The Gonsalves Method is very clear when it comes to working with another person. It is after all about reading and responding and making your performance dependent on the other actor. It works to help you truly match the old adage “acting is reacting”! But what happens when it’s just you up there and you’re on your own? There’s nothing to respond to I hear you say. I have to preface this by saying Cicely Berry strongly disagrees with me on the following point, and I trust and believe in her teaching in every other regard, but when it comes to soliloquies we respectfully agree to differ. She thinks it is entirely possible for the actor to talk to themselves in a soliloquy (hence the words definition) wrangling through a dilemma etc…I believe when in a Shakespeare play the actor starts talking and they are “alone” on stage I believe that is when they are talking to the other “player” that is always present – the audience.
This has been borne out in our numerous Shakespeare productions with my company Butterfly www.butterfylytheatre.com
We do productions in unusual spaces, caves, castles, historic woodlands even breweries. The thing that makes these promenade productions so unique is the intimate and close proximity of the audience. A review of Macbeth that we did underground in Pooles Cavern in Buxton said they felt implicated in the death of Banquo as in the “to be thus is nothing but to be safely thus” speech of Macbeth’s his objective, (see my last article) was to get the audience to nod in agreement that he should kill Banquo. They nodded, they agreed, so he did it – they were implicated.
The audience are not a passive player they can embolden an actor in their journey, they can disrupt, they can madden or inspire – what we know in this modern age they won’t do, is talk back. Or ever so rarely…so what can you do with this silence?!
Respond to it!
Respond to the cough, the uncomfortable look away, the slight smile, the laugh – the steely silence – RESPOND. Is that reaction good or bad for your objective. If you’re brave enough to respond to the unpredictable spontaneous truthful responses of your audience you will have an alive performance. It is in fact much easier to play the soliloquy in response to what is actually happening.
Always have an objective, with stakes and entitlement attached to the audience if you have any form of direct address with them.
Get them to agree with you, be on your side, trust you, believe you, reassure you, forgive you. Etc… because if they do that thing you will get what? (positive stake). They should do this or that because (entitlement) all the same issues when talking to a character in the scene apply. You speak to the audience because you’re trying to get them to do something. What is incredibly useful is you know what their reaction will be -potentially nothing! So it will be harder to get your objective and you’ll have to change tactic, this can either escalate to energise you into taking action, lead to enraged fury or inaction and despair. And usually soliloquies are interrupted so the person can’t do what they want to do by the end.
This may feel ludicrously manipulative but essentially how can the silence of the audience help you achieve the right tone of the speech. If by the end you’re meant to be full of energy or raging their silence can goad you on to convince yourself you’re right or if you’re in a pool crying on the floor, their silence and inability to rouse them makes you feel more hopeless.
The other thing we forget about in a soliloquy is the audience is another player. They have witnessed EVERYTHING that has happened on stage and indeed before you turn to talk to them they have just seen your character be shamed, lose or win something, cheat someone, be rejected etc. So your objectives must have that sense of pleading your case. In the scene where Hamlet sends Ophelia to the nunnery “I know he just appeared to be rejecting me, I know I was an idiot for agreeing to trick him, you saw me be humiliated by my father and by Hamlet and actually you audience have never really see him be nice to me, and maybe think I’m making it all up but you’re here now and I need you audience to believe me.
Get them to agree with me and comfort me, because if they agree with me I wont be mad. If they don’t agree with me and comfort me I will be mad. They should agree with me because I have his letters as proof, and I know he said he loved me…
O, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!
And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,
That sucked the honey of his music vows,
Now see that noble and most sovereign reason,
Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh;
That unmatch’d form and feature of blown youth
Blasted with ecstasy: O, woe is me,
To have seen what I have seen, see what I see!
Now can you see what happens when the audience is silent. She wants their support after every line. She tries to change tactic, give proofs, make them feel bad, tries to inspire us to see how great he was etc… and they reward her with silence…she may get a few sympathetic glances but no-one speaks up. And indeed she needs them ALL to support her – they don’t. So she leaves the scene feeling like a failure and very much alone…and we know where that all ends up! The audience are implicated in the death of Ophelia …the audience should always feel implicated in all the events that happen in plays especially if characters talk directly to us.
Actors – How to prepare and deliver soliloquies
But ACTORS you must be brave to talk directly to us. Not in our direction, not just over our heads, not even just to our eyes…but actually talk to us WANTING a response. Needing us to say or do something and reacting accordingly if it’s going well or badly. I’m asking you to consider can you risk your whole soliloquy coming from the audience response moment to moment. Can you put your performance in their hands?
Read my next article for some top tips how to do just that…[Ed: To find links to all of Aileen’s articles on her methodology, derived from Meisner, clic on the following link: One Hour Hamlet]
Artistic Director, Butterfly Theatre
Editor of Directing,