Friday, December 12, 2014

The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project's Book Review

For all of you who have been keeping up with what we have to say about the Unrehearsed Cue Script Technique and all things Shakespeare and would like to learn more about it, I’ve put together a reading list of books that I have enjoyed and / or influence my work on the Bard. Please, comment and let us know if you have other favorites or recommendations. USP is always looking for interesting and new research and inspiration.

Secrets of Acting Shakespeare, The Original Approach, Patrick Tucker, Routledge, 2002
            This is the book that started it all. In these pages Tucker talks about how he “discovered” (used in the loosest sense) unrehearsed Shakespeare. He details some of the performances, what worked for him and the Original Shakespeare Company and what did not. Everyone of whom I am aware that works in this style has roots in what Tucker sets forth in this book. It is the best source for starting your exploration of this technique.

Shakespeare in Parts, Simon Palfrey and Tiffany Stern, Oxford, 2007
            At the moment, this award winning study is my bible and greatest influence. Tiffany Stern is Patrick Tucker’s niece, and with him ran the Original Shakespeare Company. This is a much more involved study of the style and is intended for academics as much as it is for theatre practitioners. Parts of it can be wordy, and it is a long read at 490+ pages, but it is a gold mine. Stern details brilliantly how the cues contain just as much important information for an actor as his own text. She has some very astutely observed and detailed accounts of how the technique influences characters. This is a must read for anyone with any interest in the subject.

Acting from Shakespeare’s First Folio, Theory, Text and Performance, by Don Weingust, Routledge, 2006
            The title sounds like a thesis paper, and the book almost reads as one. Wiengust was a party to the Original Shakespeare Company’s productions at the Globe Theatre in London during its first three years in operation. He gives good, thorough reasons for the use of the technique as opposed to the New Bibliography movement that for a long time has held sway over the editing of Shakespeare’s texts. It is rather dry, but it should be read at least to get another perspective on the technique from someone who was not directly involved with Tucker’s productions.

The following books are not on the Unrehearsed Cue Script Technique, but will be of interest to any scholar or actor who has a passion for Shakespeare.

Playing Shakespeare, An Actor’s Guide, by John Barton, Anchor Books, 1984
            The only thing better than the book is the television series from which this book is made. I cannot recommend that series enough. It is brilliant to see so many famous British actors relatively early in their careers sitting literally at the feet of John Barton, and seeing them going through the same steps as every young actor takes when learning how to perform Shakespeare. At this point, this book is most likely required reading for every Shakespeare class for actors, but in truth, everyone should read it – or even better, see it.

The Shakespeare Wars, Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascoes, Palace Coups, by Ron Rosenbaum, Random House, 2006
            This is a wonderful book in which Rosenbaum, inspired by Peter Brook’s famous production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, sets out to discover what makes Shakespeare Shakespearean. He talks with scholars, editors, theatre practitioners getting conflicting views on just about every aspect of the Bard from authorship to attribution, performance style to editing texts. This book raises more questions than it seeks to answer and gives a great picture in the variety of Shakespeare scholarship. It’s a big book at 500+ pages, but rewarding.

A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare, 1599, by James Shapiro, Harper Perennial, 2005
            This is my favorite book regarding Shakespearean biography. Rather than taking the usual approach of reading Shakespeare’s texts and attempting to extrapolate biographical details (from works of ­fiction – don’t get me started), Shapiro looks at the facts and actual events surrounding London in 1599, then looks at the texts to see how these events influenced the writing. 1599 was a particular busy year for Shakespeare: amidst the drama of constructing The Globe, the Bard finished Henry V, wrote Julius C├Žsar, and As You Like It, as well as completed a draft of Hamlet. It was also a busy year for England: the Spanish Armada, the Irish Rebellion, the beginning of the East India Company, and the Queen was aging without settling on a successor. Shapiro paints a wonderful picture of the time, and how Shakespeare incorporated the themes of his contemporary life into his plays.

Becoming Shakespeare, the Unlikely Afterlife That Turned a Provincial Playwright into the Bard, by Jack Lynch, Walker, 2007
            I love this book because it shows how subsequent generations built the pedestal upon which so many now place Shakespeare. So many people point out how they want to get back to what the playwright originally intended, or to some approximation. Lynch shows how the changes imposed upon the plays over the past 400 years have made that a near impossibility. This is a great antidote to the terminal Bardology that many suffer from today. It lets us know that Shakespeare was a playwright. Whatever else we see him as today is our own construction.

-Andy Kirtland
The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project

Friday, November 28, 2014

Benedicke versus Leonato: Who Will Stop Her Mouth?

I have been putting the finishing edit touches to the script of our next production: Much adoe about Nothing, trying to work out the best way for ten actors to play all of the characters.  I’ve had to combine a couple of characters and, unfortunately, completely delete one (apologies, Antonio).  As we’ve blogged about before, there were some lines in the First Folio (the only version we use) that were not attributed to characters but rather to the actors who played them at the time.  Without using modern versions to fill in the answers for us – Andy and I enjoyed working out who should say what.  It was pretty easy to figure out, but still a fun exercise for us Shakespeare nerds.  Then, in Act Five… the last scene…28 lines from the end of the play, there it was: “Peace I will stop your mouth.” delivered by Leonato instead of the usual Benedicke. 

We knew it was coming.  So, now the question: should I, as the director, give the line to Benedicke to say (which audiences will expect and enjoy) or leave it as Leonato’s line (which may throw some for a loop?)
The line is Leonato’s in every Folio and Quarto version I could find: First Quarto (1600), First Folio (1623), & Second Folio (1632) has the line plain as I’ve written above.  In the Third Folio (1664) and Fourth Folio (1685) the line is still Leonato’s, but a comma is added after “Peace”.
In modern texts, there is also a stage direction added: “kisses her”, which is not in any of the Folios or Quartos. 
This begs the question: why give the line to Benedicke and add the stage direction?  Based on the Unrehearsed Cue Script Technique, the actor playing Leonato would have endless options to ‘suit the action to the word’ (an unrehearsed technique rule) with stopping Beatrice’s mouth.  After all, she’s the one who’s talking when this line is spoken.  He’s her uncle and has been living with her brilliant wit for years, day after day.  So, stopping her mouth would mean something else coming from him rather than Beatrice’s soon-to-be husband.  Plus, the added stage direction in modern texts takes the choice away from the actor.  Yes, a kiss is fun and it’s what the audience is waiting for, but letting an actor’s imagination be free to decide how to stop her mouth can be an exciting moment!
But, it’s not what the audience who knows this play expects.  True.  That is what the Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project is all about.  Introducing audiences to this fun, original way of performing Shakespeare’s plays.  It’s fast-paced, true to the text, and as close to the style that Shakespeare’s company would have performed them. 
So, who will be stopping Beatrice’s mouth and how will they do it?  You’ll have to come see our show in 2015 to find out!

-Elizabeth Ruelas
The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project

Friday, November 14, 2014

"This is Not the Theatre of Subtlety" - Guest Post by Elizabeth Chappel

I would argue that there are two nightmares for actors:
1.      Going onstage not having a clue of what you are doing. (Don’t lie; you’ve had that dream. EVERYONE has had that dream: the one where you didn’t even know you were supposed to be in a play and have no idea what the lines are.)
2.      Auditions.

The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project turns the first into an insanely fun experience. Sure, you have the inherent directions in your text, and you’re taught the basics (action to the word; cross to the person to whom you are speaking, if you do not know to whom you are speaking, cross to the person who gave you your cue). However, you have no idea what anyone else is going to say or do or even what the specific plot of the show is. It is thrilling and unexpected and absolutely wonderful.

Now let’s talk about the second nightmare.

Any audition can be a nerve-wracking process. The audition room turns into this blank void where anything could happen – somehow it becomes a torture chamber with an inherent, intense pressure to be everything the director wants or you face corporal punishment. Maybe? I don’t know. Trying to encompass the normal audition process with metaphors is hard.

Anyway, this is what auditioning can be. Auditioning for Unrehearsed is NOT this.

When I walked into the audition last year for Unrehearsed, I went in nervous (as I am for every audition ever). I checked in and was given the cold reading with lines for Adriana and Dromio. Obviously, I thought, I shall prepare for Adriana, as I am female. Once I was ready, I walked into a large space with two people unexpectedly beaming at me. Elizabeth and Andy were sitting at this table with an infectious, expectant excitement on their faces that put me immediately at ease. They explained some of the concepts about how cue script technique is performed, and off we went into the world of Shakespeare.

I started off with the Adriana monologue, hamming it up a little bit, moving around and directing some of the lines to Elizabeth. Elizabeth and Andy gave some notes, and then I was asked to perform the Dromio monologue… which was unexpected. I winged it, verging onto vaudeville in the character and running around like a crazy person. I left the audition room feeling exhilarated and like I made a complete fool of myself in the most wonderful way. It turns out that this is how Shakespeare performed in the cue script technique should feel. It feels be big and vivid, and you are completely exhausted afterwards.

Some tips:
-Gender-swapping may occur.
As you read, if you are a girl, you may be asked to read for a boy, and vice
-Have fun!
If you haven’t gotten it already from the other blog posts or watching a
performance, performing Unrehearsed is incredibly fun. No reason the
audition shouldn’t be the same.
-Action to the word!
The bigger the better. This is not the theater of subtlety – there’s a time and
place for that, but think of yourself as entertaining the Elizabethan masses.
Pretty sure physical humor might get you a better response.
-Interact with your audience.
In this case, the auditioners. I know there are some auditions where there is
this awkward, invisible, impenetrable barrier between you and the director. Not so here.

And that’s it!
Think of it this way: the final performance of the Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project will be surprising and wonderful in its flaws; why would the director expect the audition to be any different?
Hope to see you all for Much adoe about Nothing!

-Elizabeth Chappel
The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Acting in Silence

The most terrifying cue script one of our actors can receive is:

Lady #1 Cue

…………………………………………………….Gypsies Lust.

…………………………………………………….Speake not to us.

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 it.’

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 interesting theatre.

-Andy Kirtland
The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project

Friday, October 17, 2014

Auditioning for The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project

Auditions are stressful on both sides of the table.  Actors want to do well and to be what the director wants, and the directors want the actors to do well and to be what we want.  Both sides want the same thing.  Unfortunately, nerves about the unknown can get to most people.  Actors stress over whether or not they’re “good” enough and directors stress over whether the “good” actors will be easy to work with.  We’ve found that the best way to help actors stress less during the audition process is to just tell them exactly what we want and to…wait for it…talk WITH them.

When we post audition notices, we state that we’re looking for “actors experienced with heightened language, the ability to play multiple characters, the ability to take direction well, lots of energy and awesome attitude.”  That’s all.  As actors, having a clear set of expectations for an audition is very important to us.  It helps us determine if we’re right for the show and tells us a bit about the people we’ll be auditioning for.  As directors, we are letting actors know what’s expected from them before they even sign up for an audition slot.  The Unrehearsed Cue Script Technique is not for the lazy actor.  It is not for the shy, timid actor.  It is also not for the Divas.  We are trying to put together a troupe of players that work together well, are giving, dynamic, and have wonderful personalities that shine through even during difficult moments on stage.  We want to give our audiences a unique experience where they can enjoy themselves as much as the actors.  The first step is proper casting.
We don’t like prepared monologues for our Unrehearsed auditions.  We want to see what you can do with a bit of Shakespeare that you may not know perfectly, which is why we do cold readings for our auditions.  When the actors show up, they are given a short selection of monologues from which they choose to do for their 10 minute audition slot.  Yes, we use the whole 10 minutes, but more on that later.  So, the actor who shows up early for their audition gets some time to work on the monologue a bit, and then comes in to perform it for us.  This first part is very important because it shows us their comfort level with the language, how they approach a monologue on their own, and their choice of monologue also tells us how they type themselves.  Then we explain who we are and what we do.  One of us gets up from the table and goes to stand by the actor and talk with them.  We talk about our process, talk with them about something interesting we’ve seen on their resume, and ask them if they have any questions.  We try to ease them and to let them know more about us.  Then we give them directions and have them do the monologue again.  Depending on the actor and how we are casting the show, we may have the actor do another cold monologue.  The important part of this process is to determine whether or not the actor truly fits all the criteria we are looking for:
1.       Experience with heightened language (their first go at the monologue tells us this straight away)
2.       Ability to play multiple characters (leads also play character parts, so can this actor do both?)
3.       Ability to take direction well (how does this actor take direction from us during their brief time here?)
4.       Lots of energy (do they use the stage? Do they use us as the audience? Are they not afraid to move?)
5.       Awesome attitude (the discussion we have with the actor shows us this)

Throughout all this, we look for another vital element: a sense of humor.  Can they have fun with the monologue and can they be funny?  This isn’t something we can teach them.  It’s something that every actor either has or doesn’t have, and with this technique the ability to find humor and to use it well is imperative.
This is also the time for the actor to decide whether or not they want to work with us. We may not be right for every actor, and it is better for everyone to find this out in the audition rather than after the process has started.
If, during that 10 minute audition, an actor shows us that they can bring to the table everything we’ve asked for, then why call them back to confirm it?  If, on the other hand, we’re unsure about an actor who maybe gets 50% of what we’re asking for, then we just review our notes from the audition and decide if we think they’ll get the rest with a bit more Unrehearsed training.  Of course, if an actor comes in with a bad attitude or doesn’t seem to get what we’re asking for at all, then we are not the right company for them. 
We tried doing callbacks once for this technique a couple of years ago, which didn’t work.  They were wonderful actors to begin with, and we knew we would like to work with them, but sometimes it just comes down to “type” or “look”.  If we already have two actors with similar looks or types in the cast, then we’ll hold on to this third actor’s info for our next show.  Aside from building a troupe of players, we also want individuality and eclectic-ness.
That 10 minute initial audition has always told us exactly what we need to know about an actor – especially when we combine it with the other elements that happen during or before an audition. A callback is just one more audition that they might stress over, or have to take time off of their ‘pay the bills’ job to arrange.  If we, as the director and producer, use our time with the actor to talk with them and put them through some Unrehearsed technique paces, then why call them back to do it again?
Luckily, we have been spoiled for choice at our auditions with the amount of talented actors with awesome personalities who have shown up.  Yes, we want that to continue.  We want actors to give us difficult choices because they’re all amazing.  Maybe they’re not right for this show, but they may be perfect for our next show.  Not doing a callback for USP is also our way of saying not only do we trust our cast, but we hope they trust our decisions.

-Elizabeth Ruelas & Andy Kirtland
The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project

Friday, October 3, 2014

"Shakespeare at the speed of thought" - Guest Post by Tonya Lynn

For this week's post, we've asked one of our talented troupe members to write about her experience with the Unrehearsed Cue Script Technique.  Here are her thoughts:

“Seat-of-your-pants Shakespeare.”

“Shakespeare at the speed of thought.”

“The actor’s nightmare…gone right.”

These are some of the ways I’ve caught myself describing the unrehearsed Shakespeare technique to my theatre friends and colleagues in the past few months since having my first performance experience with it this past summer as a cast member in The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project’s production of Comedie of Errors.
First of all, the production was extremely physical, and one of the most high-energy productions of Shakespeare I’ve ever been involved in.  As a physical actor myself, this is right up my alley (I’ve been training in stage combat with the Society of American Fight Directors for over a decade, have trained in film stunts with the United Stuntmens’ Association, and am also currently studying movement theater and mime).  With all actors in the production actively attempting to “suit the action to the word,” every physical moment and action can have clarity of intention that I crave as a physical actor.  As a safety-conscious fight choreographer and stage combatant, I was quite relieved to learn that choreography is the exception to the “unrehearsed” rule—all the configurations of possible combatants learned the show’s choreography prior to the performance, and we had fight calls before every performance.  Safety first!
Also, by necessity, all actors are actively listening to every word spoken on stage – this enforced “active listening” creates an ensemble atmosphere where every person/character on stage has a personal investment in the scene as it unfolds.  Regardless of the quantity of text an actor may or may not be speaking, everyone on stage is listening equally – and that creates a depth of commitment to the scene across the board that is hard to find.  There is also an urgency to the performances fueled by adrenaline and a bit by pride – pace is important to the unrehearsed technique, and no one wants to be called out by the prompter for slowing down the performance.
I’m no stranger to Shakespeare.  I have a MA in Theatre History, and as an actor and fight choreographer I have more Shakespeare on my resume than more contemporary work.  I’ll admit that familiarity and facility with speaking Shakespeare’s poetry and prose is a bit of an advantage when working in this style – especially at the workshop level, where the actors are performing “scenes-from-a-hat” style.  A full  unrehearsed production levels the playing field– the opportunity to do text analysis with the director on every word assigned to a given actor, ensures that everyone can have a full understanding of their text  (and the cues and clues within it) prior to the performance.  I’m still thankful to the teachers who had me start reading Shakespeare aloud in high school, regardless, because it’s exhilarating to face the challenge of applying the unrehearsed technique on the fly!
In the interest of full disclosure, my first experience with the unrehearsed technique was actually as an audience member a couple of years ago—several friends and colleagues were involved in an unrehearsed production, and I went to see what the buzz was all about.  Through the haze of memory, I remember most the energy of the production, the chemistry of the ensemble, and how positively green with envy I was that my friends were having so much fun on stage.  Fast forward a few years later, and now that I’ve had the opportunity myself, I can confirm my experience has indeed been exhilarating, challenging, a little bit terrifying, and also…fun.  I highly recommend giving it a try, from both the actor and audience perspective!
- Tonya Lynn
The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project

Friday, September 12, 2014

An Inexplicable Romance in the Forest of Arden

While I am currently playing the part of Celia in a beautifully excellent rehearsed production of As You Like It, I wanted to take a moment and see how different my portrayal of her would be if this was in an Unrehearsed Cue Script version of the show.  Specifically, the ending.

If I were to just receive Celia’s cue script, which would contain only my lines and the last 3 or 4 words of my cue line, I would be totally surprised by the fact that she marries Oliver at the end.  Of course, this would be if I knew nothing of the play to begin with and that information would be shared with me during my text session with the director.  However, going by just what’s in the text: how does Celia end up with Oliver?  Was Shakespeare in a hurry to finish and just figured they were the only two single people of similar age, so why not marry them?
In their first meeting in Act 4 Scene 3, there is never a moment of attraction from either side in the text:

Take their first lines to each other from the First Folio:

Oliu.    Good morrow, faire ones: pray you, (if you know)
            Where in the Purlews of this Forrest, stands
            A sheep-coat, fenc'd about with Oliue-trees.

Cel.      West of this place, down in the neighbor bottom
             The ranke of Oziers, by the murmuring streame
             Left on your right hand, brings you to the place:
             But at this howre, the house doth keepe it selfe,
             There's none within.

Oli.      If that an eye may profit by a tongue,
            Then should I know you by description,
            Such garments, and such yeeres: the boy is faire,
            Of femall fauour, and bestowes himselfe
            Like a ripe sister: the woman low
            And browner then her brother: are not you
            The owner of the house I did enquire for?

Cel.      It is no boast, being ask'd, to say we are.

Oli.      Orlando doth commend him to you both,
            And to that youth hee calls his Rosalind,
            He sends this bloudy napkin; are you he?

Calling a woman “low” and “browner” doesn’t instantly recall other romantic phrases that the Bard is famous for.  All of Celia’s lines to Oliver are straightforward and not really invested in him – unlike her encouragement to “faire” Orlando in the first act and her flirtatious congratulations to Orlando after he wins the wrestling bout.  Even at the end of Act 4 Scene 3, Celia is more concerned about her swooning cousin and basically orders Oliver to help her get “Rosalind” home.
As an Unrehearsed Technique actor, Celia’s cue script for those first few lines would look like this:

…………………………………………………………….with Oliue-trees.
West of this place, down in the neighbor bottom
The ranke of Oziers, by the murmuring streame
Left on your right hand, brings you to the place:
But at this howre, the house doth keepe it selfe,
There's none within.

…………………………………………………………… enquire for?
It is no boast, being ask'd, to say we are.

There’s nothing in Celia’s text that clues me (as the actress) into the fact that she’s falling in love with whomever she’s speaking to.  Of course, the rest of the scene is all about Oliver telling how Orlando saved his life and wants him to deliver a blood-stained napkin to “Rosalind” aka Ganymede.  Oliver reveals that he’s Orlando’s evil brother, but now he’s totally changed and not evil any more.  Rosalind faints and they carry her off.  Next thing we know, Oliver is telling Orlando that he’s fallen in love with Celia (or “Aliena” as he knows her) and they’ll be married.  Even Rosalind gets into the story of love by saying in Act 5 Scene 2:

Ros.     O, I know where you are: nay, tis true: there
            was neuer any thing so sodaine, but the sight of two
            Rammes, and Cesars Thrasonicall bragge of I came, saw,
            and ouercome. For your brother, and my sister, no soo-
            ner met, but they look'd: no sooner look'd, but they
            lou'd; no sooner lou'd, but they sigh'd: no sooner sigh'd
            but they ask'd one another the reason: no sooner knew
            the reason, but they sought the remedie: and in these
            degrees, haue they made a paire of staires to marriage,
            which they will climbe incontinent, or else bee inconti-
            nent before marriage; they are in the verie wrath of
            loue, and they will together. Clubbes cannot part

Really?  When did this happen?  Yes, they “met” and “look’d”, but all that sighing stuff didn’t happen when they met.  Did this happen after they carried Rosalind home?  The text that’s given for Celia in the fifth act is conspicuous by its absence.  She has no more lines for the rest of the play after Act 4 Scene 3.  She has a couple of entrances, but the usually witty, intelligent and funny Celia is silent in Act 5.  She’s been silent before in the play, but that’s when she’s watching Rosalind con Orlando into wooing her or dressing down Phebe.  It’s your wedding day, Celia.  And Rosalind’s!  No good wishes or even a response to your beloved uncle when he addresses you?    
If Celia is to follow the stage directions in the text, then the fact that she marries Oliver in the end will come as a complete surprise to the audience.  There’s never a moment in that earlier scene that tips anyone off to the fact that they’ll end up together.  Did Shakespeare intend this?  Usually when two people meet over extraordinary circumstances, like one man saving his brother’s life by wrestling with a lion and rewarding his “love” with a bloody napkin, there’s a combined emotion of survival and excitement that’s shared after such an intense moment.  But would it last?  Doesn’t matter.  This is a comedy.  Comedies end in marriage.  If two people are single and of marrying age and can still conceive children, then why not marry them in the end?  For rehearsed plays, it’s up to the director how Celia and Oliver’s love connection is perceived.  However, in an Unrehearsed production of this play, the audience gets to draw their own conclusions as to why there’s a quickie wedding between these two at the end and by simply following the stage directions given to the actress playing Celia in the text there isn’t necessarily an answer for it.  After all, love is never easy to understand anyway.
- Elizabeth Ruelas
The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project

Friday, August 29, 2014

What’s in a Name?

While preparing the prompt book for our 2015 production of Much adoe about Nothing, I was struck by the scene in which Dogberry interrogates Borachio and Conrad. The scene involves the characters Dogberry, Verges, the Sexton (or Clerk), Borachio, Conrad and several members of the watch. The line attributions, however, are listed as follows:

Keeper, Cowley, Sexton, Andrew, Cowley, Sexton, Kemp, Borachio, Kemp, Conrade, Kee., Conrade, Kemp, Borachio, Kemp, Sexton, Kemp, Watch 1, Kemp, Borachio, Kemp, Sexton, Watch 2, Kemp, {Constable}, Sexton, Watch 1, Kemp, Sexton, Watch, Sexton, Constable, Sexton, Kemp, {Cowley}, Kemp

What this says to me is that the printers did not change anything on these pages, they simply printed what was given them – as is the practice with modern printers. It follows then that the punctuation, spelling and capitalization on these pages also were printed as the originals were presented. If they would not change something so important to the understanding of a scene, from a reader’s point of view, as the names of the characters speaking, why would we assume or conjecture that they changed any spelling or punctuation?

There may be variations between the original copies and what was eventually printed, but I believe that these were more along the lines of misread handwriting. The spelling and the punctuation were taken from the source documents. Much like today’s Kinko’s, the employees behind the counter print what you give them, errors and all. What the printers were given were not errors. When put into practice, these devices work on stage as directions and rhetorical devices. If the printers made changes to the text, apprenticed as they were in the art of printing, not acting, did they know that their changes would translate so well in performance? They wouldn’t. They printed what was handed to them, and what they were given were the prompt books and cue scripts owned by the King’s Men. From a practical point of view, the idea that the spelling and punctuation in the First Folio are a result of printers who were not highly educated, skilled or even alcoholic does not hold any water.

This also is some evidence, although by no means conclusive, that scenes were added or changed by Shakespeare’s actors. The line attributions, in some cases, are clearly made for the actors playing these roles and not for the specific characters. It is a slip that appears throughout the First Folio, but this entire scene seems as though it was written down as it was being played. That is an exaggeration, but it smacks of being an interlopation at some point in the play’s history. That is not to say that Shakespeare did not have a hand in it, but the inconsistency of the line attributions hint that it was not written at the same time as the rest of the text.

Usually I find arguments about the physical printing of the First Folio and authorship tedious and moot since we have the plays that we have and what matters is what we do with them for our audience today, not what they meant to the playwright or his audience back then. This just struck me, and took my thoughts in this direction for once. Although The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project will work from the First Folio, rest assured whatever role they had, Compositors A-F will not be getting any of the billing.

-Andy Kirtland
The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project

Friday, August 8, 2014

The View from the Prompter’s Table

The most hectic, stressful, teeth-itching and thankless job in an unrehearsed cue script production is that of Prompter.  That statement is made with all respect and deference due to the stage managers of this world without whom almost no theatrical production would ever go up.  However, the fact that I can make that statement shows that at least stage management’s contribution to the craft is acknowledged while the Prompter is often seen to be an obstacle to be over come, a distraction at best, or an unnecessary relic taking up valuable stage space at the worst.  But what does a Prompter actually ‘do?’

The most apt analogy that can be made is to describe the Prompter as the conductor of an orchestra.  Each actor has his or her part and it is up to the Prompter to make sure they follow it. During the performance, the Prompter sits on stage with the entire script before him (this is why some may refer to him as the Book-Holder or Book-Keeper).  He reads along while the actors are performing in case they go up on a line or ask for help or somehow skip a few pages of text.  He also lets them know if they have missed a cue or if they are speaking when they should not.  Generally, he prompts them much as an assistant stage manager would during rehearsals.

While one eye is on the script, the other eye is on the stage making sure that everyone is on stage that should be and that no one is on stage that should not.  He sees an upcoming entrance and must anticipate it being missed, in case it is, while reading along to ensure the actors on stage are in the right place.  Since it is unrehearsed, the entering actor may come on from stage left, or stage right, or from the audience, or from behind the large oak tree behind the family of six with their picnic and a dog.  Even worse, the character that is entering the scene does not speak right away, so the Prompter must see him for him to actually be ‘on stage.’

So that is one eye in the book, one eye on the stage.  One ear is obviously out for the lines being spoken and is hopefully communicating smoothly with the eye in the book.  The other ear is listening for distractions: airplanes, ambulances and fire trucks, motorcycles, trains, barking dogs, construction, party boats, crying babies, etc.

Should any distraction occur and take the audience’s attention or is louder than the speaking actors, it is the Prompter’s job to stop the show, acknowledge the disturbance and if necessary give the actors and the audience something to do until the interruption is over and the show can continue.  This can manifest itself as a song, as a quick improvisation for the actors, a joke, or a response.  Whatever may happen, it falls to the Prompter to keep the audience’s attention on the stage and on the actors so that when the disturbance is over everyone can pick up from the same point.  The disruption is no longer a disruption, but a shared, unique experience.

The Prompter must also be aware of what props should be on stage.  If the actors are handing a bag of money back and forth and someone forgot to bring the bag of money on stage, then the Prompter needs to remind the actor to go get it and give the other performers something to do until he returns.

Most sound effects also fall to the Prompter, so his hands are full as well.

The pace of the show is also the Prompter’s responsibility.  Unrehearsed actors are trained to follow the meter and punctuation and only to take pauses where they are offered in the text.  However, they are still actors and have been trained otherwise with more modern texts that lend themselves to slower speech and introspective, pregnant pauses.  Not us.  If an actor is moving too slowly or taking unnecessary pauses, the Prompter reminds him to pick up the pace.  Romeo & Juliet is supposed to be ‘the two hours traffic of our stage.’  When has an un-cut Romeo & Juliet ever come in under 120 minutes?  Unrehearsed shows are faster-paced than more modern plays and it is up to the Prompter to keep them moving forward.

Add to all this that should something happen to an actor during the show –a catastrophic cue script snafu, or an injury- the Prompter is the general understudy and must get up and perform in place of the stricken actor while still performing his other prompterly duties.  So throughout the entire performance, he must be ready and prepared to go on as any character in the play.

Now the Prompter is not the Director.  He does not stop when actors miss stage directions or blocking in the script.  He does not prompt missed simultaneous dialogue or skipped words (unless those skipped words are somebody’s cue). He does not give notes.  His purpose is to keep the show moving, keep everyone on track and keep the audience’s attention on the stage.

Eyes on the book and the stage.  Ears out for words (correct or incorrect) and distractions.  Hands on the pages, a whistle, sound effects and his water bottle.  Attention absolutely everywhere at 100% from the word ‘go.’  And what does this get the Prompter (aside from his paycheck)?  Nothing but scorn.

Actors get upset with him because they want to take their moments.  Some audience members think that he talks too much, too loudly and he should not interrupt the actors so often.  The Prompter wants to be nice to the actors -he is, after all, one of them- so he takes it easy on them only to incur the wrath of the Director for letting them get away with too much and dropping the pace of the show.  He spends the entire show on stage, gets absolutely no rest and, worst of all, gets next to no credit when the show goes well.  Only the director will say: ‘good job on keeping the pace up,’ ‘Way to stop for all those bikes.’  The actors, even knowing they had a great performance because of the Prompter’s efforts will still dread going out on stage again with him at the helm because what they do is stressful enough without someone literally looking over their shoulder.  No audience member will thank him for bringing Hamlet home in under four hours, although they wonder why the show went so fast!

This is not say that our actors are not appreciative of the Prompter.  They are.  In fact our prompters are, or should be, actors.  Every unrehearsed actor should have the opportunity to prompt as well as perform.  I know many an unrehearsed actor who dreads prompting more than performing.  I am one of them.

This also is not to say that our audience does not appreciate the Prompter.  They do.  Although, having an on stage Prompter is a new experience for many of them, and while they may understand academically the what’s and why’s of the Prompter, they are not used to, or even comfortable with, the convention. After a few shows, they get used to it.

During a really good show, the audience should forget that the Prompter is there.  The less the audience hears from the Prompter, the more the actors are playing by the rules.  Then they only have to thank the Prompter for helping, and he thanks the actors for making his job easy.

So the next time you see an unrehearsed show, or the next time you are in one, thank your Prompter.  You are all on the same team, looking for the same result: a great show.

-Andy Kirtland

Monday, July 28, 2014

Responsibilities Include But Are Not Limited To…

We occasionally get asked the question “What does the director do since the show is unrehearsed?”  Recently, a similar question was sent to us via Twitter (follow us: @USP_players), but 140 characters was not enough to explain the director’s role in the Unrehearsed Cue Script Technique.
‘Director’ is the best name that explains what I or Andy do.  Some call this position ‘Playmaster’ or ‘Presenter’.
As the Director for the Unrehearsed shows, my first responsibility is working on the script.  We use the First Folio of 1623, so once the decision is made on which show we’re going to do – the director goes through the text line by line, word by word looking for entrances or exits that are missing or that need to be added, line attributions that change (sometimes to the actor who actually played them); works out doubling charts, when/if quick changes are needed, casting/prop/fight/costume/effect requirements; understanding and looking up every word, comprehending the script completely, and then re-reading it several more times after that.  Basically, the same as what many modern directors do when they begin directing a show.  Since USP consists of just Andy and me, at this point, we do not have the luxury of staff, interns, or dramaturgs.  We do all the text work ourselves, including making each cue script for each character.  We continuously check our work for errors and maintain consistency to keep up with our high standards for The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project.
After the script has been thoroughly gone over, taken apart and put together again, then the director makes decisions on casting.  Like most directors, I prefer to work with actors who are not only talented, but are great to work with.  This technique relies very much on speaking verse well, being able to improvise, having a positive and brave attitude, and having a strong and likeable stage presence.  I spend time talking with each actor about the technique after their first go at cold reading a Shakespeare monologue.  I won’t give away all of my secrets, but a sense of humor is another vital element that we look for when casting an Unrehearsed troupe.  This audition time is for us to get to know the actor and for the actor to get to know us.  After all, if they decide that this isn’t something they want to do, it’s much better to realize that during the audition process.
Once casting is completed, Andy and I schedule a two-day workshop with the entire cast and stage manager where we teach them the Unrehearsed Cue Script Technique.  It’s a lot of intense work for everyone involved, but it’s incredibly rewarding once the actors realize that Shakespeare does all the work for you.  It’s simply a matter of following the rules of the technique.
Then, over the course of a few weeks, I meet with each actor individually for their text sessions (also known as ‘verse nursing session’) where we go over every word, punctuation, stage directions in the text and anything else that is in their individual tracks.  Most of the actors have two tracks (a set of characters that they’ll play for each show) and a few will have three tracks.  It’s vitally important that everyone knows exactly what they’re saying and doing.  I don’t give them precise blocking directions per se, but I will make sure they’re aware that an “action to the word” moment is happening or that there’s a shift from prose to poetry, and so on.  This is also the time when I give a scroll tutorial (how to build it, use it, etc.)  I try to get the actors out of their head and their usual way of performing Shakespeare so that I can help them to approach their roles from the Unrehearsed perspective.  No Stanislavski allowed.
It’s incredibly stressful not being able to see everyone six days a week to make sure they’ve got it all down, and that’s where trust comes in.  That’s another incredibly important aspect of casting.  We need actors who we can trust who will trust us in return.  This technique relies on the actors trusting us, each other and themselves.
During all this time, I’m consulted by our costumer, fight director, and props person (two of whom are Andy and myself usually) and make decisions about certain elements.  I make myself continuously available to the actors for any questions or concerns they have via phone, email, coffee chats.  And I try to remember to breathe.
Finally, the day before the first performance we have a six hour ‘set-up & fight rehearsal’ day.  We spend this time reviewing all of the aspects of the technique, the actors learn what their backstage duties are (either tent, costume, props or signage set-up), the fights are taught, the choreographed moments (dances, faints, jumps into someone’s arms, etc.) are taught, quick changes are worked out, and everyone has a chance to re-connect with each other since the last time we were together en masse was at the Unrehearsed workshop over a month ago.
The night before each show, I send the cast list of who will be playing which of their tracks to the stage manager who then sends that to the cast.  The day of the performance, everyone sets up, fight/dance call happens, and the show goes on!  I sit in the audience and take notes, and at intermission I rush backstage to coach the actors if they need it (usually about pacing or not using the audience enough, etc.)  That evening, I send the cast their notes about certain technique rules that were missed (for example: Juliet: you’re saying “thee” to this person in this scene but you were miles away from them) and the cast list for the next show goes out mixing all the tracks so that the audience never sees the same show twice.  This goes on and on for the rest of the run.
Aside from the director’s usual responsibilities in a rehearsed show, my responsibilities don’t differ that much.  We perform outside, so there’s no need to block the actors to find their light.  There are no sets or extra set pieces.  We give the actors all the tools they’ll need and continue to guide and instruct them throughout this amazingly fun and rewarding process. 

-Elizabeth Ruelas

Friday, July 11, 2014

Shakespeare troupe visits Collier Park

Shakespeare troupe visits Collier Park

Click on the above link for an excellent article in which David Mayernik Jr. ( interviews The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project's co-founder Andy Kirtland about our production of The Comedie of Errors using the Unrehearsed Cue Script Technique.

Wonderful photos, too!

Friday, May 16, 2014

You Talkin' To Me?

In earlier posts regarding text sessions, we looked at scenes with multiple characters on stage.  But what about when a character is alone on a stage, or has a monologue?  During one of our workshops, a participant asked specifically about Act 1, scene 2 of Richard III in which Lady Anne is following the body of her dead father-in-law.  The question regarded to whom was Lady Anne speaking: the audience, or the hearse-bearers?  How much goes to one or the other?  How does the actress in the role at the moment know?

For today's blog post, I begin answering those questions with another question:  What kind of relationship is Anne trying to make with the audience, and what is her relationship with those bearing King Henry’s corpse?  This is, in fact, the first time that an audience meets Anne, so this is the first impression that she gets to make – and we all know what they say about first impressions.

So we are going to take a look at this monologue, and see what we can find in the text that will help answer some of those questions, or at least find places where the actress has a choice to make.

Set downe, set downe your honourable load,
If Honor may be shrowded in a Herse;
Whil'st I a-while obsequiously lament
Th' untimely fall of Vertuous Lancaster.
Poore key-cold Figure of a holy King,
Pale Ashes of the House of Lancaster;
Thou bloodlesse Remnant of that Royall Blood,
Be it lawfull that I invocate thy Ghost,
To heare the Lamentations of poore Anne,
Wife to thy Edward, to thy slaughtred Sonne,
Stab'd by the selfesame hand that made these wounds.
Loe, in these windowes that let forth thy life,
I powre the helplesse Balme of my poore eyes.
O cursed be the hand that made these holes:
Cursed the Heart, that had the heart to do it:
Cursed the Blood, that let this blood from hence:
More direfull hap betide that hated Wretch
That makes us wretched by the death of thee,
Then I can wish to Wolves, to Spiders, Toades,
Or any creeping venom'd thing that lives.
If ever he have Childe, Abortive be it,
Prodigeous, and untimely brought to light,
Whose ugly and unnaturall Aspect
May fright the hopefull Mother at the view,
And that be Heyre to his unhappinesse.
If ever he have Wife, let her be made
More miserable by the death of him,
Then I am made by my young Lord, and thee.
Come now towards Chertsey with your holy Lode,
Taken from Paules, to be interred there.
And still as you are weary of this waight,
Rest you, whiles I lament King Henries Coarse.

Looking at the pronouns in this piece will give us a good clue of where to start.  Anne’s first line is clearly meant for those carrying the corpse, and also contains a stage direction:

Set downe, set downe your honourable load,
If Honor may be shrowded in a Herse;
Whil'st I a-while obsequiously lament
Th' untimely fall of Vertuous Lancaster. 

The comment about honor, off-set by a comma and a semi-colon, could be a shift away from the corpse bearers and to the audience, or the choice could be made to stay with the other characters until the semi-colon.  Her last two lines could also be given to them as an explanation for this abrupt stop, or they could be given to the audience to explain what is happening in an attempt to get them on her side.

With the Unrehearsed Cue Script Technique – and I venture to say in any performance of classical theatre – one should always include the audience as much as possible.  It is an important rule that the character never lies to the audience.  The audience already knows more about the plot than the characters do, or will by the end, and the connection with the audience is what makes them interested.  This is why we love Richard III: agree with him or not, he thinks we are on his side, and he includes us in everything.  From his first words on stage, we know exactly what he is going to do, how he is going to do it and why.  He pulls us in, and we love him for it.  Every character who speaks to the audience wants to do the same thing.

This is Anne’s time to do it, and I believe that sharing with the audience is always the more interesting and dramatic choice.  Whenever possible, include the audience.

Moving on:
Poore key-cold Figure of a holy King,
Pale Ashes of the House of Lancaster;
Thou bloodlesse Remnant of that Royall Blood,
Be it lawfull that I invocate thy Ghost,
To heare the Lamentations of poore Anne,
Wife to thy Edward, to thy slaughtred Sonne,
Stab'd by the selfesame hand that made these wounds.
Loe, in these windowes that let forth thy life,
I powre the helplesse Balme of my poore eyes.
O cursed be the hand that made these holes:
Cursed the Heart, that had the heart to do it:
Cursed the Blood, that let this blood from hence:
More direfull hap betide that hated Wretch
That makes us wretched by the death of thee,
Then I can wish to Wolves, to Spiders, Toades,
Or any creeping venom'd thing that lives.

Here, in the first lines, she is addressing the corpse of dead King Henry, and throughout these two long and measured thoughts (only 1 line positively has 11 beats), she uses pronouns and articles that indicate a closeness to the corpse.  This section could be taken to the body itself, or at least by the body, touching it in some way while giving all of this information to the audience.  The measure of the meter lets the actress know that the words are paramount to the emotion, so why such control even though these curses and images are horrendous?  It is a question that the actress must decide.

If ever he have Childe, Abortive be it,
Prodigeous, and untimely brought to light,
Whose ugly and unnaturall Aspect
May fright the hopefull Mother at the view,
And that be Heyre to his unhappinesse.
If ever he have Wife, let her be made
More miserable by the death of him,
Then I am made by my young Lord, and thee.

In the next two sentences, Anne only uses one ‘thee.’  She speaks of ‘he,’ whoever killed the King.  She could have entered into a scene where this person is, and this whole speech could be for his benefit, but as the stage direction at the top of her cue indicates that this entrance begins a new scene, it is not likely.  Whoever this ‘he’ is, he is not on stage, or if so, she is not crossing to him, because she is talking about him.

So where does she cross?  There is a ‘thee’ at the end of the second sentence, which in context brings her back to the corpse.  The argument could be made that she has stayed by the body this entire time, but that gives the audience 24 lines of text to not see Anne move, and no one wants to watch park-and-bark Shakespeare.

Anne is giving herself a number of stage directions in this section, and in the last as well, that should be executed, giving the audience an outward vision of how she feels about her husband’s murderer on the inside.  By getting away from the corpse and giving these lines to the audience, Anne gives herself a cross at the end of her speech that brings her back to the body, and sets up the stage directions in the last lines:

Come now towards Chertsey with your holy Lode,
Taken from Paules, to be interred there.
And still as you are weary of this waight,
Rest you, whiles I lament King Henries Coarse.

Here she tells the herse-bearers to pick up the body.  She then tells them that they are ‘weary of this waight’ – which the characters are unaware of until Anne tells them – and to put down the body again while she laments some more.  These lines are obviously delivered to, and for, other characters on the stage.

Honor, Vertuous, slaughtered Sonne, hated Wretch, Wolves, Spiders, Toades, Abortive Child, unnatural Aspect – these are all in some form capitalized (among others) which means these are important words for Anne to show the audience.  How does she curse the blood?  How does she curse the heart?  While this is an emotional speech, it is a very physically active speech.  Anne says several times that she is lamenting, but the speech is so metrically even, that these images come to the front and need to executed in a way to make them understood.  The audience needs this understanding more than the folks carrying the body, and as much as possible, the speech needs to be given to them and for their benefit, and not to show how emotional the actress can be. 

Now, stepping away, or at least to the side of the Unrehearsed Cue Script Technique, why would we take away, or seem to lessen, the emotional impact of this speech.  This assumes that there should be some emotional impact for the audience.  This is not what this speech is about.  It is expositional.  The imagery that Anne invokes here sets up the famous scene that comes afterward when Richard, the murderer she has just cursed, woos her and wins her over this corpse she has just been lamenting.  If this speech is all emotion, then we loose the information that makes what follows truly impactful.

Now, in preparation for the role in an unrehearsed production, Anne would not know everything that follows, but the fact that the speech is so consistent in its meter should tell her to reign in the emotions at this point.

There are some speeches that do get carried away, to a point, by emotion, and Shakespeare lets us know when this is the case.  We will examine that in a future post.
-Andy Kirtland