I like to finish auditions for Bad Quarto shows by going over the rehearsal process a little bit, because it is very different than what most actors are used to, and right before I ask the auditioner if I've scared them off at all, I like to remind them that our approach to rehearsals is, more or less, the approach Shakespeare and his fellow players used.
And, for the record, yes, sometimes it does scare people off.
For those interested in the full story, I recommend Tiffany Stern's Making Shakespeare, and Stern and Palfrey's Shakespeare in Parts. These books present a version of rehearsals on the stages of Renaissance London that goes a little like this: the company would rehearse together once, on the day they opened a new play. They would meet at the playhouse at about dawn, and stage the play in its entirety before performing at about two o'clock that afternoon. Prior to that rehearsal, senior members of the company would meet with junior members for "individual instruction," where the leading players would essentially tell the junior players how to say their lines.
That's more or less how things work here at Bad Quarto, too. Although I don't give line readings to actors, and would never encourage another director to do so, "individual instruction" sessions via Skype are a vital part of our rehearsal process so we can explore the subtleties of language to develop character. But just as important, to my mind, is the lack of shared rehearsal time.
Knowing that we'll only rehearse the play together once forces us all to trust one another, and it forces us to make bold choices in acting and directing because we won't have the chance to polish things for weeks. This method of rehearsal helps give our actors a strong sense of their own characters while providing a performance context that forces them to actually listen to one another. Most actors, by the time a show opens, have already heard every conversation in the play they're in at least a hundred times. In a Bad Quarto show, the rawness of the experience is still fresh, and the result is that our shows capture a mastery of verse and character combined with the liveliness of improv.
It's my mind that plays on the stages of early modern London functioned similarly. Most companies rehearse more than us, and some rehearse less, but I'm of the mind that our method captures the spirit of the texts in performance in a way that only rehearsing the plays as they were intended to be rehearsed can.
I understand why that can scare some actors off, and I'll never hold it against them. And while we'll never been able to offer perfectly polished performances and pieces of stagecraft that are pinnacles of engineering, we can offer you a performance of Shakespeare's plays that brings his plays, and the plays of his contemporaries, to life in a way you have never seen before, and will help you see some of the greatest works of English literature as, quite simply, not the play you think it is.
Our upcoming production of The Taming of a Shrew will be a fine example of these principles in action, and I hope you'll be able to join us for it.