When Shakespeare’s company performed, they did so in the open air, under natural light in an environment fraught with distractions. Gambling, drinking, bear baiting and prostitution were available only feet away from the performance, if not in the theatres and inn yards of the time. This meant that performances had to be entertaining and fast-paced to keep the audience interested and to entice them to come and spend their money again. For this reason, the same play was not repeated every day for a long run as is common today. Shakespeare’s company presented a different play every day of the week (Sundays excluded) and never presented the same play more than twice in two weeks. So when did the company have time to rehearse? Short answer: They didn’t.
The daylight hours before the performances were spent going over any fights, dances and music included in the afternoon’s performance. The plays went on as long as the sun was up. Candles were expensive, so once the moon came out the company retired from the theatre and into the bars. Given the time restraints, there was no time to rehearse in the manner that we understand it today.
Actors were also not given the full text of a script. There were no copyright laws, and nothing to keep an actor, unhappy with his role, from taking his copy of Hamlet to a competing theatre and selling it as his own creation. Also, Shakespeare had enough work writing Hamlet out completely in longhand once. When would there be time to create a script for every actor in the company? Ink and paper were expensive. To save money, time and energy and to keep the scripts secure actors were only given scrolls –or rolls (the origin of an actor’s ‘role’)- that contained the last few words of their cues, their own lines, entrances, exits and only essential stage directions that could not be conveyed through the lines of the other actors.
How did the actors know what to do on stage if there were no rehearsals and they had no access to the full script? Playwrights of the time understood the environment and constraints of commercial theatre and wrote clues to the characters and stage directions into the text of a script. The spelling, the punctuation, the language and the meter all contain cues for the actors that they would give and receive in the moment on stage. The words the characters used gave the actors clues as to how they should be portrayed. Everything an actor needs to know about how to perform a role is right there in their cue script.
The Unrehearsed Cue Script Technique teaches actors how to mine the First Folio of Shakespeare’s work for these clues that the playwright himself left. The technique exposes humor and tragedy throughout all of his works, draws themes from the scripts rather than placing arbitrary themes upon them and creates spontaneous moments between the actors and with the crowd in every performance. It takes Shakespeare off the pedestal of academia and plants his feet firmly with the groundlings, while letting his head soar in the clouds, and allows the audience to do the same.
Written by: Unrehearsed Shakespeare Project