A King Lear dispatch from Danielle Levings...
Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night's Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.”
Luckily for us at SitP, the contracts we sign don’t involve life or death agreements!
When you watched King Lear this past summer, you may have noticed a frequent presence of two tall women, clothed in black, hanging in the shadows of Lear and his party. That was me and Libby Amato, my compatriot in knightdom. I’m Danielle Levings, and this is my "Knight’s Tale."
To become these models of honor and stealth, we went through our own sort of training. From the beginning, Director Lisa Gaye Dixon gave us the model of the Dora Milaje, fierce warriors who guard Wakanda and T'Challa, its king (also known as the Black Panther).
We started from a basis of physicality. Posture is not my strong suit -- I have a strong tendency to "shlump" whenever possible. So, for two months, posture became my focus, and I self-corrected constantly. Because warriors and fighters must look, at all times, capable, powerful and on guard, Lisa often reminded me to own my power and focus on my character’s task of protection. I instantly straightened up, tightened my core and intensified my focus.
The rest of the company received the benefit of Lisa’s movement focus when we spent a day working on a method known as the Laban Efforts, a technique and language for describing, visualizing, interpreting and documenting human movement. That may all sound a bit esoteric, but the exercises focus on moving with different purposes: to intimidate or to plead, to please or to frighten.
Set to music, we experimented with this type of purposeful movement in the context of our set, to learn from the interactions that developed organically.
This exercise was incredibly informative for harnessing non-verbal power, a skill that the Knights often had to call upon. Incorporated into the production, I would constantly scan above the audience, alert for any sign of danger to Lear. Libby and I developed nonverbal conversations to express our concerns and plans of action, as we were unable to do so in the King’s presence. This connection made us a team, and strengthened our character work.
Armed with these skills, I finally received the mark of a true knight: my sword. As soon as I put it on, it affected my posture and presence. Though it’s edges were dull, this very real sword became a physical expression of a knight’s power. My arms no longer rested at my sides; hands placed upon the hilt, I stepped away from myself and into my character.
This journey exemplified a principal of acting we are always taught: all roles are important. Along with learning text, I was tasked with growing my understanding of physicality, connection and nonverbal expression. There was always work to be done, power to be harnessed. Lisa and the team at SitP made a point to focus on my growth and development, as they did with all of us. My watch may have ended for King Lear, but a Knight’s work is never truly finished.
Danielle is an Actor/Educator/Director based in Milwaukee with a Master of Arts in Theater from Kansas State University. In addition to her Shakespeare in the Park debut in King Lear, she has recently worked with Renaissance Theaterworks, Kohl's Wild Theater, Cooperative Performance and Bard and Bourbon.
When not performing, Danielle is a Teaching Artist with First Stage's Education Department and Academy.