Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Mr. Shakespeare, or how we learned to stop worrying and love the cue scripts.

There were a couple things about this project that were a bit of a tough sell. I mean, granted, I was asking a bunch of actors to completely abandon just about every notion they had about theater. No director, no design team, no full copy of the script, and no money... That's a lot to swallow, I get it. But I was still pretty surprised when the "cue scripts," one of the most exciting parts of "original practice" in my mind, was met with more skepticism than anything else.

But, in fairness, cue scripts can be really confusing at first. See, a cue script is nothing more or less than a) an actor's cue lines, b) an actor's own lines, and c) an actor's exits and entrances.

Here's an example from my script:


Why, how now, count! wherefore are you sad?

Not sad, my lord.

How then? sick?

Neither, my lord.


Speak, count, 'tis your cue.

Silence is the perfectest herald of joy: I were
but little happy, if I could say how much.


County Claudio, when mean you to go to church?

To-morrow, my lord: time goes on crutches till love
have all his rites.


My lord, I am for you,

And I, my lord.


So, as you noticed, there are portions of text missing, in which Claudio says nothing, and therefore has nothing written in his cue script. As a result, there's no Act/Scene breakdown, and no overall sense of when lines occur in the play. Everyone's script is only as long as their part, so Beatrice and Benedick have about 20 pages, while someone like Antonio or Margaret has closer to 5. So, when an actor first picks up a cue script, it can be kind of jarring. Like, we're doing a 20-minute play, and I have every other line!?

The other hurdle was the actual creation of these cue scripts. Imagine taking all 22 characters from the play, one by one, and combing through the script to find their cues, lines, entrances and exits, then compiling them into individual cue scripts. All while distilling these 22 characters into 12 roles, and making sure that nobody ends up talking to another version of themselves on stage. It took a long time to do this. Luckily, I have one of those absurdly laid back day jobs, so in one 9-hour day, the cue scripts went from start to finish.

By the time I handed these out to the group, I was pretty attached to them. So when confusion began to set in amongst the actors, I assured them that it would all make sense during our first read-through. Then I prayed that such would be the case. Turns out, they work.

In fact, they're every bit as awesome as I hoped they would be. See, the idea here is that these plays were actually written with the whole "cue script" thing in mind, making it possible for the actors to perform the play with next to no rehearsal! All the relationships, all the entrances and exits, all the action and setting and time of day, are embedded within the lines of the play. So, as long as the actors showed up with their cues and lines memorized, the play could be performed on the spot! It just required heinous memorization skills, and intense listening from everyone. The result, of course, is an immediacy and freshness that helps make original practice so refreshing and energetic.

Our production, because we're good but not that good, was put up in 8 rehearsals. But in spite of all that preparation, the fact that we used cue scripts is pretty evident, at least to us, because they've given us a unique sense of the play's construction. For example, almost all of my entrances are cued by a line similar to "here comes Claudio!" Also, notice the blatant obviousness of the cue lines in the section of script above: "speak count, 'tis your cue!"

As I've rehearsed and performed this way, I've come to really appreciate just how flooded with cue lines and stage direction Shakespeare's text really is. They're everywhere! And they had to be, because in the absence of a director, the actors relied implicitly on the text to tell them what to do.

So, if you're looking for a unique and challenging way to enliven a Shakespeare play, try cue scripts. They're time-intensive, and a bit scary, but in the end they serve to galvanize the actors and enrich the overall experience immensely.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad the scripts have worked out so well for you. It took you quite a while to get them ready, and you were so excited! This play have been very enlightening about Shakepeare.