USP is produced by The New Renaissance Theatre Company and is dedicated to exploring the works of William Shakespeare using the Unrehearsed Cue Script Technique in productions, classes, coaching and workshops. Here are some thoughts about what we do, why we do it, and on the world of Shakespeare past, present and future. Comments are welcomed and encouraged, but please keep them civilized.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Acting in Silence
The most terrifying cue script one of our actors can receive
Lady #1 Cue
CLEOPATRA HER LADIES,
THE TRAINE WITH
EUNUCHS FANNING HER
…………………………………………………….Speake not to us.
EXEUNT WITH THE
There are many Lords, Ladies and soldiers populating the
scripts of William Shakespeare with such cues. What is the actor faced with
such a cue supposed to do on stage? There is no indication of how long this
Lady is to be on stage, what is happening around her or who it is happening to.
The actor is in many ways in the same situation as her character. She must ‘use
These characters often are not given stage directions by the
other characters. Inexperienced or overly excited Unrehearsed actors will often
times execute, with great enthusiasm, what they believe to be stage directions
that are in fact not intended for them when they are playing these parts. This
results in confusion for the audience (and the actors), or inappropriate
actions and stage pictures leading to confusion for the audience (and the
actors). The speaking characters should be clear about what, if any stage
directions, they are throwing to other characters. Discretion is called for,
and that comes with experience.
The silent actor still should be listening for pertinent
stage directions, but she must react to what is happening on stage. If she is
listening as actively as the technique demands, then she will not fail in
making her presence on stage a benefit and not a distraction. The interesting
thing is that her reactions are not important to the story telling. If the
character’s opinions and / or reactions were, then the character would have
lines expressing her thoughts or directions regarding her reactions. Sometimes
characters are given an outlet. Maybe it is in a different scene, or after the
main action has left the stage. In the moment however, her true reaction is
correct – as long as it does not upstage or detract from the scripted scene.
The question when preparing the text is whether to present
these nameless wordless characters. Are their reactions worth the expense of
costumes and the (quite often) quick-changes that actors must undergo between
their exits and their next entrance? In theatres with budgets, the audience
watches supernumeraries standing in the background holding spears or looking as
though they are waiting for a bus. For the many theatres that cannot afford
these characters, they are simply cut from the scene – or a retinue is represented
by one faithful courtier wordlessly following the King.
If money and cast is no object, then by all means we should
represent these characters because at some point, their presence was thought
necessary. However, when money is a concern, these characters often fall by the
wayside in favor of economic story telling.
The other time that silence comes into question is when main
characters become silent. Most notably Isabella (Measure for Measure) and Sylvia (The Two Gentlemen of Verona) come to mind. Both of these
characters, very strong and rounded female characters, fall silent in the final
scenes of their plays after their betrothals are announced. Celia (As You Like It) has no lines at all in
the fifth act of her story – and she gets married on stage! (For more thoughts
on this character, see Elizabeth Ruelas' earlier post "An Inexplicable Romance in the Forest of Arden" from Sept. 12, 2014.) Critics and audience members have expounded on the possible
meanings of such mute characters, but when approaching the texts as we do,
through cue scripts, it is important to remember that the actors portraying
these characters have no idea what is not in their scripts. These actresses do
not know for how long they do not speak. All they know is that they do not have
the last line in the scene. The actress playing Celia knows that she is getting
married because she must rehearse the dance, and most likely at some reading of
the text or telling of the general story, Isabella and Sylvia will know their
fates (or maybe not, just to keep it interesting for everyone involved). But
these are moot points, because the actors should be playing by the rules, and
in doing so make no comment on the scene. Any interpretation belongs off stage.
For everyone involved, the audience included, it is paramount
to remember that everything pertinent to the stories is spoken. We listen to
who is speaking. We watch who speaks. We do not ignore the silent characters,
but they should not be the focus, and it is the actors’ job to make sure that
we are always focused on what is important on stage. It is a discipline that
comes with discretion and experience. The reasons why the silent characters are
needed will only be evident in performance.
So in the first scene of Antony
and Cleopatra, according to the above cue, the actor must follow Antony and
Cleopatra onto the stage. She must exit with everyone after the line “Speake
not to us.” Everything else must happen in the moment, and that is what creates
The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project