Monday, January 13, 2014

What We Do and Why We Do It

The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project is currently based in Pittsburgh, PA.  We are dedicated to performing and exploring the works of William Shakespeare using the Unrehearsed Cue Script Technique that we learned from Demitra Papadinis at the New England Shakespeare Festival, and influenced by the work of Patrick Tucker and the Original Shakespeare Company.

When William Shakespeare composed his plays, the theatre was popular entertainment. His plays were in direct competition with bear baiting, gambling and brothels just up the street, and sometimes in the same building.  Live theatre had to entertain, and offer something new everyday to keep people coming back.  For this reason, Shakespeare’s company and the others working in London at the time, presented a different play every day (Sundays excluded), up to 12 different plays every two weeks, and hardly ever repeated the same play two days in a row.  A new play was introduced into the repertoire about every two weeks, and plays could go months without being repeated. 

At the time performers did not receive entire copies of the scripts they performed.  This was done for a myriad of economic and practical reasons.  Copyright did not exist, and there was nothing keeping an unhappy actor from taking his entire copy of Hamlet down the street and passing it off as his own.  It also took Shakespeare and the scribes at the Globe long enough to write Hamlet out longhand once, why take the time and expense to do it for Guard #2?  Paper and ink were expensive and used sparingly.  Each actor only received his cue script (his ‘roll’) containing the last three or four words of their cue line, their lines, their entrances and exits and very important stage directions. 

With a different play every day, theatres beginning to fill a few hours before the performance and with limited daylight hours in which to perform, when did Shakespeare’s actors have time to rehearse?  They didn’t; at least not in the way we perceive of it today.  They would take the time before the performance to practice any dances, fights or specific bits of choreography and special effects, but there would not be time to run through a play in its entirety.  In order that the actors would know how to stage themselves during the play, the playwrights of the time would write directions and clues into the scripts.

Short lines, capital letters, variant spellings were all clues for an actor.  The punctuation helped to form thoughts, point to inflections, and let an actor know what was going on with his character.  All of these devices are seen throughout the Folio and Quarto printings of Shakespeare’s plays.  Many of these clues have been erased over the past 400 years in attempts to regularize the text for a reading audience, and to make it clearer as poetry.  They have been seen as printing house errors, or mistakes made from ‘foul copies’ and memorial reconstructions of the plays.  While not every variant found in these early printings came directly from William Shakespeare, they were at least made by his contemporaries, and in practice are remarkably useful as clues for actors.

After hundreds of years of performance, it is obvious that the works of William Shakespeare can be prepared and performed in any number ways to a great deal of artistic and critical success.  The Unrehearsed Cue Script Technique that we employ is just that, a technique.  It is not the only one out there, nor is it the only one that we use in our careers as performers.  But it is the lens through which we explore the works of William Shakespeare, and it colors the opinions that will be expressed in this blog.

We are not interested in creating museum pieces.  This technique is used to create connections to our modern audiences through working in a manner for which we believe the text was originally written.  We are not interested in ‘authenticity.’  That term is too loose, and only serves to confuse the real aim of any theatrical event, which is to entertain (on any number of levels).  The only thing that matters is what happens in the space between the performers and the audience through the craft of theatre.  Not what happened 400 years ago.  That is an academic endeavor, and we are embarking upon a practical one.

We are not interested in questions of authorship.  One reason being that we have yet to see any convincing argument that someone other than the actor / playwright William Shakespeare (and his direct collaborators) wrote the plays.  Our concern is with how a modern audience encounters the text in performance, and its original intention takes a back seat to the immediacy of the live event.

We are open to discussing Shakespeare, with all that his name has become associated with in our modern culture.  Our emphasis is on performance, since that is why these texts were originally constructed.  Most of all, we look forward to being an important contributor to the conversation about Shakespeare in the modern world, and of course, see you at one of our productions.

-Andy Kirtland

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