Monday, September 7, 2015
Propping up an Unrehearsed Show
“Nothing succeeds like excess.” – Oscar Wilde
I do adore Mr. Wilde, but his famous quote just wouldn’t work for an Unrehearsed Cue Script Performance (or as it’s otherwise known: Historically Informed Practice). For our Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project shows, we pare down the excess to the vital by using only Shakespeare’s text as our guide. We prefer to let the words and the actions that ensue from them tell the story instead of attempting to exert a gasp from the audience with our sets, lighting and props. In the sixteenth century, the acting troupes needed to travel light (just like us) so adding props for props sake was an unnecessary task.
As the director of Unrehearsed productions, it is currently one of my jobs to comb through the script and find which props are actually mentioned. Those are the props we use. On the occasions when we do have a designer, we have requested that they read the script for this same purpose. It’s astonishing to some people how few props are mentioned in the text, and, unfortunately, certain designers feel that they must add props since that’s what they did the last time they worked on the same play. To which I say: this is not a typical production. If the playwright wanted all of these extra props or special effects in this scene, he would have written them in. Trust the text.
I should say that I have added props for reasons other than what’s in the text. Usually, it’s for the actor’s comfort. For one production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the actress playing Titania was supposed to sleep on a very hard, wooden surface, so I asked that a special pillow be added for her. There’s no pillow mentioned in the text, but having to ‘sleep’ on stage for pages of text on that unforgiving wooden floor would have caused neck or back pain.
I’ve also been known to add a bit with a kazoo to cover a super-fast costume change backstage. Since our cast usually consists of 9 to 11 actors playing many parts, the costume changes can be numerous and quick. So, to stall for a few moments during the show, I’ll have a certain character dance across stage while playing the kazoo. It entertains the audience and keeps the action moving and the actors backstage can get into their new costume quickly and make their entrance on time. I did this recently in our production of Much adoe about Nothing, when the Prince and Don John had to leave a scene and quickly come back on (almost instantaneously) in the next scene as part of Dogberry’s Watch. Dogberry had a special entrance in which he/she would march onstage playing the kazoo and call the Watch on using it. Even though that prop wasn’t necessary to the text, it was necessary for the smooth running of the show, and the audience enjoyed it.
For our rehearsed productions that our New Renaissance Theatre Company will produce, we hope to have the money to afford the sets, props and lighting that is called for in the script. However, we aspire to stay true to our Unrehearsed roots and only use what is vital to tell the story that the playwright has written. When the director’s vision supersedes the playwright’s intent, then that’s a different story and not part of our mission.
We want to succeed using the integral. But that’s not as good of a quote.
-Elizabeth Ruelas, Artistic Director of The New Renaissance Theatre Company (which produces The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project)