What adjudicators and examiners look for in Shakespeare performances
Friday 30 March 2018
It’s that moment that (apparently) some performers dread - the realisation that a speech by Shakespeare is required for an audition or festival.
Take heart! Here is some advice about how to make your choice and hints about what we look for in a Shakespeare monologue:
Choosing your speech
Browse through the plays, checking the cast lists at the beginning to find a character of a suitable age for you (you can play adults, but beware of elderly characters!).
Comic or dramatic speech? Most students choose dramatic ones, which is understandable, but there are some neglected plays and characters which offer great opportunities. Look at Joan La Pucelle in Henry VI part 1 or Antipholus in The Comedy of Errors.
Verse or prose? Verse speeches are more popular, but there are some great prose ones too. (Look at Iago from Othello or Rosalind from As You Like It.)
Find a couple of speeches of about 15-25. You could put two or more speeches together, missing out another character’s lines, but only if the resulting performance still makes sense without the other character’s interruptions!
Read it out loud
Read the speeches out loud. Choose one that excites you. It may be because of the drama, or more likely just because of the lovely language or rhythm - that’s fine, a love of the sound of the language is the best way to start.
Get to grips with the meaning first
Now read up about the plot and get to grips with the meaning. Don’t try to learn it till you are sure what every line means, or it won’t make sense. Many editions will have notes to help you, but watch DVDs of performances, or extracts on YouTube (stick to those by professional actors). Don’t try to imitate anyone. There is no one ‘right’ way – just see which appeal to you and note what it is that you like about the interpretation.
Learn the speech in short chunks
Learn a few lines at a time - a chunk which seems to be one thought. Don’t move on to the next section until you are absolutely word-perfect. Adjudicators and examiners will be alert to any wrong words or paraphrasing. Shakespeare constructs his lines so well that your own version will never be as good!
Check the punctuation and the rhythm
Pay attention to the line endings. Shakespeare helps you by using the rhythm and structure to help drive the meaning. Observe the verse form when you speak (running one line on to the next where the meaning demands it).
Play the pauses
Pause as long as you need to between ideas – the acting that goes on in the pauses is as important as the dialogue itself.
What will make it special
A good performance is one where the poetry of the language makes the words come to life and the emotions appear spontaneous. When you move, make the gestures decisive and strong – don’t just amble about or move for the sake of it.
Beware of what I call ‘the beautiful voice’. Just because it is Shakespeare, doesn’t mean to say it should sound any less immediate than any other performance – but the demands of verse speeches means that the diction should be clear and the breath control good.
Now enjoy it!
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Image Credit: Thomas Cheetham