John Bell of the Bell Shakespeare company visited John Colet School this week and watched each class perform a snippet from their Shakespeare play, ready for our Shakespeare Festival at Glen St Theatre on 28th, 29th and 30th October.
Then he kindly answered questions from students. Here is a selection:
How can I struggle with someone on stage, as if you are fighting with them?
"Work it out slowly, each move, with a teacher watching. Practice where you will put your hands, your feet. Each rehearsal, practice the scene slowly, then at half speed, then at normal acting speed. Don’t just make up a struggle scene on the spot or someone could get hurt."
What are you going to do when you retire?
"I’m not retiring! [Laughs] I’m just stepping down from running Bell Shakespeare. I’m going to work with the opera and lots of other things. Mr Mane and I are both too young to ‘retire’".
How do you create fear or anger without using words?
"Music is a great way to create atmosphere. And without words you can use activity. For example, to show anger you could pick up something and handle it roughly, or slam a chair back. To show fear without words you could be very jumpy, listening for sounds, imagine you were home alone late at night and all the sounds you hear seem scary."
How can you train yourself to not smile when you should be serious?
"What makes you smile?"
"Then take the attention away from yourself by thinking and focusing on the other actor you are on stage with. That will help you to not feel embarrassed."
What have you learnt from Shakespeare?
"You learn a lot about history because you need to imagine you are living in the time and the places of the plays. You learn about the metaphysical world, of ghosts and fairies. You learn about extreme emotions and it opens your imagination to all these things."
What attracted you to being an actor?
"I was a show off. I also wanted to do something I was good at. I was good at drama and through doing that I got better at my other school subjects and at sport, because it was the one thing I could do. Also I enjoy working with other people, interacting with them and trying things out, it takes you outside yourself."
What do you do if you can’t get into a character?
"Find someone who you think is like the character and imitate them. Try out various costumes, makeup and/or wigs, use different props, something that makes your imagination respond to the character. Quietly think about the character, what makes them the way they are, where have they come from, what do they want?"
What three words would you use to describe Titania to help me get into the character?
"Well she is a Queen, remember, so I would say she is imperious, commanding, self-confident, also possessive, emotional and open to love."
Do you quote from Shakespeare every day?
"I think we all do! There are so many lines that just spring from us, like 'All’s well that ends well', 'the milk of human kindness', the 'green eyed monster'. Lots of phrases he has given us.
Which character would you most like to be in real life?
"I think Bottom, because he’s a natural actor who wants to be noticed!"
What do you look for in a good actor?
"Are you interesting to watch and listen to? Do I believe in what you’re doing? Do you speak well, can I hear you? Are you good at working with other people, do you listen and work as a team, are you aware of what your acting partner needs. I often get actors to audition in pairs so I can get a feel for these things."
Who was your childhood hero?
"My first one was Brer Rabbit. Then a new hero every couple of years and throughout life. I think it’s good to change them frequently."
How do you cry convincingly?
"That’s one of the hardest things to do! Some actors can cry naturally, I can’t. I just pretend, you know, sob, pause, sob again. Real tears don’t have to come out for it to still be convincing."
Who are your favourite characters to play?
"Hamlet, Richard III, he is such a villain, but funny! And Falstaff too is a likable villain."