Monday, October 12, 2015

Early Modern Rehearsal Structures Today

With preparations in full swing for The Taming of a Shrew, I thought I’d take the opportunity to tell a bit about how Bad Quarto rehearsals fit in with a history of early modern rehearsal process. James Overton gave his enthusiastic perspective as an actor on Wednesday, and Tony wrote about the scary rehearsals a while back but just in case you missed those posts, Tony has cast this production and he is working individually with each cast member over Skype, but the whole cast will have only one rehearsal together before opening night. If you scroll through this blog you’ll see that this hasn’t been the way the process has worked for each production, but as a company, Bad Quarto has experimented with different variations on the idea of the early modern rehearsal.

So what are some of the precedents for this sort of rehearsal structure? From Henslow’s Diary and other artifacts from the time we know that a single company of actors could put on twenty different plays a month, leading to huge questions of how they could have possibly rehearsed them all. One of the companies to try out some of the hypotheses was The Queen’s Men, a well funded and heavily researched all male company performing in 2006-7 who list the steps they posit the acting companies in Shakespeare’s Day would have followed. They suggest 5-9 weeks preparation for a new play but only one day of rehearsal.

At about the same time, Tiffany Stern published her groundbreaking book Rehearsal from Shakespeare to Sheridan, where she details the evidence available about rehearsal practice in Shakespeare’s day. In response to Stern’s research, the American Shakespeare Center set up the Actor’s Renaissance Season, where the first play goes up in just two days, there are no directors, do designers, and no full scripts. It’s still just one of the seasons at the ASC, but it’s one that has gained a lot of attention.  Oxford made a lovely little video about the collaboration between The ASC and Tiffany Stern’s research, which is well worth a watch.

In 1993, The New York Times picked up on the trend writing about companies performing without directors and with minimal rehearsal time, and as these practices gained notice they became more and more prevalent. Today these projects are becoming common and more and more is being learned from experiments with this sort of process. Other companies doing this sort of rehearsal process right now include:

  • Back Room Shakespeare Project- this ensemble in Chicago performs Shakespeare without directors and only rehearse one time before performing in bars.
  • Oxford Shakespeare Company- Performs with three days of rehearsal-- in this instance Richard III performed at Stratford on Avon.
  • A Masters’ student at The Theatre School at DePaul University wrote this lovely take on “Not Rehearsing Shakespeare” and what he learned from the process.

These companies and projects all ask many questions: What was it like in Shakespeare’s day? What kind of benefits can we gain from doing a similar rehearsal process today? Are they just financial and practical--no need to deal with multiple schedules and rent a rehearsal space? Does this sort of environment capture the energy of improv theater? What can we learn about the plays themselves, and in what way were these plays written to facilitate this sort of rehearsal structure? I hope that as these experiments continue (in Taming and beyond) theater will change dramatically and for the better. It certainly seems to be making some waves already.

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