Sonnet Book

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Original Practice Shakespeare sonnets and songs

Many years ago in Cafe Quelle, Amsterdam I did a sunday afternoon performance in drag. A fruitless 20 minute search for a photo documentation will no doubt please many of our readers. And disappoint a few too. Trust me she was fruity.

The subject was sonnets and I had made hardboard cut-outs of my shadow with eye and heart added.
The performance space was tightly packed and volunteers had joined on stage to be put through their paces and be recited to. Then I started on sonnet 30:

WHen to the Sessions of sweet silent thought,
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye (unus’d to flow)
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
And moan th’expense of many a vanish’d sight.
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee (dear friend)
All losses are restor’d, and sorrows end.

That sixth line (Henry) hit home like an emotional ton of bricks and that old familiar catch in the throat choked out ‘death’s dateless night’. And by ‘weep afresh’ I was inwardly weeping and outwardly trying to save my neophyte sonneteer’s butt. After the performance finished my friend Mark P. tall south african albino laughed at me saying ‘he got you there, eh bru?’

Today in rehearsal our ensemble went through their sonnet paces on a chosen sonnet that resonated with them. Everyone had been mechanick-ed using the nuts and bolts of the form by yours truly yesterday. The content being Ben’s domain today. The full complement of players for thursday night happily being fourteen. So we started with Aslam and sonnet 97. Not an easy sonnet but boy did he nail it with an emotional honesty. Which set the tone and the bar for the rest of us.

Ben’s methodology is intuitive and specific to the person speaking it. The stick work we do daily provides an outside focus, which to my mind represents the actor’s text. The person taking the stick for a walk is the driving force. What happens when taking the stick for a walk whether alone or with another, or being shadowed while doing so, or having your stick stolen from you, or giving it to another party, or accepting another stick and walking with two, or chaining up as three or four or five, is where the magic happens. There is no pattern, there are no rules, though there are plenty of discoveries.

Adam got up to do sonnet 30. He delivered it fine and well first time out of the gate. A successful emotionally connected rendition any actor would be proud of. Don’t forget this verse is two days old in his mind. YET every actor knows that in the heat of the crucible and forced to go out of their comfort zone, their memory of that carefully memorised sonnet will start to smell like an anchovy. Sure enough Ben had him fighting for his words soon as he could misplace ‘vanished’. Repeated chasings of another who wouldn’t listen to him around the rehearsal space had him chewing the floorboards in frustration.

Then once that maelstrom of activity ceased and he just delivered the sonnet to the ensemble gathered closely around him with a personal honesty and depth that each line resonated back story or created it in my listening mind. Line six once again played its magic and broke him. And me too, as years have gone by and many more precious friends are now hid in death’s dateless night. (espen greger hagen rip)

That was 2 of 14 amazing personal sonnet journeys today. Those emotional hook-ups are not what the show is about because that would be just indulgent and onanistic to subject an audience to that. A personal and honest accounting is what the show is about. Getting to that point is what rehearsals are for. And every actor knows it. And wishes he or she were a part of doing that.

Time has stopped existing in a linear fashion. Dream time is happening. And you’ll never understand, until you stand where I stand.

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