Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Inside one of the brightly lit rooms for thespians in the backstage of The Theater in Solaire, a script was laid on my makeup dresser while a square mirror outfitted with LED lights was marked with my name. I was told this is where actors do their makeup, transform into their characters, and wait to be called.
“Actors of the Shakespeare bootcamp, please come onstage,” says a voice from the speakers of the room. I gathered my script, in it Old English words I’m vaguely familiar with, and made my way inside the 1,740-seat theater. The Shakespeare bootcamp — the first iteration of its kind of the Lunchbox Theaterical Productions, a production company that will be bringing the award-winning Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre Company for “Macbeth” and “A Midsummer Night's Dream” in Manila — is meant to immerse participants into the inner workings of a theater production.
As we settled into our seats, Leon Peckson, a professor of literature who specializes in the study of Shakespeare, starts talking about how the beauty of a Shakespeare play is not in its fantastical gestures or its entertainment value; it is simply in the language. Peckson explains how during Shakespeare's era, people went to listen to a play, rather than watch a play. “They went to see it, true. But there was a little more attention to language,” he says.
What most people imagine of Shakespeare plays are those staged in an Elizabethan playhouse, a polygonal structure in an open space that is often built with timber and stone, wherein performances are held in broad daylight. “You have no anonymity. The actors can see you, you can see each other, and you're in the round,” Peckson describes. “And what it creates is this incredibly charged experience where when anything happens in the theater, a little joke, a little accident, everybody feels it, and everybody communicates with one another.”
Peckson, however, says that what many do not know is that Shakespeare’s plays were most enjoyed in what is known to be the Blackfriars theater, a playhouse that he says is just as small as a squash court. This set-up created an intimate atmosphere and broke the boundaries of personal and social spaces.
Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” a tragedy that explores the psychological terrors of fame and ambition, is most known to have been performed in the Blackfriars theater. “[Because it was very intimate,] you sense that when you read the lines. There is this deep and thorough psychology that maybe does not work as well in big [theaters,]” says Pechon. “But when you're in a small, dark theater ... a lot of the poetry can emerge. A lot of the poetry reveals the inner workings of the soul.”
We then proceeded to study lines in “Macbeth,” the act where he was in a soliloquy, asking why he is attracted to the prophecy of him potentially murdering the King of Scotland. Macbeth says: “Why do I yield to that suggestion? / Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair / And make my seated heart knock at my ribs / Against the use of nature?”
After the session with Peckson, we were introduced to the next part of the bootcamp: the scene rehearsal led by director Jaime Del Mundo, who also happens to be a Shakespeare fan. He shares how his love affair with the English poet started when he was only 13 years old, enamored by how Shakespeare can write about tragedy or drama or comedy or adventure or fairy tales.
“It's like words dancing in your ear,” Del Mundo says, agreeing to what Peckson said about how people during the 17th Century went to Shakespeare plays to “hear” the language rather than “watch” a show. “In fact, in Shakespeare, you're an audience. Again, [it’s] auditory … You have a screen viewership so the cinema, in the cinema, you got the viewers,” he explains. “But in the theater, you're an audience and you are an audience because you actually hear.”
During the scene rehearsal, we formed a circle onstage and started reciting lines from Shakespeare’s “Henry V” while using iambic pentameter, a pattern or rhythm of speaking that helps in understanding and enunciating Shakespeare’s verses.
In “Henry V,” we delivered the Chorus, which is Shakespeare’s disclaimer that asks the audience to use their imagination in lieu of the lack of actors, gimmickry, and props. After which, we read aloud “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Shakespeare’s comedy that revolves around the desires of Theseus and Hippolyta for consummation.
After a few more rounds of throwing lines, stomping around, and being essentially exposed to the physical toll of being a Shakespeare actor, we then went to dressing room where we would learn about how to look like our characters. Myrene Santos, a makeup artist who has helped turn the actors of “Wicked” and “The Lion King” into their characters, demonstrated different makeup looks — from an old lady to a soldier in war.
“The makeup has to be consistent with the story,” she says. “You just don’t put dirt for the sake of putting dirt. [You should ask,] where was he? If it’s in a mine where there’s coal, then the dirt will be black. Or is it the jungle or the forest? Are there scrapes because there are leaves?”
Santos adds that she also watches rehearsals so she knows if the actors are going to do heavy choreography or not, so she understands how much or how little makeup one needs. It is still unsure if she is doing the makeup of the actors for the upcoming Shakespeare plays, as the Shakespeare actors might want to do their own makeup. Santos says it is not uncommon, however, for stage actors to do their own looks, since this helps the actors dive deeper into their characters.
Hearing how these actors would rather they do their own makeup is a contrast to the film and T.V. actors I know, at least here in the Philippines, who cannot go in front of a camera without the aid of a full glam team. Doing this as a form of commitment to a character also speaks about how there may be some truth in the belief that theater is the ideal platform for actors just as how film is for directors and T.V. is for writers. An actor’s devotion to the role (and ultimately, to the play) adds gravitas to the already stirring power of a theater.
For Del Mundo, it is also theater that allows the audience to give into the fullness of imagination, that suspension of disbelief. “You go and watch ‘Superman.’ And if in a low budget movie of ‘Superman,’ you see the wires, then you go, ‘Oh my god, that's a low budget movie of ‘Superman,’ how can you believe Superman can fly?’” he says.
“But you go watch a stage production of Peter Pan and you will see the wires, but your brain will shut that out and you'll go, ‘Oh my god, he can fly.’”
“Macbeth” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will play over one week for nine shows only from Sept. 17 to 22, 2019 at The Theatre in Solaire.