Comedy of Errors opens (and closes) this week. During rehearsals recently, the director gave me the following note: be more cat-like.
Now, I have a healthy respect for cats. I’ve certainly never been a ‘cat person’ and would much rather own a dog any day, but I can observe our feline friends with something bordering on admiration. With an air of independence they roam the streets freely at night, a freedom pet dogs will never know. They fight other cats in the neighbourhood for their territory, and strut about with an air of unadulterated arrogance. Not that I think arrogance is a trait to be commended – it isn’t – but to have that much confidence in oneself is something to be desired.
I realised the director’s note made perfect sense. The Courtesan, with her sultry looks, fluid movement and self-serving character is feline personified. So I set to doing a spot of cat-watching. This turned out to be a lot easier than I had expected, as it seems cats like to have an audience. They may spring away if you get too close, but watch from afar and they will bask in the attention, preening themselves on display, or tiptoeing along a narrow wall like a furry tightrope walker before leaping onto a nearby rooftop in an impressive display of acrobatics.
The cats I observed all had one thing in common – their movement possessed a fluid quality, something I was already trying to adopt in my movement as the Courtesan. Now I had to use this in my voice. Unfortunately I am prone to mumbling, a very unfortunate habit for an actor, so in rehearsals I try to focus on really hitting the consonants. This would be perfect for some characters, but isn’t right for the Courtesan, for whom everything should be smooth and silky. So I thought of how the cat purrs and tried to adopt that smooth, low resonance while maintaining clarity. Ensuring the breath comes from the abdomen and tummy rather than high up in the chest is important for any actor on stage, and for the Courtesan I have to focus even lower. Not meaning to be crude, I have to find my ‘vagina voice’. The Courtesan’s voice should be rich, smooth and velvety but with a certain breathy quality. I feel my voice is my weak point as an actor, and one that would greatly benefit from the training I hope to soon undertake.
Hopefully, with a good warm-up and a warm drink or two I will be ready to hit the stage this evening and project to the back row and beyond. Now I think there’s just time for a bit more cat-watching…
For more Comedy of Errors rehearsal antics, read the SSA blog.
Comedy of Errors, performed by the Southsea Shakespeare Actors, runs from 13-16 November at the Station Theatre, Hayling Island, 7.30pm with a Saturday matinee at 2.30pm. Book tickets online on the Station Theatre website.