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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: May ::
Re: The Director in the Elizabethan Theater
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0429.  Wednesday, 31 May 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Douglas Bruster <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 30 May 95 9:21:43 CDT
        Subj:   director in the eliz. theater
 
(2)     From:   Melissa Aaron <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 30 May 1995 08:51:25 +0200
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0428 Q: The Director in the Elizabethan Theater
 
(3)     From:   Brian Corrigan <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 30 May 95 11:05:35 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0428  Q: The Director in the Elizabethan Theater
 
(4)     From:   G.L. Horton  <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 30 May 1995 13:03:59 +0059 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0428 Q: The Director in the Elizabethan Theater
 
(5)     From:   Thomas G. Bishop <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 30 May 1995 14:19:39 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0428  Q: The Director in the Elizabethan Theater
 
(6)     From:   Gabriel Egan <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 30 May 1995 23:39:50 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0428  Q: The Director in the Elizabethan Theater
 
(7)     From:   Michael Faulkner <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 30 May 1995 18:58:10 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0428  Q: The Director in the Elizabethan Theater
 
(8)     From:   Steve Urkowitz <SURCC@CUNYVM>
        Date:   Tuesday, 30 May 95 22:26:40 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0428  Q: The Director in the Elizabethan Theater
 
(9)     From:   W.L. Godshalk <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 30 May 1995 23:02:44 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0428  Q: The Director in the Elizabethan Theater
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Douglas Bruster <
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Date:           Tuesday, 30 May 95 9:21:43 CDT
Subject:        director in the eliz. theater
 
Stephanie Hughes asked about the role of director in the Elizabethan playhouse.
  In her _Shakespeare the Actor and the Purposes of Playing_ (Chicago: U of
Chicago P, 1993), Meredith Skura has some insightful observations on this
issue.  See the references under "Director" in her index.  (Let me say as an
unsolicited endorsement that I find this a very, very good book).
 
Doug Bruster

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(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Melissa Aaron <
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Date:           Tuesday, 30 May 1995 08:51:25 +0200
Subject: 6.0428 Q: The Director in the Elizabethan Theater
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0428 Q: The Director in the Elizabethan Theater
 
As far as I can determine, "director, " and even "stage manager," is a pretty
modern concept, going back no farther than the nineteenth century, if that.
Actually, Shakespeare's plays are pretty schematic, and one death scene is much
like another.  Plays don't really require "blocking" if you always work with
the same people and don't worry about naturalism. I think with nostalgia of the
addresses two years ago at the SAA on annotated quartos.  What I took away from
that, and I suspect others did too, was that the Elizabethan theater was even
less like the modern theater in its basic outlines than we tend to suppose.
 
The simple answer to the question is (probably) the sharers, who also had the
best roles, worked out what they were going to do.  Boys, hirelings, and
miscellaneous crowd did what they were supposed to and cleared out of the way.
The bookholder made sure that big props made it on stage when necessary, and
that's about it.  You can't perform as often as they did, as many different
plays as they did, and fret about details.
 
I hope we'll hear from Alan Dessen and Andrew Gurr on this, in more detail--
 
Melissa Aaron
University of Wisconsin-Madison
 
(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Corrigan <
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Date:           Tuesday, 30 May 95 11:05:35 EST
Subject: 6.0428  Q: The Director in the Elizabethan Theater
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0428  Q: The Director in the Elizabethan Theater
 
Professor Spenser has stated, I'm paraphrasing, that the word "director" (in
its theatrical sense) did not even exist at the time.  He opines that the
professional company of actors were more than able to work out any stage
movement on their own--very much like the Commedia troupes would have done.
 
I tend to agree with this suggestion.  Given the history of the theatre
immediately before the early modern age, it seems possible that the group of
actors would be experienced enough to determine what _lazzi_ (to use the
Commedia term) worked for their audiences.
 
The later plays of the 18th-century in which the rehearsal action itself is
presented theatrically (cf. _The Rehearsal_) no "director" is in evidence
there, but rather the guiding hand of the playwright or chief performer or
impressario.  If the idea of "directing" a play is in such an unfledged
condition in the 18th century, *a fortiori*, it seems likely that "direction"
would not really exist in the 16th or 17th.
 
Brian Corrigan
North Georgia College
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           G.L. Horton  <
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Date:           Tuesday, 30 May 1995 13:03:59 +0059 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0428 Q: The Director in the Elizabethan Theater
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0428 Q: The Director in the Elizabethan Theater
 
If you have ever rehearsed in a company where the director isn't "interested"
in blocking, you'd have noticed that experienced actors sort this out pretty
well.  Everybody has to stand where the important actions can be seen and
heard, and people onstage make these adjustments automatically.  Those who
don't are adjusted  by their fellows, tactfully or otherwise. "Tricky" scenes
usually result in a conference: "If I were to push him in front of me as I
enter, and then he trips so that the sword falls out of his hand"... with
appeals to the group as a whole or to someone (author? producer? star?) whose
judgement is trusted to settle disagreements.
 
The scenic limitations of the Shakes stage favor this kind of thing.  It can
result in boring stage pictures, or in bursts of physical creativity when each
actor is intent on making drama.
 
(5)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Thomas G. Bishop <
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Date:           Tuesday, 30 May 1995 14:19:39 -0400
Subject: 6.0428  Q: The Director in the Elizabethan Theater
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0428  Q: The Director in the Elizabethan Theater
 
It comes as something of a surprise to a theater and film culture nurtured on
the interpretive authority of "the director," but there may have been no such
function in the Elizabethan theater. Certainly, there are no clear contemporary
references to such a position or activity for the public theaters of
Shakespeare, Alleyn et. al. Andrew Gurr has some useful, but necessarily
tentative remarks on the question in his excellent "Shakespearean Stage",
including a suggestion that Shakespeare himself may have given some portrayal
hints to Burbage for his Richard III, based on the reading of Holinshed (in
particular the detail that the King's hand was always on his dagger, which
Burbage is reported to have imitated). Apart from this there is very little.
The "blocking" may have been done by a combination of consensus, tradition and
repertory know-how -- it wasnt as though the companies had a great deal of time
for rehearsal, was it?
 
The children's companies, on the other hand, were much more supervised, both by
the "directors" of the companies, and sometimes by the playwrights who wrote
for them. Ben Jonson was apparently especially insistent that his plays be
performed a certain way, and this supervisory anxiety may migrate into such
adult pieces as the Induction to "Bartholomew Fair" in the fight with the
book-holder. Whether that latter worthy had any role in orchestrating the
action I dont think we know.  In Nashe's "Summer's Last Will and Testament"
Nashe himself seems to have been the prompter, and perhaps therefore exercised
some marshalling authority over the action, but that piece is so eccentric and
original it's hard to draw any conclusions.
 
The take-home message is, I suppose, that the public companies seem to have
parsed and organised authority over the performance as a whole differently from
how we now think of it, so they may not have needed all the officers we have
come to expect. And not just the Lighting Designer!
 
Cheers.
Tom Bishop
 
(6)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Gabriel Egan <
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Date:           Tuesday, 30 May 1995 23:39:50 +0100
Subject: 6.0428  Q: The Director in the Elizabethan Theater
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0428  Q: The Director in the Elizabethan Theater
 
Stephanie Hughes writes
 
>These plays weren't mere plot outlines, as in the Commedia del Arte;
>they required blocking. Ideas, anyone?
 
If by 'blocking' you mean predetermination of where each player would stand at
each moment, I think not. Conventions of entrance/positioning/exit could
provide what in the modern theatre a director would do. In the case of the
Chamberlain's/King's Men then Shakespeare himself could 'direct' things not
covered by convention. Patrick Tucker's "Original Shakespeare Company" put on
plays without rehearsal and only using "cue-scripts" in which each player gets
his/her own lines only and their cues. By this means Tucker recreates what he
believes to be the dynamics of original performance. For example, a player
exits when they can see that they have no more lines to say. If they have more
lines then they hang around listening to the others on stage to catch their
cue. I have a problem with Tucker's unwarranted reliance on the Folio text in
all cases to produce his cue-scripts, but his cue-script means of working has
some claim to 'authenticity'. Tucker's F1-derived cue-scripts are published
under the series title "Shakespeare Acting Editions".
 
Gabriel Egan
 
(7)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Faulkner <
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Date:           Tuesday, 30 May 1995 18:58:10 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 6.0428  Q: The Director in the Elizabethan Theater
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0428  Q: The Director in the Elizabethan Theater
 
Stephanie Hughes asks an interesting question.
 
An interesting theory is that put forth in the essay (Was there a book also?)
"Free Shakespeare" by an author that escapes me at the moment.  I'm sure
someone else on this list will be able to fill in the missing name.  =)
 
        [Editor's Note: John Russell Brown]
 
The basic premise is that characterization, motivation, timing, and even basic
blocking (physical action taking up the missing feet of half-lines) can all be
found in the structure and rhythm of the text.
 
I once participated in a *guided* exploration of this technique and found that
there were some extraordinary results.  Of course, it works best with an
ensemble that truly know each other well, and feel free to surprise each other
with new choices on stage.
 
It seems reasonable to suggest that this is the way it was done; with the
author or a respected member of the company "guiding," rather than directing
the group, resulting in a very collaborative piece of theater.
 
I would also like to point out that the term "Stage Manager" has changed
enormously throughout history, and that as recently as the turn of the century
what we now call the director was then referred to as the Stage Manager in many
circumstances.
 
Anyone more knowledgable on any of the above care to comment?
 
Michael Faulkner

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(8)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Steve Urkowitz <SURCC@CUNYVM>
Date:           Tuesday, 30 May 95 22:26:40 EDT
Subject: 6.0428  Q: The Director in the Elizabethan Theater
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0428  Q: The Director in the Elizabethan Theater
 
"Required blocking" is a nice idea, but the dialog contains cues for much
action and the actors themselves are able to figure out where to go without a
puppet-master.
 
Experienced actors who have worked together enough to share a common vocabulary
of movement will disport themselves "naturally" and surprisingly -- and do it
more quickly than can be thought of by a single imagining director.  I've
worked with ensembles that have been together for many years; they adjust, make
room for one another, invent polyphonic visual effects, recognize and solve
problems, signal their intentions . . . .  All to shape their performance
DURING performance.  It's like those ball-teams of "old guys" I used to watch
when I was a kid:  the younger players could run faster, but the experienced
teams invented their playing with masterful knowledge of the possible shapes of
action.
 
Look at the kinds of planning for classes that are "necessary" when you've been
teaching for just a couple of years, and look at how differently you need to
notate the plans for a class after you've been at the game for twenty or thirty
years.
 
Shakespeare and his buddies got better at their collaboratively choreographic
craft, I'd bet.  (In Pultneyville, NY, a tiny hamlet on Lake Ontario, the high
school kids have been putting on Gilbert & Sullivan each summer for about 25
years now.  Grey and balding chorus kids who started out in the back rows now
coach the teenagers, and the shows go up with panache after the briefest of
rehearsal periods.  The moves and choral practices are by now part of the
village's ideolect.  Not the King's Men, but they're not the Rockettes either.
Individual imagination and common values . . . Shared experience and trust.)
 
I direct and block action when I do.  I'd rather work with folks who directed
themselves.
 
Ah well.
 
As ever,
Steve Blockheadowitz
 
(9)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           W.L. Godshalk <
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Date:           Tuesday, 30 May 1995 23:02:44 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 6.0428  Q: The Director in the Elizabethan Theater
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0428  Q: The Director in the Elizabethan Theater
 
In James Shirley's <i>Hyde Park <i>, a "prompter" is mentioned: "Have you no
prompter to insinuate/The first word of your studied oration?" (3.2.26-27).
There's no absolute assurance that the "prompter" was a playhouse functionary,
but it seems probable. The play was licensed in 1632, so by that time, it would
appear that there was a prompter.
 
Is it possible that the prompter was also a proto-director? Did the prompter
also double as "bookkeeper"? Was he generally responsible for the playscripts
and rolls? Wouldn't it be nice to know?
 
Yours, Bill Godshalk
 

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