Tag Archives: Ben Johnson

NOTES – Working with Cue Scripts and Shakespeare’s Staging Practices

Working with Cue Scripts and Shakespeare’s Staging Practices
Monday, Feb. 27, 3:45-5:45pm
Leader: Sarah Enloe, American Shakespeare Center
Resources Used: Example Cue Scripts
Handouts: Asides and Audience Contact;
Staging Challenges – Crowds and Audiences: Activities 1 & 2
Resources Mentioned: Rehearsal from Shakespeare to Sheridan and Shakespeare in Parts by Tiffany Stern (2007)
Summary of session: Sarah discussed the historical context of cue scripts and how they are used today in the context of the American Shakespeare Center’s Renaissance Season. Conference members had the opportunity to work with various cuts from cue scripts and to discover together the advantages and challenges which cue scripts hold.


We will discuss what we have gotten from out actors since 2005 since we started this wacky little beast called the renaissance Shakespeare season.

  • World’s only current recreation of Shakespeare’s indoor theatre
  • Our style should be based on Shakespeare’s staging conditions
  • Do it with the lights on
  • Started in 2005 working with Shakespeare’s rehearsal conditions
  • Actor’s begin rehearsing themselves with shorter rehearsal space and got together their own costumes
  • Began working with cue scripts

Cue Scripts

  • Come from necessity, continued into 20th century
  • Sometimes called sides, give two or three words (perhaps double iamb) leading up to actor’s speech
  • I directed Love’s Labours Lost with cue scripts: they listened to each other, heads out of scripts, asked to do a modern play with cue scripts. They loved it.
  • Shakespeare did have a tradition in his theatre that used cue scripts and we know this from many things – Book by “Shakespeare in Parts: for actors” (written by scholarly heads)
  • Knew Shakespeare was only going to make one copy of the play, made into a fair copy, made into a prompt copy
  • Argued that actor himself wrote out his own cue script from one copy
  • Perhaps only one copy of script to stop other play housed from getting script or actor from stealing play and printing it
  • So, actors don’t know the whole story. Maybe they sat around and read cues together, but maybe not
  • I think Shakespeare took this technology of cue scripts and took it to give his actors information in a shortened process, just a few hours before he put on a play.
  • Actors have cue scripts, play writes no actors only have cue scripts… playwrights can give the actors information (paraphrase, scansion, rhetoric, etc.). But cue scripts allow us to go a step further. People can talk at the same time, people can interrupt other people

[Example cue scripts are handed out]

  • Cue scripts were sewn together, rolled up, and you would be given your ROLE!
  • Demonstration: Terry, Kevin and Suzanne read a scene from Merchant of Venice with cue scripts. Hilarity ensues.
  • Shylock speaks “my bond” several times which is confusing from Suzanne whose cue is “my bond – the effect is that Shylock is often interrupted, as any low status character
  • Lisa argues that interruptions were intentional on author’s part
  • A few years ago we produced our annual “easy show,” A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Had never been in a production of this show, was playing Demetrius. He only had one syllable for a cue. His syllable was “so.” He discovered that, when he’s playing with Helena after the love potion, he is constantly trying to interrupt her.

Confusion with Cue Scripts

  • A lot of trouble with Ben Johnson, who edited his own text for readers.
  • Cue scripts from the period show indications that the stage directions from a cue script are different from the stage directions that appear in a printed text. “Enter kinds and lords” vs. just “enter.”
  • Repeated cue: when a cue is said several times causing an interruption.
  • Double or Triple or Chaos cue: (as seen in “Volpone”) 4 people have the same word that they are listening for
  • Actors and Scholars at ASC argued over how the play was supposed to be. Ben Johnson was an “ornery son of a bitch” and might have wanted to torture his actors
  • Sarah checked it out, and found that, in the medieval period, on cue scripts there were no cues, just lines. A director stood on the stage and pointed at you when it was your turn. So, ASC decided that actor playing Judge in this courtroom chaos scene in Volpone would point at people when it was there turn to talk. The judge held before him the full script. Also, whenever judge is about to speak he screams “silence.”
  • What happens when cues are dropped?” That leads to my favorite anecdote of all time. In Volpone, Volpone is in disguise. When he removed his disguise, he forgot his line. So he turned to the prompter, who is on stage until the actors are comfortable. To get a line, actor should say “prithee.” Prompter said “I am Volpone.” So actor said “I am Volpone and I will be again tomorrow night!”
  • Terry: How much have you used for cues through the years in the Renaissance Series? A: Our play texts have been edited in different ways, by the Artistic director, then by the grad students, so traditions change. Between one and three words. One should go back in the text to a word that will trigger the line that the actor has next, for the less experienced. For example, “white flakes” might trigger speech about “snow.” ASC standard is a double iamb.
  • Do actors come in ready with a performance of a role? A: actors arrive off book. Work without director for the first 8 hours of rehearsal, and mount what is called a ren-run, making own character choices and costume choices, which director will then watch and change. “30% shit, 30% no way, 40% in the middle “hm, I don’t know about that.” –Kate
  • Terry – Shakespeare’s company was one of the best that maybe existed ever. They had continuity with rehearsal process.
  • Our first ren-season did not go well, but now the actors have developed a language.
  • Josh: Do actors memorize off of cue script or do they memorize out of a script? A: Actors receive a cue script, except in regular season shows. Some actors make cue scripts from the full text.
  • All cue scripts we’ve done in act-ren season are online

New Cue scripts handed out

  • Do you get any information from your cues? Yes. Repeated cues put you in a heightened state of worry because you might get the wrong cue. Maybe that tension translates into a performance.
  • If your cue is not a double-iamb then you probably don’t have long to wait before you speak, because the line was not the length of a double-iamb.
  • Character repeats himself – people aren’t listening to character.
  • Cues are not responses to lines – interjections
  • Verse or prose? Are you an important actor in this company? Actors of the time would talk about how big their roles were.
  • What is the evidence that actors only had a few hours to rehearse? A: Playwright assigned to write a play and it was performed a few days later. See “Rehearsal from Shakespeare to Sheridan” -book

Early Modern Staging

  • Thrust, audience in the light, two exits, discovery space
  • Brutus should be in front, plebeians everywhere, maybe sitting next to an audience member

Discussing Julius Caesar cue scripts

  • Someone asks “what did he say” in script
  • This means it is crowded, loud, etc.
  • 3rd Plebian has antithetical lines – explains on behalf of both Brutus and Anthony – perhaps someone that changes their mind
  • Audience in Globe is the 3,000 citizens of Rome
  • Do you have to repeat an interjection that you accidentally complete in its entirety? A: There are no rules here!

Asides and Audience Contact

  • ASC argues that there are a lot more opportunities than editors identify for asides. Actor Ben Kerns helped come up with these reasons (in packet) for giving asides.
  • Take scene in Henry VI between Suffolk and Margaret. Suffolk talks to audience about how much he loves Margaret. Margaret gets sick of being ignored and turns to audience to ask who Suffolk is speaking to.
  • Asides are for character to 1. Ally them with the audience, 2. Seek information (ask questions in a soliloquy to audience), 3. Uses audience member as visual aid (need a couple to accuse of adultery, etc.), 4. Casting the audience (ex. Whole audience becomes group of Plebeians in Julius Caesar, or Henry V, etc.)
  • (We try a scene delivering lines to audience in various ways and cope with results)
  • The audience is engaged. With this method, the actors play with you, and the audience will continue to come back.
  • This allows the actor to be in the moment and gives the audience permission to answer their questions. What does the actor do when the audience speaks back to you?
Enhanced by Zemanta