1. GENERAL HEADING: Language: Sounds, Structure, Meter
2. TITLE OF EXERCISE: "Jazzing the Pentameter" or "Rapping the Meter"
3. GOALS: To help actors feel the music in the rhythms of the text by taking a step beyond those exercises that instill a basic sense of the iambic foot and the pentameter line. To take not of metric irregularities. The basic design can be adapted and used as a physical/vocal warm-up for class or rehearsal.
4. NUMBER OF STUDENTS: Small groups or in scene context.
5. EQUIPMENT AND SUPPLIES: A blank verse speech memorized that all participants have memorized in common. Alternatively it can be applied to a scene written in verse.
6. CLASS TIME NEEDED: 10-15 minutes as a group warm-up. Can be used in rehearsal of longer scenes.
7. STEP-BY-STEP DESCRIPTION: Stand in a relaxed circle. Establish a solid ground rhythm compatible with the iambic beat. Everyone claps hands to the rhythm and, when they feel comfortable, they can start moving feet or dancing with it as well. Alternatively, you can introduce some electronic rhythm machine. Establish a tempo lively enough to energize but not so fast as to confound efforts to follow it. The atmosphere should be fun and non-threatening. If a mistake occurs, just keep the rhythm going, go back and try again.
Each participant takes a few lines of blank verse at a time and "jazzes" or "raps" them within the structure of the beat. A difference here is that sounds can be sustained, turned, whirled within the rhythm. Pauses or "rest" can be introduced into the beat. Encourage supportive interaction among participants. Try calling for different rhythmic variations on the same set of lines. See what happens. Where do irregularities come? How do you deal with them?
8. POINTS FOR OBSERVATION, DISCUSSION: If actors get too entranced by a thumping regularity of iambic measures, the delivery of speech becomes monotonous. Speaking Shakespearean verse should not be narrowly regarded as a rigid method. The driving rhythm of the verse needs to serve the communicative energy of the drama. When iambics parade along in a regular beat, the meter calls attention to itself and can undermine a sense of allowing the language to flow "trippingly on the tongue." Another virtue of this exercise is that students begin to relate to the meter not as an intimidating "academic" structure and to discover the meter to be as liberating and as easy to deal with as lyrics in popular music. Even purists should recognize that many of the greatest verse speaking actors of the stage have been as idiosyncratic in their delivery as memorable song stylists are in that medium.
9. SOURCE/REFERENCE: I cannot cite a single source but I know many who do some variation of this exercise.
10. ADDITIONAL READING: The video tape examples in Barton's Playing Shakespeare series provide many examples of individual styles of verse speaking.
11. VARIATIONS: Invent your own.