Tag Archives: original practice

NOTES – “Then” Shakespeare: Revisiting Original Practices

“Then” Shakespeare: Revisiting Original Practices

Moderator: Kevin Costa – Chesapeake Shakespeare Company
Panelists: Sarah Enloe – American Shakespeare Center;
Jeff Watkins – American Shakespeare Tavern;
Becky Kemper – San Francisco Shakespeare Festival
Friday, March 2, 2012, 11:30am-12:40pm

Major topics of session: Current thinking about Original Practices as a performance style and/or company point of view. Some companies describe themselves as OP companies while others have abandoned the designation. It has been a topic of conversation and debate. This panel will raise the question about the state of Original Practice Shakespeare and what its future may or may not be.


Kevin Costa: Welcome! Introduce panel:

Jeff Watkins, American Shakespeare Tavern

Becky Kemper, San Francisco Shakespeare Festival

Sarah Enloe, American Shakespeare Center

Sarah inspired this topic of conversation.

What is Original Practice? 6 years ago a discussion emerged that called it, “the new orthodoxy” and a there was a sense of revolution and controversy.

“Which was followed by heated discussion in the hot tub at Baja.” – Becky Kemper

Maryland Shakespeare Festival’s website and Jeff Watkin’s article are great sources.

Is it a movement? Or are people just dismissive about it?

Sarah: She spoke with her founding artistic directors, in 2001 they identified themselves as an Original Practices company, then in 2002 changed to the term Shakespeare Staging Conditions. They are still identified by scholars as original practices.

“We do it with the light’s on. We do it with a thrust. Two hours traffic on the stage.”

We draw from a group of resident artists (our “stable house”)

We play with gender casting

5 shows/12 actors

Only acoustic sound effects, contemporary music (which is original practice) Costuming from a variety of periods

16 titles a year, 52 weeks a year

20-30 hours of rehearsal, pull costumes from design stock, 100 lines per hour of text work.

Wren run (?phonetic spelling, need to check the term!): Actors arrive off book and rehearse before the director gets involved.

Becky: I’m struck by the power of language and labels. It started with chasing the idea of authenticity. What do we know? And it’s not about “history”. The term (original practices) was meant to be open and for theatre NOW.

It is a term that has been misunderstood and politicized.

Original practices falls into 3 categories:

  1. Physical conditions: it’s a thrust, lights are on
  2. The playing practices: the actor audience relationship, speaking at the speed of thought, integrated training. The use of music and interludes. The elimination of director. All based on text.
  3. Business practices: length of rehearsal. Length of run. Size of company.

It is an attitude of inquiry.

It’s not about doing it right; it’s about doing it NOW.

It’s about being curious and gleaning how and what was done then that informs what you are doing now.

Tom Berger, Folger scholar, “Anyone who tells you they know anything definitively about Elizabethan era is lying or and idiot.”

Attending an academic conference she heard original practice conveyed as misguided children not being factually correct.

Maryland Shakespeare Festival – trained in rhetoric, staged fights, arrived on Friday and did the show Saturday night with a prompter. It was a laboratory that took away all of the crutches. Trained to trust the text.

Kevin: Academics are suspicious of practitioners.

Patrick with the Globe calls it original practice and a question is how not to get put in the position of doing museum Shakespeare.

Jeff: After the Globe was successful. The idea was that they started to do original practices in a specific way (handmade underwear, original pronouncation, etc)

My definition of Original Practices: A desire to understand what the words meant to those who first said them and those who first heard them.

I came to Shakespeare late and was a street performer. I wanted to do Shakespeare with seeing what the play wants to be. In Georgia, we started with the foundations of interactive theatre. And it was successful.

-The Elizabethan performance experience at the American Shakespeare Tavern.

Tough time with critics who want to attack it.

Actual headline: Lame direction hobbles Taming of the Shrew.

Using the term original practices was armor and then we were invited to the Globe.

Poetry is by its definition complete. The more I did nothing to the play, the more it becomes what it wants to be.

I guarantee if you come to my theatre, “you will get it”. We have built an audience of normal people who come to see Shakespeare.

“We just love y’all” (audience quote from the American Shakespeare Tavern).

Shakespeare got rich and famous doing theatre.

I hate that this (session) is called “Then” because it’s so about NOW. In the modern theatre we spend a lot of time talking about the process. It’s like a vegetable that’s been cooked for so long it doesn’t know what it is.

For me, it’s a spiritual practice.

Sarah: Philaster: or Love Lies Ableeding and while walking past the Dragon store which sell D & D stuff there were 2 fourteen year old boys running to not miss the show.

People are going to the Blackfriars without knowing what is playing.

Becky: If you take the bells and whistles away, you need skilled actors who can play complex thought and access the words and emotions quickly.

We are actors telling a story.

Woman with orange scarf (might have been Tess Burgler – Ohio Shakes Fest):

I sometimes like “the lie” (of production).

There are pieces of our modern world that we want. The lie can also be great. The problem is when someone comes in and says “there is a right or wrong way”.

Jeff: There are people and then there are people who don’t pay for their tickets.

If I’d landed in Chicago or LA, I would have had an audience too polite to tell me how to do our plays.

Sarah: There isn’t a right way for us to do this, but it’s important that we are remaining true to our individual missions. When we are at the top of our game it’s because we’ve figured out something in this realm. We can all learn from each other.

Will (Richmond Shakespeare): What’s striking to me is that how much it’s about the audience. We started doing Shakespeare in a location where there was a crowd.

Jemma Levy (Muse of Fire Theatre Company): You would agree that you are doing something similar. But, it’s become insular, there are not many companies who move back and forth between the two styles. You use the tools that are going to serve that production. The sectioning off of OP through productions or companies harms us.

Sarah: I’m not saying that all plays should be done with the lights on. My personal belief is that I like Shakespeare better with the lights on.

Becky: It’s not all about light’s on.

Man with black shirt: At the next STA we should have a group arrive off book and do a play. I don’t ask actors to arrive off book. You have to strike a balance in your company’s culture.

Jeff: Our whole rehearsal structure changed after I saw Shakespeare In Love. We call it coming loaded for bear, we do not ask people to arrive off book.

Sarah: With our company, they started with a director and eventually moved to following the text.

Peter: I’m going to speak in incomplete sentences: Theatre, story telling around a campfire.

Shakespeare in the Park; the 20 year olds leave and it’s immediate feedback

Community Theatre Actor/Audience is the same pool

At night back to the campfire.

These presentations keep us honest.

Sarah: I have a confession that I would love to have a lighting designer at the Blackfriars to create the lighting of a cloudy London afternoon that gets darker as the play goes on.

Kevin G. Coleman (Shakespeare and Company): It’s worth knowing that these are practices that work. Live music or canned music? Talking to the audience or into the air? This is so much inside baseball. There’s an element in knowing your audiences. It’s worth knowing what your audience’s expectations are.

Sarah: Yes, it’s fun to play with people’s expectations.

“This is the myth that lives inside my head.” quote of the day coined by Kevin Costa

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VIDEO – Working With Cue Scripts and Shakespeare’s Staging Practices

STA’s Pre-Conference has been such fun these last two days! It’s been a great mix of informative, engaging discussions with some very serious clowning around. We’ll close out the Pre-Con tomorrow afternoon and ring in the start of the Main Conference with a highly sold out performance of What You Will tomorrow night. It feels like we’ve done so much already but things are just getting started!

This video began as practice for the Main Conference plenary sessions I’ll be filming this week, but there’s been so much excitement about this class that we had to share! Enjoy a few highlights from Sarah Enloe’s session on Cue Scripts and Shakespeare’s Staging Practices, and click here to view session notes with links to the handouts.


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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?
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