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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: January ::
Small Cast Productions
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0055  Tuesday, 11 January 2005

[1]     From:   M Yawney <
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        Date:   Monday, 10 Jan 2005 07:22:01 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0035 Small Cast Productions

[2]     From:   Philip Eagle <
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        Date:   Monday, 10 Jan 2005 11:26:19 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0035 Small Cast Productions

[3]     From:   Sarah Cohen <
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        Date:   Monday, 10 Jan 2005 12:08:36 -0800
        Subj:   RE: SHK 16.0035 Small Cast Productions

[4]     From:   Susan St. John <
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        Date:   Monday, 10 Jan 2005 19:50:09 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0035 Small Cast Productions

[5]     From:   John Reed <
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        Date:   Monday, 10 Jan 2005 22:34:30 -0800
        Subj:   Re: Small Cast Productions

[6]     From:   Matt Henerson <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 11 Jan 2005 03:57:41 -0500
        Subj:   In re: small-cast Shakespeare

[7]     From:   Cheryl Newton <
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        Date:   Monday, 10 Jan 2005 15:00:43 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 16.0035 Small Cast Productions


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           M Yawney <
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Date:           Monday, 10 Jan 2005 07:22:01 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 16.0035 Small Cast Productions
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0035 Small Cast Productions

Generally the small cast productions I have seen or taken part in have
not been cut more than any other Shakespearean production.

Characters are differentiated by costume. Usually it is one piece of
costume rather than an entire change (i.e. when he wears the cape he is
character X, when he wears the jacket he is character Y). Sometimes (as
in a four-actor As You Like It I saw) the difference in character has
been indicated by voice and posture.  I cannot remember any examples of
when there was any makeup change.

I have not seen the frenzied style you refer too.  Perhaps a play like
Comedy of Errors might use that kind of frenetic change, but for most of
the comedies and all of the tragedies it probably would not be
appropriate. In many such productions I have seen the cast remained on
stage for all (or most) of the play, so any changes were of necessity
done by the simplest means.

Many scholars estimate that the companies that originally performed
Shakespeare's work had about 10-12 actors, so it is likely that the
plays were written to be done with a fair amount of doubling anyway.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Philip Eagle <
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Date:           Monday, 10 Jan 2005 11:26:19 -0500
Subject: 16.0035 Small Cast Productions
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0035 Small Cast Productions

Look in the SHAKSPER archives from 2001 for discussion of the Globe's
six-person "Cymbeline" of that year.  I saw the production myself and
found it very effective.

For example, http://www.shaksper.net/archives/2001/1783.html

Phil

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sarah Cohen <
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Date:           Monday, 10 Jan 2005 12:08:36 -0800
Subject: 16.0035 Small Cast Productions
Comment:        RE: SHK 16.0035 Small Cast Productions

In 1998, the Shakespeare Ensemble at MIT performed Measure for Measure
with a cast of 6. The doublings were:

* Isabella/ Juliet
* Mariana/ Francisca/ Mistress Overdone/ Elbow/ Provost
* Angelo/ Pompey
* Claudio/ Escalus/ Abhorrson
* Duke/ Froth
* Lucio/ Barnardine/ Provost (two people shared the role of the Provost)

1. The script was cut, but not as drastically as it might have been. We
kept all of the characters except for a few unnamed gentlemen and Friar
Peter. There was a one silly spot occasioned by our tiny cast - in Act
V, Escalus and Claudio are supposedly onstage at the same time, but with
one actor playing both roles, the actor just removed his eyeglasses as
Claudio was "unmuffled", and replaced them to become Escalus. Hopefully,
the audience excused this bit of silliness, since it was the end of the
play and it fit with the tone of our production (the setting was
something like early 20th-century vaudeville).

2. The characters were differentiated by the usual actor tricks of voice
and movement, plus differences in costume (Mistress Overdone had a giant
feather boa, as I recall; Juliet had quite a visible pregnancy;
Abhorrson had a leather vest and black mask). The lightning-fast costume
changes were made possible by backstage dressers and massive amounts of
velcro. It was impossible to do much with make-up, but we did add things
like a handlebar mustache (Elbow) and eyeglasses (Escalus).

We probably could have used a seventh actor. Still, we made do with 6
and it was quite a nice experience for the cast. We each had a fuller
experience of the play as a whole than we would have had if we each had
only one role. As for whether it was successful, you would have to ask
the audience. All I know is that someone told me that they were shocked
when only 6 actors took a curtain call, and that made me happy. The
question is, did we tell the story well? If we did, then by my reckoning
we succeeded. If we did not, then we failed. Speaking as 17% of the cast
and 31% of the characters, I sincerely hope we succeeded.

Sarah Cohen

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Susan St. John <
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Date:           Monday, 10 Jan 2005 19:50:09 -0700
Subject: 16.0035 Small Cast Productions
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0035 Small Cast Productions

I've been in several small-cast productions that were cut to about an
hour for touring performances in high schools:  AYLI, 2 Gents, Mac, R&J,
Shrew.  When you cut down that far you lose a lot of subplots and minor
characters.  One version of R&J was honed down to only Romeo, Juliet,
Nurse and Friar.

In all of the other shows there was doubling, but not always by me!  I
can't recall how all the doubling was handled, but I seem to recall that
in Shrew, Grumio (or is it Gremio?) doubled Baptista.  In Mac I doubled
as a witch and the gentlewoman...and even at 8 months pregnant I don't
think the audience was confused about which one I was when!

I think it works in the spirit of the Old Globe and no sets...we say
we're in the forest of Arden so we are...I say I'm a different
character, so I am.  Clever actors use voice and physicality to
differentiate various characters.  I think it really only gets confusing
when the character themself is in disguise.  When I played Rosalind I
didn't double, but one actor played both the 'good Duke' and the 'bad
Duke', but then we did that doubling in the full-length version too!

If you want to discuss any of these experiences in more detail feel free
to contact me off list.

Susan St. John.

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Reed <
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Date:           Monday, 10 Jan 2005 22:34:30 -0800
Subject:        Re: Small Cast Productions

I have seen two small cast productions: Macbeth, and King Lear.

The Macbeth performance is one I think I saw in Portland Oregon in the
1980s, but it might have been in Los Angeles at that time.  The actors
were British, advertising themselves as being from London.  There were
four of them, I think.  At least one woman.  One of the men had a beard.
  I don't recall the performance very well, but they had very little in
the way of wardrobe differentiation, hardly any scenery or props.  I
remember chairs being on stage at various points.  The bearded actor
changed character at one point by turning around (360) and holding his
hand in front of his face to indicate a different visage; I think it was
when he was doing the Ghost of Banquo and Macbeth, simultaneously, if I
remember right.  I thought they might have cut the script, but I
couldn't tell now.  I didn't really think too much of it.

I saw King Lear in September; it was a one-man show.  The actor looked
about 50 or 55.  No make-up, wardrobe, scenery, or props were used.
Well, he wasn't naked, but the clothes he wore had nothing to do with
the clothes any of the characters might wear.  It was a two hour
performance, punctuated by narrative that summarized the cut sections.
It is certainly possible to do it with one person, and the most
interesting thing about it was how much he was able to change when going
from character to character, which proved to me that lots of obvious
character changes within a scene are possible for actors, even if, when
rendering a single character, they usually do not do that.

It reminded me of Lily Tomlin doing all those different roles in The
Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, or whatever it was
called.

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Matt Henerson <
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Date:           Tuesday, 11 Jan 2005 03:57:41 -0500
Subject:        In re: small-cast Shakespeare

Dear Don,

I've seen any number of small cast productions, and done several myself.
  The success of these ventures depends, to a great extent, on a
director's willingness to embrace the monster. You're going to have to
double large roles, so you do that in visually interesting and/or
thematically compelling ways.   For example: several recent "Cymbelines"
that I know of have doubled Cloten and Posthumus to great effect.  I
fell in love with small-cast productions when I was in high school, and
small groups of British actors would come over periodically and perform
full-text productions with five, six, and seven-person casts.   I
believe the sponsoring organization was called ACTER--an acronym, but I
don't know for what.  These shows were technically marvelous.  An "As
You Like It" doubled Charles and Orlando, and the guy wrestled himself.
  My brother saw a "King Lear" in which Edmund and Edgar were the same
actor, and he dueled himself--sounds a little salacious, doesn't it?
In the "As You Like It", I remember one wonderful transition: Jaques
finished "All the world's a stage..." with his arms stretched out to his
side.  Orlando entered behind him, and Jaques collapsed into his arms to
become the exhausted Adam.  In addition to "AYLI", I remember a
"Winter's Tale" and "Twelfth Night", and I know I missed a "Romeo and
Juliet."

In these productions, there was little, if any, costuming to
differentiate characters.  The physical choices were broad enough, or
some piece of business--Corin had a mimed fishing pole, I think--set the
various characters apart.  I was a fan of the plays even then, but some
of the people I dragged to these evenings had real trouble with who was who.

Years later, while acting in and around San Francisco, I saw a much less
successful seven-person "Antony and Cleopatra" at the Berkeley
Repertory.  This was a gifted cast with an excellent director, but the
doubling choices were neither entertaining nor thematically interesting.
  More damaging, however, was the effect the lack of bodies had on what
seems to me one of the central tensions in that play: the divide between
public and private personae.  Antony and Cleopatra are never allowed to
relinquish their positions on the world's stage, and their failure to
manage those positions ends up destroying them.  Seven actors on
Berkeley Rep's intimate thrust simply couldn't create a busy enough world.

A couple of years ago, I performed in a ten-person "Henry V" and a
seven-person "Macbeth" for the Independent Shakespeare Company, late of
New York, and now based in Los Angeles. Of the two productions, I
consider the "Henry" more difficult, more exciting, and consequently
more successful.  Here, there were some costume pieces to distinguish
characters one from another.  For example: my line of roles was
Canterbury, Cambridge, the Constable, and Gower.  Over basic black, I
wore a purple stoll and cross for Canterbury, a blue sash for the
Constable, and a watch cap for Gower.  Since only Gower and the
Constable appeared in multiple scenes, both pieces were small enough to
conceal in pockets or tuck into a belt.  Doubling in this production was
not explicitly thematic, although, since Henry alone did not double, the
swirl of characters reduced to nine recognizable faces served to
personalize the subjects for whom this Henry felt increasingly
responsible as he moved through the play towards erev-Agincourt.  I
didn't see this production, of course, but whatever problems people I
spoke to afterwards had--and this production was by no means
perfect--nobody mentioned missing the world of the play, as I felt I had
in Berkeley.

There have been a number of successful small cast adaptations in the
past several years as well.  Two come to mind, but I've seen neither.
Perhaps somebody else can comment.  The first is an adaptation of "Romeo
and Juliet" performed by four male actors called "Shakespeare's R&J."
This had a successful New York run, and a brief regional life.  Samuel
French publishes it under the adaptor's name, but I don't know who that
is.  Also, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival at Ashland developed a very
successful seven-person "Measure for Measure" some years ago which was
picked up at festivals around the country, although I never heard of any
of the year-round regional theatres doing it.  Frankly I can't imagine
why not, if it works.  God knows it's cheap.

Hope all that is helpful,

Best,
Matt Henerson

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Cheryl Newton <
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Date:           Monday, 10 Jan 2005 15:00:43 -0500
Subject: 16.0035 Small Cast Productions
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0035 Small Cast Productions

A few years ago I saw a small cast production of Hamlet: 3 females, 3
males, cut to under 2 hrs.  It was an absolute disaster.  Audience
members unfamiliar with the play were talking aloud, soliciting
explanations.  There was only very minimal - & insufficient -
differentiation for doubled characters, which were especially confusing
with women popping up as males.  Examples were adding a hat or handing
scholar Horatio a book.  Occasionally, as with Polonious, a long robe
was added over the existing costume.   It was played on a bare stage
with very minimal props.  Hamlet was depicted as a raving loony who
crawled around on all fours, barking like a dog & "urinating" on the
King & Polonious.  He was so off the wall that the audience would begin
to laugh as soon as he stepped on stage.  As I remember (don't throw
rotten vegetables if I'm wrong), this was the National Shakespeare
Company.  The Company alternated Hamlet & a comedy with the same 3/3
cast on a national tour.  It was my first time to see Hamlet on stage &
I was *so* excited.... until about 15 minutes into the, um, production.
  Somebody definitely owes me a production with all the bells & whistles.

Cheryl Newton

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