The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0972 Wednesday, 28 April 2004
Date: Tuesday, 27 Apr 2004 11:06:04 -0700
Subject: The Tucker Method
Mr. Tucker's book, THE SECRETS OF ACTING SHAKESPEARE, is a fascinating
description of his view of Elizabethan rehearsal practices and attempts
to recreate them. His text and Folio secrets succinctly describe many
of the clues actors can extract from the texts.
Mr. Tucker's theory is that the initial Elizabethan performance was the
first time the players went through the whole play. Their responses
were spontaneous because they didn't know the course or end of the play.
The actors received sides of their lines and cues (the last four
syllables of the preceding line). The actors learned their parts and
were coached by the playwright. A one hour rehearsal prior to the
performance sorted out entrances, exits, business, fights and dances.
The first performance was the very first time the play was acted. The
Tucker method, often called Unrehearsed Shakespeare, attempts to
replicate this process.
My immediate response to his book was disbelief. How could the players
not rehearse at all? I couldn't believe this was how they performed or
that any contemporary audience would want to see it. Mostly out of
skepticism our group, the Whole Actor Research Project, and company, The
Shakespeare Project, chose to explore the method in lab work and on a
production. Our first attempts were disasters. When the actors came in
having learned and worked on their parts, we attempted to run the
scenes. We never made it through on the first pass. Only after many
attempts did the scene begin to show up. Memorizing the sides with out
the context of the whole scene was extremely difficult. Even with these
challenges, the benefit was the enormous shift in listening. Not
knowing when their cues would come or what the other characters were
saying, the actors focus shifted entirely to their fellow actors. The
intensity was engaging and surprising. We had to admit that there was
something to this.
We decided to give it a go on our next production, TWELFTH NIGHT. The
actors received only cue scripts of their parts and were asked not to
look at the whole play. On the first day of rehearsal, the actors
stepped onto the stage and played the play for the first time. Moments
took off and others were train wrecks. We were glad we didn't have an
audience. On the second night of rehearsal, we repeated the exercise
this time with the usual first rehearsal crowd, i.e. board members,
designers, donors, theatre staff. The second run was much better than
the first. This was the beginning of a four week rehearsal period.
Using the Tucker Method at the beginning elevated the rehearsal process
to new heights. The profound degree of listening and focus on the other
actor remained through performances. The unexpected outcome of the
actor's preparation is that they took a greater degree of ownership in
their parts and choices. It created a more complex and interesting
telling of the play. We know that Shakespeare's company had limited
rehearsals by any contemporary standards. Did runthroughs precede the
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