Unrehearsed Shakespeare

(This story comes to us by way of JCKibbey, on Twitter.)

I’d not heard of “unrehearsed Shakespeare” when JC Kibbey mentioned it to me over the weekend, but I have to say that I think I get it, and I think I like it.

Let me see if I can do it justice.  Start with a group of actors who have at least some degree of training in Shakespeare – how to read a First Folio, paying attention to punctuation cues and whatever stage directions might be at hand.

Now, hand them cue scripts – where they see only their lines, not the entire play. I don’t know how much time they get to learn their part, or if we’re literally talking about a performance where the cast is still “on book”.  But, regardless….action!  The cast and the audience alike get to watch the play unfold, not knowing what’s coming next.

This is supposed to mimic original practice, according to proponents of the style.  Costume and props are minimal, and the audience is encouraged to be just as … lively? … as they would have been in Shakespeare’s day.  Audience participation and interaction is encouraged.

Sounds like a neat idea.  I have to admit that, as an audience member, I’d never even consider sitting down to a Shakespeare play without having read it.  So the “cast and audience watch the play unfold together” thing would be lost on me.  But, obviously, original audiences did not often have that luxury.

Thoughts? Surely the emphasis alone on First Folio text, and using punctuation as your director, makes this an effort worthy of some respect.

4 thoughts on “Unrehearsed Shakespeare

  1. This is something we're considering doing as a workshop for teens – "Cue Scripts Workshop" – basically do a little course in understanding what cues Shakespeare provides (here vs there, for example), do some one on one talking about the part, and then let them costume themselves and come out to do the "play" – unrehearsed. It's sort of complex, admittedly, but it's something we're noodling at. I think it's great for showing how Shakespeare IS intelligible – you just have to look for the context clues (which I think we all were doing in the fifth grade, right?).

  2. Patrick Tucker (he's mentioned in the link) first introduced the idea of
    working with First Folio cue scripts in workshops he conducted at Riverside Shakespeare Co.in 1982. The whole idea is to attempt to nurture a natural spontaneity in performance–total participation in the whole play and 'honest', immediate reactions from the actors being the major goals.
    Shortly after I left Riverside in the early 90s they began a project with The Actors Studio using only cue scripts. The reasons are obvious. You get a few words as your cue and you'd better be ready… As a result, the oft-quoted maxim to the actor–OBSERVE and LISTEN– *has* to be observed, otherwise you have no idea what, or how, you might be asked to react within your own lines.
    I think it works best as a discovery mode during the rehearsal period.
    We did staged readings at Riverside–they were as full out as one could get with a book in hand–but they were by no means regarded as full-fledged production performances, even though they were in front of some
    very large audiences. Even then, if you rehearse the blocking enough you begin to memorize anyway. And needless to say it's kind of hard to manage a broadsword in one hand with one eye on a script. You might end up with only one.
    That said, this technique is an amazing learning tool for an actor.
    There are tons of great dramatic clues to be found through working with the Folio text, cue script technique or not. And audiences *do* tend to better comprehend what's going on. The language becomes clearer the more 'accurately' it's spoken.
    No matter the performance format, the TEXT–Folio in particular–has been mother's milk for me since I first discovered it at Riverside. It's where most of the answers lie. I may have indicated that a time or two in my rants on punctuation. 🙂
    It's nice to see there's an established mainstream program emphasizing it.
    Thanks for pointing this up Duane.

  3. This is actually the technique our company uses during our Actors' Renaissance Season — they don't perform scripts-in-hand (though that is the case during our Bring 'Em Back Alive play readings), but they do use cue scripts, and they have an extremely condensed rehearsal schedule — just two days for the first show in the season, and never more than two weeks for the later shows.

    It's a great experiment, and while some of our actors aren't as enthusiastic about cue scripts, some of them have liked it so much that they actually make cue scripts for other seasons as well — there's a whole lot of embedded information and performance clues that you can easily miss if you actually read the whole text.

  4. Instant Shakespeare performs First Folio unrehearsed Shakespeare here in NYC at NY Public Libraries. They do the entire Canon during the entire year.

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