Most choice, forsaken

So my idea of procrastination this semester is finding amusing King Lear tidbits, videos and images online. Most of the silly ones I share with my class on Facebook, but I found something really illuminating on youtube just now, and it’s definitely blog-worthy:

The video examines James Earl Jones, Ian McKellen and Nesbitt Blaisdell perform Act III Scene ii, otherwise known as The Storm Scene. What I love about the clip is that it includes visual commentary on the choices the actors are making: Why is “spout” a special word? Covering face effect on audience? Crying in speech? Why here? Quick, relatively uninflected speech — effect? Volume/emphasis on “singe.” Why? And my favorite: Pelvic thrust reaction to lang? Important?

These are three drastically different Lears. James Earl Jones’ is one of my all-time favorites (the entire video is online, by the way. If you want to watch a Lear from your computer, this is the one) and during this speech, he’s furious, strong, pantomiming the storm himself. Ian McKellen is more battered, and he’s raging against an actual downpour (I wasn’t a fan of McKellen’s performance until I saw the live recording in Stratford. The film version doesn’t do it justice. It’s not worth watching, but for the record: McKellen played a mean Lear). And then Nesbitt Blaisdell, which I was totally unfamiliar with, delivered the speech without a single movement until the end, focusing on the words themselves.

What I really admire about this video is that all the comments are in the form of QUESTIONS. What a great lesson in dramaturgy. A pretty big misconception, and one I had only a few months ago, is that dramaturgs are supposed to answer questions. It’s true, we do plenty of answer-hunting (Ree-gan versus Ray-gun anyone?) but our biggest job isn’t to make the director’s life easier; it’s to challenge him or her, to ask those difficult questions that would just be easier to ignore. We’re supposed to make parallels between the play and the “real world” to force the cast and crew to see the play in new lights, and we ask questions to help them rethink the choices their making.

I also love this video because it’s a beautiful glimpse into the many challenges of performance. The greats make it look so easy, but there are countless tiny choices they have to make, and each makes an enormous difference. For those non-actors following this, hopefully this will make you really appreciate the performances you’re going to see this spring.

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