First, meet Kevin Coleman. He's Shakespeare & Company's Director of Education, and Emma and I will be working closely with him on the Fall Festival of Shakespeare in the coming months. Kevin's an incredible teaching artist who oversees the company's wealth of education programs, including Shakespeare in the Courts, a program that engages local juvenile offenders in classes and a performance of a Shakespeare play as an obligation to the Court. (He was honored at the White House for that program a few years back. No big deal.)
Kevin's also a fantastic actor and is playing the roles of Northumberland and Shallow in the production I'm assisting on, Henry IV Parts 1&2. One of my rehearsal duties has involved “feeding in” for Kevin, which I promised to detail in a previous entry. One caveat: feeding in is part of a progression developed by Tina Packer that involves first “dropping in,” then “standing up,” and finally feeding in. As I've only encountered the last step in the progression, I am by no means an expert! Shakespeare & Company offers a weekend-long Dropping in Workshop, which I'm hoping to attend this fall.
The task of feeding in is simply this: I stand behind the actor and feed him one line of text at a time during preliminary scene work. This enables him to get the language out of his head and into his body; instead of holding a script while working on a scene, he can focus on being in relationship to his partners and the space. A couple of “feeder” tips:
You want to stand close enough to the actor that he can hear you, but not so close that you get hit if he suddenly turns or wildly gesticulates. (Kevin's Shallow has an extended cane lazzi, so feeding him can get particularly dangerous at times.)
You should repeat text with as little inflection as possible, but try to match the actor in terms of volume. If he picks up in energy and starts shouting in a scene, you'll kill his momentum by whispering the text in his ear.
As the actor starts to get off book, you have to develop a sixth sense for when he knows the line as opposed to when he needs you to feed him. Everyone's a little different (and you won't be able to see the actor's face), but listening to his breath seems to help signal when he needs a cue.
This technique allows the actor to be much more physically and emotionally available during rehearsal. I imagine it also helps them get off book more quickly as they're learning the text in relationship to their experience of the play, as opposed to just memorizing words on a page. I was listening to an interview with Leigh Silverman recently, where she said that she stages a play four times: first while the actors are still learning the text, second when they actually have it memorized, a third time when she first gets into the space/begins tech, and finally when she has an audience. Feeding in allows the actor to compress those first two steps. (Granted, so would having the actors come in off book, but when one is working on a new play – or in this case, a world premiere adaptation – that may not be an option.)
Finally, the considerate actor should thank his or her feeder after rehearsal. Kevin and I have worked out a “lines-for-chocolate” racket that's working out quite nicely for me.
Pictured above: Kevin feeds in a participant at one of S&Co's Professional Development Workshops.