Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: December ::
Understudies
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0831  Thursday, 13 December 2007

[1] 	From:	Steve Urkowitz <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
	Date:	Wednesday, 12 Dec 2007 11:45:11 -0500
	Subj:	Re: SHK 18.0818 Understudies

[2] 	From:	Robert Projansky <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
	Date:	Wednesday, 12 Dec 2007 10:20:42 -0800
	Subj:	Re: SHK 18.0818 Understudies

[3] 	From:	Kathy Dent <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
	Date:	Thursday, 13 Dec 2007 14:35:26 +0000
	Subj:	RE: SHK 18.0825 Understudies


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Steve Urkowitz <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:		Wednesday, 12 Dec 2007 11:45:11 -0500
Subject: 18.0818 Understudies
Comment:	Re: SHK 18.0818 Understudies

Bill G asks:

If actors retained their "parts," wouldn't "memorial reconstruction" be 
a rather easy task? Get the actors' parts, and have a scribe reconstruct 
the script. If only a few actors had their parts, then these "parts" 
should be memorially reconstructed almost perfectly, not just with 
greater fidelity. Of course, the parts extant are not always congruent 
with the script as a whole, as Palfrey and Stern point out. O, for an 
easy answer.

The glaring difficulty with any memorial reconstruction theory is all 
the bits and chunks and boulders of evidence that don't fit and are 
simply passed over by the true-believers.

One of the cute necessary corollaries needed for the memorial 
reconstruction hypothesis to work is the existence of one or more agents 
of reconstruction -- "piratical actors." These mercenary swashbucklers 
would have had their own parts to build from, and those parts they would 
have down perfectly. But in the various piratical narratives, the 
storytellers miss such things as Pirate Marcellus of Q1 HAMLET snatching 
some of the lines from other roles into his own and handing off some of 
his to other parts. Why would he DO that? And for Q1 ROMEO & JULIET at 
least one of the leading suspects in the piracy was that low 
fly-by-night actor who took on the role of Romeo. Who could that 
skulking villain have been? Dickey Burbage who we know played the role? 
Oh, naughty lad. And another necessary corollary is a marketplace where 
the pirated stuff could be sold. After decades of febrile imaginings of 
sleazy black-market printings of stolen / reconstructed scripts, Peter 
Blayney showed that play-texts generally weren't worth the trouble and 
the trade in play scripts was more likely above-board.

The memorial reconstruction theory became fashionable because readers 
noticed that some parts were very close between first and later printed 
versions. Those theorists did not imagine that a play might be revised 
along "part-lines," leaving some parts untouched, making minor changes 
in others, and radically rethinking yet others. W.W. Greg could spin a 
charming yarn out of his admittedly insubstantial speculations about the 
texts of MERRY WIVES and THE BATTLE OF ALCAZAR, etc., and the OXFORD 
TEXTUAL COMPANION guys could build elaborate hypothetical structures out 
of similarly unreliable materials.

Two brilliant books I'm reading right now do much to de-mystify the 
processes of playwriting and transcription:  Grace Ioppolo, DRAMATISTS 
AND THEIR MANUSCRIPTS IN THE AGE OF SHAKESPEARE, JONSON, MIDDLETON, AND 
HEYWOOD: AUTHORSHIP, AUTHORITY AND THE PLAYHOUSE  (Routledge, 2006), and 
Simon Palfrey and Tiffany Stern, SHAKESPEARE IN PARTS (Oxford, 2007). 
They differ from earlier work primarily in their presentation of many, 
many documents not referenced by earlier scholars. And the narratives 
they offer savor of what we know about "real life" as is it lived in 
successful professional communities involved in the production of 
commercial art.

As ever, I encourage people to look closely at the multiple play texts 
themselves. Side by side comparisons show us vigorous theatrical 
revision carried out to promote specific (usually theatrical) goals -- 
more vivid characterization and more exciting or forceful stage action. 
The more we know about the conditions of play production and revival, 
the better we are able to imagine the textual differences between Q1 and 
Q2 ROMEO & JULIET, for example, as the normal business of a play's 
development.

Show alternative passages to your students, have them stage them in your 
classes. Try the two versions of Romeo and Juliet meeting in Friar 
Laurence's cell or the two versions of the scene where Juliet swallows 
the sleeping draught. Admit that we don't have agreement about the 
sources of the differences, but celebrate that we have those differences 
to revel in because they show us how scenes do their work upon us.

Madness for a May morning,
Steve Urquartowitz
Retired to Maine

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Robert Projansky <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:		Wednesday, 12 Dec 2007 10:20:42 -0800
Subject: 18.0818 Understudies
Comment:	Re: SHK 18.0818 Understudies

William Sutton asks, re cue-script scrolls,

 >Are any of these parts extant?

I had heard a few years ago that there are one or two somewhere, but I 
have no idea if that's true or where they might be.

 >A roll manipulated by an actor's hand?
 >How big are they?
 >How manipulated whilst acting?
 >Did the actors need a magician's dexterity?

I don't know how helpful this will be, but such scrolls/roles are in use 
today. UK director Patrick Tucker, founder and artistic director of the 
Original Shakespeare Co, uses them, as do many of his students. (I know 
he used to offer cue-scripts for some of Shakespeare's most popular 
plays for sale.)

Each cue-script gives only that character's lines, stage directions and 
cues, i.e., the last three words of the preceding speech (and without 
identifying that prior speaker).

Printed out on letter-size paper, the pages are trimmed (the right side 
is a lot of white space), and the script is then glued end-to-end into a 
continuous sheet and then glued onto a pair of dowels and rolled up 
Torah-like, with the whole held together by a pair of rubber bands just 
outside the margins. The whole thing should be about 6 - 8 inches long, 
small enough to keep most of it concealed within a hand and cuff or 
sleeve yet easily pushed out for viewing. The rubber bands need to be 
tight enough to keep it all together, yet loose enough to permit easy 
manipulation, i.e., scrolling with one hand. The printing needs to be 
large enough for the actor to be able to read it at arm's length. You 
hold it in three fingers at the rubber band near one end, thumb on the 
front, two fingers on the back, so you can easily roll it as necessary. 
It doesn't take any more manual dexterity than using chopsticks. When 
looking at it the actor does need to find an acting reason to be looking 
down there. Also, it has to be rolled as the play progresses because it 
only shows a few lines at a time. A little practice will teach how far 
the script scrolls with a little thumb action, so the actor can do his 
rolling and peeking when others are speaking and try to have it nicely 
lined up with his proper lines showing when the time comes for him to 
forget them.

I have used cue-script scrolls onstage and off. I find them very useful 
for learning lines and for preparation and the rehearsal process (and 
also for compulsive reviewing before going onstage). I have used them 
onstage only for staged readings. I have never carried one onstage as a 
self-prompter in a full production, but then I've never done a couple of 
dozen different plays in a month.

Our latter day technology, of course, is far superior, even in this 
low-tech device, to what Elizabethan players used: we can print 
everything via computer much more clearly than the best Elizabethan 
handwriting, onto perfectly white, perfectly straight-edged paper, glue 
the sheets together and onto perfectly turned dowels, and hold it all 
together with rubber bands at exactly the tension desired. I don't know 
what they used instead of rubber bands, which, Wikipedia tells me, first 
appeared in 1845.

 >'Sorry no Hamlet today, Burbage has the flu, and he's got
 >his part with him. No not even a stand in I'm afraid, his is
 >the only part.' Would you want to be the one to have give
 >the groundlings their pennies back? So these parts, do actors
 >get to take them home? Which begs the answers to the
 >question of its location such as the dog ate it, my  wife
 >sat on it, I just forgot etc. Or are they kept at the theatre?
 >Which begs a whole other series of  questions.
 >We don't really know do we?

Nope, I certainly don't, but I would imagine day players got to take 
them home and learn their lines on their own unpaid time using their own 
places to sit and study at the expense of their own candles. As for the 
danger of piracy, I suppose there were quick studies who could learn 
other actors' lines without ever seeing them, but with no  rehearsals 
and with even hit plays being repeated only at intervals  of weeks, the 
repetition necessary for learning others' lines just wasn't there. And I 
would imagine the bulk of the roles would go to company members rather 
than day players, so day players putting their heads together to mount a 
conspiracy to steal a play wouldn't have been so easy or seen as so big 
a danger. And if Burbage or Joe Dayplayer couldn't play because of 
illness, no problem. He couldn't just pick up the phone and call in 
sick; he would have to send word somehow that he couldn't play, and his 
Messenger could certainly bring the cue-script to the playhouse for the 
substitute's use. After all, the show must go on, especially if the 
house is full of cash customers. Nobody wanted to give customers their 
money back.

And then as now there would have been an army of unemployed players 
available on short notice on any given day. Going on cold, unprepared 
and unrehearsed with a cue-script, wouldn't have been all that 
difficult. The platt, posted backstage, would give a bare-bones outline 
of all the entrances and exits and props to be carried on by whom, so 
the actors knew who was supposed to be out there at any given time. 
Shows weren't elaborately blocked as they are today, and I understand 
there was a convention of moving generally toward the character to whom 
you are speaking and another one of speaking directly out toward the 
audience whenever you could find an acting reason for doing so. 
Companies had a system of fines for failures and transgressions and I am 
sure they would fine any actor who might lose or damage a cue-script.

Best to all,
Bob Projansky

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:		Kathy Dent <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:		Thursday, 13 Dec 2007 14:35:26 +0000
Subject: 18.0825 Understudies
Comment:	RE: SHK 18.0825 Understudies

Surely the answer to this question lies in what we know about the 
repertory system: because the theatre companies had a large number of 
plays prepared for performance at any one time, wouldn't the loss of one 
actor to accident or illness be answered by switching to a play in which 
that actor would not be missed? This would be a much more pragmatic 
solution than the use of understudies.

Kathy Dent

[Editor's Note: Digests such as this one are what makes editing SHAKSPER 
so rewarding for me. To get such From-the-horse's-mouth explanations as 
Steve "Now-Retired-to-Maine" Urquartowitz's musings on multiple texts 
and Robert Projansky's practitioner's insights into using cue-scripts 
combined with Kathy Dent's ever-so sensible observations regarding 
repertory system practices constitute an infinite variety of riches 
seldom found in a single place. This digest represents some of the 
finest contributions that this medium has to offer to the larger 
colloquy of Shakespeare studies. Thank you all. -Hardy]


_______________________________________________________________
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, 
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the 
opinions expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the 
editor assumes no responsibility for them.
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.