the form reveals in terms of the shared lines and so forth. Perhaps the second part of the verse line is more important, or how a character is interrupting another character or coming in very quickly: all of that is all part of the stakes, or part of the temperature in the play. Shakespeare is crafted spontaneity. There’s a “double-ness” to many of Shakespeare’s lines, and that seems particularly true in this play, and appropriately so. Like any Shakespeare play, there is a world of vocabulary specific to the play. And there are a lot of words that seemed to come up an awful lot in rehearsal this week in relationship to time, both literal and metaphorical. Even the first word takes us into that: “when,” and it’s repeated three times in the first few lines. So how does this cast bring me into their world from the beginning?
WB: It seems like the play’s language is very turbulent.
AW: Very turbulent language. Even often when you beat it out, it’s quite hard to find a meter, so your understanding o
f the sense is often very, very restless, along with the meter, isn’t it? There’s not one definitive answer of what that implies. Uh, but yes, it’s quite turbulent. “The multitudinous seas incarnadine, Making the green one red.” It’s restless, isn’t it, in its very meaning?