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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: October ::
Re: Actors' Additions
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.2365  Wednesday, 17 October 2001

[1]     From:   Dana Shilling <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 16 Oct 2001 10:30:17 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2352 Re: Actors' Additions

[2]     From:   P. D. Holland <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 16 Oct 2001 17:25:41 +0100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2352 Re: Actors' Additions

[3]     From:   Geralyn Horton <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 16 Oct 2001 12:56:24 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2352 Re: Actors' Additions

[4]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 16 Oct 2001 13:47:56 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2352 Re: Actors' Additions

[5]     From:   David Wallace <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 16 Oct 2001 22:07:05 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.2352 Re: Actors' Additions


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Dana Shilling <
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Date:           Tuesday, 16 Oct 2001 10:30:17 -0400
Subject: 12.2352 Re: Actors' Additions
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2352 Re: Actors' Additions

William Proctor Williams said:

>If I may be so bold as to re-draft Bill
> Godshalk's question, what happens with actors' additions for plays which
> are out of copyright in companies where the main actors own the theatre
> and the company's worldly goods and there is no director, at least as we
> now understand that position?  That would get us closer to a real
> answer.

If I remember correctly, the book holder was a combination ASM and
general dogsbody. He may indeed have thought that the actors could
improve on the lines set down by one of the company's co-owners--I just
don't think he would have "expressed" this opinion in writing.

Dana Shilling

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           P. D. Holland <
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Date:           Tuesday, 16 Oct 2001 17:25:41 +0100
Subject: 12.2352 Re: Actors' Additions
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2352 Re: Actors' Additions

For precise details of a (reasonably) early example of an actor's
additions, people might look at Joseph Wood Krutch's Comedy and
Conscience After the Restoration (1924). Krutch reprints details of
Thomas Doggett's being prosecuted in 1701 for 'several times profanely
and jestingly [using] the sacred name of God upon the public stage'; in
each example Doggett had added the phrase ' 'E God' to an otherwise
allowed line of dialogue (pp. 170-1). The examples were accumulated by
informers in the audience who were working for one of the Societies for
the Reformation of Manners or similar organisations in the wake of
Collier's attack on the stage.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Geralyn Horton <
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Date:           Tuesday, 16 Oct 2001 12:56:24 -0400
Subject: 12.2352 Re: Actors' Additions
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2352 Re: Actors' Additions

> I have enjoyed the responses but perhaps they are all colored by
> attitudes which are modern

This is "modern", but seems to me might happen any time actors who are
known and trusted are working on the initial production of a play.  I've
been part of Playwrights Platform, a Boston writers' group, for almost
30 years. As actor, I've done 100s of stage readings and dozens of
workshop productions of new plays, and as author had actors' help with
30 plays of my own. I've found that there are 2 points at which actors'
additions (or subtractions) tend to be incorporated.  The first is very
early, when it becomes obvious to actor and author that some line or
speech or
action "isn't working".  The author decides to cut or re-write, and may
consult the actor: what do you think the character would say or do?  The
second is when the play is "on its feet" and memorized, but an actor
will "have to" ad lib to make a move or a transition because "it can't
be done on the line" as written; or an actor consistently forgets a line
and substitutes one of his own.  The author may decide that either or
both are in fact improvements, and incorporate them into the script as
well as resign himself to their inevitability in this particular
production.

This is such a natural process that it is hard to imagine that it
doesn't happen at any theatre where the actors are respected
colleagues.  In fact, it is so useful that it is easy to imagine that it
is the process by which Shakespeare got his start as a playwright: as an
actor he was responsible for so many changes that were clearly
improvements that his fellows began to think of him as play doctor and
scene shaper.

Geralyn Horton, Newton, Mass. 02460
<http://www.stagepage.org>

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Tuesday, 16 Oct 2001 13:47:56 -0400
Subject: 12.2352 Re: Actors' Additions
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2352 Re: Actors' Additions

> copyright ... didn't exist for Shakespeare and his contemporaries in
> anything remotely like its current meaning

No; it was far more similar to the U.S. law (1909 Act) prior to January
1, 1978.

Are you suggesting that actors would not interpolate an occasional "O,"
"Sir" or "There my lord" for fear they were infringing the company's
copyright by creating a derivative work?

>  The
> second problem I see is that the text/script/score/etc. was really the
> property of the Sharers of the company, doubly so in the case of
> Shakespeare and a few others.

So what?  This is similar to the "work made for hire" concept of current
law -- see, it isn't all that different.

> what happens with actors' additions for plays which
> are out of copyright in companies where the main actors own the theatre
> and the company's worldly goods and there is no director, at least as we
> now understand that position?

Why would the works be out of copyright?

In any case, I don't think copyright law (then or now) provides any kind
of answer to the question of whether there are actorial interpolations
in the plays.  Whether actors deliberately or inadvertently added (or
deleted) a word, phrase or even entire speech, and these changes somehow
found their way into the texts we have, does not depend on whether the
Shakespeare or anyone else had the right to object.  Besides, since the
texts were owned by the company, isn't it likely that a good actorial
revision would willingly be included in the prompt book?

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Wallace <
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Date:           Tuesday, 16 Oct 2001 22:07:05 -0700
Subject: 12.2352 Re: Actors' Additions
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.2352 Re: Actors' Additions

C. Fortunato writes (regarding actors adding the occasionally "my lord"
etc)

> I think it may have occasionally happened, since such interjections are
> occasionally outside of the meter.  One example off the top of my head
> is Goneril's "Sir" in the line "Sir, I love you more than word can wield
> the matter."

I hate to quibble but...  The placement of the "Sir" in Goneril's line
is not the only choice available to a modern editor. Goneril's line
follows Lear's "Our eldest-born, speak first" - which is short two
metrical feet. This is an excellent place for a dramatic pause
(evidenced the brevity of Lear's line) conveying Goneril's astonishment
at Lear's absurd proposal. The pause could as easily follow Goneril's
"Sir" as Lear's "first". Since the dramatic and rhetorical occasion,
here, requires extreme formality, I think it doubtful an actor would add
a word which so clearly mars the line.

If "Sir" is scanned as an addition to Lear's incomplete line (followed
by a pause) Goneril's "I love you more than word can wield the matter"
is perfect iambic pentameter with a feminine ending.

Cheers. David Wallace

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