Download i Six Companies in Search of Shakespeare: Rehearsal

yes no Was this document useful for you?
   Thank you for your participation!

* Your assessment is very important for improving the workof artificial intelligence, which forms the content of this project

Document related concepts

Stage name wikipedia , lookup

History of theatre wikipedia , lookup

Augustan drama wikipedia , lookup

Meta-reference wikipedia , lookup

Rehearsal wikipedia , lookup

Antitheatricality wikipedia , lookup

Theatre of France wikipedia , lookup

Theatre of the Oppressed wikipedia , lookup

Theater (structure) wikipedia , lookup

Medieval theatre wikipedia , lookup

Oregon Shakespeare Festival wikipedia , lookup

English Renaissance theatre wikipedia , lookup

Sir Thomas More (play) wikipedia , lookup

Colorado Shakespeare Festival wikipedia , lookup

Actor wikipedia , lookup

Six Companies in Search of Shakespeare:
Rehearsal, Performance, and Management Practices by The Oregon Shakespeare
Festival, The Stratford Shakespeare Festival, The Royal Shakespeare Company,
Shakespeare & Company, Shakespeare‘s Globe and The American Shakespeare Center
Presented in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Doctor of Philosophy
in the Graduate School of the Ohio State University
Andrew Michael Blasenak, M.F.A.
Graduate Program in Theatre
The Ohio State University
Dissertation Committee:
Professor Stratos Constantinidis, Advisor
Professor Nena Couch
Professor Beth Kattelman
Copyright by
Andrew Michael Blasenak
This dissertation examines the artistic and managerial visions of six "non-profit"
theatre companies which have been dedicated to the revitalization of Shakespeare‘s plays
in performance from 1935 to 2012. These six companies were The Oregon Shakespeare
Festival, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, The Royal Shakespeare Company,
Shakespeare & Company, Shakespeare‘s Globe and The American Shakespeare Center.
The following questions are considered in the eight chapters of this study:1) Did the restaging of Shakespeare's plays in six "non-profit" theatre companies introduce new
stagecraft and managerial strategies to these companies? 2) To what degree did the
directors who re-staged Shakespeare's plays in these six "non-profit" theatre companies
successfully integrate the audience in the performance? 3) How important was the
coaching of actors in these six "non-profit" theatre companies for stimulating rewarding
rehearsals, quality performances, and actor loyalty to the company? 4) Was "ensemble
acting" in these six "non-profit" theatre companies detrimental to the professional and
emotional well-being of the actors? 5) To what degree were rehearsal patterns in these
six "non-profit" theatre companies influenced by the relationship established between
actor and audiences during performance? Extensive on-site research that included
interviews with actors, directors, coaches, and managers, as well as published and
unpublished accounts of the rehearsal and management practices of the companies,
yielded a wealth of data that indicate the following: the dedication to re-staging
Shakespeare‘s plays encouraged innovation in stagecraft, casting, and new play
development. These six companies produced Shakespeare‘s plays not to recover the
theatrical past, but to invent techniques for the future of theatrical performance.
Elizabethan-inspired thrust stages encouraged actors and directors to integrate the
audience in the performance, but it was the individual directors and actors who chose to
integrate or to ignore the audience. Voice, text, and movement coaches marginally
increased the quality of the productions. However, they contributed to the satisfaction
and loyalty of the actors who used coaches. Ensemble acting benefited the emotional and
professional well-being of those actors who disliked the practices of the commercial
theatre, but those actors who expected that their employment would make the same
demands of the commercial theatre disliked ensemble acting. The level of collaboration
between actors and directors in rehearsal reflected the level of integration of the audience
in performance.
To Chelsea, who understands.
I am grateful to my advisor, Stratos Constantinidis, and readers Beth Kattelman
and Nena Couch for guiding and encouraging this dissertation.
Part of this project was made possible through the support of The Ohio State
University Alumni Grant for Graduate Research and Scholarship, the Center for
Medieval and Renaissance Studies Howe Grant, and the Department of Theatre for
providing travel assistance to London, Stratford-upon-Avon, Stratford, Ontario, and
Lenox, Massachusetts. I thank all those who opened their homes and hearts for this
project: Jaq Bessell and Jan Knightley, Jon and Amy Higham, Brett and Holly Santry and
Robert Signom III.
This dissertation would not have been possible without the support and generosity
of the following: Bill Rauch, Lue Douthit, David and Rebecca Clark Carey, Scott Kaiser,
Tom Knapp, Joy Dickson, Sarah Langan, and Susan Whitmore at the Oregon
Shakespeare Festival; Antoni Cimolino, Des McAnuff, Robert Blacker, Nora Polley,
Janine Pearson, Nancy Benjamin, Martha Henry, David Latham, Lezlie Wade, Eric
Benson, Michael Roth, Francesca Marini, Jacob Gallagher-Ross, Elizabeth Knazook, and
to no small extent Ron Nichol, Elke Bidner, and Benjamin Nelson at the Stratford
Shakespeare Festival; Michael Boyd, Jacqui O‘Hanlon, Tim Crouch, Lyn Darnley,
Alison Bomber, and Struan Leslie, at The Royal Shakespeare Company; Tina Packer,
Tony Simotes, Dennis Krausnick, Kevin Coleman, Lizzie and Malcolm Ingram, Daniella
Varon, Katharine Goodland, Elizabeth Aspenlieder, and Kristin Wold. Steve Ball,
Catherine Wheeler, Nicholas Bussett, Nick Puma, and Hope Kelly at Shakespeare &
Company; Dominic Dromgoole, Farah Karim-Cooper, Patrick Spottiswoode, Sian
Williams, Giles Block, Christine Schmidle, Casey Caldwell and the research staff at
Shakespeare‘s Globe; and Ralph Alan Cohen, Jim Warren, Jay McClure, Colleen Kelly,
Cass Morris, and Sarah Enloe at The American Shakespeare Center. Finally, thanks, and
ever thanks, to the multitude of actors for sharing their time, inspirations and frustrations.
1998……………………Vandalia-Butler High
2002……………………B.A. Theatre, Marymount Manhattan College
2007……………………M.Litt. Shakespeare in Performance, Mary Baldwin College
2008……………………M.F.A. Shakespeare in Performance, Mary Baldwin College
2008 to present…………Distinguished University Fellow, Department of Theatre,
The Ohio State University
Field of Study
Major Field: Theatre
Table of Contents
List of Tables ..................................................................................................................... ix
List of Figures ..................................................................................................................... x
Chapter 1: Introduction ....................................................................................................... 1
Chapter 2: The Oregon Shakespeare Festival ................................................................... 37
Chapter 3: The Stratford Shakespeare Company .............................................................. 81
Chapter 4: The Royal Shakespeare Company ................................................................ 131
Chapter 5: Shakespeare & Company ............................................................................. 180
Chapter 6: Shakespeare‘s Globe .................................................................................... 224
Chapter 7: The American Shakespeare Center .............................................................. 244
Chapter 8: Epilogue ....................................................................................................... 275
Appendix A: Interview Questions……………………………………………………...318
Appendix B: Founding Mission Statements/Articles of Incorporation………...………321
List of Tables
Table 1. Timeline of Shakespeare Companies ................................................................. 30
List of Figures
Figure 1: Oregon Shakespeare Festival campus, 2010, photo courtesy of Oregon
Shakespeare Festival, photo by David Cooper. ................................................................ 49
Figure 2: The Elizabethan Stage, 1947, courtesy of Oregon Shakespeare Festival. ........ 50
Figure 3: The Elizabethan Stage, Love's Labour's Lost, 2011, courtesy of Oregon
Shakespeare Festival. ........................................................................................................ 52
Figure 4: The Angus Bowmer Theatre, 2009, courtesy of Oregon Shakespeare Festival,
photo by Jenny Graham. ................................................................................................... 55
Figure 5. The New Theatre, 2010, courtesy of Oregon Shakespeare Festival, photo by
David Cooper. ................................................................................................................... 56
Figure 6: Angus Bowmer Stage, Measure for Measure, 2011, courtesy of Oregon
Shakespeare Festival, photo by David Cooper, René Millán, Brooke Parks; Musicians:
Vaneza M. Calderón, Mary M. Alfaro, Susie Garcia. ...................................................... 60
Figure 7: Angus Bowmer Stage, Measure for Measure, 2011, courtesy of Oregon
Shakespeare Festival, photo by David Cooper, featuring Anthony Heald, Brooke Parks,
Stephanie Beatriz. ............................................................................................................. 60
Figure 8: New Theatre, Julius Caesar, 2011, courtesy of Oregon Shakespeare Festival,
photo by Jenny Graham. ................................................................................................... 62
Figure 9. The Festival Theatre 2010, courtesy of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival
Archives. ........................................................................................................................... 91
Figure 10. The Festival Stage, 1953, courtesy of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival
Archives ............................................................................................................................ 93
Figure 11: Langham Redesign of the Festival Stage, 1962, courtesy of the Stratford
Shakespeare Festival Archives ......................................................................................... 95
Figure 12: The Festival Stage, The Festival Stage, Twelfth Night, 2011, courtesy the
Stratford Shakespeare Festival Archives ........................................................................ 100
Figure 13: Avon Theatre, 2011, courtesy the Stratford Shakespeare Festival Archives 102
Figure 14: Jesus Christ Superstar, Avon Theatre, 2011, courtesy of the Stratford
Shakespeare Festival Archives. ...................................................................................... 103
Figure 15: Tom Patterson Theatre, 2011, courtesy of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival
Archives. ......................................................................................................................... 104
Figure 16: The Studio Theatre, 2011, courtesy of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival
Archives. ......................................................................................................................... 106
Figure 17: The rebuilt Royal Shakespeare Theatre view from the Avon River, 2011,
courtesy of Royal Shakespeare Company, photo by Stewart Hemley............................ 141
Figure 18: The Swan Theatre, 2010, courtesy of Royal Shakespeare Company, photo by
Stewart Hemley. .............................................................................................................. 143
Figure 19: The Swan Theatre Stage, pre-set for The City Madam, 2010, courtesy of Royal
Shakespeare Company, photo by Ellie Kurttz. ............................................................... 144
Figure 20: Dunsinane, Swan Theatre, 2011, courtesy of The Royal Shakespeare
Company, photo by Simon Anand. ................................................................................. 146
Figure 21: The Courtyard Stage, 2008, courtesy of Royal Shakespeare Company, photo
by Stewart Hemley. ......................................................................................................... 147
Figure 22: The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, 2011, courtesy of Royal Shakespeare
Company, photo by Stewart Hemley. ............................................................................. 148
Figure 23: The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, 2011, curtain call for Romeo and Juliet,
courtesy of Royal Shakespeare Company, photo by Ellie Kurttz. .................................. 149
Figure 24: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Directed by Tina Packer 1978, The Mount.
Photo Courtesy of Shakespeare & Company. ................................................................. 190
Figure 25: As You Like It, Founders Theatre, 2011. Featuring Merrit Janson. Photo
courtesy of Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA. Photo by Kevin Sprague and Studio
Two Design. .................................................................................................................... 191
Figure 26: As You Like It, Founders Theatre, 2011. Photo courtesy of Shakespeare &
Company, Lenox, MA. Photo by Kevin Sprague and Studio Two Design. ................... 193
Figure 27: Women of Will, Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, 2011, featuring Tina Packer.
Photo courtesy of Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA. Photo by Kevin Sprague and
Studio Two Design. ........................................................................................................ 194
Figure 28: Tartuffe, The Rose Footprint Stage, 2012. Photo courtesy of Shakespeare &
Company, Lenox, MA. Photo by Kevin Sprague and Studio Two Design. ................... 196
Figure 29: Shakespeare's Globe, 2010, photo courtesy of Shakespeare‘s Globe. .......... 224
Figure 30: Henry V at Shakespeare's Globe, 1997, photo courtesy of Shakespeare‘s
Globe. .............................................................................................................................. 226
Figure 31: Much Ado About Nothing, 2011, photo courtesy of Shakespeare‘s Globe. .. 233
Figure 32: Jig from Doctor Faustus, 2011, photo courtesy of Shakespeare‘s Globe. .... 234
Figure 33: The Blackfriars Playhouse 2009, photo courtesy of The American Shakespeare
Center, photo by Lauren D. Rodgers. ............................................................................. 250
Figure 34: The Blackfriars Playhouse, Much Ado About Nothing, 2012, Dogberry using a
lantern to indicate a nighttime scene, courtesy of The American Shakespeare Center,
photo by Tommy Thompson. .......................................................................................... 252
Figure 35: Part (Cue Script) for Hamlet, amended with [notes] marking the number of
missing lines between each cue. ..................................................................................... 263
Chapter 1: Introduction
From 1895 to 1905, William Poel produced Shakespeare‘s plays in conditions he
believed approximated those of their original performance in order to challenge the
practices and assumptions of the professional theatre. The stagecraft of the professional
theatre at the time had reveled in the pictorial realism of Herbert Beerbohm Tree. In
order to compensate for the time and resources dedicated to creating such spectacle,
theatre artists severely cut the texts of Shakespeare. In reaction to these practices, some
scholars began to argue that Shakespeare‘s plays could be best understood by imitating
the stagecraft of Shakespeare‘s original theatre.1 Specifically, they argued for the use of
a bare platform stage, rapid transitions, minimal props, and the practice of actors
speaking directly to the audience. Poel, inspired by this scholarship and equally
frustrated with current staging conventions, attempted to put these theories into practice.
As the head of the Elizabethan Stage Society, Poel erected ―the Fortune fit-up,‖ a unit set
based on the building contract for the Fortune theatre, in theatres and halls across
As J. L. Styan argues in The Shakespeare Revolution, The Malone Society, and scholars such as W. W.
Greg, J. Q. Adams, A. H. Thorndike, W. J. Lawrence, and E. K. Chambers, linked the structure of
playhouse design and the dramatic conventions of the Elizabethan stage. Notably, they linked evidence
such as the 1888 discovery of the Swan drawing, and Phillip Henslowe‘s Diary and Papers (both edited by
W. W. Greg) to construct some physical conditions and conventions of the playhouse. E.K. Chambers
compiled the evidence, the arguments and the speculations derived from the sources and scholarship of this
period in the four-volume The Elizabethan Stage.
England.2 His productions provided audiences with a glimpse of his interpretation of
Elizabethan verse-speaking, staging, and acting. These experiments with Elizabethan
stagecraft earned him the reputation of an ―antiquarian‖ and, according to Beerbohm
Tree, ―an absolute crank,‖3 but Poel claimed his productions sought, ―to keep the past in
touch with the present.‖4 By embracing rather than erasing the challenge of
Shakespeare‘s full text and the conditions of his original theatre, William Poel and his
company were forced to re-invent styles of performance outside of the practices of the
professional theatre of their day. In 1913, he rebutted his critics:
Some people have called me an archeologist, but I am not. I am really a
modernist. My original aim was just to find out some means of acting
Shakespeare naturally and appealingly from the full text as in a modern drama.5
Throughout the twentieth century, this blend of historical influence and innovation
pervaded the practices of those theatre artists who challenged the realistic visual
stagecraft of the professional theatre.
Although his practices had minor critical approval, but less financial success, Poel
inspired a century of theatre artists who found success using the stagecraft of
Shakespeare‘s Elizabethan theatre. In 1921, Nugent Monck built the Maddermarket
Theatre in Norwich based on W. J. Lawrence‘s research of the architecture of
Elizabethan playhouses in order to produce plays from all countries and eras of theatre
The 1895 inaugural production of Twelfth Night performed in Burlington Hall, and St. George‘s Hall.
Edward M. Moore, ―William Poel,‖ Shakespeare Quarterly 23, no. 1 (1972): 28.
Joe Falocco. Reimagining Shakespeare’s Playhouse: Early Modern Staging Conventions in the Twentieth
Century. (Rochester, NY: D. S. Brewer, 2010),16.
William Poel, An Account of the Elizabethan Stage Society: Printed for the Society (London: Elizabethan
Stage Society, 1898), 12.
Robert Speaight, William Poel and the Elizabethan Revival (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1954), 90.
history.6 Another of Poel‘s collaborators, Ben Iden Payne, brought the ideas of
Elizabethan staging to America both at the Carnegie Institute of Technology as early as
1914 and at the University of Washington in 1931. In turn, one of Payne‘s students,
Angus Bowmer, used these Elizabethan stagecraft techniques when he founded the
Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The interest in the original staging conditions of
Shakespeare‘s plays subsequently inspired the creation of replicas of Shakespeare‘s 1599
playhouse, The Globe. The Globe replica in the Chicago World‘s Fair in 1934 inspired,
among others,7 Sam Wannamaker‘s desire to build Shakespeare‘s Globe in London. In
England, Nugent Monck‘s productions in the 1930s inspired, in part, Tyrone Guthrie‘s
drive to stage plays on ―open stages‖ if not in the full Elizabethan style.8 Guthrie was
further galvanized by the success of the 1937 Hamlet at Elsinore, where rain forced the
actors and audience into a makeshift stage with a surrounding audience.9 Guthrie‘s
dedication to the ―open stage‖ inspired stages throughout North America that were built
as part of the regional theatre movement. Whether by financial necessity or ideological
commitment, the stagecraft started by Poel reverberated through Shakespeare‘s plays in
production throughout the twentieth century.
Because these theatre artists focused their attention on the reinvigoration of
Shakespeare for modern audiences, they each derived their own interpretation of the
Elizabethan or ―original‖ context for performance. A few key elements of Poel‘s
Elizabethan performance aesthetic remained relatively constant throughout these
interpretations, however. These theatre artists primarily argued for the use of a bare
Falocco, Reimagining Shakespeare’s Playhouse,82.
The Old Globe in San Diego (1935) and another replica in Dallas (1936)
Falocco, Reimagining Shakespeare’s Playhouse, 96.
Falocco, Reimagining Shakespeare’s Playhouse, 105.
platform stage or a unit set, and allowing the actors to define the locale of the scene
through verbal cues, physical behavior, or indicative costumes. For instance, Rosalind in
As You Like It transports the play from the court to the woods by saying ――Well, this is
the forest of Ardenne.‖10 Alternately, at the opening of Hamlet, the appearance of armed
guards who cannot initially see each other sets the scene at night in a military setting.
These artists also sought to use only the necessary props for scenes so as to allow rapid
transitions between scenes. Instead of waiting for set crews to remove the previous
locale and install a new one, actors simply walked on stage as others left and maintained
the momentum of the play‘s action. Finally, these theatre artists argued that actors should
speak directly to audience members in an attempt to integrate the audience into the
performance. In addition to instructing actors to break the fourth wall in soliloquies,
asides, and in other dialogue, these directors often designed thrust stages intended to
bring the actors into closer proximity with the audience. These central tenets of Poel‘s
Elizabethan theatre became inspirations to other theatre artists, even as those theatre
artists took great latitude in the interpretation of other elements of Shakespeare‘s
―original‖ performance.
The Challenge of Modern Shakespeare
The six companies in this dissertation represent only a small portion of the one
hundred and eighteen company members of the Shakespeare Theatre Association11 and
an even smaller portion of the number of companies worldwide which were dedicated to
William Shakespeare, As You Like It, 2.4.11.
Shakespeare Theatre Association, ―Member Index,‖ accessed September 6, 2012.
the production of Shakespeare‘s plays. All of them, however, shared an Elizabethaninspired stage and an artistic commitment to challenging prevailing stagecraft, rehearsal,
and management styles of contemporary professional theatre. The way they challenged
the prevailing styles, however, varied between the companies. The artistic leaders at the
Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which produced its seventy-fifth season in 2011, responded
to the challenge of their physical distance from major metropolitan centers by providing
an artistically rewarding environment for the actors, with new plays, training resources,
and ensemble management practices. The leaders of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival,
which produced its sixtieth season in 2011, used its history and renown to foster its
reputation and mission as a national theatre of Canada, serving not only Shakespeare but
the next generation of plays and theatre artists. The Royal Shakespeare Company, which
produced its fiftieth season in 2011, was the most famous of these companies, but artistic
director Michael Boyd revitalized the quality of the plays and the company by adopting
the ethos and rehearsal practices of fringe theatres. Shakespeare & Company, which
produced its thirty-fourth season in 2011, used Shakespeare‘s plays as a medium to
reinvigorate actor training. Shakespeare‘s Globe, which produced its fourteenth season
in 2011, achieved massive popular success as a theatre attraction but distanced itself from
its own history by hiring directors with novel designs and by producing new plays. The
American Shakespeare Center, which produced its eleventh season in 2011 in the
recreated Blackfriars playhouse,12 experimented with early modern rehearsal practices in
addition to Shakespeare‘s stagecraft and architecture. Each theatre company varied in the
degree to which they attempted to recreate Shakespeare‘s original theatre in stagecraft
The American Shakespeare Center began as the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express in 1988, but they did
not have a permanent performance venue until they built the Blackfriars playhouse in 2001.
and architecture, but all of them justified their dedication to Shakespeare as a means of
challenging contemporary theatrical practices.
The focus on Shakespeare forced theatre actors, directors, and designers to
reconsider their techniques. Actor training programs often did not prepare actors to
analyze and to perform Shakespeare‘s texts. In the United States, actor training was
chiefly influenced by Lee Strasberg‘s interpretation of Stanislavski‘s An Actor Prepares.
Strasberg‘s ―method‖ helped actors portray character through the creation of an internal
map of thought and emotion that helped them to reveal the subtleties of subtext, both on
stage in naturalistic plays and under the scrutiny of the camera in films. The American
method, as it came to be known, often regarded the words spoken as subordinate to a
character‘s intent because words often failed to express what a character wanted. This
method often assumed that vocal and physical choices would develop naturally in service
of a character pursuing his or her desire. The method succeeded in crafting actors equally
suited for recorded media and intimate theatres, but it did not equally enlighten the
performance of Shakespeare. Director Elia Kazan, a follower of Strasberg, noted: ―We
have not solved the classical acting problem.13 I failed with it.‖14
The ―classical acting‖ problem challenged contemporary actors who were
incentivized to develop acting techniques for the best-paying jobs of television and film.
Theatre companies dedicated to Shakespeare, therefore, often included an actor-training
program as part of their mission to revitalize Shakespeare‘s plays on Elizabethan-inspired
stages. The Royal Shakespeare Company, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, the Oregon
―Classical acting‖ is a broad and often misused term in the professional theatre to refer to any play
written before 1900 that includes poetic or otherwise complex language.
Elia Kazan, quoted in David Garfield, A Player’s Place (New York: Macmillan, 1980), 181-82.
Shakespeare Festival and Shakespeare & Company all developed actor training programs
that used the structure of Shakespeare‘s verse and his rhetoric to inform the choices a
naturalistic and/or method actor would make. Techniques like these attempted to
combine the emotional depth of naturalistic acting and the clarity and rhythm demanded
by Shakespeare‘s plays. At Shakespeare‘s Globe and the American Shakespeare Center‘s
Blackfriars Playhouse actors were encouraged to react to the audience directly without
any kind of fourth-wall boundary between actors and audience. The ability to incorporate
the audience‘s reactions challenged assumptions of and techniques for the creation of
―character.‖ The complex texts of Shakespeare and the challenge of the stage created the
need for actors to expand, not to replace, their previous acting techniques.
Shakespeare‘s texts challenged contemporary actor training chiefly because he
wrote in an age before the advent of psychological realism. Shakespeare‘s actors,
according to Joseph Roach, strove not for consistency or depth of character, but variety of
action and the changing of passions. In Roach‘s study on acting, The Player’s Passion,
he describes the Elizabethan actors:
In a practical sense, prevailing stage conditions and dramaturgical conventions
insured that actors of the stamp of Burbage, Alleyn, and later Betterton were
indeed called upon to change shapes with dazzling frequency and swiftness. The
constant rotation of the repertoire demanded the personation of far more parts in
shorter blocks of time than has been expected of more recent actors. Moreover,
within a given role an actor could be expected to effect sudden, highly visible
transitions between passions in the length of a speech or even a single line. As
modern actors rehearsing the jealousy of Leontes or the lust of Angelo have
occasion to note, playwrights demanded that actors depict the passions as sudden
and violent metamorphoses.15
Shakespeare‘s style of writing challenged naturalistic actors who struggled to justify such
rapid changes based on psychological understandings of character.
Many teachers, specifically John Barton of the Royal Shakespeare Company,
emphasized ―antithesis‖ as the key rhetorical tool to signal and signify rapid changes in
order to help actors understand Shakespeare‘s writing. These antitheses rewarded actors
who vocally and physically portrayed the ―sudden and violent metamorphoses‖ with the
words of Shakespeare rather than the depths of unspoken emotion. For instance, in Much
Ado About Nothing, Claudio‘s rapidly changing passions and extended antithesis often
challenge young actors:
O Hero! What a Hero hadst thou been
If half thy outward graces had been placed
About thy thoughts and counsels of thy heart!
But fare thee well, most foul, most fair, farewell
Thou pure impiety and impious purity.
For thee I‘ll lock up all the gates of love,
And on my eyelids shall conjecture hang
To turn all beauty into thoughts of harm,
And never shall it more be gracious.16
Joseph Roach, The Player’s Passion: Studies in the Science of Acting (Newark: University of Delaware
Press, 1985), 42.
William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, 4.1.98-106.
An actor grounded in method acting would likely believe the pain of dishonor and
betrayal he feels at having been wronged by Hero is more important than expressing the
meaning of each word. He would likely not make a large vocal or physical
differentiation between ―most foul‖ and its antithesis ―most fair.‖ Similarly, the
oxymoronic ―pure impiety‖ and ―impious purity‖ are complex and inventive antitheses,
and the actor is challenged to maintain vocal clarity at a moment of the character‘s
extreme emotions. The vow at the end of the speech that promises to turn ―beauty‖ into
―harm‖ necessitates that the actor playing Claudio make clear not only the depth of his
emotion, but rather the fact that Hero‘s perceived betrayal has deprived him of his ability
to love. Without this personal loss and harm, the abuse Claudio throws on Hero seems
unnecessarily cruel, and may undercut Leonato‘s line that comments on the action:
―Would the two princes lie? And Claudio lie, / Who loved her so that, speaking of her
foulness, / Washed it with tears?‖17 The antithesis of Claudio‘s emotions, both of love
and of pain, rather than a generalized hurt and anger allows the actor to evoke pity from
the audience for his character as well as Hero. This pity later justifies, for the audience,
the forgiveness Claudio receives from Leonato and Hero.
Elizabethan-inspired thrust stages also challenged actors. Because actors on a
thrust stage often performed with their backs to part of the audience, they sometimes
strained their voices to be heard. Physically, actors had to figure out ways of keeping the
audience engaged with their characters even when the audience could only see their
backs. Vocally, they had to be understood by audience members behind them without
William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, 4.1.151-153.
straining their voices. In response, each company provided coaches to aid actors‘
physical and vocal techniques.
The complex antitheses of Shakespeare‘s texts also challenged actors to follow
Hamlet‘s advice to the players, to ―suit the action to the word, the word to the action.‖18
Actors made vocal and/or physical shifts to accompany the shift of short antithetical
phrases or even single words in order to make the text more clear to the audience. For
instance, what helps the actor playing Claudio unleash tears is the juxtaposition of the
imagined fairness and foulness of Hero, and committed changes in body and voice to
reflect the imagined fairness and foulness. Just as the remembrance of the life of the
person at a funeral unleashes more tears than the fact of their death, an actor imagining,
voicing, and embodying the extremes of fair and foul will often convey a more complex
experience than an actor who wishes to convey the hurt of Claudio through commitment
to a single subtext. People do not easily vacillate back and forth between the two
emotions of love and disgust, but an actor‘s ability to do so on stage shows incredible
artistry. Similarly, the quick doubling of an actor from hero to villain revealed the
virtuosity of the actor, as John Douglas Thompson did when he was cast in the roles of
Duke Frederick and Duke Senior in As You Like It (2011) at Shakespeare & Company.
His ability to change back and forth between two ideas and emotions on a single line
revealed a technical virtuosity to the delight and admiration of the audience.
Shakespeare‘s text allowed for modern actors to be interesting not because they discarded
their previous Stanislavski-based training, but because they used that previous training to
William Shakespeare, Hamlet. 3.2.16-17.
shift emotions in a much smaller span of time, a span as small as the brief time it took to
say a single word or even a Shakespearean ―O.‖
The desire to shift between complex ideas and emotions in short, antithetical
phrases inspired several voice teachers to develop techniques to use the sound qualities of
individual vowels and consonants to convey meaning and emotion. This close attention
to each element of Shakespeare‘s text helped actors appreciate the artifice of
Shakespeare‘s writing while still being able to connect emotionally to the words. Many
beginning actors are intimidated or confused by blank verse or the use of ―heightened
language.‖ These unfamiliar structures motivated voice and text coaches to develop
techniques for actors to make meaningful emotional connections to words and verse
forms. Shakespeare‘s texts, to them, were not in the way of understanding; they were the
way of understanding character, thought, and emotion.
This need for the actor to communicate the emotion and meaning of
Shakespeare‘s words precisely was further reinforced by the relative sparseness of design
on Elizabethan-inspired thrust stages. Shakespeare‘s use of little scenery and less
rehearsal combined with a surrounding audience created new challenges for actors
trained in psychological realism. Because of this difficulty, theatre companies used
Shakespeare‘s plays, and the original conditions of performance, to challenge the
prevailing aesthetics of realism and re-focus the audience on the actors (and the audience
on itself) rather than on the set design. According to Styan, ―the flexible Elizabethan
mode of performance, playing to the house, stepping in and out of character, generating a
stage action allegorical and symbolic, making no pretense at the trappings of realism,
encouraged a verbally acute, sensory and participatory, multi-leveled and fully aware
mode of experience for an audience.‖19 Because characters in Shakespeare‘s plays often
spoke directly to the audience, either in monologues or in what would later be labeled
―asides,‖ the performance dynamic emphasized the interaction of actors with audience as
well as the audience members‘ awareness of each other. Actors had to learn how to
manipulate the audience‘s imagination with words, as when Rosalind sets the scene
―Well, this is the forest of Ardenne.‖20 They also had to learn how to include the audience
as additional characters in the play and how to incorporate their spontaneous responses.
Beyond this, several Shakespeare companies investigated a more complete dismantling of
the boundaries between actor and audience, play and theatrical event.
The thrust stages inspired by Shakespeare also require that actors develop vocal
and physical skills so as to be able to communicate to audience members sitting behind
them. Often, directors like Michael Langham adopted styles of blocking that
incorporated frequent movement so that actors would spend only minimal time standing
with their back to audience members. Actors often learnt that they had to embody their
characters more fully since audience members had a view of them from many different
angles. Instead of focusing on the image they projected to the camera or a proscenium
theatre‘s audience, they learnt what some actors call ―backting,‖ the ability to keep the
body engaged and reacting to other actors so as to communicate to the audience behind
them. Several companies discussed in this dissertation have hired coaches in movement
and Alexander technique to help actors address the challenges of the thrust stage.
Although Shakespeare‘s plays and stagecraft challenged the artistic techniques of
actors and directors, they also provided opportunities to challenge the practices of the
Styan, The Shakespeare Revolution, 5.
William Shakespeare, As You Like It, 2.4.11.
company‘s management. Many actors joined Shakespeare companies to remove
themselves from the often enervating practices of the entertainment industry. Because
theatre artists were far more numerous than available theatre jobs, they had to specialize
in the appearance, speech, and actions of specific character types: the ingénue, the heavy,
the leading man, etc., in order to gain employment. Directors, likewise, developed
specific styles of production for reviewers, agents, and producers to recognize their
contributions to a performance. Whereas most theatre artists enjoyed the challenge of
creating new and varied roles, the risk-averse theatre industry sought to hire actors to do
the same types of performances that had succeeded in previous productions.
Performances by equity actors were legally obligated to be repeatable and unchanging. If
a show was lucky enough to be successful, actors had to perform the same lines and same
actions night after night for years. One actor, who spoke of a friend performing in Cats
for six years, understated, ―that‘s a long time to be a kitty.‖21 Although these practices
were designed to provide the audience with a quality performance and to protect actors,
they often limited actors‘ satisfaction and opportunities to develop their acting technique.
Companies dedicated to Shakespeare‘s plays and theatre, however, often used
management practices inspired by the necessities of regional theatre which provided
actors with greater personal and artistic satisfaction. Many Shakespeare theatres were
founded as ―destination theatres‖ in small towns removed from major metropolitan
centers.22 The audience members often visited festivals for a few, concentrated days;
Anonymous, interview by Andrew Blasenak, Ashland, OR, September 11, 2011.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is over 280 miles from Portland and Sacramento. The Royal
Shakespeare Company is 100 miles outside of London. The American Shakespeare Center is 150 miles
from Washington D.C. Shakespeare & Company is 130 miles away from both New York and Boston. The
Stratford Shakespeare Festival is over 90 miles from Toronto.
therefore, the companies benefited from producing a repertory of plays to attract the same
audience members with different shows during their visit. The repertory system also
provided greater opportunities for actors. Instead of playing a single role in one play,
actors were challenged to perform a variety of comedic, dramatic, and musical roles.
Since actors performed in multiple shows and often had understudying opportunities,
they gained experience with a wider range of roles than would be possible in a Broadway
or West End theatre.
The structure of Shakespeare‘s plays also provided greater challenges and
opportunities than the professional theatres of Broadway or the West End. Since
Shakespeare wrote plays for large casts of diverse ages, the rehearsal rooms filled with
actors of varying backgrounds and experience levels which encouraged informal
mentorship for younger actors. The large cast and episodic plot structure also limited the
rehearsal time a director could use to shape actor performances compared to plays
involving few characters in a single plotline. Therefore, the cast of actors had to be well
prepared with ideas for their character and the staging of the play. The actors trained in
the specialized performance of Shakespeare‘s plays, therefore, became valuable
collaborators in rehearsal more than servants of a director‘s vision.
Additionally, actors who preferred to perform Shakespeare‘s plays were often
more willing to do extra work to keep the company viable so that they could ensure
valuable performance experiences in the future. Actors sacrificed financial and
professional opportunities available in the entertainment industry when they signed a
long contract with a regional Shakespeare company. Some actors were attracted by the
stability of the long contract, but many actors expressed artistic and personal satisfaction
from working on Shakespeare‘s plays. Actors joined a Shakespeare company because
they enjoyed the work they do, so the company was encouraged to provide challenging
performance and training opportunities in order to fulfill their artistic, if not financial,
goals. Although some actors bristled at getting paid less to do more work, the actors who
stayed with a company for a long time were often willing not only to perform more roles
but also to undertake administrative duties as well. Therefore, keeping a group of
artistically satisfied actors was vital to the success of a Shakespeare company.
With challenges to both aesthetic and management practices, Shakespeare
companies were able to thrive critically and financially. The Elizabethan practice of
using a bare stage and minimal props reduced the start-up costs of many of these
companies. The focus on actor and audience, as well as the text of Shakespeare, also
made the theatrical event significantly different from other entertainment options like
movies, television, or sporting events. The challenge of the bare stage and complex plays
of Shakespeare led to innovations in voice, movement, and textual analysis skills that
helped actors match Shakespeare‘s words to the sensibilities of their audiences. Many of
the companies selected for this study ensured the quality of their productions not through
hiring large-name stars, but by training actors and providing unusual casting
opportunities unavailable or discouraged in the commercial theatre. Because
Shakespeare‘s plays and the repertory production schedule provided different
opportunities for actors, directors, coaches and designers, companies dedicated to the
production of Shakespeare‘s plays on Elizabethan-inspired stages offered a different
experience than those available in the commercial theatre.
Statement of Purpose
This dissertation describes and compares the founding visions and the practices of
six major Shakespeare theatre companies in Canada, England, and the United States in
2011 and 2012. Those companies were similarly inspired by Shakespeare‘s plays and
interpretations of Shakespeare‘s plays and original theatre. The purpose of this
comparison is not to discover why Shakespeare was the influence for these changes, but
rather to analyze how Shakespeare‘s plays and their original staging conditions
challenged theatre artists in the twenty-first century and how these plays influenced
stagecraft, management, and rehearsal practices.
The six theatre companies in this study, The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The
Stratford Shakespeare Festival, The Royal Shakespeare Company, Shakespeare &
Company, Shakespeare‘s Globe, and The American Shakespeare Center, had at least one
main stage inspired by the architecture of the Elizabethan theatre. They all shared Poel‘s
goal of reimagining Shakespeare‘s original theatre for the purpose of revitalizing his
plays in performance. Although the stage architecture and the play texts reflected the
traditions of the Elizabethan theatre, the artistic missions and theatrical sensibilities of
these companies were firmly grounded in the artistic theories and expectations of their
current theatrical practice.
This dissertation seeks to provide a more detailed examination of the reciprocal
relationship between understandings of Shakespeare‘s original theatre and the demands
of modern performance and company management in the practices of six professional
theatre companies dedicated to the production of Shakespeare‘s plays. The influence of
the structures and practices of the professional theatre on the plays of Shakespeare
received less attention than the influence of Shakespearean criticism on performance
conventions. Moreover, the understanding of the theatrical art in England and North
America focused on the efforts and visions of individuals rather than the practices of
groups. The six theatre companies, chosen on the basis of their dedication to
Shakespeare‘s plays and their influence on scholarly understandings of Shakespeare‘s
original theatre, provided a spectrum of approaches for how Shakespeare‘s plays form
and reflect the practices of the contemporary theatre.
Literature Review
Recent studies recorded the practices of actors and directors who gained fame for
performing and directing Shakespeare‘s plays. The Routledge Companion to Actors’
Shakespeare (2011) and the Routledge Companion to Directors’ Shakespeare (2008)
gives accounts of individual directors‘ and actors‘ techniques and philosophies regarding
Shakespeare‘s plays. As the editor, John Russell Brown, argues, ―The concentration on
Shakespeare‘s plays, especially those most frequently produced, brings contrasting
intentions and methods into clear focus.‖23 These sources provide an excellent account of
the ideas and practices of directors relevant to this study such as William Poel, Ben Iden
Payne, Michael Langham, Peter Brook, Tyrone Guthrie, Peter Hall, and Mark Rylance
(as director) as well as actors like Judi Dench, Greg Hicks, Jonathan Slinger, and Sir Ian
McKellan of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Colm Feore of Stratford Shakespeare
Festival fame, and John Harrell of the American Shakespeare Center. However, while
each individual chapter offers in-depth analysis of a given actor or director, these editions
John Russell Brown, introduction to Routledge Companion to Directors’ Shakespeare, (New York:
Routledge, 2008), ix.
offer no broad ranging comparisons between the subject of each chapter. Neither were
the practices of individual actors and directors contextualized within the overarching
managerial framework that supports, challenges, and changes their artistic practices. The
structure of the companies that reflected these artistic practices remained hidden. Since
the studies often focused on artists who performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company,
they paid little attention to Shakespeare‘s Globe and The American Shakespeare Center
and none at all to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival or Shakespeare & Company.
Reimagining Shakespeare’s Playhouse (2011), by Joe Falocco, provides an
argument for the influence and purposes of the Elizabethan stages in England and North
America. Falocco traces a lineage of the endeavors to create theatres designed for the
staging of Shakespeare‘s plays in conditions approximating original performance,
including efforts by William Poel, Nugent Monck, Tyrone Guthrie, and Sam
Wannamaker. The book redefines the purpose of these recreations not as a study in
antiquarianism but as a means of innovating the present art of theatre. For this reason, he
diminishes the reputation and influence of Harley Granville-Barker because his writings
and his stage productions had little correlation. Falocco, however, limits his study to the
history behind the creation of theatres. He examines neither the use of these stages in
later performance, nor how the stages continued or failed to alter the scenography or
performance conditions. He did not include Shakespeare & Company, The Oregon
Shakespeare Festival, the Royal Shakespeare Company, or the American Shakespeare
The American Shakespeare Center‘s Blackfriars Playhouse, however, is the cover photo for his book.
Joe Falocco, Reimagining Shakespeare’s Playhouse: Early Modern Staging Conventions in the Twentieth
Century, (Rochester, NY, D. S. Brewer, 2010).
Several scholarly studies from the latter half of the twentieth century attempted to
theorize the significance of Shakespeare in performance. Often they focused on the
theoretical implications of performance, rather than the process of rehearsal. J.L. Styan‘s
The Shakespeare Revolution (1977) argued that Shakespeare scholarship in the twentieth
century reflected a trend to understand Shakespeare‘s plays in performance. The book
linked the academic study of Shakespeare in performance to the practices of twentiethcentury stagecraft, culminating in an analysis of Peter Brook‘s 1970 A Midsummer
Night’s Dream. While Styan provided a link between Shakespearean scholarship and
performance practice, the link changed throughout the later half of the twentieth century.
W.B. Worthen‘s Shakespeare and the Force of Modern Performance (2003) examined
the link between the historicity of Shakespeare and contemporary performance, asking
―In what sense is production of a Shakespeare play meaningfully engaged with
Shakespeare?‖25 and, ―can performance enable the text‘s past meanings to speak?‖26 The
book focused chiefly on Shakespeare‘s Globe and criticized the performance event and
attendant company rhetoric of the historically inspired design practices. Artistic director
Dominic Dromgoole, who joined Shakespeare‘s Globe in 2005, modified the emphasis of
the theatre from the historical to the contemporary, and his rehearsal and performance
techniques had not yet been examined.
Less scholarly books by actors offered to give a behind-the-scenes account of
rehearsal and performance. Books written by actors at the Royal Shakespeare Company
gave insight into the rehearsal processes. Nick Asbury‘s Exit, Pursued by Badger (2010)
W. B. Worthen, Shakespeare and the Force of Modern Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003),
Worthen, Modern Performance, 38.
and Keith Osborne‘s Something Written in the State of Denmark (2010), were written in
the format of blog posts during the rehearsal process. These books were personal and
descriptive, rather than general and critical, but nonetheless they provided a primary
account of rehearsals.
Some more extensive, scholarly accounts of rehearsal existed. David Selbourne
documented an exceptional production in The Making of A Midsummer Night’s Dream:
an Eye-Witness Account of Peter Brook’s Production From First Rehearsal to First Night
(1982). Steven Adler attempted to synthesize the practices of the first fifty years at the
Royal Shakespeare Company in Rough Magic: Making Theatre in the Royal Shakespeare
Company (2001). Unfortunately, neither of these books documented how Michael Boyd
changed the working practices of the company in ways that mirrored many of those of
Peter Hall.
Other theatre companies often have promotional biographies. Angus Bowmer‘s
autobiography, As I Remember Adam (1975), provided his personal account of his
building of the festival. The Stratford Shakespeare Festival was celebrated in Robert
Cushman‘s Fifty Seasons at Stratford (2002), which provided a retrospective account of
the successes of the festival. Stratford Gold (2002) by Robert Ouzounian provided
interviews with fifty actors, directors, and designers from the festival. These sources
focused on individual artist‘s opinions and had the implicit desire to promote the
continued success and significance of the festival. They were far from critical, but they
revealed the ways in which the Stratford Shakespeare Festival promoted its own legacy.
Shakespeare & Company and especially Tina Packer received attention in Companies
She Keeps (1985) by Helen Epstein. This book provided a report of the difficulties and
triumph Packer faced in the founding of the company, but it did not reflect the practices
of the company from 1985-2012. These sources, though admittedly biased, provided an
account of the founding of the companies and the personal views of the founders.
Books on Shakespearean acting technique arose from the practices of several of
these companies. The quintessential text with specific techniques for acting in
Shakespeare‘s plays was John Barton‘s 1984 book Playing Shakespeare, based on his
1979 television series of the same name, that ―married‖ Stanislavski-based acting with
Shakespeare‘s verse and rhetoric. This book detailed the acting and textual analysis
techniques of the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1960s, and it remained a
foundational text that inspired other teachers and performers of Shakespeare. For
instance, in Mastering Shakespeare (2003), Scott Kaiser of the Oregon Shakespeare
Festival emphasized a link between Stanislavski and Shakespeare. He aimed ―to apply
all of Stanislavsky‘s work [specifically An Actor Prepares and Building a Character]
including those long-neglected ideas about body and voice, to the lifelong pursuit of
mastering Shakespeare.‖27 A host of other books attempted to provide quick and easy
solutions to acting Shakespeare, including the John Basil‘s Will Power: How to Act
Shakespeare in 21 Days (2006), Louis Fantasia‘s Instant Shakespeare (2003), and Patrick
Tucker‘s Secrets of Acting Shakespeare: The Original Approach (2002). These books
sell quick-and-ready systems of acting in Shakespeare‘s plays that reveal strategies for
using Shakespeare‘s verse and rhetoric structures, even though they sometimes advocate
use of non-historic clues for acting, such as capitalization of words in the First Folio.
Scott Kaiser, Introduction to Mastering Shakespeare: An Acting Class in Seven Scenes (New York:
Allworth Press, 2003), xv.
Although these books of technique often derived from the practices of their authors, few
accounts showed how these techniques were used in the rehearsal room.
Shakespeare‘s texts also inspired voice teachers and their techniques. Former
head of the Royal Shakespeare Company‘s voice department, Cicely Berry, gives voice
exercises for actors to help them render viscerally and aurally the meaning of each of
Shakespeare‘s words in The Actor and the Text (1992). Kristin Linklater‘s Freeing
Shakespeare’s Voice (1992), follows up on her techniques in Freeing the Natural Voice
(1976) and her experiences with Shakespeare & Company and other professional theatre.
Her text, compared to Berry‘s, focuses on a greater variety of possible expression through
―freeing the human being from the constraints that our culture puts on us as we grow
up.‖28 Patsy Rodenburg‘s Speaking Shakespeare (2002), developed from her work with
London‘s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, provides techniques to create character
through commitment of body, breath, and word. These books provide actors strategies
for speaking Shakespeare and using verse, but few reflect practices in the rehearsal room.
Several books examine the verse and rhetoric of Shakespeare‘s texts, but many of
them are written from a literary perspective. George T. Wright‘s Shakespeare’s Metrical
Art (1988), Russ McDonald‘s Shakespeare and the Arts of Language (2001), and Sister
Miriam Joseph‘s Shakespeare’s Use of the Arts of Language (1947) provided ample
examples and understandings of the function of Shakespeare‘s rhetoric, but little of how
to put such knowledge into performance. Scott Kaiser‘s Shakespeare’s Wordcraft (2007)
attempted to reduce the intimidation of rhetorical terms like ―epizeuxis‖ by grouping
David J. Diamond, ―Balancing Acts: An interview with Anne Bogart and Kristin Linklater,‖ in The
American Theatre Reader, ed. The staff of American Theatre Magazine (New York: Theatre
Communications Group, 2009), 483.
rhetorical structures according to their dramatic function in categories like ―additions,‖
―repetitions,‖ ―reverberations,‖ ―transformations,‖ ―substitutions,‖ ―omissions,‖ ―order,‖
and ―disorder.‖ He did not expound at length how to use these, but he provided examples
from Shakespeare‘s texts that illustrated their use. Still, none of these books proposed
how actors could utilize Shakespeare‘s rhetoric within a current acting system, so their
use remained dependent on the interest and technique development of individuals.
Each of the six companies selected for this study, The Oregon Shakespeare
Festival, The Stratford Shakespeare Festival, The Royal Shakespeare Company,
Shakespeare & Company, Shakespeare‘s Globe, and The American Shakespeare Center
had Elizabethan-inspired thrust stages. Moreover, these companies had artistic
missions/visions that sought to revitalize Shakespeare‘s plays for modern audiences.
The directors at each of these companies, however, used widely different stagecraft
techniques. Together, these six theatre companies revealed a variety of ways
Shakespeare‘s ―original‖ theatre had been interpreted in the modern theatre, both in
performance and in rehearsal.
Because this dissertation attempts to compare the working practices of the six
different theatre companies, the chief method of information gathering was through onsite interviews with actors, coaches, artistic directors, and company managers. These
theatre artists were asked a set of questions (see Appendix A). The questions were
designed to prompt each interviewee‘s qualitative analysis of the process of rehearsal, the
training practices, the company‘s attempt to institute ensemble principles, and the use of
the stage. Most actors are quoted anonymously so as to keep their remarks from
adversely affecting their positions within the company. Each of these interviews was
recorded via digital voice recorder as well as handwritten notes.
The information provided in the interviews was contextualized in several ways.
First, the demographic information and career paths of the interviewees helped reveal
their own priorities for their employment within a company. For instance, younger actors
tended to be more positive and enthusiastic for elements of training and ensemble while
more established actors were often less likely to express appreciation for such resources,
unless these actors previously had worked with coaches employed by the theatre
company. Second, responses were compared to each other in order to show ideas shared
consistently among the company. Third, the interviewees‘ responses were compared to
marketing and publicity statements by the company to compare the practice with the
image of the theatre. Fourth, responses were compared to secondary accounts of the
company to compare the practices from 2011-2012 to the history of the company in order
to provide a sense of continuity or change from the founding practices. The secondary
sources consulted included biographies of founders and histories of the theatre
companies, theatre programs and actors‘ blogs, as well as stage manager rehearsal notes
and daily schedules. Together, these accounts provided multiple qualitative analyses of
the practices of the theatre companies which, when taken together, revealed a variety of
opinion regarding the ideal vision and best practices of the theatre company and the
frustrations to achieving those aims.
Observations of performance and rehearsal provided case studies for the practices
of these theatre companies. Because each theatre had at least one Elizabethan-inspired
thrust stage, the differences in stagecraft could be marked through an analysis of
performances attended by the author. The analysis of the stagecraft used in these
performances derived from the author‘s personal experience performing and studying
Shakespeare‘s stagecraft at the American Shakespeare Center‘s Blackfrairs Playhouse.
Observations of rehearsal were recorded as descriptive case studies. In general,
the author was allowed to sit in the rehearsal room whenever the full company was called
in order to observe the process of rehearsal. The selection of moments to be included in
the sections on rehearsal reflected the author‘s selection of illustrative examples that
contextualized or demonstrated earlier comments of the previous sections of the chapter.
Due to the timing of the author‘s visit to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, no plays were
in rehearsal to be observed. At Shakespeare‘s Globe, the director expressly forbade
observations of rehearsals during the time the author was in residence. Therefore, the
four accounts of rehearsal are to be compared not only to each other, but to the content of
the chapter in which they are contained.
Chapter Breakdown
Each chapter analyzes the practices of a separate Shakespeare company from
extensive on-site observations and previously published (and unpublished) materials.
Each chapter is divided into five sections: ―Legacy and Continuity‖ ―Stages and
Stagecraft,‖ ―Actor Training and Coaching,‖ ―Ensemble Acting,‖ and ―Rehearsal
Practices.‖ These five sections examine how the actors and directors of each company
interpreted Shakespeare‘s plays and conventions of Shakespeare‘s playhouse and how
those interpretations influenced their rehearsal, stagecraft, and management practices.
The first section, ―Legacy and Continuity‖ compares the artistic vision of the
company at its founding to the artistic vision in 2011. The major investigative question of
this section is, ―did the re-staging of Shakespeare's plays introduce new stagecraft and
managerial strategies to six ‗non-profit‘ theatre companies?‖ These six theatres distanced
themselves from rehearsal and management practices of the commercial theatre through a
dedication to Shakespeare‘s plays and stagecraft. Although these six companies used
Shakespeare‘s plays and the conventions of his original theatres as a means to challenge
naturalistic acting and realistic stagecraft, they also feared earning the label of ―museum
theatre.‖ Through the commissioning of new plays, postmodern casting policies, and the
adoption of a variety of stagecraft practices, these companies balanced their dedication to
Shakespeare‘s plays and their actors and audiences.
The section ―Stages and Stagecraft‖ examines how Shakespeare‘s staging
conventions and Elizabethan-inspired stages influenced actors, directors and designers.
The major investigative question of this section is, ―to what degree did those directors
who re-staged Shakespeare's plays in the six ‗non-profit‘ theatre companies integrate the
audience in the performance?‖ Each of the six companies had at least one theatre design
inspired by one of Shakespeare‘s original playhouses.29 The Elizabethan-inspired stages
encouraged a direct relationship between the actors and audience, but in practice, the
Elizabethan-inspired stages did not force directors or actors to integrate the audience into
the performance. Theatres such as Shakespeare‘s Globe and the American Shakespeare
Center‘s Blackfrairs Playhouse attempted to recreate the conditions of early modern
performance, so they encouraged the actors to address the audience frequently and to
Typically, the Globe inspired many reconstructions, but the Blackfriars, the Rose, and the Fortune
theatres also inspired the stages.
incorporate their reactions in the show. The actor training, which was developed at
Shakespeare & Company, incorporated direct audience address, and the shows reflected
this training. Directors at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, the Royal Shakespeare
Company, and The Oregon Shakespeare Festival used significant design elements that
often, but not always, limited the degree to which the plays incorporated the audience.
The next section ―Actor Training and Coaches,‖ examines formal and informal
programs for technique development that these six companies offered to the actors. The
major investigative question of this section is, ―how important was the coaching of actors
in the six ‗non-profit‘ theatre companies to stimulate rewarding rehearsals, quality
performances, and actor loyalty to the company?‖ Training programs and coach use
varied among the six companies. The Stratford Shakespeare Festival offered
conservatory-style training for young actors as well as voice and movement coaches
during rehearsals. The Royal Shakespeare Company, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival,
and Shakespeare‘s Globe had a combination of workshops and coaching staff to foster
actors‘ skills. Shakespeare & Company offered professional actor training workshops that
were separate from rehearsals. The American Shakespeare Center offered little training
aside from the performance experience of the actors. Actor training programs and
coaches in these six companies helped actors overcome the vocal and physical challenges
of their stages and the deficiencies in contemporary actor training. Some actors and
directors remained wary of acting systems or conflicting direction offered by teachers,
but most actors, especially young actors, greatly appreciated the coaches and the
technical and emotional support they offered.
The section on ―Ensemble Acting‖30 reveals the association between the practices
of working in a repertory theatre and the dedication to Shakespeare‘s text. The major
investigative question of this section is, ―was ‗ensemble acting‘ in the six ‗non-profit‘
theatre companies detrimental to the professional and emotional well-being of the
actors?‖ Multiple-month contracts and the geographic isolation of five of these six
companies,31 posed significant challenges to the professional well-being of actors. To
attract talented actors, the six companies often offered rehearsal and management
practices that emphasized the input of the actors and respect for their artistic opinions.
Each of the six theatres produced plays in repertory where actors played multiple roles.
The plays of Shakespeare and the Elizabethan-inspired stages provided actors with
performance experiences unlike those available in much of the commercial theatre. In the
best circumstances, the artistic leadership shared with the actors the commitment to
reinvigorate Shakespeare in performance.
The actors who formed strong ensembles
were capable of efficient rehearsals and performances worthy of critical and popular
approbation. The section shows the how the task of producing a large repertory of plays
could increase the cohesion of an ensemble and emotional well-being of the actors in
order to offset professional disadvantages.
The eight characteristics of ensemble, according to John Wilk, are: 1) A permanent company of actors, 2)
A consistency in acting style, 3) A commitment of the actors to the ideal, 4) Equality in and cooperation
among members of the acting company, 5) Unified productions created either by a particular playwright or
by the company‘s regisseur, 6) Financial security to allow growth and experimentation toward the
furthering of the art, 7) Often, but not always, a no-star system of acting whereby small and large roles
alike are shared by all in the acting company, 8) An overriding ideal often based on the societal factors of
the company‘s environment and engendered by the company‘s management. None of the six companies
upheld all of these principles. The acting company, nonetheless, was often referred to as the ―ensemble‖ in
many of the theatre companies. John R. Wilk. The Creation of an Ensemble: The First Years of the
American Conservatory Theatre. Carbondale and Edwardsville, IL: Southern Illinois University Press,
Shakespeare‘s Globe, located in London, can more easily attract agents, reviewers, and casting directors
who are beneficial to the actors‘ careers.
The final section, ―Rehearsal Practices‖ gives case-study examples of the
rehearsal methods used by four of these theatre companies. The major investigative
question of this section is, ―to what degree were rehearsal patterns in the six ‗non-profit‘
theatre companies influenced by the relationship established between actor and audiences
during performance?‖ The Royal Shakespeare Company, Shakespeare & Company, the
Stratford Shakespeare Festival, and the American Shakespeare Center, all adopted
collaborative rehearsal methods, but the set designs for the stage, the available budget,
and the duration of the rehearsal period influenced the level and quality of the
collaboration. The relationship between director and actors in rehearsal often reflected
the relationship between actors and audiences in performance. The directors at
Shakespeare‘s Globe did not allow observations of rehearsals, and the time and budgetary
concerns prevented the observation of rehearsals at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Each of the companies in this study sought to reach positioned Shakespeare, in
varying degrees, as both an Elizabethan and a contemporary theatre artist. In order to do
so, they often established systems of management and rehearsal that brought about
innovation in styles of theatrical performance. Each chapter details a specific theatre
company dedicated to the production of Shakespeare‘s plays, its stages and stagecraft,
and the company management model to suggest how Shakespeare‘s plays and theatre
make fundamental changes to the composition and artistry of the theatre artists involved.
Table 1: Timeline of Shakespeare Companies
Ashland, OR, USA
Shakespeare Festival
Royal Shakespeare
Shakespeare &
Stratford, ON, Canada
Warwickshire, UK
Memorial Theatre
(SMT) opens
--§§§§-New Shakespeare
Memorial theatre
Lenox, MA, USA
London, UK
Staunton, VA, USA
Elizabethan Stage
built in Chautauqua
shell, Merchant of
Venice plays, Angus
Bowmer Artistic
OSF incorporated
OSF closes during
Elizabethan Stage
Anthony Quayle
becomes Artistic
Director of SMT
Table 1, Continued
Oregon Shakespeare
Shakespeare &
Shakespeare‘s Globe
Shakespeare Center
Michael Langham
becomes Artistic
Permanent Festival
Theatre built
Peter Hall becomes
Artistic Director;
Aldwych Theatre
leased in London
Royal Shakespeare
SSF Foundation
incorporated; Tyrone
Guthrie appointed
Artistic Director;
Tanya Moiseiwitsch
designs Festival Stage
Inaugural performance
Stratford Shakespeare
New Elizabethan
Stage opens,
patterned on the
1599 Fortune
Name changes to
Royal Shakespeare
Royal Shakespeare
Company (RSC)
Table 1, Continued
Oregon Shakespeare
Stratford Shakespeare
Langham and
Moiseiwitsch make
major alterations to
Festival Theatre stage
Royal Shakespeare
The Studio Founded
by Peter Hall, Peter
Brook, and Michel
Saint Denis
Shakespeare &
The Studio ends
Tina Packer
becomes an
―associate artist‖ at
the RSC
Shakespeare‘s Globe
Shakespeare Center
Avon Theatre opens
Jean Gascon becomes
Executive director,
John Hirsch becomes
Associate Artistic
Trevor Nunn
becomes Artistic
Jean Gascon becomes
sole Artistic Director
Angus Bowmer
Theatre opens,
season extends to
Spring and Fall
Jerry Turner
appointed Producing
Sam Wannamaker
founds the
Shakespeare Globe
Trust and
Shakespeare Globe
The Third Stage built
(later named the Tom
Patterson theatre)
Table 1, Continued
Stratford Shakespeare
Royal Shakespeare
Robin Phillips
becomes Artistic
The Other Place
created from former
Festival Theatre
redesigned; Phillips
founds the first
―Young Company‖
Oregon Shakespeare
Shakespeare‘s Globe
Shakespeare Center
Black Swan Theatre
Shakespeare &
Company Founded
in residency at The
Mount; Tina Packer
Artistic Director
Shakespeare &
Ford Foundation
Grant allows Tina
Packer, Kristin
Linklater, John
Barton, John
Broome, and B H
Barry to train a
group of actors for a
Artistic Directorate of
Pam Brighton, Martha
Henry, Urjo Kareda
and Peter Moss
succeed Robin Phillips
Table 1, Continued
Oregon Shakespeare
Tony Award for
achievement in
regional theatre‖
Stratford Shakespeare
John Hirsch appointed
sole Artistic Director
Extensive renovations
to the Third Stage
(later named the Tom
Patterson theatre)
Shakespeare‘s Globe
Shakespeare Center
Terry Hands
becomes Artistic
Director; Swan
theatre created in
shell of 1879 theatre
OSF Portland
Ralph Alan Cohen
and Jim Warrne
found Shenandoah
Shakespeare Express
David William
appointed Artistic
SSE performs at the
Association of
The Third Stage
renamed Tom
Patterson Theatre
Shakespeare &
John Neville appointed
Artistic Director
Royal Shakespeare
Adrian Noble
becomes Artistic
Director; The Other
Place redesigned as
purpose-built theatre
Allen Pavilion of
Elizabethan Theatre
SSE tours to
Edinburgh Festival
Table 1, Continued
Oregon Shakespeare
Stratford Shakespeare
Richard Monette
becomes Artistic
Royal Shakespeare
Shakespeare &
Shakespeare‘s Globe
Shakespeare Center
OSF Portland
changed named to
Portland Center
Libby Appel named
Artistic Director
Festival Theatre
redesigned with 180°
audience arc
Globe Opens; Mark
Rylance appointed
Artistic Director
Stratford Festival
Conservatory for
Classical Theatre
Training (later the
Conservatory) founded
RSC leaves the
Black Swan Theatre
closed, New Theatre
The Studio Theatre
70 Kemble Street
Founder‘s Theatre
Playhouse opens;
conference founded
Rose Footprint Stage
Table 1, Continued
Oregon Shakespeare
Stratford Shakespeare
Royal Shakespeare
Michael Boyd
becomes Artistic
Shakespeare &
Shakespeare‘s Globe
Shakespeare Center
Name changed to
Shakespeare Center;
Actors Renaissance
Season begins
Bill Rauch becomes
Artistic Director;
Green Show
highlights diverse
cultural and artistic
Antoni Cimolino
becomes General
Marti Maraden, Des
McAnuff and Don
Shipley appointed
Artistic Co-Directors
Des McAnuff becomes
sole Artistic Director;
simulcast of Caesar
and Cleopatra appears
in Cineplexes
Michael Langham
workshop for Classical
Theatre Direction
Courtyard Theatre
Dominic Dromgoole
becomes Artistic
RST & Swan
Theatre close for reconstruction
Elayne P Bernstein
Theatre built
Tony Simotes
becomes Artistic
Antoni Cimolino
appointed Artistic
Redesigned RST &
Swan Theatre
Gregory Doran
appointed Artistic
Planning phase
begins for indoor
Jacobean Theatre
Chapter 2: The Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Legacy and Continuity
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon, began in 1935. The
Festival is located far from the closest metropolitan centers, Portland (280 miles away)
and San Francisco (350 miles away). This distance allowed the theatre to develop
systems of training, ensemble and stagecraft that can differ from the practices of the
professional theatre elsewhere.
The theatre initially challenged stagecraft and design practices through an attempt
to recreate Shakespeare‘s original theatre. Angus Bowmer founded the festival to
practice the Elizabethan staging conventions he learned from his teacher Ben Iden Payne,
a key collaborator with and follower of William Poel. The success of this style of
production, and the drawing power of Shakespeare, allowed the company to succeed with
mostly student actors for many of its beginning years. As the Oregon Shakespeare
Festival grew through its seventy-five year history the company broadened its repertory
and mission to fulfill many of the aims of the regional theatre movement, including the
production of contemporary plays and the maintenance of a steady ensemble of actors. In
2011, the theatre extended its mission to represent a distinctly American regional theatre,
not just one dedicated to Shakespeare. Through stages that emphasized the actor more
than the technical effects, casting policies that sought to reflect the rich cultural heritage
of the United States, and the commissioning of new plays written for the relatively stable
acting company, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival attracted artists from throughout the
United States who were interested in an alternative to the casting, repertory, and
performance practices of the commercial theatre. Because Shakespeare‘s stage and their
performances built a solid foundation, the Festival enjoyed the ability to extend its
mission beyond a historical revival by responding to the cultural necessities of its present.
Angus Bowmer founded the Oregon Shakespeare Festival four years after he
came to Ashland in 1931 to teach theatre at the Southern Oregon Normal School, later the
Southern Oregon University.32 In his autobiography, he states that ―B. Iden Payne was
the one who directly inspired the early attempts to recreate productions of Shakespeare‘s
plays on the first of the Ashland Elizabethan-type stages.‖33 He was ―exhilarated‖ by
Payne‘s ―insistence upon a smooth rapidity in tempo and his encouragement of actors to
contact the audience directly, especially in the soliloquies and asides.‖34 Since this style
of theatre required little start-up capital, by 1935 he envisioned a way to use the modest
resources of the town ―to achieve something of significance in American theatre.‖35 He
set out to create a theatrical event inspired by Payne‘s teaching, establishing an ethos that
―the Festival has always been operated on the principle that the economic value of art, no
matter how great, is short lived unless the aesthetic values are the result of skill and
integrity.‖36 The festival‘s rigorous historical practices provided the ―integrity‖ of the
enterprise with lectures and recreations of Elizabethan stages, and the ―skill‖ remained
Angus Bowmer, As I remember, Adam: An Autobiography of a Festival (Ashland, OR: The Oregon
Shakespeare Festival Association, 1975), 37.
Bowmer, Autobiography, 25.
Bowmer, Autobiography,30.
Bowmer, Autobiography,40.
Bowmer, Autobiography,84.
committed to attracting professional actors and directors and training less-experienced
company members.
As an academic theatre artist from the Pacific Northwest, he carried few
assumptions of the professional theatre with him. The initial seasons reflected a chance
to put in practice the teachings of Ben Iden Payne. Bowmer noticed the similarities
between the shell of a local Chautauqua dome and the shape of the Hollar drawing of The
Globe, and found its bare platform advantageous for the production of Shakespeare‘s
plays in Payne‘s style.37 In the first festival season he directed and acted in two plays for
Ashland‘s fourth of July celebrations. He revived The Merchant of Venice (playing
Shylock) from a spring production at the Normal School and Twelfth Night (playing Sir
Toby Belch) with Elizabethan costumes, a unit set, and a lively tempo. Jerry Turner,
artistic director from 1971-1991, wrote: ―The basic idea of production on the Elizabethan
stage is both startling and simple: to treat the space of the theatre as a tool for
performance rather than an illusion of reality. The playing space is neutral; the words
define its locale.‖38 This simple idea, combined with the drawing power of Shakespeare
and support from actors and town members alike helped found this long-lived company.
In these beginning years, Bowmer was open to experimentation because the
stakes of the enterprise were so low. ―We knew,‖ he wrote, ―that being at the bottom we
had nothing to lose by experiment.‖39 Some of the more daring experiments included
following Payne‘s argument and eliminating intermissions despite the conventional
wisdom that audiences would never accept a full play without one. After the first few
Bowmer, Autobiography, 9.
Jerry Turner, epilogue to As I remember, Adam: An Autobiography of a Festival (Ashland, OR: The
Oregon Shakespeare Festival Association, 1975).
Bowmer, Autobiography, 76.
seasons, Bowmer took a sabbatical and travelled through America and Europe. When he
came to Stratford-upon-Avon his former teacher B. Iden Payne noted the advantage of
starting a theatre removed from theatre artists with different assumptions of how
Shakespeare should be played:
Angus, you have had more success with your Elizabethan venture than I
have….In my first years here [at Stratford-upon-Avon] , they allowed me to do
some of my productions in the Elizabethan manner. This year they are not
allowing me to do any in that manner.
The Elizabethan stage and the heavy sway Bowmer had over the artistic practices of the
company defied the conventional wisdom of prior theatre practices. Bowmer also noted
that Payne used his dedication to producing plays in the Elizabethan manner to ―fight to
be free from the artistic meddling of the Stratford Board of Directors.‖ 40 Payne was
later successful in the separating of managerial and aesthetic concerns at the Memorial
Shakespeare Theatre, and Bowmer reflected this practice as the Oregon Shakespeare
Festival hired separate leaders for artistic direction and production management.
The artistic freedom Bowmer instituted by separating the powers of management
from the aesthetic allowed him to challenge, successfully, the prevailing visual modes of
theatre. After attending lectures at Stanford, he used the theories of Aristotle to justify
his own interest in the primacy on action, character, and diction: all elements essential to
Elizabethan productions. He rejected current trends in production as he wrote, ―reaching
outside the script for elements of music and spectacle, such as did Peter Brook and the
late Tyrone Guthrie, has no place in a theatre that has a reputation for producing
Payne, quoted in Bowmer, Autobiography,129.
Shakespeare on an Elizabethan stage‖41 The resulting simplicity of staging also kept the
production costs relatively low throughout the Depression. Because his productions
reflected his lively imaginings of the Elizabethan performance, Bowmer invited the
audience to imagine the theatre of the past as superior to current techniques for the plays
of Shakespeare.
In 2011, artistic director Bill Rauch emphasized both continuity with
Shakespeare‘s past and contemporaneity with the current American theatre. The
company used Shakespeare‘s plays and theatres to innovate in production styles, to
highlight American actors of diverse cultural heritages, and to inspire new plays based on
the methods of Shakespeare. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival adopted an explicit
commitment to this goal in the mission statement: ―Inspired by Shakespeare‘s work and
the cultural richness of the United States, we reveal our collective humanity through
illuminating interpretations of new and classic plays, deepened by the kaleidoscope of
rotating repertory.‖42 One of the large-scope projects that the theatre committed to was
American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle. Alison Carey,43 the director of
the project, likened Shakespeare‘s interest in dramatizing and commemorating English
history to their own drive to dramatize American history. In 2008, the Oregon
Shakespeare Festival began producing the first of ―37 new plays sprung from a moment
of change, inspiration or conflict in United States history.‖44 Starting in 2008, plays
began to be commissioned from various established and developing American
Bowmer, Autobiography,184.
―Our mission,‖ The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Accessed July 28, 2012,
Alison Carey was cofounder of Cornerstone Theater Company with Bill Rauch, where they balanced new
play development and productions of canonical works.
―American Revolutions,‖ The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Accessed July 28, 2012,
playwrights.45 Through the creation of thirty-seven new plays, the Oregon Shakespeare
Festival hoped to establish a new canon of work that was significant to the American
theatre in the same way Shakespeare‘s history plays were significant to his English
The United States History Cycle paid homage to Shakespeare‘s influence by
producing an equal number of plays as appear in Shakespeare‘s canon, thirty-seven, but
the content of the plays reflected their effort to commemorate American history and
challenge contemporary stagecraft. For instance, in 2012, the Oregon Shakespeare
Festival produced Party People, a play about the rise of the Black Panther Party in the
United States. This collaboratively-written play drew on a variety of performance
traditions including ―theatre, poetry, jazz, blues, hip-hop, boleros and salsa.‖46
Alternately, The United States History Cycle substantiated the new playwrights by
likening their work to Shakespeare‘s. The marketing for Robert Schenkkan‘s play, All
the Way, legitimated him as a contemporary theatre artist by announcing his Pulitzer
prize. In addition to this contemporary authority, the marketing appealed to
Shakespeare‘s authority by proclaiming the play to be ―Right out of Shakespeare‘s
playbook‖ and calling the main character Lyndon Baines Johnson ―a Shakespearean
figure of towering ambition and appetite.‖47 The trend for diversity of stagecraft and story
and authority in American culture influenced the practices of American theatre, through
the production of Shakespeare‘s plays and new plays alike.
Other theatres, such as Shakespeare & Company and The Colorado Shakespeare Festival, have a similar
commitment to producing plays that emphasize American subject matter.
―Party People,‖ The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, accessed August 6, 2010,
―All the Way,‖ The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, accessed August 6, 2012,
A similar duality appeared in the repertory that included experimental new shows
and established plays. Rauch emphasized the importance of new plays, but he also
included musicals into the Oregon Shakespeare Festival‘s repertory. In addition to All
the Way and Party People the Oregon Shakespeare Festival had two additional world
premiers (Mary Zimmerman‘s White Snake and Alison Carey‘s The Very Merry Wives of
Windsor, Iowa), and one adaptation by Bill Rauch and Tracey Young,
Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella, a play that melds together three similarly-structured plays to
establish connections between such different plays. The experiment with so many
unknown plays was enabled by the Festival‘s reputation for Shakespeare and by the
popularity of the musicals introduced into the season. In the 2011 season, The Pirates of
Penzance achieved over one hundred percent capacity in the Elizabethan stage, the
largest theatre, averaging 1,197 audience members in 43 shows. Premiers also did quite
well in smaller venues. In 2011 The Language Archive and Ghost Light respectively
achieved 92% and 91% percent capacity with an average of 251 audience members per
Shakespeare‘s plays that were the staple of the company‘s repertory seemed to
fare less well than other plays. Rauch‘s critically-acclaimed production of Measure for
Measure reached 77% capacity in the Angus Bowmer Theatre, playing to an average of
457 audience members per performance. In the Elizabethan theatre, Henry IV, Part Two
reached 54% capacity, playing to 638 audience members per performance. Love’s
Labour’s Lost, also in the Elizabethan theatre, fared better with 83% capacity and 982
audience members per performance. Julius Caesar, in the New Theatre, achieved 94%
capacity, but averaged only 337 audience members per show. Many factors influenced
these results, such as the availability and willingness of school groups to attend Julius
Caesar but not Measure for Measure due to the sexual themes in the latter. These results
also reflected the preference for comedy over history. The performance quality also
varied between the shows. However, the respectable attendance numbers in 2011, though
slightly lower than 2010, reflected a steady audience base which returned year after
year.48 The diverse repertory gave options for these visitors, and positive experiences
with Shakespeare offered assurance that any play done by the acting company would be
Just as the repertory included a blend of Shakespeare and contemporary plays,
Bill Rauch‘s artistic vision blended the texts of Shakespeare and contemporary
sensibilities in his stagecraft and casting. Instead of returning to Shakespeare‘s theatre to
inspire the present, Rauch situated Shakespeare‘s text in recognizable contemporary
settings, such as Southern California in Measure for Measure and the contemporary
Middle East in Troilus and Cressida. Instead of making the cast‘s cultural heritage and
the production‘s setting subservient to the text of Shakespeare, Rauch sought to
illuminate what these real communities were through the texts of Shakespeare. As part of
this strategy, he encouraged actors to interpret what the texts meant to them personally
and to offer suggestions in rehearsal by repeatedly questioning ―what is the story we are
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival prints ―Bard Scorecards‖ for the audience members to keep track of
which Shakespeare plays they have seen. Since the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has produced each of
Shakespeare‘s plays at least three times, it is likely that these are designed to encourage the ―completists‖
in the audience to come to lesser-known plays.
Anonymous (actor), interview by Andrew Blasenak, Ashland, OR, September 11, 2011.
This vision of producing Shakespeare‘s plays to reflect various American cultures
requires that the Festival sacrifice some stability in the acting company for the new
possibilities new actors bring to the company. From its early days, the festival has found
that maintaining a core ensemble of talented actors was vital to the theatre‘s stability and
growth. Under Rauch, the ensemble had to include actors from more diverse
backgrounds in order to accomplish his goal of having an acting company that reflected
―the rich cultural heritage of the United States.‖50 This desire sprang from the value he
found producing plays in underserved communities as founding artistic director of the
Cornerstone Theatre Company (1986-2006). Rauch explained:
I am moved to make plays with the majority of our population who claim they
have no stories to tell because I have learned that they always do. I am moved to
make plays with people who have often never even seen a play because everyone
is an artist, even if most of us have not had the opportunities and the privilege to
find our artistic voice.51
By setting plays in specific cultural settings, Rauch asks actors to emphasize their own
cultural heritage and understanding of the actions and words of the play. Instead of
color-blind casting, this enables a color-rich casting as actors are encouraged to embrace
their own identities first and the words of Shakespeare second.
In addition to allowing specific settings for Shakespeare‘s plays, the diversity of
the acting company allowed the company to produce plays that mostly-white companies
could not perform, such as Lynn Nottage‘s Ruined (2010) and Carlyle Brown‘s The
This strategy of bringing canonical and new plays to American communities started in his work with the
Cornerstone Theatre Company.
Bill Rauch, ―Bill Rauch, Cornerstone Theater Company,‖ Leadership for a Changing World , May 31,
2002, accessed November 15, 2012,
African Company Presents Richard III (2011). More importantly, this casting policy
included actors who had been habitually excluded from the production of Shakespeare‘s
plays. In addition to actors of all race and gender, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival also
considers differently-abled actors like deaf actor Howie Seago who performed by using
sign language which other characters translated verbally for the audience.52
The effect of the policy of adapting plays to racially identifiable cultures appeared
in Rauch‘s 2011 production of Measure for Measure, set in southern California. In this
production, the Latino/a actors mixed Shakespeare‘s lines in English with occasional
Spanish translations. A three-woman mariachi band from southern California provided
live music. Instead of suggesting a setting, or keeping locales vague and flexible as in the
original ideal of Angus Bowmer, Rauch emphasized the specific relevance of LatinoAmerican actors who were not asked to erase their cultural heritage to perform in the
plays of Shakespeare; rather, they were asked to use their cultural heritage, in language,
music, dress, to revitalize Shakespeare‘s text. Similarly, the actors in Rauch‘s 2010
Hamlet used rhythmic elements of hip-hop as a tool to speak Shakespeare‘s verse. The
grafting of American art forms and social realities onto the texts of Shakespeare produced
a hybrid product that could simultaneously legitimate American artistry and revitalize the
texts of Shakespeare.
The balance between the two aims was precarious, but the price of failure with the
texts of Shakespeare was less financially risky than with new plays. If a particular
approach or technique failed for a play of Shakespeare, the artists were condemned for
meddling with Shakespeare or getting away from ―the text.‖ Shakespeare‘s quality was
Michael W. Shurgot, ‖Breaking the Sound Barrier: Howie Seago and American Sign Language at
Oregon Shakespeare Festival,‖ Shakespeare Bulletin, 30, no. 1 (2012): 21-36.
rarely doubted. Few complained if an approach successfully bridged the gap between
Shakespeare‘s play or original theatre and the modern audience. If a technique did
manage to make Shakespeare‘s plays understandable and enjoyable, that technique, and
the actors who previously developed it, was used for other shows. In this way, the 2010
Hip Hop Hamlet helped pave the way for the 2012 mixed influence Party People.53
Directors at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival also experimented with removing
boundaries between the actors and their audience as well as the beginnings and ends of
the theatrical experience. These ―prologues‖ and ―epilogues,‖ as dramaturg Lue Douthit
called them,54 could expand the theatrical experience before the first line was spoken and
beyond the final curtain. For the 2011 production of Julius Caesar in the New Theatre,
banners with images of assassinated leaders decorated the posts outside the theatre and
the lobby. Audiences walked past each banner with a positive description of the leader
on one side and a negative description on the other. For instance, the banner bearing
Abraham Lincoln‘s likeness proclaimed ―tyrant‖ on one side and ―emancipator‖ on the
other. Once inside, several actors taught the audience members when and how to chant
for Caesar, and the play incorporated this chanting for Caesar‘s first entrance. Likewise,
before The Imaginary Invalid in the Bowmer Theatre, the actor playing Guy busked with
an accordion and displayed a sign that said ―LISTEN It may Change your WORLD
VIEW.‖55 The audience members were not told that this was part of the play. The
audience recognized that the performance began as they entered the theatre later when
Claudia Alick, Associate Producer, served as Hip Hop dramaturg for Hamlet, and ran a number of
initiatives in the Mixing Texts (2008-2011) and Nexthetics play development series that sought to combine
the poetic rhythms of Shakespeare and those of contemporary American forms like Hip Hop.
Lue Douthit, interview by Andrew Blasenak, Ashland, OR. September 9, 2011.
Catherine Foster, ―Breaking Barriers,‖ Prologue [Magazine for members of the Oregon Shakespeare
Festival], Summer 2011, 5.
Guy appeared on stage and complained to his sister about his inability to change the
world through music. Likewise, the boundaries blurred between stage and town in the
promenade production Willful which performed on several sites in and around the Oregon
Shakespeare Festival campus (Figure 1). These creative additions to the plays allowed
actors to invent ways of augmenting and modernizing the theatrical experience for the
canon of plays they typically produced.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has used its distance from centers of theatrical
activity to challenge prevailing assumptions of the commercial theatre. Although Angus
Bowmer challenged contemporary practice through his dedication to Elizabethan staging
principles, under Bill Rauch the Festival sought to lead theatrical practice through its
staging, repertory, and casting in order to make the company reflect the ―rich cultural
heritage of the United States.‖56 Innovations such as these, however, were the result of
the past successes with the plays of Shakespeare. Shakespeare‘s plays continued to
attract audiences, but the solid company of actors and its critical reputation allowed the
Festival artists to experiment with contemporary techniques, such as Hip Hop, and
dramaturgical strategies as in Medea / Macbeth / Cinderella. By building upon the
established success and the guaranteed draw of Shakespeare, the company affirmed its
mission to reflect the cultures of the United States rather than imitate those of Elizabethan
Bill Rauch, interview by Andrew Blasenak, Ashland, OR. September 8, 2011.
Figure 1: Oregon Shakespeare Festival campus, 2010, photo courtesy of Oregon Shakespeare Festival, photo by
David Cooper.
Stages and Stagecraft
The design of the stages of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival similarly shifted
from the Elizabethan playhouse to stages designed for contemporary plays. The
Elizabethan Stage encouraged the minimal design and fluid stagecraft that Angus
Bowmer envisioned for Shakespeare‘s play. With the addition of the Angus Bowmer
Theatre and the New Theatre, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival became capable of
producing modern plays with more demanding design elements. The emphasis on the
stagecraft of the Elizabethan era, however, including a unit set, the use of characters and
costumes to define the fictional space, and a fluid transition between scenes still pervaded
the production styles of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Figure 2: The Elizabethan Stage, 1947, courtesy of Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
The Elizabethan Stage (Figure 2) was the key to Angus Bowmer‘s envisioning of
the theatrical event. Bowmer built the theatre within the shell of an old Chautauqua
dome that included a raked auditorium and a bare platform stage. Bowmer wrote:
Our conception of this stage, borrowed from Mr. Payne, was based on the theory
that players at one time played in the open courtyards of Elizabethan inns. Thus
our stage represented one side of an inn yard, modified for the purpose of
presenting plays. The use of an architectural façade meant the spaces were nonspecific and could, for instance, be transformed by words only from a court
(identified by the presence of courtiers) to a forest: ‗So, this is the forest of
Fortuitously, ―the size of the old Chautauqua stage‖ Bowmer noted, ―was quite
comparable to that of the Fortune, and consequently, by implication, Shakespeare‘s
The style of theatre Bowmer learned from B. Iden Payne required little more than
a bare platform, so the unused Chautauqua stage was viable, and in fact preferable, for
the creation of an Elizabethan type of theatre. Bowmer‘s stagecraft eschewed extensive
scenery but used, instead, Elizabethan costumes and verbal cues to set scenes. Bowmer
was trained, however, in a tradition of theatre-making that used electric lights.
Performances in the early years used makeshift lights, and lighting remained a key
concern of Bowmer who argued ―the effectiveness of actors and setting during any
moment in a play is enhanced, impaired, or even destroyed by the lighting.‖59 Instead of
embracing the Elizabethan use of universal lighting or performing during the day to keep
transitions fluid, the theatre took a loan in 1959 to buy a $50,000 custom-designed light
board that allowed the lighting technician to fade between two light cues as fluidly as
actors entered and left the stage.60 Although the Elizabethan Stage allowed Bowmer to
discard the demand for large scenery, his stagecraft used state-of-the-art lighting
equipment to focus the audience‘s attention (Figure 3).
Bowmer, As I Remember, 76.
Bowmer, 79.
Bowmer, 249.
Bowmer, Autobiography, 250.
Figure 3: The Elizabethan Stage, Love's Labour's Lost, 2011, courtesy of Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Bowmer throughout his autobiography quotes B. Iden Payne‘s philosophy of the
Elizabethan style of theatre: ―That‘s not a subject to write about; it‘s something to be
done.‖ What Bowmer did was create a style of theatre that allowed contemporary theatre
artists to reinvent performance by reflecting what W.B. Worthen called the ―pastness‖ of
the play. The costumes for the festival were Elizabethan.61 When marketing the redesign
of the theatre in 1956, he claimed that the new façade, based on the Fortune contract, was
Bowmer had done several productions of Shakespeare‘s plays in modern dress when budget demanded it,
but all the publicity photos and stage marketing reflect a preference for the Elizabethan dress.
―authentic in every detail.‖62 The theatrical event created and delivered the expectation
that the performance the audiences came to see was as close as possible Shakespeare‘s
original play. This argument in publicity, however, only told part of the story of the
actors who were energized by the quick pace and textual clarity demanded of the stage
and the surrounding audience. Bowmer used the stagecraft of the Elizabethans as a means
to train a company of actors who could continue to perform by making Shakespearean
plays entertaining and understandable. The actors were committed to finding
performance techniques that the stagecraft encouraged, even as the Elizabethan
architecture and costumes rooted performances in an Elizabethan aesthetic.
The Elizabethan stage, however, also necessitated a break from some theatrical
traditions which Bowmer learned through his many years of performing and directing.
When Frank Lambett-Smith‘s Hamlet attempted to upstage Bowmer‘s Polonius during
the ―words, words, words,‖ scene, Bowmer was able to counteract this scene stealer
on the proscenium arch stage, the up-stage positions are more forceful than the
down-stage positions. The opposite is true of the open stage, for when far down
on the forestage one has the audience on three sides so that he may ‗cheat‘ by
appearing to talk to someone upstage while facing three-quarters of the
By redesigning the stage and repositioning the audience, the upstaging trick of the star
system did not work. The stage necessitated a larger group effort since each person took
Kathleen F. Leary and Amy E. Richard, Images of America: Oregon Shakespeare Festival (Charleston,
SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2009), 52.
Bowmer, Autobiography, 170.
command of a portion of the audience. This lack of star focus reflected one of the core
principles that Bowmer called ―The Oregon Shakespearean Festival Manifesto:‖ ―[The
Oregon Shakespearean Festival] should not be a theatre in which the talents of any one
theatrical artist are exploited to the detriment of either the audience‘s enjoyment or the
playwright‘s intent.‖64 The performance dynamic of shared focus determined by the
Elizabethan stage became a moral principle guiding the management of the company.
In 1970, when audience demand overwhelmed the seats available, the Oregon
Shakespeare Festival built the 600-seat Angus Bowmer theatre (Figure 4).65 The theatre
design for the indoor Bowmer theatre was not to imitate the Elizabethan stage, but
―rather‖ Bowmer wrote, ―it was to represent the most modern ideas in theatre
architecture‖ which, in consultation with Richard Hay was described as ―one in which the
actors and the audience are in the same room.‖66 Hay‘s design maintained the stage
shape of the Elizabethan theatre, but he gave the audience a steeper rake and set seats
abutting the edge of the stage. In use, the indoor Bowmer theatre was ―a release-valve
for more visually-oriented directors.‖67 Moreover, it was a release-valve for the festival
to do more contemporary plays. Shakespeare was the dominant playwright for the
Elizabethan stage,68 but the indoor Bowmer theatre in 1970 ran a repertory of Jean
Anouilh‘s Antigone, Tom Stoppard‘s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom
Jones and Harvey Schmidt‘s The Fantasticks, Tennessee Williams‘ The Glass
Menagerie, Kaufman and Hart‘s You Can’t Take It with You, and the production of their
Bowmer, Autobiography, 159.
In 1966, the theatre had started using the Varsity, an unused movie house, to produce one nonShakespeare play a year, but the theatre burned down in 1969.
Bowmer, Autobiography, 264.
Turner, Epilogue.
The 1970 season ran a repertory of Julius Caesar, Richard II, The Comedy of Errors and The Merchant
of Venice.
first of Moliere‘s plays, The Imaginary Invalid. This repertory revealed a continuity with
the ―any place and no place‖69 setting of the Elizabethan stage (Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern are Dead and The Fantasticks), as well as a break from this tradition in
plays set in commodious living rooms (You Can’t Take It With You, The Imaginary
Invalid) and a blend of the two (The Glass Menagerie). The unit set designs for each
these plays showed the continuity between Shakespeare‘s bare platform stage with the
permanent stage house and the practices of several contemporary authors; therefore, the
design and staging present no great challenge to the actors.
Figure 4: The Angus Bowmer Theatre, 2009, courtesy of Oregon Shakespeare Festival, photo by Jenny Graham.
The Elizabethan bare platform stage allows the audience to imagine any setting, but it has no clear
physical or visual definition that constrains the audience‘s imagination.
The Bowmer theatre expanded the repertory to include noteworthy and canonical
plays, but the Oregon Shakespeare Festival only started producing new plays and
experimental works after building the small Black Swan theatre in 1977. With this
smaller space, the festival could take the risk that unknown plays could fill a house
merely on the reputation of the acting company. This strategy of testing new plays and
experimental stagecraft was pursued at the New Theatre, built in 2002 (Figure 5). The
New Theatre, an arena stage with flexible seating for 270-360, shared little with the
Elizabethan theatre, but its flexibility provided for continued experimentation with actoraudience relationship, lightweight design, and imaginative staging possibilities.
Figure 5. The New Theatre, 2010, courtesy of Oregon Shakespeare Festival, photo by David Cooper.
With these three stages, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival produced plays from
any time period. Shakespeare‘s plays were still central to the repertory and staging
conventions, but the blending of new plays with canonical plays, reflected the creative
goals of the regional theatre movement. As the theatre grew, the diversity of plays
became desirable to the artists and necessary for the repeat audience. In 2011, all of
Shakespeare‘s plays had been produced at least three times previously at the Oregon
Shakespeare Festival. Of the thirteen-play 2011 season, four plays were Shakespeare‘s:
Henry IV, Part 2 (Elizabethan Stage), Love’s Labor’s Lost (Elizabethan Stage), Julius
Caesar (New Theatre), and Measure for Measure (Bowmer Theatre). The season also
included a new adaptation of Moliere‘s The Imaginary Invalid (Bowmer) by Oded Gross
and Tracy Young. The majority of the other plays were twentieth-century plays set in
America, including To Kill A Mockingbird (Bowmer), August: Osage County (Bowmer),
The African Company Presents Richard III (Bowmer), and Ghost Light (New). The
season also had Julia Cho‘s 2009 play The Language Archive (New) and one new, site
specific play, Willful, which was devised by company actors with a director and designer.
Finally, The Pirates of Penzance (Elizabethan) held a key point in the season and
furthered Bill Rauch‘s trend of regularly including musicals in the seasons.
Although directors were given free rein to direct as they see fit, none of the stages
were designed with the storage space or stage area to run multiple large sets for a
repertory of twelve plays. The limited design budget also encouraged the primacy of the
actors, the text, and the audience. Several stages had performances of more than one
show per day, the sets had to be dismantled, stored, and erected in about an hour.
However, under Libby Appel and Bill Rauch, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival hired
more designers who had never worked there before. These designers often modified the
Elizabethan Stage though the addition or removal of architectural features. Usually,
designers and directors removed or altered the central balcony area since actors struggled
to be seen or heard underneath the balcony and the appearance on the balcony was rarely
a strong position because it was so far removed from the audience. The audiences that
returned year after year were often delighted to see the transformation of the stage for
each show, but as production manager Tom Knapp explained, ―the Elizabethan Stage is
so overpowering that attempts to put a set in front of it fail.‖70 The Elizabethan Stage,
though modified, was too large to be covered up or ignored.71
The 2011 productions of Love’s Labour’s Lost and Henry IV, Part 2 showed two
different alterations that adapted the Elizabethan stage with contemporary design
sensibilities. In Love’s Labour’s Lost, the platform stage was covered with synthetic
grass, including raised banks with synthetic flowers. The stage space underneath the
balcony was entirely enclosed with wood paneling, but the design included a sliding door
that allowed access to the stage. A wooden ladder on the front of the balcony provided
access to the upper playing area from the stage. The addition of props, chairs, tables, and
other bric-a-brac transformed the bare platform stage from a place where imagination
alone transformed the scene to a heavy indicator or the time, tone, and mood of the play.
The synthetic grass, combined with the 1950s-era costumes attempted to signify to the
audience a specific message about the play through these design elements rather than
adherence to the bare platform that could be changed through verbal cues.
The design for Henry IV, part 2 added an architectural feature to avoid the weak
balcony areas: a retractable staircase the width of the center balcony. The staircase
allowed many levels for blocking possibilities and created specific settings with minimal
Tom Knapp, interview by Andrew Blasenak, Ashland, OR. September 12, 2011.
Knapp, interview.
set changes. For instance, in the tavern, several actors were cast to play nameless
prostitutes and customers, some on the upper stage, some below, which added ambiance
and defined the stage space more definitely than the interaction written between Falstaff,
Mistress Quickly, Doll Tearsheet, Falstaff‘s cronies, and the prince. The designer and
director also used many large props, including tables, chairs, and musical instruments to
set this scene, and achieved the goal of filling the entire stage visually. The automated
staircase and the use of actors to change the set, however, allowed the theatre to
transform from scene to scene with minimal time for transitions, staying true to
Bowmer‘s original goal of quick pacing.
The Angus Bowmer theatre encouraged the unit-set approach but used many more
resources for technical effects. Bill Rauch‘s Measure for Measure combined the use of a
unit set as well as projections, props, and additional characters and actions to fill the stage
visually (Figures 6 and 7). In each scene, the stage was filled with chairs, tables, desks, a
podium and other props as well as background actors to indicate courtrooms,
boardrooms, community centers, and brothels. In order to add depth to the stage, the
back wall of the stage was a large clear window that opened on a runway where prisoners
could be processed, prostitutes could proposition, and people in business attire could
bustle. On the back wall, projections helped set a photo-realistic scene that could be
transformed quickly. The technology of the digital age allowed directors to transform
scenes visually as quickly as the staging conventions of the Elizabethan era once did
verbally and imaginatively.72
The Imaginary Invalid was equally exuberant in the design of a 1960s Mod Parisian set with quirky
modern art and sculptures.
Figure 6: Angus Bowmer Stage, Measure for Measure, 2011, courtesy of Oregon Shakespeare Festival, photo by
David Cooper, René Millán, Brooke Parks; Musicians: Vaneza M. Calderón, Mary M. Alfaro, Susie Garcia.
Figure 7: Angus Bowmer Stage, Measure for Measure, 2011, courtesy of Oregon Shakespeare Festival, photo by
David Cooper, featuring Anthony Heald, Brooke Parks, Stephanie Beatriz.
Julius Caesar in the New Theatre had the lightest technical support, but the
director used this limitation to focus on the interaction between actor and audience with a
few moments of spectacle. At the beginning of the show, actors spoke to the audience
members as they walked in not portraying a fictive character need, but rather welcoming
them into the theatre and establishing a rapport with them. As show time neared, each of
the actors would lead a section of the audience in chants of ―Caesar, Caesar‖ in
preparation for the arrival of the titular character played by long-time company actress
Vilma Silva (Figure 8). In this prologue, the actors also made clear through their
improvised comments that they were in competition with each other to see who could
make the loudest section. This practice set the scene in a state with an authoritative
regime not through transforming the visual design of the theatre but through transforming
the audience into a mindless, jingoistic populace. This strategy of incorporating the
audience in the action of the performance blurred the boundaries between actor and
audience and between the fictional world of the play and the reality of the audience in the
The design for Julius Caesar resembled the bare staging of many black box
productions, but with moments of vivid visual displays. For instance, the company
staged Caesar‘s dream, an event discussed but not shown in Shakespeare‘s play, by
unrolling a long roll of paper and having the conspirators dip their hands in a bucket of
stage blood and wiping their red handprints on the paper. At the end of the dream the
paper was taken away and the space returned to the table-made-bed upon which Caesar
Blurring the liminal space between the start of the performance and the event of going to the theatre
could also be seen in the appearance of Guy, the musician character in The Imaginary Invalid busking
outside of the theatre as the audience entered.
slept. The limitations of resources available and the actors‘ use of direct audience
address resembled the Bowmer‘s initial goals for the Elizabethan stage. Unencumbered
by extensive costume, set, or prop demands, the play moved at a clip and the actors
became the main focus of the storytelling action. The talent and training of the actors and
the close proximity and use of the audience led reviewers to call the rhetoric-heavy play
―attention-grabbing‖ and ―electric‖74 and ―thrilling.‖75
Figure 8: New Theatre, Julius Caesar, 2011, courtesy of Oregon Shakespeare Festival, photo by Jenny Graham.
Terry Teachout, ―The Glorious Tragedy of Julia Caesar,‖ The Wall Street Journal, August 26, 2011,
accessed September 9, 2012,
Tony Frankel, ―Regional Theater Review: Julius Caesar.” Stage and Cinema. September 12, 2011,
accessed September 9, 2012,
The stagecraft at Oregon Shakespeare Festival shared Bowmer‘s original vision in
the quick scene changes and the use of a unit set modified by large props and costumed
characters. Individual directors, however, differed in their stagecraft as they often
provided visually specific settings rather than attempting to allow the audience‘s
imagination and actor costumes to set the scenes. Actors and directors pointed to this
variety as one of the strengths of the festival. This variety of stagecraft attracted actors
and audiences who were eager to experience many different types of theatre. However,
the difference in the stages and repertory of the theatres also required that actors and
directors had the techniques and skills to negotiate any play or space that they used.
To conclude: the newer theatres helped bridge the gap between the stage and
aesthetic of Shakespeare‘s early modern theatre and postmodern trends in theatrical
production. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival did not constrain designers and directors
to use only the Elizabethan stage for productions of Shakespeare‘s plays. The stagecraft
practiced at the Bowmer and New Theatre vindicated approaches to Shakespeare‘s plays
that reinvented or recycled the practices Angus Bowmer envisioned for the Elizabethan
stage. Shakespeare became not a playwright reserved for a specific stage that
communicated his historicity; rather, his plays were adapted and adjusted to the visions of
each director. These approaches, because they worked with Shakespeare‘s plays,
confirmed the value and continuity of approach with plays from any era. Since all spaces
were designed with the aim of bringing actors and audiences into closer proximity, they
equally required and rewarded new approaches to actor training and performance. This
training enabled plays like Julius Caesar to bring the audience into the show, but the
visions of directors still determined whether such an inclusion was necessary or desirable.
Actor Training and Coaching
Actor coaching and training had been a key part of the Oregon Shakespeare
Festival since its founding. Training was necessary throughout the thirties and forties
because most members of the acting company were college students, many of whom had
little actor training and experience with Shakespeare. In 2011 the company attracted
actors from throughout the nation with skills necessary to perform their roles in repertory.
The attraction of professional actors increased, rather than decreased, the demand for
coaches. Primarily, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival‘s staff of voice and text coaches
helped actors to address the difficulties of Shakespeare‘s plays and the Elizabethan stage.
More importantly, the coaches, actors, and other training staff offered workshops and
training opportunities in order to counterbalance the loss of educational experiences
available in large metropolitan centers. The training at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival,
therefore, minimized the drawbacks of living in a remote location but maximized the
satisfaction of artistic collaborators who wished to develop new techniques for
performance and play development.
The system of repertory was necessary for the theatre‘s survival because out-oftown visitors comprised the majority of the audience.76 This repertory structure provided
the diversity of the plays and stages, the length of rehearsals, and the duration of the
season contributing to actors‘ training in performance techniques throughout the season.
Actors typically performed roles in two or three plays for nine months. Actors sometimes
rehearsed several shows at the same time, alternating between texts and stages from day
―Stay four days, see four plays‖ was the slogan the company used to attract audiences in the earlier years
of the festival. Leary, Images, 37.
to day for six to eleven weeks, and through this time they received input from directors,
voice coaches, and dramaturgs. This collaborative process gave actors the opportunity
and responsibility to develop new roles in a variety of plays. The rigors of a multi-play
repertory and the performance conditions of the outdoor Elizabethan stage, however,
required actors to take care of their voices and bodies. Instead of a single director
playing coach to the large casts necessary for Shakespeare‘s plays, as Bowmer did in the
1930s and 1940s, the size of the company required the assistance of a staff of dedicated
In 2011, The company hired two designated voice and text coaches, David and
Rebecca Clark Carey. Their credentials included teaching for the Royal Academy of
Dramatic Art (RADA) and the Central School for Speech and Drama, two major centers
for classical acting training in England. These two coaches aided actors in individual
sessions to develop greater specificity of language and emotion as well as vocal
projection and health. They also taught accents and specialized voice use, including
instances of shouting and screaming.
These voice coaches were able to track the needs and development of each actor
because they attended all rehearsals for which they were available. Their presence and
notes in rehearsal, they said in interview, helped to build a relationship with the actors so
that they could have more productive coaching sessions. In the 2011 season they worked
on nine of the eleven shows. Because they were the local authority on vocal matters in
Shakespearean plays and modern plays alike, actors often felt more comfortable with
them in their role as supporters, rather than critics. Rather than teaching a system for
voice use, the coaches responded to the needs of the actors and requests of the directors.
David Carey said, ―part of our job is to be able to fit into each individual director‘s
production and mediate that for the company, but it is not our duty to impose a standard,
but our responsibility to make sure the language is clear, understandable and audible.‖77
By keeping the focus on these technical, rather than interpretive, goals, they could
support actors‘ growth without upsetting the director‘s vision.
In addition to show-oriented coaching, the company prioritized the development
of the entire acting company, with the belief that actors who were challenged and learned
at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival would be more likely to remain with the company in
future seasons. Scott Kaiser, the director of company development,78 had the task of
making sure the company of over one hundred actors was challenged in their casting and
supported in rehearsals. A position such as his implied a radically different approach to
the use of actors in a festival. Instead of treating actors as subcontractors who performed
a single role for the company, the director of company development assured that each of
the actors could develop skills to play multiple roles and serve the company in a variety
of ways. Kaiser summarized the practicality of this ethos:
[We do not cast] everyone in roles they can just sit in and have an easy time of. If
you have a clown, and cast him as a clown year after year, you‘re going to burn
that actor out. [An actor may be terrific as] Trinculo [in The Tempest], but we
need to put him in that Arthur Miller play. You have that in school all the time.
You have faculty telling people about development. In the commercial world,
David Clark Carey, interview by Andrew Blasenak, August 31, 2011.
The position of director of company development has few parallels in theatre companies in America.
Kaiser named Kenneth Washington of the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis as the only other person in the
professional American theatre who had a similar position. Lyn Darnley of the Royal Shakespeare
Company has a similar position. Regardless, such a position is rare.
that is very rare. We pay you to do what you do well. We don‘t care if you get
better. There are very few theatres who will pay you to improve. We do that
because when we improve our actors, (because of the repertory and resident
company) we reap the benefits.79
The attention to the development of the individual was a practical choice because it
increased the skills of the actors who returned to the company for many years, but more
importantly Kaiser‘s philosophy changed many actors‘ perceptions of the company.
Several, but not all, actors described the Oregon Shakespeare Festival as different from
other employers because its management cared about the development of the actors and
was dedicated to the improvement of their acting. The coaching resources provided
served the future of the company as well as the current satisfaction of its actors.
This same philosophy of company development applied to individual skills such
as clown, accents, dance, stage combat, Feldenkrais, and a variety of others. Instead of
losing those skills to another company, the practice of hiring several of the same actors
each season meant that those talents benefited future shows that used those actors. This
had the added benefit of providing artistic and emotional satisfaction to the actors. For
instance, long-term company actress Vilma Silva received a Lunt-Fontanne fellowship to
study with Olympia Dukakis in a master class. Even though she had to leave the festival
for a week, the company supported this opportunity since she would use that experience
for her roles at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The time off also showed Silva that the
company cared about her individual goals as much as the success of the shows. Because
the Oregon Shakespeare Festival was committed to maintaining the most successful
Kaiser, Interview.
actors, such a practice ensured that no actor felt like he or she was missing out on their
professional goals by being with the festival.
All the training provided sought to further individual growth, which contributed
to the building of a collaborative artistic team capable of providing a diversity of views
and opinions. The directors that Bill Rauch hired often had collaborative rehearsals that
required the input of well-trained actors and coaches. In order to have the best results of
creative collaboration, the company resisted having a single style or approach. As Scott
Kaiser noted: ―what‘s the point of seeking a highly diverse company of artists and then
trying to unify all of their approaches. It‘s antithetical.‖80 Instead the training focused on
each actor:
Every project, director concept, every actor, every acting experience is so
different, a company‘s uniform training approach [would be] too much of a
straight jacket. We work with one hundred individuals. Each is an individual
artist and we work with them that way. How they get mixed up is a matter of
The purpose of training at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, therefore, sought to foster
the technical confidence and artistic vision of each artist so that in rehearsals ideas could
be proposed, considered, and challenged by artists who had developed their own artistic
vision. Because several the actors felt that the company cared about them as artists, not
just employees, they were more satisfied in their work and more willing to contribute to
the company even when they did not receive the most enviable of roles.
Kaiser, interview.
Kaiser, interview.
This sort of reciprocity resulted from the remote locale of the Oregon Shakespeare
Festival. The lack of professional opportunities within three hundred miles, and the ninemonth contracts encouraged actors to devote themselves to their rehearsals rather than
career opportunities. The lack of resources near Ashland required that the Oregon
Shakespeare Festival provide all the opportunities for actor development. As Kaiser
explained, ―We have to provide a lot for actors which actors would normally end up
paying for themselves. [This is] not necessarily a negative, because it enables us to show
how much we care by providing [training opportunities].‖82 By fulfilling the desires of
the actors to train and grow, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival built a reputation that
allowed them to attract the top talent among regional theatre actors.
In addition to the show-oriented coaches, the company also provided volunteer
training opportunities for the actors to develop performance or physical skills. Although
Kaiser noted that training was so important to the company that he would have liked to
make vocal warm-ups and classes mandatory, the conflict with union rules forced these
additional classes to be voluntary. The training offered included daily warm-ups,
technique classes, and weekly ateliers. Warm-ups prepare actors‘ voices and bodies for
performance. To reduce the number of actors getting injured in the arduous repertory
schedule, the company provided a personal trainer, a position that paid for itself in the
reduced insurance costs. Weekly ateliers allowed the company to focus on novel skills
and company issues, such as the ―Mixing Texts Artists‖ atelier of August 31, 2011
wherein Kaiser and hip-hop dramaturg Claudia Alick compared the verse styles of
Shakespeare and rhyme strategies of contemporary hip-hop artists. The ateliers also
Kaiser, interview.
offered actors the ability to teach their skills to each other, ranging from stage movement
to meditation to scansion, so that they developed as teaching artists as well.
The coaching staff also helped articulate the preferences between artistic
directors. Since Bill Rauch preferred Shakespeare‘s speech to sound like colloquial
American speech, actors adapted from the more formal verse speaking and articulation of
former artistic director Libby Appel. Scott Kaiser made a memo that articulated the
preferences of the new artistic director so that long-term company actors could change
their approaches to reflect the Rauch‘s eclectic American aesthetic and continue to get
Finally, actors, especially the young actors in the company developed their
performance skills and knowledge of Shakespeare by becoming teaching artists in the
Oregon Shakespeare Festival‘s School Visit Program. Founded in 1971, this off-season
employment allowed the company to keep actors employed over the winter rather than
losing their talents to another company. The program also gave actors more performance
opportunities with the texts of Shakespeare for a very demanding audience: students. As
teaching artists, they gained a stronger understanding of Shakespeare‘s plays and the
local audience members. Further, these young actors were given leadership positions in
the classroom that allowed them to encounter ideas on tour or in a classroom discussion
that they could later contribute to rehearsal. As with all training opportunities in the
company, this teaching allowed actors to solidify their ideas and inspirations so that they
could collaborate in the rehearsals.
Some changes included the embracing of regionalisms, the elimination of emphasis on liquid U‘s, and
other verse preferences that emphasize the actors‘ natural or habitual speaking rather than any formal
Each of the training opportunities served the dual aims of improving the actors‘
performance skills and increasing the satisfaction of actors far removed from other
theatrical resources. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival cannot compete financially or
professionally with the money or opportunity available in metropolitan centers of the
entertainment industry like Los Angeles or New York. Instead, these training and
coaching programs allowed some actors to believe that their talents were developed and
appreciated throughout their contract. Although not all actors received the same benefit
or equal enjoyment, the presence of the training programs demonstrated a concern for the
well-being of the actors rather than a sole dedication to the production of shows.
Ensemble Acting
When Bowmer founded the company, he avoided the star system in favor of an
acting company that shared the responsibility and success of the Elizabethan-inspired
theatre. Bowmer even went so far as to imply that the seasons William Ball spent with
the company in 1951 inspired ―the shaping of the [American Conservatory Theatre]
repertory company,‖84 which introduced many actors to the virtues and challenges of
ensemble acting. In 2011, several of the actors either graduated from or were influenced
by the workings of the American Conservatory Theatre, where they were taught
principles of ensemble in a repertory schedule. William Ball wrote, ―A theatre company
that is dedicated to the health of the actors is likely to produce the best possible
theatre.‖85 Many actors remarked that the Oregon Shakespeare Festival was one of the
Bowmer, Autobiography, 211.
John R. Wilk, The Creation of an Ensemble: The First Years of the American Conservatory Theatre
(Carbondale and Edwardsville, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 1986), 145.
last theatres in the nation to maintain such a dedication to ensemble acting. The
theoretical dedication to ensemble acting, however, was only one way in which actors
were incorporated into the artistic and management practices of the company. Through a
dedication to collaborative rehearsals, the inclusion of actors in the artistic decisions of
the company, and programs designed to overcome the professional disadvantages of the
removed locale, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival sought to increase the professional and
emotional well being of the actors in the company.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival involved actors in many aspects of the theatre
company. Because the theatre began outside of commercial centers with amateur actors,
the company developed without the benefit of star power. Artistic authority was earned
and shared among the artists who returned to the festival for many years rather than those
who had earned fame elsewhere and lent it to the festival. The dynamic arising from this
core group of actors who dedicated their careers to benefit the Oregon Shakespeare
Festival encouraged collaboration in rehearsal and in management. Because the
satisfaction of the actors was a primary concern for the artistic vision of the company,
many programs, such as Boar‘s Head (play selection committee) and SHARES
(Shakespearean Actors Requiring Employment Soon) were established to reflect the
value of the actors‘ artistic input and their need for employment. As the ensemble
changed with the inclusion of actors from more and varied ethnicities and cultural
backgrounds, these programs allowed the new actors to influence the company while
helping older actors find employment elsewhere. Compared to other professional
theatres, rehearsals and programs like these helped actors feel that their employers cared
about their well-being.
The establishment of an ensemble mentality was present in the earliest years of
the festival. All actors had technical as well performance duties. Some professional
actors hired through ads in Theatre Arts came to the festival and remained for several
years as they developed skills to benefit the festival. The responsibilities were shared.
The repertory structure and somewhat equitable distribution of roles meant that actors
could lead in one play and then play a supporting role in another. The theatre could never
be assured of attracting stars since it was so far removed from major cities. The actors
who remained with the company learned to perform starring roles as well as supporting
roles. Through challenging roles and a company-wide dedication to the Elizabethaninspired stagecraft, actors who stayed stopped thinking of themselves as employees of the
festival and started thinking of themselves as members of a company. They became
more willing to make personal sacrifices for the benefit of the theatre. The growing
reputation of the festival, however, and the satisfaction of the core of actors attracted new
actors who would take much smaller roles in order to be a part of the prestigious
company. As Bowmer wrote, ―in the sixties the reputation of the Festival as a stepping
stone to professional theatre became so widespread that talented young theatre people
were willing to spend a season or two doing walk-on or bit parts or assisting in one or
another of the technical departments in the hope of improving their positions the next
season while learning from their co-workers.‖86
Fifty years later, the theatre had changed drastically in size, but its company
members still sought to maintain the belief that they worked for the good of the festival.
However, this belief lasted only so long as they felt the festival worked for them. The
Bowmer, Autobiography, 253.
key way that the management, chiefly Scott Kaiser, attempted to satisfy the most talented
actors was through casting actors in a satisfying distribution of roles year after year.
Ideally, the progression of top quality actors would mirror the experience of
Christine Albright. She came to the company in 2006 to perform supporting roles in Up
and Cyrano. Her agent worried that she would sideline her career because The Oregon
Shakespeare Festival had a reputation for attracting and keeping actors. The next season
she was offered Juliet in Romeo and Juliet and stayed. The next year she was challenged
to portray a role outside of her type of the fiery ingénue: she was cast as Titania in A
Midsummer Night’s Dream. This casting was a vote of confidence from the artistic
management that told her she was expected to expand her range. By her fourth season,
she was cast as Judith Shakespeare in the original play Equivocation87 which received
great acclaim and toured with the original cast to Seattle and Washington D.C. These
challenges and variety of roles provided her an experience she would not be able to get if
she had stayed in a major theatrical center playing, as she had previously.88
This breaking out of the typical practices of the commercial theatre was all the
more important to actors of any non-white ethnicity who were likely to be typecast
according to racial stereotypes. One actress noted that she felt a ―debt of gratitude‖ to the
vote of confidence Bill Rauch and the artistic leadership gave her when they cast her in
roles usually reserved for white actresses. The rarity of casting against stereotypes in the
A play like Equivocation is one of the benefits of the steady ensemble of actors. It was written with
some of the company members in mind for certain roles. The play presents actors from Shakespeare‘s
company, a group of people who live and work together extensively. When the play has been produced by
other theatres by groups of actors brought together for 4-6 weeks, it has not enjoyed as much success.
According to Tony Heald, long-time company actor, the OSF actors have the unspoken understanding and
ego-deflating abilities of the fictional company of actors in the play. Although the play deals with
Shakespeare‘s fictional history, the play‘s style is ideally suited to the OSF company of actors for which it
was written.
Christine Albright, interview by Andrew Blasenak, Ashland, OR, September 8, 2011.
entertainment industry led her to commit to her work with more effort than she would at a
TV or film role, even though she was making in a week one-fifth of what she was paid in
a day for television work. The casting practices and support of directors, coaches, and
administration compensated, year after year, her personal choice to deny herself
opportunities in entertainment industry.
Bill Rauch‘s vision to increase the racial diversity of the acting ensemble had the
added benefit of expanding the repertory of plays that the company could feasibly
perform.89 The race-neutral casting of Shakespeare‘s plays opened up many more
possibilities for the kinds of shows the company could produce. For instance, in the 2011
season, the company produced The African Company Presents Richard III, a play about
the nineteenth century company of black actors of the African Grove Theatre who had
challenged a white theatre with the same repertory. The actors in the play, as with actors
in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, found their own voice in the plays of Shakespeare
that allowed for novel interpretations. Moreover, Rauch had gone beyond race-neutral
casting to emphasize the cultural heritage of the actors in the production design and
interpretation. Instead of erasing one‘s cultural identity to partake in the plays of
Shakespeare, Rauch divorced Shakespeare‘s plays from their doublet-and-hose origins to
allow the voices and interpretations of contemporary actors to be heard.
As the theatre rose to national prominence, much of the casting took place in
major acting centers like New York City and Los Angeles. The expectations of actors,
and the warnings of their agents, in these major industrial centers directed the Oregon
Shakespeare Festival to seek actors with the talent and disposition for regional theatre
Another aspect of Bill Rauch‘s work with the Cornerstone Theatre Company was the use of the diversity
of American cultures as a lens to understand canonical plays and create new ones.
work in centers such as Minneapolis, Seattle, San Francisco and Portland. Casting
director Joy Dickinson remarked that in these regional centers there were ―terrific actors
who we don‘t get to see as much [who are] not always battling with pilot season and
agents who want to keep their clients in town.‖90 Although the duration of the contracts
and geographical distance from major centers of the entertainment industry frustrated the
recruiting efforts, these difficulties helped ensure that actors who joined the festival were
committed to producing theatre in styles proposed by Angus Bowmer.
Although the company attracted actors who had careers in television, film, and
theatre, it did not have any stars. Instead, the audience that came to the shows enjoyed
watching the actors who had performed there many years. This enabled projects where
actors could portray the same character over several consecutive plays. From 2010 to
2012, the company produced Henry IV, part 1, Henry IV, part 2, and concluded with
Henry V in 2012 with much the same cast of actors. The lack of stars also meant that the
quality of all the actors must be higher since the name of actors with national or
international fame could not be relied upon to bring audiences to the theatre. This
commitment to company and community created regional audiences that invested their
time and money in a company of actors who had invested their time and talents in the
same company as well.
Not only did the ensemble increase actor satisfaction, but it also made possible
different types of plays, such as the successful show Equivocation. Anthony Heald noted
that the play was produced in other theatres in more traditional rehearsal practices, where
actors met for the first time and four to six weeks later put on the show. In each of these
Joy Dickson, interview by Andrew Blasenak, September 18, 2011.
cases, the show was neither critically nor financially successful. Heald attributed the
success of the play at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to the ensemble practices of the
company. Art imitated life as the actors portrayed members of an acting company
dedicated to the production of Shakespeare‘s plays which, Heald claimed, allowed them
to achieve a greater emotional depth and nuanced understanding of their character
relationships. Additionally, the playwright wrote the play for specific actors at the
Oregon Shakespeare Festival, a luxury rare in any theatre but common to Shakespeare‘s
original company. The stability of the ensemble allowed this custom-made play to
highlight the talents of the actors and achieve success on tour throughout the United
In order to keep artists at their most creative potential and ensure a diversity of
opinions, however, turnover was necessary. Attracting actors to the company was
difficult for those who sought fame and jobs in recorded media. Actors who sought the
stability of a resident repertory theatre, however, were likely to stay as long as they could.
Because actors who were satisfied with their employment conditions often remained, they
limited the number of roles available for new actors. Under Libby Appel, casting often
took place before general auditions because she rewarded actors who performed well
with roles in the next season. Bill Rauch, however, did not guarantee that stability
because he needed a culturally-diverse company to fulfill his artistic vision. He also
encouraged actors to remain viable in the acting marketplace by taking a season off to
refresh their acting skills and to see some theatre from other professional companies. This
practice also remained an efficient way of removing actors whose work did not fulfill the
artistic standards or goals of the company. Because the actors far outnumber even the
extensive artistic team of directors and coaches, the success of the shows was highly
dependent on the individual efforts of the actors. The actors who improved their
performance skills either on their own, or with the support of the coaches and directors,
were the ones who were invited back.
Some seasons did not have enough roles for the actors who had impressed the
artistic leadership. For this reason, the company instituted programs that considered the
actors‘ career goals. In order to ensure the continued success of the actors working either
in or beyond the festival, the company of actors contributed to the SHARES
(Shakespearean Actors Requiring Employment Soon) program. Each actor contributed
$200 to cover travel expenses for directors and casting directors to Ashland who saw the
shows and had a series of eight-minute interviews with each of the actors. The actors
valued this system more than traditional auditions. As one actor said, ―the best audition
you can do is to have people see your work.‖ Actors welcomed this networking
possibility to stay viable in the theatrical, television, and film marketplaces. Even with
the company-wide dedication to ensemble, they did not expect permanent employment.
Some actors who had spent many years with the company were invited to take
part in the season selection committee, called Boar‘s Head. 91 In this committee, actors
met with the artistic directorship, literary staff, and representatives from the education
department, to answer the question, ―what play is best for the company at this time?‖
Amongst so many stakeholders, the needs of the actors found equal support. In addition
to picking shows, actors were invited to submit a ―wish list‖ of roles for which they
wanted to be considered and a list of those roles they did not want to play. Some
Boar‘s Head is named for the pub in which Falstaff and his cronies hang out. This sets a more informal
tone to the business decisions of the company rather than any meeting with the label ―committee.‖
company actors, depending on their previous relationship, could sit down with the artistic
director to discuss the roles they wanted. Even though directors still had the final say in
casting, this additional step gave the actors the opportunity to have their goals known and
possibly fulfilled through cooperation with the leadership. Through these casting
policies, the artistic leadership displayed their equal concern for the development of
actors and the quality of the shows.
Finally, the theatre maintained a culture of collaboration and support that helped
the company face adversity on all levels. In the early summer of 2011, a central ceiling
beam cracked in the Angus Bowmer theatre, and the company closed the theatre
immediately. Within twenty-four hours the full company of actors, stage management,
designers, and costumers transferred the show to another venue, originally a local
armory, and later a tent. The company members did not complain about the rough and
ready substitute theatre. Rather, they acknowledged the adversity, faced it together, and
explored how the plays operated under the different circumstances. A situation that could
have been demoralizing was seen as an opportunity for actors to get a closer connection
to the audience without the benefit (or challenge) of extensive design elements.
Although the company was too large for all the actors to work together, the
leadership and company structures reinforced the ethos of collaborative endeavor. There
was room for frustration as some actors felt the casting or training opportunities were not
supporting their personal goals. The fact that the company sought input from actors in
rehearsal and in the direction of the company helped to keep the most talented and welltrained actors invested in the company. The training and diverse play selections allowed
the actors room to grow, and often that growth was part of making the company
―healthy.‖ The ensemble was not as cohesive as it could be in smaller theatres where
actors work together on every show in the same company style. Instead, actors knew
they were part of a collective endeavor, watched actors in other shows, hoped to work
with them, and knew that they were part of a company where talented and exciting actors
offered them opportunities for growth and mentorship. While the size made the theatre
resemble the entertainment business in miniature, the ethos and leadership made the
theatre resemble a smaller company of committed actors.
Chapter 3: The Stratford Shakespeare Company
Legacy and Continuity
The Stratford Shakespeare Festival began in 1953 in Stratford, Ontario.92
Journalist Tom Patterson planned a Shakespeare festival to revive the economic fortunes
of the serendipitously-named town. Patterson engaged Tyrone Guthrie who was
attracted by the townspeople‘s commitment to producing a festival of ―significance‖ and
the ability to build an open stage. Together they founded what would become one of the
most successful Shakespeare Festivals in the world. Through the sustained quality of the
acting company and the challenge of Guthrie‘s iconic stage, the Festival met the desires
for a national theatre and a regional movement. By 2012, Des McAnuff continued the
legacy of the founders, but shifted the focus of the company away from the actors toward
the collaboration of actor, director, and designer.
Tyrone Guthrie was initially attracted to the project since it allowed him to create
the type of stage that he thought would be ideal for the production of Shakespeare‘s
plays. The legend surrounding the rained-out production of the Old Vic‘s 1936 Hamlet at
Elsinore confirmed for Guhrie that the open stage was the ideal setting for Shakespeare‘s
plays. Actors, their costumes, and the imaginations of the surrounding audience
indicated setting and tone. Guthrie‘s 1948 production of the obscure medieval play, Ane
The original, and still official, name of the company is ―The Stratford Shakespearean Festival of
Canada,‖ a title that incorporates both the heritage of Shakespeare and a nationalistic commitment to
Canadian theatre.
Satyre of the Thrie Estaites,93 succeeded on a purpose-built thrust stage in the Assembly
Hall at the Edinburgh Festival. On March 24, 1952, eight weeks prior to Patterson‘s
phone call, Guthrie addressed the Shakespeare Stage Society saying:
There will be no improvement in staging Shakespeare until there is a return to
certain basic conditions of the Shakespeare stage. There is no need for an exact
replica of the Globe Theatre, but it is essential to make contact between players
and audience as intimate as possible.94
Few existing theatres had the desire or resources to build the stage of his imagining.
Guthrie needed a new project to make a permanent open stage a reality.
The ―improvement in staging Shakespeare‖ was a significant project that he had
in mind when he spoke to the citizens of Stratford. In the reenactment for the
documentary The Stratford Adventure Guthrie said to them:
If you want to make a lot of money and fill the place with tourists and ring merry
chimes in the cash registers, I think I can tell you one thing to do: don‘t have a
Shakespeare festival. Have a line of beautiful young things, let them loose on a
brightly lit stage. Far less trouble and expense. Can‘t fail to make a profit if you
think of a nice refined title….something French, such as Follies Le Girls or
Bottoms Up.95
In response to their laughter Guthrie proposed:
Iain Mackintosh, The Guthrie Thrust Stage: A Living Legacy (Association of British Theatre
Technicians, 2011), 8.
Mackintosh, Stage,10.
The Stratford Adventure, directed by Morten Parker (1954; Toronto, ON: National Film Board of
Canada, 2005), DVD.
All right then, if you want to do something significant, something that Canada can
be proud of that isn‘t just a boxcar full of this or a shipload full of that, well, I
think you can do that, too. A Shakespeare play, for instance, produced at a
standard that‘s equal to the best in the world. Though, but mind you, standards, in
the theatre as elsewhere, cost money.
Patterson and the Stratford citizens agreed that they wanted something significant.
Guthrie, without delay, suggested they need to two major elements: a stage and a star.
Tom Patterson had envisioned the production of the play in the local band shell. Guthrie
convinced the town committee to raise the money to build a stage ideally suited to his
vision of Shakespeare‘s theatre.
The ability to imagine the performance possibilities on an Elizabethan-inspired
stage allowed Guthrie to attract world-famous actors like Alec Guiness and Irene Worth.
After the success of the festival, most people recollected the endeavor not as one of
financial worth, but of historical significance to the practice of theatre. According to
popular legend, the telephone line cut out when Patterson offered Guthrie the modest sum
of $500, but Guthrie came since he heard Patterson say ―expenses.‖ The letters between
Guthrie and Guiness similarly emphasize the enterprise of starting a new theatre rather
than the money or fame that would attend on performance in London.96 Irene Worth
summed up the spirit of the time: ―That first year was a profound experience. Nobody
was looking for fame, glory, or money. We were all working for each other, and no one
According to Guthrie: ―the deciding factors were the opportunity to play Shakespeare in the particular
conditions which our stage afforded, and also to take part in what he felt to be a pioneering venture of a
gallant and unselfish kind‖ [―The Story of the Festival Stage,‖ The Stratford Shakespeare Festival, accessed
July 27, 2012,]. Additionally, a letter from
Guthrie to Guiness cited in the documentary The Stratford Adventure remarked: ―I have never before felt so
convinced of the obvious practical ―value‖ of anything I have been asked to be connected with.‖
was working for himself. It was for the theatre.‖97 By committing to Shakespeare‘s
plays on an Elizabethan-inspired stage, Guthrie offset the loss of time, money, and fame
for the fulfillment of his ideal theatre. Although Worth says no one was working for
glory, the actors ―inevitably felt that they were making history.‖98
Part of the history making included the establishment of a company of Canadian
actors. The success of the early years of the festival relied on the fame of Guthrie and the
English stars (Guiness, Worth, James Mason, Douglas Campbell, Michael Bates, etc.)
who attracted large audiences to Stratford. Guthrie ensured the continued survival of the
festival by casting a large company of Canadian actors to work with and learn from the
stars. As Robert Cushman relates: ―Guthrie, as it happened, had no compunction about
employing people who were technically amateurs99—and no alternative either, if he
wanted a Canadian company.‖100 Guthrie cast forty-plus Canadian company members
from interviews, not auditions.101 Instead of hiring actors capable of performing in a
single show, Guthrie sought members of a company who would commit to the long-term
vision he set forth. Through the first three seasons, from 1953 to 1955, Guthrie and the
English actors inspired an ensemble of actors capable of maintaining and adapting to
their own visions the unique stage and Shakespeare‘s repertory. By 1960, critic Brooks
Robert Cushman, Fifty Seasons at Stratford (Toronto, ON: Madison Press Books, 2002), 20.
Cushman, Fifty Seasons, 12.
The use of amateurs to initiate new ways of performance is a common practice of theatrical innovators.
When Goethe developed the Weimar style, he used actors with little fame or experience. William Poel
drilled his mostly-amateur actors in the Elizabethan Stage Society to recover Elizabethan staging and versespeaking conventions. Guthrie was likely attracted by the ability to begin a new tradition on a new stage.
Cushman, Fifty Seasons, 19.
Timothy Findley, interview by Richard Ouzounian, Stratford Gold: 50 Years, 50 Stars, 50
Conversations (Toronto: McArthur & Company, 2002), 51.
Atkinson called the company ―the finest group of classical actors in North America.‖ 102
The development of the actors and their craft reflected the demands of the Festival stage.
In the same 1960 review, Atkinson credited the stage as the reason for the
company‘s ―sustained form and style‖:
For eight seasons it has developed in one tradition around a bold stage that sets
the mode of acting. The platform stage retains the main values of the Elizabethan
theatre. There is no scenery to distract the theatre-goer or to hide the actor. He is
always out there in the open without defenses except acting ability.103
Martha Henry, the head of the associated Birmingham Conservatory of Classical Acting,
credited the stage with requiring a greater physical and emotional investment of the
actors since ―there is nowhere to hide.‖104 This inability to hide required, and the
mentorship provided by the high-profile supported the development of the young
Canadian actors. Several actors came to fame after their early days of the festival.
William Hutt, William Shatner, and Christopher Plummer, translated their skills to
successful careers in television and film. Through the joint legitimacy of Shakespeare,
Guthrie, and international stars, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival founded a tradition
that could be assumed by the Canadian company once the English stars left.105
Whereas the stage and the acting company formed much of the renown of the
theatre, the artist director from 2007-2012, Des McAnuff, viewed the theatre as equally
Brooks Atkinson, ―Canada‘s Festival: High Praise is Given to Acting Company,‖ The New York Times.
July 3, 1960.
Brooks Atkinson, ―High Praise.‖
Martha Henry, interview by Andrew Blasenak, Stratford, ON, July 8, 2011.
Cushman, Fifty Seasons, 8.
prioritizing the actors, directors, and designers.106 Des McAnuff‘s artistic style brings a
―literal as well as visual‖ understanding of the text,107 which has proven successful with
audiences and critics. McAnuff was mentored early in his career by Michael Langham.
Langham was the second artistic director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival whose
attention to text and the challenges of the stage earned him credit as the spiritual and
aesthetic founder. McAnuff‘s professional experience included directing the premier of
the Tony-award winning Jersey Boys at La Jolla playhouse and a few movies.108
McAnuff attempted to achieve his personal balance in the management of the company.
McAnuff prioritized, however, the visual design as the means by which he improved the
overall quality of the festival. McAnuff described the large design budgets as the
momentum behind a ―perfect circle:‖ ―resources attract directors and designers, who
attract actors. The strong acting company makes it more attractive to people like
Christopher Plummer, and he in turn attracts directors.‖109 With a large design budget,
and strong directorial visions, the plays reflected the visual styles of Broadway plays.
Although clarity of language and virtuosity of the acting company remained a
vital part of the productions, the Gesamtkunstwerk of McAnuff‘s staging equally
prioritized music and spectacle while striving for fluid transitions. McAnuff justified his
adherence to large-scale visual design since ―for modern theatrical tastes, it is not enough
on its own that the text be well spoken. The world of a play needs to be imaginatively
Des McAnuff, interview by Andrew Blasenak, Stratford, ON, April 11, 2012.
Robert Blacker, interview by Andrew Blasenak, Stratford, ON, July 9, 2011.
Some townspeople have taken to calling him ―Hollywood Des‖ for his penchant for flashy staging and
background in the film industry.
McAnuff, interview.
realized though the visual arts as well.‖110 Through this attention to the visual, he
attributed the success with younger audiences. He claimed: ―at Stratford, I always make
a point of sitting in on our first student matinée performances so I can see for myself how
they‘re being received. What I‘ve noticed is that the level of the students‘ enthusiasm for
a Shakespeare play has much to do with how the production looks.‖111 McAnuff further
justified his style as a continuation of Shakespeare‘s practices and Guthrie‘s founding.
He cited Shakespeare‘s move to the Blackfriars Playhouse and the influence of court
masques as a ―movement toward a more complete kind of theatre‖ reflected in plays like
Cymbeline and The Tempest.112 He equally challenged the perception of the theatre as an
actors‘ theatre as he noted the company respect for ―directors of vision and imagination
but also for the idea of ambitious design – an idea, by the way, that I believe informed the
vision of our first Artistic Director, Tyrone Guthrie.‖113 Although McAnuff has been
financially and popularly successful with this style, the focus of the large-budget
productions often reduced the challenges of the Festival‘s stages and resembled the
theatrical practices of the theatre profession in general, rather than a specific Shakespeare
McAnuff attempted to mirror the successes of other large theatrical companies by
increasing distribution and touring possibilities of his successful shows. In the 2009
Stratford season his A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum received an
extended run and transferred to Toronto. In 2011, despite an otherwise lagging box110
Des McAnuff, ―Season Opening Night,‖ May 28, 2012, Stratford‘s Longstanding Artistic Philosophy,
accessed August 15, 2012,
Des McAnuff, ―Live Art in the Digital Age‖ (Keynote Address to the Bi-annual Congress of the
International Society of Performing Arts, Toronto, ON, June 15, 2011.
McAnuff. ―Opening Night.‖
McAnuff, ―Opening Night.‖
office, McAnuff‘s rock-musical Jesus Christ Superstar and rock-musical-inspired
Twelfth Night received extended runs and Jesus Christ Superstar toured to San Diego and
New York City. McAnuff also reached wider audience though the release of films that
played to classrooms throughout Canada. Additionally, the Festival recorded and
distributed DVDs of McAnuff‘s The Tempest, Caesar and Cleopatra, and Twelfth Night.
In turn, McAnuff credited these DVDs as tools to attract audience members to live
In addition to this extended reach of popular shows, McAnuff developed new
plays. When McAnuff arrived in 2006, he committed to producing three new Canadian
plays a year.114 This focus allowed the theatre to promote its Canadian mission and
counterbalance the limited repertory of Shakespeare‘s plays. McAnuff also saw new
plays as the key to developing greater reputation and financial resources for the Festival.
At La Jolla, he noted that the development of plays like Jersey Boys and the transferrance
of successful plays to New York and London provided income streams for the company
worth millions. By fostering new plays and transferring others, he hoped to mirror the
successes of the Royal Shakespeare Company‘s Matilda and the National Theatre‘s
Warhorse. Since the resources at Stratford were similar to those of these other large
theatre, he saw such a strategy possible and necessary.
In 2008, Managing Director Antoni Cimolino announced the change of the
company‘s name to The Stratford Shakespeare Festival to refocus the ―centrality‖ of
Robert Blacker, interview.
Shakespeare to the festival.115 The name changed, but the average number of
Shakespeare‘s plays produced marginally decreased compared to the previous decade.
Due to the large numbers of stakeholders (actors, directors, designers, fundraisers,
administrators) the theatre sought to serve many different constituencies. Although
McAnuff reconciled the financial and artistic aims of the company through his successful
touring and video distribution of his productions, such harmony was rare. McAnuff‘s
predecessor, Richard Monette once denounced the outgoing president of the board:
You pig! ...We have spent our lives in this theater. We have given of our time
taking care of our art. You talk to us about money all the time. ... You have no
morals. I don‘t know how you can sleep. I care deeply and passionately about this
place, and you must address yourselves to your consciences.116
Monette‘s outrage revealed his emotional investment in the company as well as a
frustration with the lowered status of the artists. The revolutionary intentions and legacy
of Guthrie and Langham abutted the management necessary to accommodate the growth
and diversity of the twenty-first century theatre industry.
In 2011, The Stratford Shakespeare Festival, as a national theatrical institution,
was as invested in its own history as in Shakespeare‘s. The Stratford Shakespeare
Festival and its actors have attained such a solid place in the theatrical marketplace that
several projects have focused on the story of the festival rather than the plays produced
there. The television series Slings and Arrows, written and performed by many of the
―Stratford put Shakespeare back into festival,‖ Canwest News Service, July 17, 2007, accessed July 24,
Bruce Weber, ―Richard Monette, Artistic Director for Shakespeare Festival, Dies at 64,‖ New York
Times, Sept.11, 2008,
festival actors, mythologized a fictional Shakespeare festival which reveals tensions
between maintaining ideals of artistic fulfillment and commercial pressures. In 2012 two
shows, Hirsch and A Word or Two, highlighted major personalities of the festival.
Hirsch is a one-man show about former artistic director John Hirsch who has been
described as ―the greatest director ever to have grown up in Canada‖117 for his
extraordinary artistic failures and successes. A Word or Two, an autobiographical play
with Christopher Plummer advertised as a ―journey through the literature that has stirred
his imagination since youth‖118 combined Shakespeare‘s literature and the legitimacy of
one of the most famous actors to appear at the festival. Without the theatre‘s reputation
for quality actors and insistence on its own significance, such a show would hold little
appeal to the artistic management.
The large, high-profile theatre allowed diverse artistic visions: a Shakespeare
theatre, a new works lab, a center for training, a place for the promotion of Canadian
playwrights and actors, and a major tourist attraction for the town of Stratford (Figure 9).
Although many of these forces are opposed to each other, and the ideals set forth in the
first seasons of the festival have dramatically changed since the institution has grown,
those ideals still remain in the hearts of many of the actors who wish to escape the shortterm contracts and long-term unemployment indigenous to the professional theatre.
Actors enjoyed the focus the contracts and support systems allowed, but many still felt
the pressures and uncertainties and status of actors of other professional theatres.
Cushman, Fifty Seasons, 70.
―A Word or Two,‖ Stratford Shakespeare Festival, accessed July 27, 2012,
Figure 9. The Festival Theatre 2010, courtesy of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival Archives.
Stages and Stagecraft
The design of the Festival stage once challenged and inspired directors like
Guthrie and Michael Langham to change their approach to staging. The stage did not
preclude spectacle, but more often constrained it to the costumes and visual effects
created through the company of actors. McAnuff‘s equal priority of actors, design, and
directors encouraged directors to produce plays according to their own visions rather than
any festival style.
When the Festival Stage was built in 1953, it was hailed as a revolution in staging
Shakespeare. Walter Kerr of the New York Herald-Tribune called the Festival theatre,
―The only really new stage and the only really new actor-audience experience of the last
hundred years on this continent.‖119 Guthrie championed the stage as ―the theatre of the
future,‖120 even though it was specifically designed to benefit Guthrie‘s productions of
119 qt. in Kevin Ewert, ―Michael Langham,‖ in The Routledge Companion to Director’s Shakespeare, ed.
John Russell Brown (New York: Routledge, 2008), 220.
120 Joe Falocco. Reimagining Shakespeare’s Playhouse: Early Modern Staging Conventions in the
Twentieth Century. (Rochester, NY: D. S. Brewer, 2010), 127.
Shakespeare‘s plays. The change that the stage brought to the production of
Shakespeare‘s plays and the quality of the acting company was echoed by Brooks
Atkinson who wrote in 1954, ―whether the play is good or bad, a basic principle still
obtains: The Stratford festival as an institution is a contribution to the cultural life of
North America…For everyone recognizes now that the Stratford festival is a sound
enterprise, the stage is so illuminating and the professional standard of the acting is so
high.‖121 The novelty of the stage and resulting change to stagecraft and acting became
the key draw of the festival, even though the shows themselves received mixed reviews
through the early years of the festival.
Guthrie enlisted designer Tanya Moiseiwitsch to build a stage that combined
elements of the Globe and the Classical Greek theatres. The original 1953 stage featured
a unit set, a thrust stage of the Elizabethan stage, but a round playing area and
surrounding auditorium arranged in a 220-degree arc inspired by Greek theatres (Figure
10). The central balcony reflected Elizabethan stage design, but its triangular shape
accorded the sightlines of the circular audience. The arrangement of the staircases at the
side and pillars underneath the balcony benefitted theatrical conflict. These entrances
benefitted productions, as the Association of British Theatre Technicians summarized:
Shakespeare‘s plays frequently require a clash of opposing forces or characters—
a situation effectively exploited on the stage if there is a direct diagonal approach
Brooks Atkinson, ―Shakespeare Festival: Measure for Measure' Staged in Canada,‖ New York Times,
June 30, 1954, 23.
from opposing corners leading to inevitable conflict in the centre. This is planned
for in the new stage by setting the rear side doors directly opposite the tunnels.122
Figure 10. The Festival Stage, 1953, courtesy of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival Archives
The bare stage encouraged rapid transitions. The thrust allowed actors to look directly at
each other instead of cheating out, as was customary in proscenium theatres. The
surrounding audience also forced actors to move frequently in order to be seen by
Iain, Mackintosh, The Guthrie Thrust Stage: A Living Legacy (Association of British Theatre
Technicians, 2011), 11.
different sections of the audience. The Festival stage, then, encouraged a kinetic, rapid,
and actor-centered performance style.
Tyrone Guthrie‘s own stagecraft reflected the values that the stage encouraged.
Guthrie was often described as approaching Shakespeare‘s texts as musical scores where
he would understand tempo, rhythm, tone, and mood rather than the complexity of
thought, word, and language. Anthony Quayle, who played King Lear for Guthrie,
He was keenly aware of rhythms—the overall rhythm of a scene rather than the
clear carving of syllables. So there were often passages where he didn‘t care if
the audience heard exactly what was said. He aimed for a general impression; the
clarity of dialogue was comparatively unimportant…So there‘d be a great
impression of brouhaha, confusion, noise, embattled opinion, out of which one
vital line would emerge-bang!—like that, and hit you with a wallop. He‘d throw
away twenty lines to achieve one which would slam you in the face.123
Counter to this ―general impression‖ of the dialogue, Guthrie created scenic effects with
large casts of actors that exemplified his vision of a ritualistic theatre. The 1953 Richard
III was:
Ceremonial, and hypnotically incantatory, this was a show which made use of an
extravagant palette of crimson, black and gold, huge looming crucifixes and
glittering halberds, fluttering banners and tolling bells, ghosts rising from
qt in Robert Shaughnessy, ―Tyrone Guthrie,‖ in The Routledge Companion to Directors’ Shakespeare
(New York: Routledge, 2008), 124.
trapdoors, a torch lit funeral procession, armies sweeping through the auditorium
and across the stage. As sheer visual spectacle, it was breathtaking.124
Most of these effects were completed by actors setting the scene with their costumes and
movements which kept transitions rapid while providing a large theatrical effect. The
stage Guthrie designed, therefore, suited the stagecraft he had practiced before he arrived
at Stratford.
Figure 11: Langham Redesign of the Festival Stage, 1962, courtesy of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival
Shaughnessey, ―Guthrie,‖ 131.
Michael Langham, artistic director from 1956 to 1967, embraced the challenge of
the Stage and Shakespeare‘s texts to change the approach to the performance of
Shakespeare. From his concerted efforts, he became the intellectual architect of the
Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Langham noted that he initially ―fought‖ blocking on the
Festival stage and that only after six years of producing plays there did he learn a system
of blocking suited for it.125 After modifying the façade to allow faster entrances (Figure
11), he discovered the dynamic movement that the Festival stage encouraged, both in the
peripatetic movement of the constantly-shifting actors as well as the long entrances
possible in the 1962 redesign of the stage. At its best, his use of the stage was
―centrifugal‖ where small movements by actors in the middle of the stage were countered
with larger movements by those on the outside of the stage. In Act Five of the
Langham‘s 1992 Measure for Measure, Isabella made a half turn in the middle of the
stage to confront the Duke, a movement which, when echoed by the guards following
her, nearly flung them off the stage. The dynamic movement on the bare stage became
the hallmark of the festival style that would influence future artistic directors, including
Richard Monette and Des McAnuff.
Additionally, Langham created one of the most iconic staging moments of the
Stratford Shakespeare Festival. He used the vertical space with his signature ending of
Love’s Labour’s Lost: the Langham leaf drop. During the songs of Winter and Spring,
the four couples of lovers say their goodbyes to the melancholy tune while red maple
leaves drop from the rafters falling over cast and into the audience. In a moment like
Cushman, Fifty Seasons, 43.
this, the goals of the revised space, the Canadian nationalism, and the performance of
Shakespeare came together.
The design of Langham‘s plays often focused solely on the actors more than
visual effects. In a 1956 production of Hamlet at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, he
draped the set with black fabric and only included ―a few moveable pieces [that] came in
and out swiftly during the action.‖126 Although Langham considered this approximation
of the Elizabethan staging conditions revolutionary, critics ―decried the production as far
too visually drab, austere and boring for Stratford. An angry letter to the editor of the
Birmingham Post went even further than the critics, calling the lack of scenery—and
furniture, and a front curtain—a travesty and a kind of theatrical nihilism.‖127 A similar
design prevailed in the 1992 Measure for Measure where ―before a word was spoken, the
mood was established by the black tiles on the floor, black metal grilles across the back
of the stage, a metal desk, a black sofa, a group of men in black and gray; there were little
spots of color, such as the Duke‘s gold medal on a red and gold ribbon.‖128 Langham‘s
use of minimal fixed set pieces and a focus on the actors remained part of his aesthetic
throughout his career.
Through the series of artistic directors to follow Langham, the balance between
large design and the stage‘s focus on actors and swift movement created artistic tensions
between actors and directors. Richard Monette, artistic director from 1994-2007, got his
start with the Festival as an actor in 1965. He coined the phrase ―tyranny by design‖ to
describe the tendency for all shows to use the full resources of the company to create
Kevin Ewert. ―Michael Langham,‖ 216.
Ewert, ―Langham.‖
C. E. McGee, ―Shakespeare in Canada: The Stratford Season, 1992,‖ Shakespeare Quarterly 44: no. 4
(1993), 477-483.
visual effects at the cost of the focus on the actors. The stage highlighted actors and
audience, but directors and extensive designing budgets emphasized set, lighting,
costume, and special effects.
Des McAnuff attempted to balance these two foci by likening the production of
all theatre to the same art. The key to all of his productions was smooth transitions,
which he said ―it‘s not just Shakespeare: one of the things I love about directing musicals
is bending my imagination to the task of keeping the story moving forward through its
transitions: ensuring that it flows visually and dynamically as well as musically from one
section to the next.‖129 The uniformity of approach was especially clear in the 2011
season where his smooth transitions and visually impressive stagecraft made Jesus Christ
Superstar popular with audiences, and his Twelfth Night used the text as a jumping off
point for a larger theatrical creation laced with original rock musical-style songs and a
myriad of sporting events extrapolated from the various image chains that involve sport
or playing, such as ―If music be the food of love, play on.‖ However, the visual demands
of a large design problematize the smooth transitions that are the priority of his
McAnuff claimed, ―The thing about the festival stage [is] we tend to make a very
big deal about it, and I don‘t think it‘s all that mystical.‖130 Although he recognized the
―staggeringly intimate‖ relationship of actor and audience, and the audience‘s selfawareness, he joked that the reason so much hubbub was made about the wonders of the
stage was to keep young directors away from it and that the staging was, mostly,
Des McAnuff, ―Annual General Meeting, March 3, 2012,‖ Stratford‘s Longstanding Artistic
Philosophy, accessed August 15, 2012,
Des McAnuff, interview.
―common sense.‖131 Since critics and audiences responded positively to his stagecraft,
there was no incentive to embrace the limitations of the original stage design. Although
McAnuff inherited the encouragement and support of Langham, Langham left the
practice of the stage to McAnuff‘s discretion. McAnuff, consequently, made a theatre to
respond to his current audience tastes rather than endeavoring to recapture the open
staging movement.
In 2011, however, the simplicity of design attendant on the original Festival
Theatre was altered through the ―build up and cover up‖ strategy of designers and
directors who changed the Festival stage rather than their stagecraft. In Twelfth Night
and The Merry Wives of Windsor the design used the upstage space as a proscenium arch
from which sleds push out scenery. For instance, the Garter Inn set was a large oak bar
that occupied much of the up-center stage in Merry Wives of Windsor. Throughout
Twelfth Night sporting equipment and furniture occupied center positions (Figure 12),
including a tennis net that Malvolio stumbled over to woo Olivia and a wet bar into
which Andrew Aguecheek vomited. To accommodate the design elements for a
repertory of plays, the Festival hired three tractor-trailers attached to the Festival theatre
for storage between shows.
Des McAnuff, interview.
Figure 12: The Festival Stage, The Festival Stage, Twelfth Night, 2011, courtesy the Stratford Shakespeare
Festival Archives
Because of this obstruction to the center of the platform, designs often included
platforms built up over the downstage left and right stairs in order to provide more
playing area. Although the transitions were as fluid as possible, they still took more time
than actors entering to a bare platform. These platforms reduced the kinetic energy of
entrances which, instead of putting people directly into conflict, made them skirt around
the edges of the stage. Concerns about sightlines further encouraged non-active
characters to stand static on the down right and down left platforms. What happened,
then, was that the plays focused on the front, center portion of the audience more than the
sides or balconies. The inequality of theatrical experience was reinforced in 1997 when
the theatre was redesigned to reduce the arc of the audience from 220 degrees around the
stage to 180 degrees, reducing the capacity from 2262 to 1833. Even so, the seats on the
sides of the stage were discounted by as much as thirty-five percent, even for seats
located a similar distance away from the stage.
Many actors were interested in the demands the stage made of their acting
techniques. Martha Henry fondly remembered the first time she saw the stage, and
remarked that in the low light of the dim theatre the stage seemed to be breathing.132 She
ascribed to it living qualities, noting that it has been known to throw inexperienced and
unprepared actors right off the stage.133 Other actors went to the archives to view
Langham‘s stagecraft that they praised for its physical lyricism brought by the constant
movement of his productions. Because of current designs and additional platforms,
actors more often used downstage left and downstage right positions to hide from the
action by keeping their backs to a significant portion of the audience. Actors rarely had
centrifugal and strongly kinetic staging.134 Rather they were instructed to follow former
Martha Henry, interview.
Martha Henry, interview.
One notable exception was in Merry Wives of Windsor when Tom Rooney as Master Ford gathered his
accomplices to go search for Falstaff in his house. He made a spiral in the middle of the stage addressing
each accomplice who stood in different corners of the stage before whirling them up to follow him offstage.
artistic director Robin Phillips‘s advice to consider the stage as two proscenium arches,
one facing the downstage right corner, and the other facing the downstage left corner.135
Figure 13: Avon Theatre, 2011, courtesy the Stratford Shakespeare Festival Archives
Although the Festival Theatre was the premier venue of the festival, in 2011 three
other theatres held plays in their twelve-show season. The largest of these was the 1090seat Avon theatre, a former movie house used as a proscenium theatre, which was
purchased by the Festival in 1963 (Figure 13). The three contemporary plays at the Avon
in the 2011 season were The Grapes of Wrath, The Homecoming, and Jesus Christ
Superstar. Ironically, the most popular of these productions, in addition to its advantages
as a musical with a superb cast, also had the most flexible design. Trucks and houses and
boxcars encumbered Grapes of Wrath. A realistic living room unit set held The
Homecoming. Jesus Christ Superstar, however, had a unit set of metal stairs, girders and
Quoted by Des McAnuff in rehearsal, Stratford, ON, April 14, 2012.
two ladders in the upstage area, which gave the actors a variety of levels and the
imperative to create place with actor physicality and hand-held props. For instance, for
Herod‘s palace, the two metal staircases were pushed together center stage to create a
grand staircase for Herod to descend. On the back wall, a giant marquee ―H‖ glowed and
flashed. On the stage, a white grand piano was pushed on stage right. The stage was
otherwise bare but for a gaggle of toga-clad dancers. In addition to this bare platform
design, McAnuff allowed a direct relationship with the audience, as he set Jesus on a
platform that jutted out into the audience (Figure 14). This was the sort of work that Des
McAnuff excelled at before he came to Stratford, and the ability to produce a
contemporary show with a set that blends the imaginative possibilities of a fluid
stagecraft that fits plays of Shakespeare and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Figure 14: Jesus Christ Superstar, Avon Theatre, 2011, courtesy of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival Archives.
The 480-seat Tom Patterson Theatre, a three-quarter thrust stage, made
spectacular design difficult (Figure 15). Many actors enjoyed this stage because of the
emphasis on actor and the surrounding audience and its capacity for rapid, fluid
movement. The audience surrounds the long stage bordered by two steps and an aisle.
Vomitoria allow for house entrances like in the Festival theatre, but the smaller size of
the theatre gives more audience members a closer connection to the performers. Since
the upstage unit has no fly system nor sleds to push in sets, the actors must create the
sense of place with verbal, costume, and prop use as well as other elements that can be
brought on by actors.
Figure 15: Tom Patterson Theatre, 2011, courtesy of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival Archives.
The Tom Patterson Theatre did not prohibit spectacle, but changed the way it was
delivered. In the 2011 Titus Andronicus directed by DarkoTresnjak, Titus made his first
entrance pulling ropes attached to a platform on which the bodies of his two dead sons
lay. Once the sons were taken through a downstage vomitorium and placed in the
verbally defined ―ancestral tomb,‖ Titus removed the sheet over the platform to reveal a
cage holding the Goth prisoners. The narrow stage and surrounding audience forced
economical choices in staging that focused on the actors, even though Tresnjak still used
many spectacular elements. The effect of the Tom Patterson Theatre on the first scene,
then, changed the focus from the spectacle of a triumphant military march into the story
of a single man who suffers loss in his conquests. These sorts of solutions appear when
the space limits a pictorial understanding of the play and encourages an imaginative
spectacle focused on the body, action, and words of the actors.
Although the Tom Patterson Theatre centers on the actors, it was one of the most
challenging theatres for actors to be heard by all audience members. Like the Festival
Theatre, the only place actors could stand without turning their backs to part of the
audience was upstage center. However, since the momentum of actors entering directed
them downstage, they often brought the action closer to the downstage area. The
audience members near the entrance of the stage, therefore, had the most difficulty
hearing and seeing the actors. The seating prices discounted these seats since actors
speaking in a two person scenes downstage center often directed their voices and faces
away from those audience members for much of the time. This distance also necessitated
the many blocking shifts through the scene and the physical reinforcement of the power
dynamics between the characters. In the scene between Bethany Jillard‘s Lady Anne and
Seana McKenna‘s Richard III, when Richard III on his knees offers Lady Anne his sword
to stab him Lady Anne‘s statuesque strength encountered Richard III‘s obsequious
wormlike pleadings. This power dynamic changed physically as Lady Anne‘s shoulders
melted and recovered their tensions as she rejected Richard‘s plea to stab him from his
more firm and focused position on the ground. These veteran actors, accustomed to the
challenges of the spaces, and with little technical or spectacular help to tell the story
needed to use their voice and body to tell these stories in a way much more in line with
the challenges faced at the founding of the company.
Figure 16: The Studio Theatre, 2011, courtesy of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival Archives.
The 260-seat Studio Theatre was a black-box space with flexible seating and a
stage designed to mirror the dimension of the Festival Theatre (Figure 16). This space
allowed for a greater intimacy than the Festival Theatre due to the greater proximity of
the actors and budget restraints of the designers. For its extreme intimacy, the Studio has
the nickname of ―The Chapel.‖ The intimacy of the theatre encouraged small-cast shows,
including in the 2011 season, one and two person shows, Shakespeare’s Will and
Hosanna, respectively, and the eight-person The Little Years. The plays designed for this
space were distinctly intimate in tone, reliant on in-depth views of the thoughts,
emotions, and perplexities of individual characters. The theatre allowed a variety of
performance styles. Seana McKenna used direct address as Anne Hathaway in
Shakespeare’s Will. The two actors of Hosanna used the conventions of realism on a set
resembling an apartment.
The small size of The Studio also allowed the management to take more risks in
the repertory produced there. In 2012, the Studio held three world premiers of new plays.
Because of its resemblance to the Festival stage, the Studio was the training ground for
actors in the Birmingham Conservatory. Once they learned to succeed on this stage, they
were better prepared for the larger house of the Festival theatre. The people, not the
spectacle, were most clearly on display here, and the stage allowed for a reinvention of
the dynamic began in the vision of Guthrie and Moiseiwitsch. So, this space maintained
the architectural limitations of the Elizabethan theatre which in turn influenced both new
plays developed there and the development of actors new to the Festival.
Although Shakespeare‘s original theatre and the Greek theatres inspired the
original stage design, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival perpetually dedicated itself to
the visions of contemporary theatre artists. When Des McAnuff was asking for advice
from Michael Langham later in his career, Langham withheld an opinion, preferring for
McAnuff to follow what he thought was right. The respect for the vision of the next
generation was allowed to change, or ignore the lessons of the previous artists. Most
actors and directors agreed that the oft-gloried past of the festival should form a basis, but
not a limitation, of current practice. However, where Langham had once dedicated his
mission to discovering how to stage plays on the Festival stage, current directors were
more concerned with providing the spectacle and design that will appeal to audiences and
critics. The Stratford Shakespeare Festival honored the legacy of Shakespeare, Guthrie,
and Langham, and produced mostly established plays, but the theatre artists focused only
on the present stagecraft and design of the time. Where the stage made the largest
difference, however, was in the training and performance preparation of the actors.
Actor Training and Coaching
The Stratford Shakespeare Festival has had a long history of bringing together
actors from multiple generations who have been able to pass on their knowledge and
experience. From the beginning of the company, Tyrone Guthrie had an emphasis on
training, knowing that he would be casting many actors with little experience in
performing Shakespeare. By bringing accomplished actors from England, Canadian
actors could learn from them in rehearsal. The fostering of the Canadian actors also
appeared explicitly when Alec Guiness sent Richard Easton and Timothy Findley ―to
London to attend drama school at his expense.‖136 Less formally, but equally
Cushman, Fifty Seasons, 23
importantly, Guthrie fostered the considerable talent of Michael Langham who would
develop the ideological foundation of the company. Langham in turn mentored Des
McAnuff, whom he instructed to mentor other artists as payment for this advice and
guidance. The Guthrie ethos of training and mentorship that continued throughout the
life of the company helped to ensure the quality of the acting company and long-term
survival of the company.
Many actors and teachers spoke admiringly of how the Festival theatre challenged
actors to develop their own techniques and modify their assumptions. Martha Henry
noted that in the 1990s many actors who auditioned had talent but did not have the tools
to understand and use Shakespeare‘s texts or the stages of the festival. Antoni Cimolino,
former actor and managing director from 2009-2012 and artistic director beginning in
2013, said that the Festival Theatre requires a ―greater physical honesty‖ than on
proscenium stages. The thrust stages of the Festival challenged actors who only trained
for film since actors must use different physical and vocal techniques to fill the stage and
auditorium. In the 1954 season, James Mason as Angelo in Measure for Measure and his
co-star Frances Hyland who played Isabella were criticized for their inability to fill the
large, tent-covered theatre: ―As Angelo, Mr. Mason has one of the briefest of the parts.
He leaves it generally colorless, partly, no doubt, because his voice is not heavy enough
for so huge an auditorium…Although Miss Hyland has the part firmly in hand, her voice
also is a little light for so vast a space.‖137 As Robert Cushman later summarized,
―[Mason] was out of practice on the stage. In an intimate theatre, he might well have
been ideal for Angelo…. On the Stratford platform he was—at least early in the run—
Brooks Atkinson, ―Measure for Measure.‖
overstretched….but he worked tirelessly through the run; his farewell performance in
Measure was a personal triumph, and he proclaimed himself extended and exhilarated by
his Stratford experience.‖138 Mason was but one of large group of professional actors
invigorated by the difficulties of performing Shakespeare‘s plays on the Festival Stage.
Michael Langham established the approach to Shakespeare‘s text that formed the
basis of the theatre‘s continued actor training: ―living thought.‖ Although few actors or
coaches define exactly what living thought is, Robert Blacker described it: “leaving no
separation between thought and word makes the verse live.‖139 The embodied and voiced
action of the character fulfilled the form of Shakespeare‘s verse. Instead of a formal
approach to the poetry forms or rhetoric of Shakespeare‘s plays, Langham encouraged
actors to find the alacrity of thought and action that would match his sweeping, fluid
stagecraft. This did not require a retraining of actors‘ techniques, but rather a specific,
unified understanding of the purpose of Shakespeare‘s text and how to fulfill it. For the
exacting demands of having no space between thought and word, his rehearsals were
notoriously taxing emotionally. When he was a teacher at Julliard, his students stopped
wearing mascara to class due to the likelihood of tears.
Langham was also concerned about the size of the audience and the ability of
actors to maintain the intimacy of the theatre for an audience of over 2000. He worried
that ―the size and sweep of the house ‗impels the actor to push.‖140 In order to maintain
the ideal of living thought while still filling the theatre, he encouraged his actors to ―take
Cushman, Fifty Seasons, 27.
Robert Blacker, ―A Tribute to Des McAnuff, June 13, 2011,‖ Stratford‘s Longstanding Artistic
Philosophy, accessed August 15, 2012,
qt in Ewert, ―Langham,‖ 219
deeper breaths and the play will gradually fill the space.‖141 Instead of adopting specific
vocal techniques, Langham committed actors to a deep, psychological understanding of
the thoughts of the text. The greater breath behind such thoughts, and the confidence of
actors in his direction, would help them fill the theatre.
The challenge of performance on the Festival Stage inspired the need for voice
and movement coaches. Because the audience surrounded the stage in a 180-degree arc,
actors learned to act with their back to large portions of the audience and still be heard
and understood. Because actors could not face the full audience, they could not project
their voice with facial resonators and diaphragm support alone. Actors needed to include
their back and ribs as resonators as well. They practiced the sense of radiating their voice
into the space, picturing it reaching out from them in all directions in order to fill up the
theatre. This required a greater amount of breath and vocal relaxation, since actors
cannot just ―project‖ but rather they must relax their bodies so that they can achieve a
greater amount of resonation. Alexander technique coaches often helped actors to
become centered and aware of their bodies. Instead of prioritizing their face and front, as
could be the style in a proscenium arch, actors felt like they were embodying a character.
As actors developed, they fought the need to push that Langham feared, by thinking of
inviting the audience‘s attention to them rather than projecting their performance to the
In 2012, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival continued the tradition of providing
assistance to help actors meet the vocal and physical demands of the season by hiring
three voice coaches, a speech pathologist, two movement coaches, an Alexander
Ewert, ―Langham,‖ 223.
technique specialist, and had relationships with local chiropractors and otolaryngologists
in London, Ontario and Toronto. The voice, movement, and other technique coaches
provided 3000 voluntary tutorials over a six-month span in 2010 for the cast of over one
hundred actors.142 With all this support actors often remarked that they felt like Olympic
athletes. Some actors, like Lucy Peacock, often consulted Janine Pearson, the head of
voice and coaching, on the creation of her roles since she considered one-on-one voice
coaching a key part of her rehearsal process. Actors who were unfamiliar with the
coaches or were worried about the stigma attached to seeking help did not use them at all.
Similarly, although Pearson and other coaches offered full-company warm-ups, not all
actors were required to attend. This actor-initiated use of the coaches reflected Pearson‘s
coaching philosophy defined as ―my job is to give you tools and trust that you will use
those tools as you require them.‖143 The role of coaches within the festival, remained
always in a supportive, rather than interpretive capacity. The final interpretation of roles
and plays remained driven by actors and directors alone.
Even though the company had so many coaches, they still did not meet the
demand for advice from all the actors, so mentorship and apprenticeship became a key
way young actors developed. One young actor noted that the coaches taught him ―to trust
[his] own instinct and watch and grow from everyone around me.‖144 Additionally, he
noted that the theatre remained a challenge, but was thankful that ―there are actors here
who know the space‖ who could answer whatever questions he may have. Formal
mentorships were part of the training programs in the 1990s, but they were abandoned for
Janine Pearson, interview by Andrew Blasenak, Stratford, ON, July 7, 2011.
Janine Pearson, interview.
Anonymous (actor), interview by Andrew Blasenak, Stratford, ON, August, 19, 2011.
the organic bonds of friendship that arose from the rehearsal process. Still, many actors
dedicated their own success to the actors who shepherded them in their early years of the
The company created The Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Theatre in
1999 in order to address young actors‘ unfamiliarity with Shakespeare‘s texts. This
program formalized the training provided by Langham‘s living thought, and the teaching
styles of Powys Thomas who helped found the National Theatre School of Canada. The
current head of the Birmingham Conservatory, Martha Henry, who was part of the first
class of the National Theatre School of Canada, modeled the Conservatory on the
National Theatre School.145 The feedback of the actors involved was overwhelmingly
positive. As one program actor said: ―After studying for fifteen weeks and taking classes,
and then finally being able to put that to use, being part of the season being able to watch
some of the greatest actors in the country. What better way for a young actor to
The training of the Birmingham Conservatory for Classical Acting was intense.
A group of eight early-career actors were paid to take classes and perform small roles in
the Festival. During the first off-season session of seven weeks, actors were immersed in
nothing but Shakespeare‘s text, studying voice and movement techniques from ten in the
morning until two in the afternoon. From three until seven, they studied Shakespeare‘s
verse and rhetoric structures. Evenings were reserved for performances of small roles in
the festival. In the second term of five to six weeks, the members of the Conservatory
Martha Henry, interview.
Offstage-Onstage: Inside the Stratford Festival, directed by John H. Smith (Toronto, ON: National Film
Board of Canada, 2002), DVD.
produced a play with a guest director, often an actor or director with some connection to
the festival. In the third term of five weeks, the Conservatory actors produced a play in
the Studio theatre in the off-season. This combination of classes and performance
allowed actors in the conservatory to put their training to use in a show so actors linked
their training exercises to role creation. The contact with the years of experience of the
teachers, actors, directors and coaches of the festival maintained the legacy of the
festival‘s practice and gave the actors people they could ask for advice in the future.
The actors put their skills to use in six readings and two shows in 2012. These
off-season shows were directed by David Latham, head of the Michael Langham
Workshop for Classical Direction,147 and Stephen Ouimette, a long-time company actor.
Without the pressure of succeeding at the box office, the larger roles taken by the actors
allowed them to be ―completely free to explore.‖148 Since these performances were in the
context of training, actors used their own ideas of what might work to fulfill what they
see in the text, rather than adhering to the preferences of more senior actors or prestigious
Martha Henry also emphasized professional decorum and respect in such a large
theatrical institution. To foster greater collaborative respect for all artists, Henry had
Conservatory actors meet with people from various departments, from wigs to
choreography to education, in order to understand the care and craftsmanship that goes
into each part of the show. Once actors learned the artistry of the people who support the
The Langham Workshop on Classical Directing provided early-career directors with text classes like
those held for the Birmingham Conservatory, resources (actors, props, costumes, stage management) to
stage workshop productions, professional promotion, and the opportunity to be assistant directors of the
experienced directors in the Festival. The program was designed to augment familiarity with
Shakespeare‘s plays as well as teach young directors how to use the resources of a large theatre festival, a
rare experience for most young directors.
Martha Henry, interview.
performance, Henry said, ―[they] will never throw their costume on the floor or yell at the
Stage manager.‖149 This increases the level of professionalism and makes the actors
much more pleasant to work with, which can influence the chances of being cast.
Moreover, Henry hoped that the commitment and craft of all the artists in the Festival
would motivate actors to honor that work with their own commitment to their roles.150
Since the Stratford Shakespeare Festival often proclaimed itself as the best
Shakespearean theatre in North America, actors quickly learned the excellence expected
from them. Fortunately, the support of the coaches, teachers, and fellow actors helped
them feel confident in their abilities to perform under such exacting pressure.
Because the training is accompanied by security and the long contract, young
actors were better able to focus on acting rather than the auditioning and job searching of
most early career actors. Since the contract was finite with no guarantee of renewal, the
Conservatory required actors to excel or look for new work next season. Actors in the
Conservatory felt so fortunate that they often did not tell their peers about their generous
contract. The Conservatory also allowed a safe laboratory for actors-turned-instructors
and directors. Although patterned on the National Theatre School of Canada, Henry
perceived the duration of instruction as too short since, ―you can‘t recreate a human being
in five months.‖ Instead, the Conservatory allowed actors to learn techniques on a longer
term than in the course of rehearsals. Henry‘s ideal was to create artists who share her
artistic philosophy that, ―we find art in ourselves to make us fully alive. If we are true to
ourselves, push ourselves, do work that is worthy of our talent, we will still be alive.‖151
Martha Henry, interview.
Martha Henry, interview.
Martha Henry, interview.
This need to be have a life fulfilled by acting and the improvement of technique,
however, ultimately resided in the actors who are ideal for the company. However, size
of the company, tradition of actors returning for many years, and the casting of young
actors in mostly small roles limited of the opportunities for these actors. Because the
training resources were great, and the opportunities limited, many actors shared the
philosophy that the Stratford Shakespeare Festival was a place to learn as much as they
could and then take those lessons elsewhere in the professional theatre.
The tradition of mentorship, the commitment to training, and the adaptation to a
different type of performance space made the Stratford Shakespeare Festival rare in the
professional theatre. Those actors who received the gifts of training were not only more
likely to invest the time in the company, but also invest their time in passing on their
advice and techniques to future generations. This continuity and stability of training and
mentorship within a central, well-funded institution helped the Festival maintain its
reputation for high-quality acting.
Ensemble Acting
Although the Stratford Shakespeare Festival was always a repertory company
dedicated to providing a variety of experiences for the acting company, in the 2011
season actors performed in two or three shows out of a twelve-show season. The size of
the company challenged the maintenance of a cohesive ensemble of actors. Moreover,
under Des McAnuff, the stability of the company of actors was seen as a danger to
creativity, rather than a benefit. As McAnuff said: ―There is a danger of this place
becoming a closed company. People were rewarded for loyalty rather than talent.‖152 He
noted that in the 1990s actors were often asked to direct in their tenth year with the
company, regardless of previous experience. Although he noted ―Actors will always
want to push this towards being an actors‘ theatre,‖ he argued that the tradition of the
theatre, as started by Guthrie and Langham was a collaborative art form, sharing actor
and director influence.153 The Festival, therefore, highly valued the talent of the acting
company, but did not take steps to create a solid ensemble, or invite the actors‘ input
beyond their contribution to performances. Because the Stratford Shakespeare Festival is
one of the premier theatre companies in Canada, McAnuff, argued that the belief in the
work of the festival attracted actors rather than any auxiliary benefits: ―There are some
actors who are here because Stratford pays better,‖ he said, ―but the vast majority
believes in the work.‖154 The plays, not the actors, defined the festival.
The Stratford Shakespeare Festival held a tenuous balance between emphasizing
itself as a place for Canadian actors to be fostered and a place that strives to produce
Shakespeare by visionary directors. The theatre had long-lasting loyalty from a handful
of actors who returned to the festival year after year, but offered few formal opportunities
for the actors to participate in the management of the company. In 2011, actors enjoyed
the long contracts, a community in which to set down roots, and the ability to work with
some of the best theatre artists in Canada. Any ensemble principles arose chiefly from
the tone of the directors or the leadership of senior actors. Since the plays of Shakespeare
bring together generations of actors, and the actors are generally committed to each other
McAnuff, interview.
McAnuff, interview.
McAnuff, interview.
as well as the plays, mentorships and friendships with long-term company actors arise to
help less experienced actors. Although some actors spent significant years with the
company, the practices of the company much more resembled those of the commercial
theatre not a small acting ensemble.
The dedication to crafting an ensemble of competent and ambitious actors was
vital to the beginning of the company. The 1954 documentary, The Stratford Adventure,
attests to the significance not only of the ambitious theatrical endeavor, but also to the
practices of the ensemble playing. This documentary was shown to all new company
members to instill in them the collaborative spirit of the theatre,155 and it still remains a
part of the Birmingham conservatory. The documentary made world-famous actors like
Alec Guiness seem approachable and collaborative, and set this tone for young actors
working with some of the country‘s top theatre actors. This approachability of the star
actors in the documentary was further reinforced by in a scene where Timothy Findley
asks Alec Guiness for advice on a line. Under the tent moorings and between cigarettes,
Guiness offers Findley advice to deliver six lines of Hastings‘ speech on one breath (―As
actors we haven‘t the right to throw away an author‘s intentions just because we haven‘t
got enough breath in our lungs‖) and a central philosophy of being an actor in rehearsal:
―To do anything decent in the theatre, to do it really well, you‘ve almost got to forget
how to do it.‖156 This meeting of generations, of experience and inexperience, was
important not only to the growth of the nascent Canadian company but also to the
155 Bard, Sweat, and Fears, prod. Ragtop Productions, Stratford, ON: The Corporation of the City of
Stratford, 2002. Videocassette.
The Stratford Adventure. This meeting in the film closely resembled the mentorship that Guiness
offered Findley in real life, as Guiness financed Findley‘s training in London, and set the stage for his
acting and writing career: Ouzounian, Stratford Gold, 52.
working philosophies of the theatre that upholds the devotion to the work. For this
reason, yet another scene shows Guiness arriving to rehearsal 30 minutes before his call
because he is interested in knowing what is going on. Because the documentary casts
Guiness not as an aloof star, but approachable, interested in the work, and offering a
fountain of knowledge to all comers, it sets forth the Stratford Festival not as a theatre
company in line with commercial theatre, but as something designed to foster generations
of actors. Such a mentality was shared by William Hutt near the end of his life when
visitors to his hospital bed were regularly asked about rehearsals.157 The work of
rehearsal and the actors interested in the production of Shakespeare‘s plays continued to
be the chief draw of the theatre.
Guthrie himself appeared in the documentary, not only as the source of visionary
leadership, but also as a collaborative director. In these shots, he was in complete control
of the rehearsal, often stalking around the stage adjusting the stage positions of actors as
they worked through the scene. In addition to some delightfully worded notes,158 he
articulated principles that shifted the work from his own shoulders to the actors providing
their own input. He encouraged two young boys playing the ghosts of the princes to be
more limp in their movement. Instead of taking time to work specifically on them in a
full-group rehearsal he told them ―rehearse something in the bedroom and astonish us in
the morning.‖ He further articulated this necessity for actor involvement as he said:
Martha Henry, interview.
Some of the more choice Guthrie phrases include: ―This is supposed to be a party scene and it looks like
a kindergarten display in front of very formidable aunts: it has that deadly awful dull shyness. Now, kill
yourselves to be gay‖ and ―You‘re weakening that by not moving definitely. And please darling girls will
you please sit the other way around you look like three starlings on a telegraph wire.‖
I do wish that all of you would please get away from the idea that acting is a kind
of terrible drill with the director as sergeant major. It simply isn‘t so. Acting is
invention, make-believe. Now this time, will you please cough up some ideas and
let me say they‘re terrible.
Guthrie allowed for collaboration and cooperation among the sizable cast. There was no
doubt that he was in charge, but the ensemble of actors in this rehearsal process became a
strong supportive force not only for the play but for each other. This dynamic remained
in the ethos of the company.
The production calendar made the cohesion of a multi-talented ensemble more
difficult. Because the theatre produced over fourteen plays in the 2012 season, it needed
multiple casts. Actors enjoyed the ability to perform in classics and contemporary plays
and musicals, but the casting practice of the company often specialized actors according
to their skills in Shakespeare, contemporary plays, and musicals. For instance, a majority
of actors in Henry V were also in Much Ado About Nothing, specializing in
Shakespearean plays. A few other actors from Henry V enjoyed a crossover of
experience as they worked on Wanderlust, a new musical. Musical theatre actors tended
to work on the musicals. Most of the actors in 42nd Street appeared in Pirates of
Penzance. Actors from You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown also appeared in Wanderlust
and Pirates of Penzance.
The musical theatre and the Shakespearean company were further divided by
experience. Many of the actors in the musicals were first-time company members. The
actors in the Shakespeare plays mostly were returning actors, some with decades of
experience. Because the cast of 2011‘s Jesus Christ Superstar was touring in New York
City, they had to be replaced in Stratford by new actors. Although the 2012 season
created many more opportunities for musical theatre actors, few of the company enjoyed
the benefit of a repertory: the ability to play contemporary and ―classical‖ plays.
Whereas this diversity of repertory was once an ideal attraction of the company, the
specialization of actors reduced the risk of casting actors beyond their established skills.
Instead of encouraging actors to grow through casting in roles for which they may not be
prepared, the actors were expected to perfect the roles in which they were cast with the
help of the coaching staff, fellow actors, and directors.
Several actors argued that the ideal of the company was to cast actors, regardless
of their fame, in a variety of leading and supporting roles. When Maggie Smith came to
the company in 1976, she played Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra, but she also played
Mistress Overdone in Measure for Measure, a character who only appears in two scenes.
In 2012, many of the leading actors play leads, such as Sean Arbuckle who plays both
Julian Marsh in 42nd Street and the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance. Ben Carlson
has a slight distribution, playing the lead role Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing and a
featured supporting role of Fluellen in Henry V. Some of the less experienced actors in
the company play only two small roles. For instance, Luke Humphrey, an actor who was
recently part of the Birmingham conservatory in his second season with the festival,
played Michael Williams in Henry V, but was a non-speaking character in Much Ado
About Nothing. In 2011 Brian Dennehy played Sir Toby Belch (the largest role in
Twelfth Night) and Max in Pinter‘s The Homecoming. This sort of distribution of roles
does not place all actors as equal, but rather puts the senior company members or highestprofile actors at the center of the company and younger actors in supporting roles only.
Young actors learned by working with and watching experienced actors, and attempted to
prove their worth to the directors in small roles. The dedication to Shakespeare‘s plays in
repertory, therefore, did not encourage a change to the hiring practices of the professional
theatre that required specialization and rewarded the top actors with the most complex
and interesting roles.
What inspired some sense of ensemble was that actors felt a part of a significant
theatre. This rhetoric proclaiming the theatre as the finest theatre for Shakespeare in
North America was often repeated in publicity for the shows as well as actor handbooks
and company meetings. The commitment to excellence branched through much of the
company, and the actors recognized the talent of their other members and the support of
the coaches and design. Young actors with small roles, therefore, often felt glad just to
be a part of the high-quality company.
Mid-career and late-career actors with small roles were attracted by the stability
of the contract and commitment to excellence. Since so many of the plays require a
variety of men in middle age, as was reflective of Shakespeare‘s original company, these
men were often more able to find roles in the company. The proficient small part actor,
who neither needs nor wants to play King Lear159 was a perpetual necessity of the
Festival which rarely cast actors outside of their age range.160 Despite the stability
provided by Shakespeare‘s casting, all actors warned against complacency. As a
company legend said, ―when you buy a house in Stratford, you won‘t be invited back the
Nora Polley, interview by Andrew Blasenak, Stratford, ON, April 8, 2012.
In the television series modeled on and created by members of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, Slings
and Arrows, two characters Frank and Cyril, personify this late-career supporting actor as they play small
roles like guards and various lords and other auxiliary characters but never the leads.
next year.‖ The demands for quality performance overrode any commitment to loyalty or
ensemble stability.
In addition to the demands of the shows, the change of artistic directors often led
to the shedding of some actors from the company and inviting new ones. McAnuff, in
addition to reforming the company as a company equally valuing actors, designers, and
directors, also redefined the acting company to be more racially diverse. McAnuff
wanted the company, ―to reflect the population of Canada and trip down Young Street in
Toronto.‖ If McAnuff had not assumed the artistic direction, and the company continued
to reward loyalty rather than talent, there would have been little room for new actors to
join the festival. McAnuff saw the maintenance of a solid ensemble in a company the
size of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, not seen as a benefit, but as a hindrance to the
success of individual shows and the seasons.
Rehearsal Practices
On April 9th of 2012, artistic director Des McAnuff began rehearsals for Henry V
for the 1826-seat Festival Theatre. Over the next ten weeks before previews the actors
rehearsed in repertory with the full cast called for primary rehearsals three times a week,
and secondary rehearsals held when actors or designers were available. Since McAnuff
recently had announced that he would be stepping down as Artistic Director at the end of
the 2012 season, he treated this rehearsal as one of the last chances he would likely get to
work in the circumstances of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. McAnuff style mixed
the spectacle of Broadway shows with the simplicity of actor on the bare stage, and he
argued that he used the text to inform action, character, and stagecraft to a greater degree
than previous Stratford Shakespeare Festival directors. The rehearsal focused on
contextual information for actors, definitions of the story and actions, and the creation of
fluid transitions augmented by the full design capabilities of the company.
The first day of rehearsal was an overwhelming affair in the large and prestigious
festival. Veteran stage manager Nora Polley noted the conventional wisdom that the sole
purpose of the first rehearsal was to get to the next rehearsal, but the first rehearsal helped
establish the status, tone, and vision for the production. In attendance were a crowd of
thirty cast members, ten ―jobbers,‖161 one assistant and one associate director, four stage
managers, two dramaturgs, a handful of designers and choreographers, and dozens of
observers from administration and other departments throughout the festival. Into this
throng of humanity, arriving at a brisk pace a few minutes after call, walked Des
McAnuff in a hounds-tooth checked suit.
McAnuff began the rehearsal with a forty-five minute director‘s talk in which he
established that he had a clear artistic vision for the play and the expertise to stage it
thoughtfully.162 After noting several contexts for the play, from Machiavelli‘s influence
on its writing to key productions in its history (both at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival
and elsewhere), McAnuff stated that his vision was to highlight Shakespeare‘s dialectical,
and often paradoxical, treatment of war. This play neither supported nor condemned war,
but merely presented many sides of a war experience, from glory to despair. This
ambivalent stance focused actors on playing their text according to their own
Jobbers are actors hired for non-speaking supporting roles. They often fill out public scenes where
smaller cast shows often must refer to the audience when attempting to make a scene seem public. In
Henry V, they filled out the scenes as monks, citizens, and soldiers.
As part of this speech, he noted that Joe Papp at the Public Theatre had discussed with him the
possibility of a production of Henry V in the 1980s, and that his thinking about the play has been
developing over the last thirty years.
interpretations, rather than trying to make their words fit into a predetermined director‘s
This speech also set the expectation that actors be active in the rehearsal process.
McAnuff referred to the actors as the ―brain trust‖ in order to acknowledge their
experience with Shakespeare‘s plays and to encourage them to offer their ideas in
rehearsal. He also set high expectations for the actors‘ rehearsal efforts by urging them to
memorize their lines as soon as possible. In order to hold the actors to a higher standard,
he told them that Christopher Plummer did a ―ridiculous‖ amount of homework for his
role as Prospero in McAnuff‘s 2010 The Tempest. This individual actor homework was
especially important since rehearsal would address complex blocking and use of large
props rather than minute attention to the acting of each moment. McAnuff concluded by
reiterating his enthusiasm for the company, the play, and the joy of working together.
In accordance with McAnuff‘s artistic vision, rehearsals equally emphasized
actors, director, and designers. To draw attention to the full company of actors, he
divided the chorus among the cast rather than giving it to a single actor. McAnuff told an
anecdote of how actors request the role of the Chorus more than any other role in all of
Shakespeare‘s play. This role has remarkable imagery and uses direct address, both
techniques the bare, open Festival Theatre encouraged. By dividing the text of the chorus
among the full acting company, McAnuff honored and flattered them saying ―if we have
built the magnificent company, as I believe [we have], we not only may but must [do
this] to hoist the Stratford flag of a great Canadian company.‖163 In this opening day,
McAnuff tied their rehearsal efforts to the honor of the company, Shakespeare‘s play, and
Quoted by Des McAnuff in rehearsal, Stratford, ON, April 9, 2012.
the nation of Canada, thus continuing the drive to make theatre of significance in the
small town of Stratford.
Throughout the designer presentations, McAnuff‘s visual preference to set scenes
with indicative props, sets, or costumes appeared. A parade of monks would set the first
scene in a monastery. A boar‘s head on a pike announced the scene at the Boar‘s Head
tavern. A large coffin marked the death of Falstaff. When the chorus spoke of horses,
the company would bring on wooden sawhorse structures that bridged the gap between
the imagination and the illusion of the scene. The largest visual event planned was the
presentation of the sails at Southampton. The prologue of act three asked the audience to
imagine the sails at Southampton, ―O, do but think You stand upon the ravage and behold
A city on the inconstant billows dancing,‖ and actors carried on masts and sails to create
a visual approximation of the city of sails. ―This is our helicopter,‖ McAnuff remarked,
alluding to the spectacular entrance of a helicopter onstage during the fall of Saigon in
Miss Saigon. Although these designs blended the literal and the imaginative, the mere
number of scenes and props necessary to achieve these effects meant that much rehearsal
time would be spent choreographing their use.
After a break and the dispersal of many of the onlookers, the company began the
first read-through. In the read-through, the company of actors had distinct ways of
approaching the text for the first time in front of the company. The younger actors often
attempted to make the verse sound ―natural,‖ avoiding making the words sound poetic.
Some of the actors that had been with the company for many years spoke with more
resonant and rounded voices as they sought to get a handle on the sounds of the speech
and avoid detail. As the actors spoke, the company, some of whom had worked together
on other shows, allowed others to make their first impressions. This pressure, although
actors attempt to ignore it, led actors to use to their previous working habits rather than
staying attentive to the development of the scenes.
After the read-through, McAnuff set out the progress of rehearsals going forward.
The rest of the first week included table work with the full company, a tradition started
with Tyrone Guthrie so as to keep all actors committed to understanding the full play.
McAnuff described this first week as going to graduate school for a course on Henry V.
Robert Blacker and his assistant dramaturge, Jacob Gallagher-Ross, provided readings
from various scholarly sources for each scene. After a read-through of each scene,
company members would read aloud quotes from these articles. McAnuff and Blacker
framed these readings not as a lecture or set vision, but as ―the opening of a discussion‖
since many of the readings had contradictory opinions. These contradictions, however,
reinforced McAnuff‘s argument that the play had contradictory portrayals of war and the
character of Henry V.
The text itself was based in the Oxford edition, but several words were changed
for clarity, such as ―Cadwallader‖ was changed to ―Welsh King‖ and ―ancient Pistol‖ was
updated to ―ensign Pistol.‖ This updating of the text allowed the actors to avoid spending
a great deal of time trying to communicate overly occult terms and jokes to a
contemporary audience. As they continued to work through the play, the actors were
asked to start tracking ―image chains‖ where terms or images are repeated: puissance,
foul, brother, etc. The responsibility for marking these became homework for the actors
so that each of them recognized and shared key images in the play with their fellow
actors. This analytical stage was designed to build a much richer understanding of the
play that some actors found useful in performance. As with costumes, sets, and visual
cues, this literary analysis provided a set of resources and approaches that could inspire
actors‘ choices. More importantly, the study of the play, in addition to traditional
rehearsals, elevated the respect for the play and engaged actors, ―the brain trust,‖ with
various interpretations of the play. The table work sent the signal to the actors that they
were encouraged to consider the overall interpretation of the play, not just their roles. It
set the expectation and terms for collaboration in rehearsal between director and actors.
In the blocking rehearsals the creative team worked in seamless collaboration.
Michael Roth, the composer, started offering musical sounds, songs, and underscoring to
help set the scene and communicate specific messages. Nancy Benjamin, voice coach,
provided feedback to the actors practicing accents while other actors received acting
notes. Dramaturge Robert Blacker and his assistant, as well as the well-informed
assistant and associate directors, were present to take notes and do research on any
questions that came up in the read-through. Whenever an actor had a question about their
text, two or three people started working on finding an answer while Des would continue
discussions with the actors. Once a run-through of a scene finished, McAnuff had
priority to give notes, but the coaches and choreographers also provided feedback.
Choreographer Nicola Pantin, in addition to wrangling the jobbers, was often asked to
block out scene changes and some more complex group blocking. Just as the various
coaches and assistants were able to offer help in rehearsal, the assistant stage managers
were present to provide materials for the rehearsal. The moment someone mentioned a
prop like a lantern, in the matter of seconds, a lantern would appear from the rehearsal
props with little intrusion to the rest of the process.
The seamless support of the rehearsal, including material, intellectual, and
creative support, was the hallmark of a large theatre accustomed to producing such a
large calendar of plays with an extensive support staff. The seamless support gives a
large amount of feedback to the actors in a short amount of time. The risk of working in
this way was most theatre artists focused on the literal and visual, rather than the
imaginative or metaphoric. With the large resources, creative solutions to staging often
had to be inspired by the director, while the rest of the creative team solved the logistics
of doing such a staging. Although McAnuff welcomed feedback and challenges to his
directorial vision, the momentum of rehearsal often left little time for discussion,
especially in scenes with many actors. Therefore, any experimental visions of
Shakespeare‘s staging or interpretation remained chiefly with the director.
McAuff‘s directing style often signaled to the acting company that their input was
welcome. When an idea was not working to his satisfaction, he admitted that his idea
may not be good and asked the company if they had solutions. He often leveled his status
with the actors. Instead of directing from behind a table, he walked over to the actors to
ask them questions after running of a scene. Each actor‘s question was seriously
entertained by director, dramaturgs, and assistants so as to signal that thinking actors
were highly valued. Unprepared actors, or those slow to get off-book, were not criticized
openly in rehearsal but noted later among the artistic leadership. In general, the rehearsal
room was meant to be one of positive collaboration so as to take advantage of the many
years of experience from all involved.
McAnuff repeatedly credited the quality of the actors, the support staff, and the
interpersonal relationships of some actors who have been with the company for many
years, as the reason the collaborative method worked. Just as McAnuff‘s stagecraft
blended the literal and imaginative, as a leader he blended his authority with a spirit of
collaboration that encouraged actors to have a great deal of input, even though he
reserved the responsibility to decide which was the best idea for the play.
Chapter 4: The Royal Shakespeare Company
Legacy and Continuity
The Shakespeare Memorial Theatre was built in 1879 to help revive the flagging
economy of Stratford-upon-Avon, England, and had been in relatively steady use as a
touring house and regional theatre until 1961. The Royal Shakespeare Company,
however, began in 1961 when artistic director Peter Hall changed the name and artistic
mission of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. Whereas ―Shakespeare Memorial
Theatre‖ connoted a building honoring the memory of Shakespeare, the ―Royal
Shakespeare Company‖ connoted a group of actors in the royal service of performing
Shakespeare‘s plays. By emphasizing the actors of the company rather than the cultural
icon and totem that was Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon, Hall set out to create a
group of actors who would revolutionize the way the industry considered company
management and actor training. In 1961 and again in 1964, Hall provided actors threeyear contracts and training opportunities while expounding principles of an ensemble
culture. In 2011 Artistic Director Michael Boyd attempted to uphold many of these same
principles, but the size and preeminence of the company mandated that the company
undertake projects of national significance. In 2012, for instance, in addition to
performing a season of twenty shows in Stratford-upon-Avon, London, and on tour, the
Royal Shakespeare Company helped coordinate the World Shakespeare Festival164 and
ran a far-reaching educational program called ―Stand Up For Shakespeare.‖ The
organizational structures necessary to make large-scale projects possible often conflicted
with the drive to support and develop actors‘ artistic skills as Hall envisioned.165 These
tensions were particularly pronounced under Artistic Director Adrian Noble (1990-2003),
where the actors often felt that the work of the Royal Shakespeare Company rarely
matched its reputation because it mirrored the practices of the entertainment industry
rather than a refuge from such practices. Michael Boyd revitalized the company‘s critical
and financial successes by creating a stage and using stagecraft similar to Shakespeare‘s
originals and by returning, in part, to the company management practices of Peter Hall.
Between 2003 and 2012, Michael Boyd revived the critical and financial success
of the Royal Shakespeare Company through his vision to run a large organization like a
fringe theatre. Boyd brought to his position as artistic director his training with the
Malaya Bronnaya Theatre that emphasized ensemble principles in the acting company
and a direct relationship between actors and audience in performance. From this training,
he used the plays of Shakespeare as a means of testing the worth and abilities of this style
of theatre on the English stage. Through the success of his ensemble and production style
with the plays of Shakespeare he hoped to change the very zeitgeist of the English theatre
from a culture obsessed with stars and individuals to one that emphasized collective
experiences for the audience and actors alike. His desire to adopt the organization and
The World Shakespeare Festival, partnered with Shakespeare‘s Globe and the British Museum, invited
theatre companies from around the world to produce each play in Shakespeare‘s canon in the summer of
the 2012 London Olympics.
Just as Peter Hall used Shakespeare to confirm the worth of the staging and design techniques of postwar Europe, Michael Boyd applied his inspiration of the Russian theatre as a means to find greater
emotional depth and ensemble commitment to improve the plays of Shakespeare.
aesthetic of a vital fringe theatre, however, was not shared by all the members of the
acting company or other directors. Because the English theatre had an ethos that valued
the autonomy of the artists to pursue multiple projects and to follow their own career
goals, the radical change Boyd sought to bring to the English theatre could only be
gradual in a company that employed so many established actors and directors.
Michael Boyd revitalized the critical and financial success of the company166
through a dedication to the vision and practices he called ―anti-Zeitgeist.‖ By labeling
his practices as purposefully revolutionary, he challenged the artists that he hired to
reconsider the purpose of the theatre company. Instead of hiring actors for one show, he
revived Hall‘s practice of hiring actors for long, thirty-month contracts. He rebuilt the
Royal Shakespeare Theatre as a thrust stage, not to get the audience closer to
Shakespeare, but to get them closer to the actors and each other. He included a coaching
staff and skill-training classes as part of rehearsal to reinforce the principle that
professional actors should never stop learning their craft. He adopted long and
collaborative rehearsal processes that were not dedicated to the cool efficiency of staging
a show to highlight the actors‘ talents, but to the discovery of the relevance of a
Shakespearean text to a contemporary audience with the input of all of the actors.
However, because the theatrical talent of England was centralized in London, only 100
miles away, the practices of film, television and commercial theatre often built actors‘
expectations of rehearsal, training, and performance that conflicted with the artistic
philosophy and professional ethos of Michael Boyd.
Charlotte Higgins, ―RSC's Artistic Director Michael Boyd Announces Final Curtain,‖ Guardian,
October 14, 2011.
Boyd argued that theatre can help regain a ―collective humanity‖ in a culture
more and more obsessed with individuals, an obsession shared by the entertainment
industry. Pointing to obsessions with celebrities and the interactions of the internet, Boyd
stated: ―Our dominant secular western culture has long been eroding our capacities for
collective encounters [sic]. We have been obsessed with individualism and seduced by
the promise of the tailor made life.‖167 In contrast, the theatrical event, especially in a
theatre with a thrust stage where the audience members could see each other during the
performance, was for him a ―collective encounter.‖ Rather than a group of individuals
watching a play on a removed stage in the dark, Boyd sought to emphasize the
interactions between actor and audience as well as those between audience members. By
acknowledging the presence of all people in the theatre building, Boyd sought to make
theatre an event negotiated rather than a product delivered. In his ambitious artistic goals
and company ethos, he noted that the theatre added ―a new immediacy now.‖ He did not
credit Shakespeare‘s original theatre as the inspiration for this stage, although it certainly
is well-suited for the plays of Shakespeare. The stage as with other material changes
provided a spirit of inquiry into the current art of theatre that has energized much of the
While Boyd‘s vision energized the company, established actors and directors
were unlikely to reinvent their approaches to rehearsal or performance when joining the
Royal Shakespeare Company. The Royal Shakespeare Company cast actors mostly in
London and held some rehearsals there, so many of the actors expected that their work
Michael Boyd, ―Making Theater and New Communities: A Talk by Michael Boyd‖ (presentation New
York Public Library, New York, NY, June 20, 2008). Accessed July 28, 2012.
for the Royal Shakespeare Company should reflect work elsewhere where they strove to
fulfill the individual director‘s visions. The size of the Royal Shakespeare Company and
the use of repertory allowed actors to work with many different directors, which was
beneficial since directors often hired actors with whom they enjoyed working. Further,
the London connection helped actors gain more recognition amongst casting directors
and agents. Boyd maintained these practices, but he sought to remove the perpetual
emphasis on actors‘ career development to allow actors to focus only on rehearsal and
continued technique training.
Perhaps the best example of his challenge to established modes of production was
in the Olivier-Award-Winning Histories Cycle. For the Histories Cycle, Boyd hired
actors for thirty-month contracts, created a rehearsal environment that welcomed input
from coaches and actors alike. The task of producing and performing eight plays in
repertory challenged Boyd, the actors, and the voice coaches to develop performance
techniques and working practices that made such an ambitious project a success. Boyd
produced all eight of the plays chronologically, from Richard II to Richard III, and
directed seven of the eight plays himself.168 The contractual maintenance of a solid
company who rehearsed and took classes together helped both actors and coaches
develop mutual respect and new performance techniques in response to the demands of
the shows. The combination of training and ensemble growth worked well under the
single vision of a single director.
Boyd‘s training with the Russian company, the Malaya Bronnaya Theatre,
Moscow, led him to adopt collaborative rehearsal methods unlike those of the other
168 Henry IV, part 2 was directed by the Assistant Director, Richard Twyman.
theatre companies in the UK. Rather than directing actors to a vision of the play that he
developed before rehearsals, Boyd asked actors to aid in the constant revision of the
play‘s interpretation and staging. Boyd encouraged actors to add their own artistic voice
to the plays of Shakespeare. On his role as a director, Boyd said, "I was impressed by the
Russian directors' sense of themselves as artists. I know very few British directors who
would call themselves artists. Most say, 'No, no, we're just interpreters of text.' Well, I
don't believe that. I am an artist."169 Boyd did not constrain his practice within an attempt
to revive Shakespeare, but used Shakespeare to revive collaborative rehearsal methods.
Boyd‘s rehearsals necessitated that actors similarly become collaborative artists,
not just interpreters of a role. Most actors spoke of the rehearsal as a process of
interpretation toward the establishing of the show as a fixed vision of the director. Boyd
needed actors to "work as an ensemble in a spirit of deep enquiry, to connect people with
Shakespeare and to reengage with the contemporary world and contemporary theatre
works."170 The spirit of deep inquiry over the eleven-week rehearsal process encouraged
actors to contribute deeper understandings of the relevance of the play for the
contemporary audience. By hiring a group of actors for thirty-month contracts, Boyd
hoped to create a respectful rehearsal room that allowed actors the freedom to voice their
own and challenge each others‘ interpretations. This ideal rehearsal room, where all
actors were equals with the director and each other, needed the support of the finances
and history of the Royal Shakespeare Company to be possible. The dedication to
Daniel Rosenthal, ―The Power Behind the Throne,‖ Independent (London), December 13, 2000.
Michael Boyd, ―Who‘s Who: Michael Boyd,‖ The Royal Shakespeare Company, accessed July 28,
Shakespeare‘s plays, and his reputation for complexity that required ―deep inquiry,‖
justified the use of such a practice.
Mirroring the inclusiveness and collective endeavor of the rehearsal and
performance, Boyd‘s emphasized a global participation in the production of
Shakespeare‘s plays. In the 2006-2007 Complete Works Festival and in the 2012 World
Shakespeare Festival the Royal Shakespeare Company invited performances from theatre
companies throughout the world visit Stratford-upon-Avon and London to perform
Shakespeare in their diverse artistic visions. Boyd argued that:
The performance of Shakespeare has at times, and not least, and not intentionally,
has been a colonial activity…We certainly distance ourselves from that. We are
not interested in a one-way traffic from some Parnassian source in Stratford-uponAvon to the rest of the world…. I‘ve seen too many brilliant productions of
Shakespeare from elsewhere, not least from here….Shakespeare belongs to Serra
Leone as much as he does to England.171
In addition to this international inclusion, the Royal Shakespeare Company
introduced many children to Shakespeare with the wide-reaching educational program,
Stand Up For Shakespeare. This program encouraged educators to introduce
Shakespeare to younger audiences, to have them see his plays live, and to get the students
up on their feet to perform, rather than read, Shakespeare. This had been a major
emphasis and interest for Boyd since the student audiences allowed Boyd to introduce his
new brand of theatre to an audience with fewer preconceptions:
Boyd, ―Making Theater.‖
Time may be right for theatre to offer a better, more honest, more active, more
intimate relationship also between the performer and the audience. I sense a new
contract being drawn up among young theatre artists, between young theatre
artists and audiences that acknowledge the audience as part of this ensemble as
well. They are an ensemble that has the ability either to achieve a consensus or
disagree. They are not sitting in the dark, they‘re participants.172
This new audience for which Boyd produced plays also had a reflection in the physical
configuration of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
The major initiative of Michael Boyd‘s vision of performance has been the
rebuilding of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre that materially redefined the relationship
between actors and audience if not the stagecraft of all directors. The transformation of
the proscenium stage to a deep thrust not only enabled Shakespeare‘s plays to be
performed in their original configuration, but it also proposed a challenge to directors and
actors trained or aspiring to other media. Boyd embraced these challenges for the purpose
of changing the audience‘s experience. The interactivity of the thrust stage encouraged a
collective response rather than a personalized, individual response of other media:
There is a new vivid theatre emerging that has learned from the informal,
interactive communities of the internet. Acknowledged from them, a new, honest
hunger to belong. I think from them theatre has realized its own potential to offer
a more authentic, durable, palpable, and frankly enjoyable sense of belonging than
the net can offer. I think it‘s also developing a new confidence, a new chutzpa, to
challenge those media provided and controlled by a dwindling number of self172
Boyd, ―Making Theater.‖
interested billionaires. There is an irreducible humanity about the theatre act that
moves me. That simple conspiracy of the performer and audience to arrive at the
same space at the same time and share something together in real time. There is a
humble vulnerability of that encounter on both sides that is not replicated
anywhere else.173
He went on to note that there was no replacement for actors and audience sharing the
same space at the same time, a goal shared by many artists in the six companies
examined in this dissertation. The rebuilding of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre built on
the previous success with audiences and enjoyment of actors on the Swan and Courtyard
stages that brought actors and audience into close proximity.
Boyd did not dictate that stagecraft of other directors adhere to the collective
audience experience he sought in his own productions. Most of the actors and directors of
the Royal Shakespeare Company artists argued that the diversity of stagecraft and
rehearsal practices was proper and good, often stating their fear of a single authority or
company-wide system. This attitude reflected the individual goals of the artists rather
than the revolutionary goal to redefine the purpose of theatre. Actors rarely expressed
opinions that reflected a sense of being part of a collective company. Rather, they were
excited by the diversity of actors and directors with whom they worked because these
opportunities expanded their professional network and helped them find possibilities for
future employment. The frustrations and career limitations inherent in the thirty-month
contract caused some actors to leave the ensemble before the end of their contracts. The
actors‘ desire or willingness to be a part of a collective was only maintained when the
Boyd, ―Making Theater.‖
collective was necessary to achieve a daunting task like the Histories Cycle. Without the
mutual respect arising from such a challenge, the actors and directors continued to view
their work with the Royal Shakespeare Company as part of their individual careers.
The demands of the large theatrical institution conflicted with Boyd‘s desire to
connect with actors and audiences in ways different from the commercial theatre. While
Boyd hoped to achieve the personal intimacy and committed effort of a fringe theatre in
the large organization, the number of people involved in the enterprise lessened his
ability to change the practices company-wide. Further, actors once hired did not need to
buy into his philosophy (or that of the other directors) as long as they developed strong
performances. When Boyd stepped down, he noted that he would not work in a large
organization for a while, since he ―[would] like to spend more time with [his] actors."174
The simplicity of director and collaborative ensemble was complicated by the
expectations, profile, and size of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Stages and Stagecraft
The main theatre of the Royal Shakespeare Company, The Royal Shakespeare
Theatre (formerly the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre), frustrated and disgruntled theatre
artists throughout the company‘s history for its dissonance with the preferred styles of
production. Tyrone Guthrie, before going to Stratford, Ontario, had little love for the
theatre and its constraints on his vision of Shakespeare in performance: ―It‘s dreadfully
Higgins, ―Final Curtain.‖
old-fashioned theatre. You can only do old-fashioned work there. Push it into the
Avon!‖175 (Figure 17).
Figure 17: The rebuilt Royal Shakespeare Theatre view from the Avon River, 2011, courtesy of Royal
Shakespeare Company, photo by Stewart Hemley.
When Peter Hall assumed leadership of the company in 1960, he wanted to
rebuild the theatre to bring the actors closer to the audience. In his first year, he planned
to redesign the stage to include ―a rake, a new false proscenium arch, and an apron stage
Joe Falocco, Reimagining Shakespeare’s Playhouse: Early Modern Staging Conventions in the
Twentieth Century (Rochester, NY: D.S. Brewer, 2010), 119. Others remarked that the audience was so
distant from the stage that they felt as if they were performing on the cliffs of Dover to an audience across
the English Channel.
that jutted fourteen feet into the auditorium.‖176 An unexpected drop of Arts Council
funding forced Hall to shelve his plan to build the theatre as ―a 2000-seat thrust-stage
amphitheater.‖177 Fifty years later, in 2011, Michael Boyd finally succeeded in
transforming this proscenium theatre.
The stagecraft of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and former Shakespeare
Memorial Theatre, often conflicted with the proscenium-arch stage. The Shakespeare
Memorial Theatre hired directors who were at least partly inspired by William Poel:
William Bridges-Adams, Ben Iden Payne, Robert Adkins, and Barry Jackson.178 Peter
Hall and artistic director Michael Boyd have little background or history in the
Elizabethanist movement, but were often inspired by the ensemble theatres of continental
Europe. Unlike at the Globe or Blackfriars, the re-design of the theatre reflected the
demands of the experimental theatre of the twentieth century as well as the plays of
The Royal Shakespeare Company for much of the 1960s developed the style
known for its minimalism and imagination in design and setting. Peter Brook‘s iconic
production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1970-1971) used a white box set with
trapeze and platforms rising to various levels to set forth a production style emphasizing
minimalism and imagination. Kenneth Tynan called Hall‘s Comedy of Errors
―unmistakably an RSC production.‖179 ―How is it to be recognized?‖ he continued, ―By
solid Brechtian settings that emphasize wood and metal instead of paint and canvas; and
Sally Beauman, The Royal Shakespeare Company: A History of Ten Decades (Oxford: Oxford UP,
1982), 239.
Beauman, History, 255.
Beauman, History, 59.
Tynan, quoted in Beauman, History, 251.
by cogent deliberate verse speaking, that discards melodic cadenzas in favour of meaning
and motivation.‖180 Similar to Shakespeare‘s staging practices, this ―Brechtian‖ setting
created a theatre emphasizing imaginative rather than pictorial scenery. The lack of
visual elements to interest the audience required that actors engage the audience directly
with the clarity of their language and the specificity of their actions.
In order to accommodate production styles that emphasized the well-trained
company and their ability to speak to the audience, the Royal Shakespeare Company built
the Swan Theatre in 1986 in the shell of the 1879 Shakespeare Memorial Theatre (Figure
Figure 18: The Swan Theatre, 2010, courtesy of Royal Shakespeare Company, photo by Stewart Hemley.
The close proximity of the audience, some of whom bumped their knees on the stage
from front-row seats, made this stage a favorite of actors, directors, and audiences. The
theatre had two downstage vomitoria for entrances and exits, and a relatively shallow
Tynan, quoted in Beauman, History, 251.
upstage area, both of which drew actors down stage into the midst of the audience and
minimized the room for sets upstage. For the inaugural production at the Swan, the
Royal Shakespeare Company presented The Two Noble Kinsmen, a little-produced play
with oddities like a Morris dance with a baboon, a series of soliloquies of complex verse
where a secondary character, the jailor‘s daughter, goes mad, and a combat sequence
offstage narrated by characters onstage. While the nearness of the audience enhanced
their response to physical activities like dances, the lack of downstage scenery put greater
emphasis on the language actors used. The choice of The Two Noble Kinsmen as the best
play to feature the theatre revealed a confidence in Shakespeare‘s plays to succeed in the
minimalist conditions of performance.181
Figure 19: The Swan Theatre Stage, pre-set for The City Madam, 2010, courtesy of Royal Shakespeare
Company, photo by Ellie Kurttz.
The 1986 production transferred to the Royal Shakespeare Company theatres in London. The play had
only been produced once before, in 1959 in the Open Air Theatre at the Avonbank Gardens, and once
since, in 2006, also in the Swan Theatre.
The Royal Shakespeare Company often used the 450-seat Swan Theatre to
present new plays that had a similar performance dynamic (Figure 19). Michael Boyd‘s
vision stated: ―Our charter gives us the clear obligation to nurture new writing under the
protective wing of Shakespeare‘s enduring popular appeal.‖182 In 2011, the RSC hosted
Dunsinane, a play written by David Greig and derived from improvisations with the
company of actors from the National Theatre of Scotland and the Edinburgh Lyceum.183
The play used elements of Elizabethan stagecraft as Siward (a character drawn from
Shakespeare‘s Macbeth) instructed a squadron of men with tree branches to create
Birnam Wood (Figure 20). This deconstruction of the Birnam Wood illusion from the
end of Macbeth set the tone for the revisionist history of the play while mocking the
illusory stagecraft of the siege of Dunsinane. Upstage left, a single set piece of a Celtic
cross and surrounding stairs provided a background for all the scenes of the play. Every
other locale was defined by actors naming the place and by props being brought on. The
production borrowed the actor emphasis, skirmish battles, and fluid scene transitions
from Shakespeare‘s tradition. Although the play had opened at a Victorian proscenium
theatre in Scotland, the cast changed the show to the space in a single eight-hour
rehearsal and remounted the full show in eight days.184 Because the play focused on the
actors rather than illusory scenery the play could be transferred in such little time.
Michael Boyd, ―Playing our Proper Role. The Way Forward for The Royal Shakespeare Company‖
Memorandum, The Royal Shakespeare Company, October 2003.
In a talkback, the director Roxana Silbert noted that Greig felt relieved at the workshop approach since it
alleviated his anxiety concerning the quality of his writing to be performed alongside Shakespeare at the
Royal Shakespeare Company. Roxana Silbert ―Director Talk: Dunsinane,‖ Stratford-upon-Avon, UK, June
17, 2011.
Silbert also noted the pleasure of using the extensive prop and costume resources made available to
them at the Royal Shakespeare Company. When she asked for a prop head, the next day a sack of heads
Figure 20: Dunsinane, Swan Theatre, 2011, courtesy of The Royal Shakespeare Company, photo by Simon
Before breaking ground on the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre in 2007, Boyd led
the creation of the 1,045-seat Courtyard Theatre as a trial run for the architecture that
would change the staging and performance practices of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
The Courtyard replaced the Royal Shakespeare Company‘s second stage, the Other
Place,185 a stage often used for new and experimental staging. Boyd took the spirit of the
Other Place, an intimate theatre with surrounding audience, to a larger scale as he
envisioned the Courtyard (Figure 21) and later redesign of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre
(Figure 22): ―Both theatres are an open space, with actors sharing ideas, emotions, and
arrived to give her several choices. These resources support the visual storytelling of the play, but Silbert
kept such props at a utilitarian minimum so as to keep the pace of the show quick and transitions smooth.
The Other Place, a 150-seat theatre adapted from a storage and/or rehearsal room, opened with King
Lear in 1974. The Other Space was redesigned as a purpose-built stage in 1991.
the air with the audience which is in turn aware of itself.‖186 Notably, Boyd‘s OliverAward-Winning Histories Cycle performed at the Courtyard (and the Roundhouse in
London) to great acclaim. The Courtyard, it seemed, vindicated the staging practices that
Boyd had envisioned and put into practice through his exercised control over the stage‘s
Figure 21: The Courtyard Stage, 2008, courtesy of Royal Shakespeare Company, photo by Stewart Hemley.
Michael Boyd, ―The Imminent prospect of a radical new theatre.‖ Memorandum, The Royal
Shakespeare Company, September 22, 2008 .
Figure 22: The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, 2011, courtesy of Royal Shakespeare Company, photo by Stewart
Boyd‘s direction for the Courtyard and rebuilt Royal Shakespeare Theatre (Figure
23) discovered staging possibilities for these stages. Boyd‘s stagecraft often mirrored
Shakespeare‘s own as he left the central playing space bare, but frequently Boyd flew in
actors and set pieces in the area above the thrust stage. The 2004-2008 Histories Cycle
included ladders flown in from the ceiling upon which actors fought and died.187
Similarly, at the beginning of Henry VI, part 1, the coffin of Henry V was flown in on a
giant cross, around which the characters began to lament and bicker. For Boyd‘s 2011
Macbeth, the three weird sisters were three dead children flown in on halters who awoke
from death hovering in the middle of the theatre. Similarly, to wash their hands after the
murder of Duncan, Lady Macbeth and Macbeth knelt at a silver bowl while a long trail of
Nick Asbury, Exit Pursued by a Badger: An Actor’s Journey Through History with Shakespeare
(London: Oberon Books, 2010), 100.
water fell from the ceiling. Little else was brought on stage and the frons of the stage
held a crumbling façade of a gothic church-like space, and upon the balcony three cellists
observed the whole play and underscored various moments of the action and breaks
between scenes. The actors came into the audience and stood in the aisles to lead choric
reactions to moments in the play, such as the crowning of Macbeth. The actors, often in
soliloquies, spoke directly to the audience. The Porter threatened the audience with
dynamite that he tossed about the stage in mad nonchalance during his monologue. From
all these choices, Boyd‘s direction sought to blur the boundaries between actors and
audience and take advantage of the sculptural elements of blocking on a thrust stage.
Figure 23: The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, 2011, curtain call for Romeo and Juliet, courtesy of Royal
Shakespeare Company, photo by Ellie Kurttz.
Rupert Goold‘s 2011 Merchant of Venice emphasized an excessively visual rather
than sculptural use of the stage. Goold and designer, Tom Scutt, filled the stage with a
veritable orgy of design elements, overcrowding the stage for the purpose of creating a
visually lush, but emotionally shallow, Las Vegas setting. This visual saturation
contrasted with the barer settings in scenes of negotiation between Antonio, Bassanio,
and Shylock and scenes of love between Bassanio and Portia. Goold also added a 20minute improvisation to the beginning of the play during which actors gambled at various
gaming tables, and girls delivered drinks while a live band assembled on an upstage
platform. Later, a couch surfaced from an elevator center stage and two monitors
dropped in (facing the central portion of the house) to make a game show set for the
selection of caskets at Belmont.188 Even in the scenes with Shylock, a large table
overwhelmed much of center stage. Actors rarely spoke directly to the audience. The
stagecraft remained visually-oriented mostly towards the central audience rather than the
surrounding audience. By filling the center of the stage, actors often had to play on the
front portion of the stage or around the sides of central objects. The scenic design
fulfilled a thematic purpose by counterbalancing the exuberant design with the moments
of the simple, heartfelt love between Bassiano and Portia (and Bassiano and Antonio),
but the directors‘ vision took priority over any mission to discover how the stages can
change production styles.
On June 14, 2011, the elevators lifting up the couch was off its rails and broke the stage as it rose. In the
20 minute break that followed, actor Jamie Beamish who played Launcelot Gobbo as an Elvis
impersonator, led the audience in a sing-along of Elvis songs while the technicians attended to the elevator
and stage repairs. This moment, in spite of the intricate design, helped realize the ―conspiracy between
performer and audience‖ that was Boyd‘s ideal.
Although directors had the discretion to use the stage as they saw fit, the design of
the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (and Courtyard) stage supported the stagecraft that was
long the ideal of the company: well-trained actors in proximity and in ―conspiracy‖ with
audience members to imagine the play through Shakespeare‘s words. When the Royal
Shakespeare Company toured five plays to New York City in 2011 (with the support of
The Ohio State University and the Lincoln Center), they brought with them a portable
replica of their stage on which to perform. The company shipped the 161-ton stage and
150-ton auditorium in 46 large steel shipping containers to America to erect and store the
85 tons of scenery and costumes for the 6-week run. ―It took just 18 days to build the
intimate, 3-level, 975-seat auditorium where the furthest seat was only 49 feet from the
stage.‖ 189 The Royal Shakespeare Company, blessed with a large budget, could afford to
showcase their new stage to an American audience rather than showcasing only their
actors and the audience. Ostensibly, by refusing to transfer the plays to a proscenium
stage, the Royal Shakespeare Company showed the New York audiences the significance
of their new stage. Because the stage was new to the Royal Shakespeare Company, they
marketed its design as revolutionary. Without a similar revolutionary bent in the
directors of the company to discover the stagecraft, however, contemporary stagecraft
and design practices would easily overwhelm the direct actor-audience relationship.
Actor Training and Coaching
Because so much of the acting company was drawn from London, most actors
commented that the repertory of plays, length of performance contracts, and use of
―RSC by the Numbers,‖ Park Avenue Armory, August 31, 2011, accessed July 28, 2012,
multiple stages provided the best actor training. As actor David Oyelowo noted in the
1999-2000 annual review, ―The RSC is now one of the few companies where you work
on a range of plays, and where you have sixteen months solid to steep yourself in
language." He valued the variety: "I also performed [in addition to Oroonoko] in Volpone
and Antony and Cleopatra so I was working every night in different theatre spaces. This
is phenomenal training.‖190 Performance remained the key training experience, but when
actors faced difficulties they had many people to whom they could turn for support.
However, Michael Boyd and the coaching staff often sought to serve the Royal
Shakespeare Company tradition of innovating performance techniques and improving
actors‘ skills.
Under Peter Hall, the Royal Shakespeare Company began such a tradition of
improving actors‘ skills for the purpose of expanding the capabilities of the acting
ensemble. Training, under Hall, became another way for the company to establish itself
as forward-looking rather than memorial. In 1962, Peter Hall invited Michel Saint
Denis191 and Peter Brook to become Associate Directors. Together they set up a formal
training program called the Studio. Its ambitious goal, according to Saint-Denis‘s
manifesto, was ―to evolve the ways and means to find out the kind of work and to
conduct the experiments through which a contemporary way of producing Shakespeare
and the Elizabethans—and perhaps other styles, as a consequence—can be prepared.‖192
Miriam Gilbert, ―The Leasing-out of the RSC,‖ Shakespeare Quarterly 53, no. 4 (2002): 520.
Saint-Denis, a student of Jacques Copeau, established theatre training programs worldwide, including
the London Theatre Studio (1934), the Old Vic Centre (1946), the National Theatre School of Canada
(part-founder 1958/9), Juilliard Drama School (1960).
Colin Chambers, Inside the Royal Shakespeare Company (London: Routledge, 2004), 146.
The Studio was a voluntary training program that offered classes around the
rehearsal schedule. The program had the dual roles of professional training and
experimental laboratory, where Saint-Denis could train actors in a cross-fertilized
technique, but Brook, Hall and the other teachers and directors could experiment with
ways of making theatre, including changing the actor-audience relationship from the
visual style prescribed by proscenium theatres.193 Aided by a 3-year grant from the
Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, the training program had the time to explore ―technique
(movement, dance, acrobatics, wrestling, fights; voice, diction, singing; playing of simple
stage instruments) and the exploration of acting (improvisation with and without masks,
theoretical and practical work on varied styles, discussion of Elizabethan and all modern
theatre currents).‖194 Saint-Denis‘s vision of the training never received the material
support in the form of space availability, commitment from all actors, or time that would
make it a full-company endeavor. Show production took priority over technique
innovation. In addition, its devotion to exploration without visible, measureable results,
made it seem like something that could be cut when the company hit its first budgetary
crisis in 1966.195 Soon after the Studio closed, however, Peter Brook used many of the
trained actors in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the ensemble-driven Marat/Sade. The
Royal Shakespeare Company would not have a conservatory again, but voice and text
coaches were integrated into rehearsals.
John Barton and Cicely Berry developed techniques in, respectively,
Shakespearean acting and voice in service of productions at the Royal Shakespeare
Chambers, Inside, 147.
Chambers, Inside, 147.
Chambers, Inside, 150.
Company. John Barton‘s television miniseries and book Playing Shakespeare196
articulated a technique for acting in Shakespeare‘s plays on the premise that actors
―marry the two traditions:‖ the Elizabethan forms of verse and rhetoric and modern (i.e.
naturalistic) acting.197 Barton familiarized Shakespeare by claiming that the acting
technique used in the Elizabethan era was the foundation of the contemporary,
Stanislavsky-based acting techniques.198 His analysis of verse, diction, and rhetorical
forms informed a character‘s given circumstances and objectives, and gave actors ways
of strengthening emotional connections to the words. This widely imitated approach
allowed actors to maintain their confidence in their own technique while learning new
tools to use the complex text of Shakespeare‘s plays.
In 1969 Trevor Nunn hired Cicely Berry to lead the voice department. Through
her fourteen years with the Royal Shakespeare Company, she developed techniques that
explored the link between meaning and voice that enhanced both acting skill and vocal
production.199 Nunn praised Berry‘s book, The Actor and the Text, as ―a fundamental part
of the RSC‘s achievement,‖200 because her techniques allowed actors to speak with
clarity and ease as became the circumstances of the characters. In addition to aiding the
texts of Shakespeare, Berry adapted her techniques for Jacobean, Restoration, Formal
Modern and Modern texts as well. Like Barton, Berry emphasized continuity and useful
juxtaposition between classical and contemporary texts:
John Barton, Playing Shakespeare, (London: Metheun, 2001).
Barton, Playing Shakespeare, 21.
Barton, Playing Shakespeare, 195.
Chambers, Inside, 158.
Trevor Nunn, foreword to The Actor and the Text, by Cicely Berry (New York: Applause, 1992), 7.
It is the interchange between modern and classical writing that enriches both and
makes each more alive. Work on Shakespeare opens our awareness to language
even when they are rooted in a modern reality. And work on modern text keeps
our ears tuned to the colloquial rhythms of everyday speech, which needs to be
integrated into our speaking of verse. We should be always balancing the two for,
in a sense, every piece of text we speak on a stage is heightened—it is
performed—and we have to find its particular voice and place that particular
She also posed the connection of voice to meaning to remedy the extreme naturalistic
acting that she described as ―post-articulate.‖ Language on the stage, she argued, should
appeal to both reason and emotion by being ―thought in action.‖202 In addition to this
immediacy of thought and emotion, Berry included the demands of the twentieth century
non-naturalistic theatre: ―We have to honour a greater need, and that is to make what we
say remarkable to the hearer. This is what Brecht was after.‖203 The final goal she set
forth in her book was to provide actors with confidence in their own techniques.204 The
Royal Shakespeare Company‘s approach articulated by Barton and Berry emphasized the
actors‘ confidence in their current technique as much as the exercises and approaches to
the ―heightened language‖ of Shakespeare‘s texts.
In 2011, training continued both in one-on-one coaching sessions and in
workshops. The first month of the rehearsals began with a series of workshops in
Cicely Berry, The Actor and the Text (New York: Applause, 1992), 10.
Berry, Actor, 11. This goal is remarkably similar to Michael Langham‘s goal of ―living thought‖ taught
at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.
Berry, Actor, 10.
Berry, Actor, 11.
physical techniques, voice use, and verse analysis. Several actors considered these
classes to be chiefly ensemble-building exercises, a place where actors learned to play
together and admire each other‘s skills before working on the play proper. In the
Histories Cycle, Boyd referred to the rope and trapeze classes as ―a good McGuffin205 for
actors.‖ Boyd valued the McGuffin because
Actors so busy being tired and sore that they weren‘t able to be self-conscious
about what they were doing on the rehearsal room floor. And quite apart from it
being a good way of staying in tune and doing some exciting acrobatic work in
the shows.206
The workshops, then, often helped establish a rehearsal and company dynamic that actors
and directors found valuable, regardless of the quality of the technique learned. For the
duration of rehearsals, coaches were available for one-on-one sessions with the actors and
rehearsal observations at the request of directors. Instead of a season-long studio for
actors to explore the possibilities of verse speaking, vocal production, or audience
interaction, the coaches detailed their notes to the individual actors and demands of the
Michael Boyd valued coaches as equal collaborators in the rehearsal. Because
vocal techniques like Cicely Berry‘s addressed both sound and meaning, coaches often
had an opinion to offer on the interpretation of the text. Boyd welcomed additional
interpretations even if they challenged his original vision. Actors who expected the
rehearsal to be the steady building toward a singular director‘s vision, however, could
―McGuffin,‖ is a term borrowed from Alfred Hitchcock‘s technique of misdirection in film where a
director uses cinematic conventions to highlight an unimportant element as a vital piece of the story.
Boyd, ―Making Theater.‖
resent any contradictory choices a coach provided. One actor even accused the coaches
of offering ―subliminal direction‖ rather than the support he sought.207 Therefore, to
make the most positive use of many coaches the Royal Shakespeare Company hired, the
rehearsal process had to welcome the interpretations of all collaborators.
Boyd was similarly anti-zeitgeist in his approach to theatrical training within a
professional company, ―dancers and musicians take life-long daily training for granted
and theatre could still do with catching up.‖208 Because the culture of the professional
theatre did not train daily, actors generally valued coaches or workshops only insofar as
they benefitted performances. Voluntary workshops were often ignored. Although
Michael Boyd had hoped to change the culture of the entire institution, the conventional
rehearsal and hiring practices of other directors hindered actors‘ interest in pursuing
training opportunities outside of rehearsal. The actors who desired additional input sought
coaches; the culture of the institution did not change their traditional goals of role
Actors‘ backgrounds influenced their attitude toward training. Young actors with
little experience with performing Shakespeare were highly complimentary of their
coaches. In rehearsal, these actors often had small roles with few lines. The one-on-one
coaching sessions gave these actors the time to improve their understanding of
Shakespeare‘s text that increased their confidence in performance. One young actor
praised his coach:
She is not patronizing. She works with your strengths and builds your
weaknesses. She inspires you to want to be better. I can say this about a handful
Anonymous (Actor), interview by Andrew Blasenak, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK, June 15, 2011.
Boyd, ―The Imminent Prospect.‖
of human beings that I have encountered in my life. In [its] simplistic form [she]
makes me want to be the best at what I do. I will miss her the most.209
Some more established actors considered the training to be an auxiliary part of the
rehearsal process rather than a vital part of their continuing development. However,
long-term company members like Patrick Stewart often consulted coaches as part of the
rehearsal process. These actors, trained in the philosophy surviving from Hall in the
1960s, shared the anti-zeitgeist approach to the acting profession that Boyd endorsed.
The reconfiguration of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre created a greater need for
attention to the actors‘ bodies. Boyd understood that actors‘ bodies had to help make
sculptural compositions, so he hired Struan Leslie as a movement coach in 2008. The
surrounding audience created the demand for actors to be skilled both vocally and
physically to communicate to members of the audience behind them in the relatively
large theatre.
One enduring element of training that helped include the entire ensemble was the
company-wide warm-up. Before each show, a movement and a voice teacher in tandem
led the actors for thirty minutes of exercises. The warm-up was voluntary, and several
actors preferred to warm up on their own (or not at all) rather than with the coaches.
Without a universal commitment from the actors, this warm-up failed to unite the
ensemble before the show and remained a benefit to only the individuals who desired it.
The training that actors most valued was the practice of universal
understudying.210 Boyd removed the stigma this lower-status assignment by establishing
Anonymous Royal Shakespeare Company actor, email to author, August 7, 2011.
Although Boyd claimed that all actors understudied, some actors were wary of understudying because of
the lower status attached to the practice. Some actors reportedly opted out of understudying even though
the principle that all actors understudied, no matter how experienced they were. Younger
actors were able to work on larger roles in their understudy assignments. The limited
rehearsal time for understudy roles encouraged them to consult coaches for their
preparation. Understudying also unified the actors of ensemble. Understudies
communicated with the principal actors about the roles, and many company members
attended understudy runs to see the talents of the up-and-coming actors. The ability to
work on larger roles on the Royal Shakespeare Company stages provided actors the
challenge to develop new skills for a greater variety of roles.
Understudying and using coaches also provided one of the few chances for
advancement. Actors were cast in the Young Person‘s Shakespeare production of Hamlet
after the season had opened, so the director could evaluate their commitment and
previous development. Dharmesh Patel, who had little previous experience performing
Shakespeare‘s plays, had small roles in the main season of plays. His impressive work
on these roles and a positive report from the coaching staff encouraged the director of
Hamlet to give him the title role.
Because much of the training at the Royal Shakespeare Company focused on the
individual, the actors did not necessarily share the collective dynamic Boyd envisioned.
Instead of describing a specific approach to performance, many artists and writers spoke
in mystical terms of the process. Boyd spoke of the ―special alchemy‖ that happened on
a stage with the surrounding audience. Others spoke of the performance as ―magic.‖
Others looked for the ―chemistry‖ among the actors in rehearsal. Because the Royal
the entire company, in Boyd‘s vision, was to participate. This attempt to make mutual respect among the
ensemble still met resistance from the actors who believed that understudying represented a step backwards
in their career.
Shakespeare Company had so many mid-career actors and well-established directors who
had branded their images, the artistic administration could neither afford nor insist on a
unified conservatory-style approach. Without a consistency of style determined by the
stages or the company, the actors‘ and directors‘ talents mostly determined the quality of
the shows, but the coaches were available to make sure that all actors could be confident
in the technique behind their talent.
Ensemble Acting
The Royal Shakespeare Company under Peter Hall and Michael Boyd alike
extended rehearsal periods and lengths of actors‘ contracts for the purpose of insulating
them from the continuous pressures of seeking employment in the entertainment industry.
The stability of these contracts provided actors the ability to improve their acting
techniques through the rehearsal and training opportunities. Under Hall, the benefit of
these conditions combined with the profile of the Royal Shakespeare Company produced
some of the most well known actors of the British stage and screen. Under Boyd,
however, the practices and expectations of actors trained for jobs in the broader
entertainment industry conflicted with his dedication to ensemble.
Peter Hall as artistic director prioritized a steady ensemble of actors, similar to the
models of companies like the Berliner Ensemble and the Moscow Art Theatre. Instead of
hiring established stars for short contracts, Hall committed the company to hiring to a
stable core of actors who undertook group training and long rehearsals. Newer actors
worked with more established ones until, ideally, they were promoted from within the
ranks of the company for their exceptional work and training. From this system arose
stars, before they had names for themselves, such as Judi Dench, Peggy Ashcroft, Ian
McKellan, Patrick Stewart, Ben Kingsley, and several other actors who became some of
the most celebrated actors in the British theatre and world cinema. Through the triple
aims of long actor contracts, extended rehearsals, and the institution of company actor
training, Hall helped create a new definition of ensemble in the British theatre.
Hall offered actors three-year contracts in order to provide them stable
employment and a consequent focus on the craft of acting. Actors were guaranteed work,
or at least seventy-five percent of their salary when no roles were available for them.
Many actors were enthusiastic about this guaranteed employment, and, ostensibly, the
time to develop their acting craft. But this substantial investment and trust in the actors
who were hired did not ensure that they would devote themselves wholly to improving
the craft of acting, or ensure that they would stay with the company. The contracts
assumed that actors would motivate themselves to train their acting technique or pursue
other projects while not employed by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Such a
dedication was not universally shared, and the contracts sometimes earned the nickname
―the Ibiza charter,‖ implying that those actors who were not cast in plays were on paid
vacation.211 Conversely, those actors who were successful did not exclude other
opportunities for the good of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Peter O‘Toole, one of the
first actors to receive a 3-year contract, ―was wildly enthusiastic‖ about this way of
working at the beginning of his contract.212 When offered the title role in Lawrence of
Arabia after the first year, O‘Toole left the company. Instead of returning to the Royal
Shakespeare Company the following season to play Henry II in Beckett, O‘Toole played
Beauman, History, 240f.
Beauman, History, 240.
Henry II in the film of Beckett.213 The commitment that the company gave to the actors
did not ensure that the all of the actors would commit their time to their classes,
rehearsals, and craft.
The dedication to ensemble under Hall fostered a group of well-trained actors
who helped revitalize performance practices. But in 1964, Peter Hall noted that the
actors who succeeded in the ensemble were often enticed by more lucrative employment.
He concluded of the Royal Shakespeare Company‘s ensemble company structure: ―If you
are lucky enough to create it, it immediately begins to disintegrate.‖214 Those actors who
received the benefits of classes, challenging roles, and a supportive company developed
their skills to the point that they could confidently pursue (or be approached by) betterpaying, higher-profile employment. This turnover was useful for the long-term growth of
the Royal Shakespeare Company. When the top actors left, they provided advancement
opportunities for newer actors in the company. Just as understudying created a ―knockon‖ effect where actors playing supporting roles stepped into larger roles for
performance, the new casting rewarded actors who developed their craft and worked
successfully on challenging roles. The commitment to ensemble, rather than the hiring of
stars for the sole reason of box office appeal, rewarded actors who dedicated their time
and talents to the company for many years.
In addition to this benefit, those actors who left to pursue more high-profile
projects sometimes returned to the company to work in the ensemble methods
established. Patrick Stewart, for instance, was a core member of the Royal Shakespeare
Company from 1966 to 1982, and he developed international fame as a star of film and
Beauman, History, 240.
Beauman, History, 245.
television. He regularly returned to the Royal Shakespeare Company, however, where
his fame drew greater box office receipts. His fame was not his sole contribution. He
also assumed the role of a senior member of the company, fostering the next generation
of artists through holding cast-wide parties at his house and collaborating in rehearsal.
Patrick Stewart found more lucrative work in other venues, but the texts, the people, and
the ways of working at the Royal Shakespeare Company provided attractive working
conditions that offset the lower pay and longer commitment of a theatre job.
This ideal of maintaining a solid company of actors was threatened and restored
in the early twenty-first century. Near the end of his tenure in 2001, Adrian Noble
proposed the controversial ―Project Fleet‖ which, among other significant changes, would
shorten the length of contract so the Royal Shakespeare Company would be ―a more
attractive place to work for actors and directors.‖215 Long contracts limited the
networking and audition opportunities for those actors who aspired to better-paying
employment or greater exposure in the entertainment industry; therefore, many actors and
their agents were averse to nine-month contracts. In 2002, Royal Shakespeare Company
had five separate acting companies, so the actors rarely had the sense of cohesion
available to a smaller acting company. But that same season, Michael Boyd, as an
associate director, directed the three parts of Henry VI and Richard III with the same
ensemble of actors. This cohesive unit, amidst a divided company, created an OlivierAward winning production. Greg Doran216 noted in 2002 that the realities of the
entertainment business meant that ―actors are less ready to work away from London for
Gilbert, ―Leasing-out,‖ 518.
Greg Doran was named to succeed Michael Boyd as Artistic Director in 2012.
long; directors are less prepared to cross-cast.‖217 Instead of discarding the principles of
ensemble that required cross-casting (the casting of the same actors in a repertory of
plays) and long contracts, Michael Boyd placed the importance of company over all else.
Boyd‘s anti-zeitgeist focus on actors and audience, rather than directors and
company, attempted to challenge the conventional wisdom of the entertainment industry
in the hopes of producing better quality theatre. As he led the rebuilding of the Royal
Shakespeare Theatre to get the audience closer to the actors, he returned to the practice of
hiring actors for thirty-month contracts to get the ensemble of actors closer to each other.
The first project that he undertook with this ensemble was the same project that he had
undertaken a few years earlier, and the same project that Peter Hall undertook when he
hired actors on three-year contracts, i.e., the complete cycle of Shakespeare‘s History
plays. Boyd reflected on the difficulties of instituting a ―long ensemble‖:
It felt like a very anti-zeitgeist thing to do. And even after some considerable
success with our first project along these guidelines, the Histories Cycle, it can be
seen by some agents as a difficult, daring decision by some actors to take.
They‘re closing down their options. There is a terror, in some ways, of
commitment out there amongst the agents. And, indeed, it affects some of the
actors too. Such a long commitment to your art and craft can be seen as shutting
down your freedom and your choice and I am there at the moment. On the
tipping point between our pursuit of ensemble either being the way forward for
Gilbert, ―Leasing-out,‖ 520.
the RSC or is it going to be a failed idealism. So far it feels like its making
The high-quality productions of Shakespeare‘s lesser-known and less-produced plays,
validated the worth of the ensemble as a way of working. Boyd argued that the ―long
ensemble‖ had shaped the expectations of actors. Before Boyd began the second ―long
ensemble‖ in 2008, he stated, ―I sense we are at a tipping point, and I feel that what we
are doing at the RSC is becoming less anti-Zeitgeist.‖
Many of the actors involved shared similar feelings about the value of the ―long
ensemble.‖ Nick Asbury spoke fondly of how tightly bonded the cast was and how
common their sacrifice and support had become in his book Exit Pursued by a Badger:
An Actor’s Journey through History with Shakespeare. For the final opening night, he
[Press night] seems quite strange now, after two years and two months to be
‗opening‘ a show—ridiculous—but that‘s where we‘re at….We have total faith in
ourselves and each other to be able to do the best we possibly can. Not cockiness
or arrogance. Just belief. And that‘s not just tonight but every performance we
do. This project has abnegated the need for press approbation. We just get on
with it and it‘s very refreshing.219
In addition to this quality of performance among an epic task of performing eight
different plays in as little as three days, the ensemble also allowed a different experience
for the audience. Those audience members were able to appreciate the talents of the
ensemble of actors who each played multiple roles. Boyd also used thematic doubling so
Boyd, ―Making Theater.‖
Asbury, Exit Pursued, 125.
that the resonance of an actor‘s role in one play could influence how s/he was seen in
another. Chuk Iwuji created the epic-sized role of Henry VI in Henry VI, Parts 1, 2, and
3, and in Richard III as Henry‘s ghost. Other actors had a variety of roles. Asbury played
Bushy, Pistol, Lord Somerset, and a bookish 2nd Murderer (in Richard III). These casting
practices gave the audience a deeper appreciation either of the depth of a single character,
or the versatility of an actor. The fact that the actors became accustomed to playing
together over two years further emphasized the confidence in the acting abilities of the
In order to inspire individual actors to work as an ensemble, however, required a
performance schedule so demanding or actors of such great and diverse talents that each
actor could not imagine doing another actor‘s job. As Peter Hall noted in a 1995
On the whole, I think actors have an enormous respect for talent. Even if they
don‘t like somebody, providing the man or woman is a genius they will forgive
them and enjoy working with them. The most important thing about the theatre is
that every actor, however great, is totally dependent on the actors around him, and
unless there is a real sharing, a real sense of support, no actor can play as well as
he could when he is being supported by his fellow.220
Much of this support, however, came from the diversity of talent in the ensemble, as one
actor from the 2011 season said: ―a great ensemble is where you can do what I can‘t do.‖
The ensemble mentality at the Royal Shakespeare Company, therefore, derived from
Peter Hall, ―Chekhov, Shakespeare, the Ensemble and the Company,‖ New Theatre Quarterly 11, no. 43
(1995): 207.
actors confronting their own limitations and needing the support of others to attain artistic
The second hiring of a ―long ensemble‖ revealed that the practices of the
commercial theatre, and the demands of the directors, conflicted with the conditions
necessary to foster an ensemble. For the 2009-2011 season an ensemble of actors was
hired on a thirty-month contract to perform in King Lear (dir. David Farr), As You Like It
(dir. Michael Boyd), A Winter’s Tale (dir. David Farr), Julius Caesar (dir. Lucy Bailey),
and Romeo and Juliet (dir. Rupert Goold), with the possibility of also performing in the
Young Person‘s Shakespeare 75-minute Hamlet. Instead of Boyd having the freedom
and responsibility to cast the actors in the ensemble in roles as he saw fit (or establishing
his priority to cast the company before the directors),221 each of the directors maintained
their responsibility to casting their own show as strongly as possible. For instance, Greg
Hicks, one of the strongest actors in the ensemble, assumed the roles of Leontes, Julius
Caesar, and King Lear. Because of his talent and experience, many of the directors
wanted him in their leading roles. Most reviewers, who were trained to analyze shows,
not ensemble acting, supported this policy and remarked that some actors were ill-suited
for some of their roles.222 Although the actors were best served by sharing
responsibilities for large and small roles alike, most directors did not want to take the risk
of casting less-experienced actors in leading roles. Ultimately, the quality of the play was
the thing that caught the conscience of the directors, not the company‘s development.
Boyd, ―Making Theater.‖
Charles Isherwood, ―Theater Talkback: A Final Scorecard for the RSC,‖ New York Times Arts Beat
(blog), August 18, 2011, accessed July 28, 2012,
The splitting of the ensemble between the visions of several directors caused
many challenges to the building of a cohesive ensemble. Actors spent less time together,
and most actors were only in two or three of the five shows rather than seven of eight.
Further, there were no common McGuffins for the actors to train together. Whereas the
previous ensemble was praised for its cohesion, critic David Jays of the Guardian
commented of the second ensemble: ―despite many engaging performances in the four
shows I've seen so far, I don't sense cohesion or common purpose. The actors may have
lived in each other's pockets, but their work lacks the dense intimacy I'd expected.‖223
Although working with a new director each show would be typical for actors working in
the professional theatre, since the plays were presented in repertory, the actors often had
to rehearse with one director‘s style in the morning and then another director‘s style in
the evening. For instance, although Michael Boyd and Rupert Goold both encouraged
actor input, they approached rehearsals incredibly differently. Boyd encouraged
discarding former choices and always trying new interpretations; Goold gave a structured
visual and conceptual framework in which the actors could contribute. Boyd encouraged
all actors to have input in all parts of the play; director David Farr sometimes had private
conversations with Greg Hicks in the midst of King Lear rehearsals. Since all actors
attempted to make their directors happy by fulfilling their demands, spoken or unspoken,
the shifting between styles and expectations caused considerable strain and frustration.
David Jays, ―Are the RSC‘s ensemble glory days over?‖ Guardian (Theatre blog), February 1, 2011,
accessed July 28, 2012,
The autonomy of directors diminished the sense of ensemble for the sake of fulfilling
their own visions and working practices.224
Many actors still praised the Royal Shakespeare Company as one of the last
theatres in England that considered itself an ―ensemble‖ company. The Royal
Shakespeare Company‘s dedication to actor development through the training resources it
provided and challenging main and understudy roles increased the actor satisfaction.
However, few actors had a clear understanding of what it meant to be part of the Royal
Shakespeare Company. Although many were excited by the improved quality of the
shows, the new theatre, and the commitment Boyd made to the actors, few saw the
company as an artistic home. The practices of the commercial theatre led directors to
hire only one-third of the actors from the Histories Cycle for the second ―long ensemble.‖
Either actors left to pursue greater fame and financial compensation or directors did not
want to cast them. Without the artificial stability and continuity of a visionary artistic
director, the practices of the self-serving entertainment industry ultimately prevailed.
Rehearsal Practices
For the Young Person‘s Shakespeare production of Taming of the Shrew, the
Royal Shakespeare Company hired director Tim Crouch. Crouch, whose work in plays
like ENGLAND and The Author, is known for having a style of theatre that eliminated
boundaries between character and actor, theatrical and metatheatrical, and actor and
audience. Jacqui O‘Hanlon, head of education, said that the management hired directors
like Crouch for the Young Person‘s Shakespeare because he would have more liberty to
In the 2009-2011 ensemble, two actors resigned from the project not to take other jobs, but to leave a
working environment not conducive to their artistic process.
experiment with the direct actor-audience dynamic that young audiences enjoyed. The
hiring of Crouch, therefore, was an extension of Boyd‘s missions to redefine the actoraudience dynamic and to include the audience more directly in the shows. This style of
performance also accommodated the smaller budget and prop limitations of a touring
production. Crouch had collaborated on many shows before, but this show would be the
first time that he assumed the role of director. With a director opposed to hierarchical
structures and authoritative staging, the rehearsals for The Taming of the Shrew reflected
the artistic vision of Boyd for ensemble and staging practices. However, Crouch‘s
rehearsals began after the actors had worked together with two radically different
directors, so he was prepared to encounter tired actors who might resist his collaborative
His previous work showed a penchant for fuzzy boundaries that had succeeded so
well in previous Young Person‘s Shakespeare tours. In the play ENGLAND, Crouch and
another actor escorted the audience through an art gallery, giving information about the
various pieces on display. Then, the actors guided the audience‘s imaginations when
they spoke in the present tense about the events in the story. They did not act out the
scenes for the audience. Rather they reacted to audience members as if they were the
characters in the play. In The Author, the actors sat among the audience throughout the
play. The actors recounted to the audience the events of ―a violent, shocking, and
abusive play written by a playwright called Tim Crouch‖225 The proximity of the actors,
and the blur of the line between the fictive events of the play and the present theatrical
event, played with the ideas of what was true and fictitious.
Tim Crouch, ―The Author: An Article by Tim Crouch,‖ Tim Crouch Theatre, accessed July 28, 2012,
In the Royal Shakespeare Company‘s 2011 season, Crouch also performed his
one-man shows, I, Peaseblossom, and I, Malvolio. These plays retold of the events of A
Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night from a supporting character‘s point of
view using direct audience address. Rehearsals for The Taming of the Shrew, shared this
focus on the audience and ethos of collaboration derived from his previous work.226 ―I
am an outsider here,‖ Crouch noted, ―and I am sure that‘s one of the reasons they brought
me in.‖227 Although Crouch‘s stagecraft and rehearsals differed from those of other
directors at Royal Shakespeare Company, his performance aesthetic matched Boyd‘s
artistic vision.
The actors in rehearsal for The Taming of the Shrew were not part of the 20092011 long ensemble but the shorter 2011 resident ensemble. These actors played
supporting roles in Merchant of Venice and Macbeth. Both of these shows had opened
after rehearsals with both Rupert Goold and Michael Boyd. The less-prestigious Young
Person‘s Shakespeare production of The Taming of the Shrew allowed the nine actors to
take on more large roles in a shorter show.228 The rehearsals were split into two threeweek sessions: three weeks in June and three weeks from August 29th through September
19th. Therefore, instead of jumping into blocking, Crouch spent these first few weeks to
Crouch also noted that he was able to buck trends of the RSC‘s machinery of theatrical production
because it was a touring show. Saying ―my work is dematerialized,‖ he gladly ignored the massive design
possibilities for discussions between actors and designers to help get only design elements that actors
Tim Crouch, interview by Andrew Blasenak, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK, June 16, 2011.
Crouch was originally asked to direct Henry V, but he was not interested in the play. When he
suggested The Taming of the Shrew, the initial reaction was that it was not suitable for the student age
range, but Crouch provided a cutting of the script that emphasized the youth and unhappiness of the
characters and the unfair family dynamics throughout that made the play suitable in Crouch‘s opinion. The
nine actor in the show were: Nikesh Patel (Petruchio) and Madeline Appiah, (Katherina); Jamie Beamish
(Christopher Sly); Caroline Martin (Baptista), Jason Morell (Grumio/Gremio), David McGranaghan
(Lucentio), Daniel Percival (Tranio), Emily Plumtree (Bianca) and Daniel Rose (Hortensio).
learn about the actors and to start improvising character relationships. He wanted to set
the actors on a path of exploration that could help them improvise blocking and develop
character in later rehearsals. Crouch immediately realized how tired the actors were from
having been in rehearsals and performances for two other shows. He was glad, therefore,
to have time to introduce the actors to his priorities and ways of working and then give
them time to work on their own.
Since The Taming of the Shrew was inspired by the practices of the Stand Up For
Shakespeare education program, the actors had the additional task of learning the
educational programs as well as the show. The first week of rehearsal, therefore, showed
the company preparing for performance in educational settings, learning Crouch‘s way of
working, and exploring some blocking and character choices.
In the first rehearsal, Crouch and members of the education department
introduced actors to elements of the Stand Up for Shakespeare curriculum. Crouch asked
the actors to recall their school experiences with Shakespeare, and most actors described
dreadful reading experiences. The actors‘ dread of reading contrasted to their joy of
performing in Shakespeare‘s plays, and they were encouraged to help students make a
similar discovery by undergoing the process of performing small bits of Shakespeare‘s
texts. After this background discussion, members of the education department introduced
actors to theatre games to be used in the classrooms such as expressing through gesture
emotionally descriptive words and creating tableaux that communicated themes of the
play. In the final exercise, inspired by Augusto Boal‘s theatre of the oppressed, a member
of the education department pretended to be a school superintendent concerned with the
themes of The Taming of the Shrew. Actors were encouraged to offer advice or step in as
the representative of the Royal Shakespeare Company, but one actor easily handled the
imagined superintendent‘s imagined concerns.
This first rehearsal frustrated several of the actors. In rehearsal the actors did not
complain, but backstage during evening performances, they spoke negatively about the
exercises and questioned the utility of such a day. They were only concerned with doing
the work of professional actors: staging the shows. The theatre games, the mock
interview, and the personal introductions did not have a clear connection to blocking or
character development. The actors wanted to rehearse, not to pretend that they were back
in school.
In the second rehearsal, Crouch addressed the actors‘ frustrations. Crouch
explained that the exercises attempted to build sensitivity to the student needs. Quickly
moving on, Crouch jumped into the open and collaborative rehearsal. Crouch established
the stage dimensions and asked the actors to imagine the audience sitting on the floor on
three sides of the stage. Typical of his boundary-free blocking, he sat actors in the
audience to begin the play. On stage, he asked the actors to help define the elements of
the set as Bianca‘s and Katherine‘s bedroom for the purpose of an extended pre-show
improvisation. The actresses used masking tape to define their portion of the bedroom as
their character would. The ensuing argument over how to divide the room helped the
actresses improvise conflicts and clarify character relationships.
Crouch asked actors questions to develop their characters with a sense of
playfulness. He asked actors to find songs that expressed their character that could be
played on a practical stereo/iPod dock during the show. He prompted actors to consider
what small prop might help the audience understand their characters. Crouch also
allowed other actors to voice opinions on what props or actions would suit Katherine and
Bianca. The actress playing Katherine was excited by the choice to read a book, while
the actress playing Bianca embraced the suggestion that she constantly text on her mobile
phone while listening to garish pop music. Crouch and the actors discussed the actions
and status relationships of sisters before asking the actresses to improvise a scene that
would establish the character relationship of Katherine and Bianca. Crouch explained
that the improvisation could last as long as ten minutes before the performance of The
Taming of the Shrew. Just as Crouch tried to blur the lines between actor and audience
during performance, he tried to blur the distinction between the beginning of the play and
the continued life of the characters.
Once Crouch established the sisters‘ dynamic he introduced one of the key
characters: Christopher Sly. Crouch used this framing character to disrupt the theatrical
frame as Sly drunkenly stumbled across the stage during the sisters‘ improvisation.229
The actors rehearsed this improvisation and concluded as Crouch asked them to ―log the
stuff you think is working well and always try new stuff.‖ Rather than giving a speech of
his directorial vision, Crouch established himself as a collaborative leader of an ensemble
who prodded actors to try new ideas. He also gave the actors license to push the
boundaries of naturalistic acting by saying ―it is a joy to play it big, and this play can be
played big.‖ He challenged the actors to step outside of their usual habits and reinforced
the character choices and actions that worked for him.
This sort of working reflected the culture that Michael Boyd sought to build.
Several actors noted that the company was much more democratic in its approach under
Crouch noted that the audience could accept two realities ―beautifully,‖ i.e. both the ―notated fictional
time‖ and audience-actor reality.
Boyd, with the sense that anyone could perform Shakespeare‘s plays. While Des
McAnuff flattered his actors that it took 10,000 hours of training master any craft, Boyd
encouraged actors who came straight from actor training programs with little or no prior
experience with Shakespeare to trust their own artistic interpretations. This generous,
approachable dynamic that the actors praised counteracted their previous frustration with
directors like Adrian Noble.
Actors of the Royal Shakespeare Company were excited to work with different
directors, but the conflicting styles of Rupert Goold and Michael Boyd rarely satisfied
actors in both rehearsals. Rupert Goold, director of The Merchant of Venice, had a clear
vision of the performance before rehearsals began, and some remarked that he did not
seem to need the long rehearsal period preferred by Boyd. Goold worked at an intense
pace directing actors in their blocking. He provided the visual framework and design to
tell the story he envisioned, but freely left to the actors the development of character,
motivation, examination of given circumstances, and the moment-to-moment acting.
Boyd, however, consulted with actors about their character choices and interpretation of
the play. He resisted setting blocking even up until final dress rehearsals so that actors
could continue to have freedom to explore possibilities of staging and character
The conflicting working styles of the two plays that rehearsed simultaneously
frustrated some actors. Actors had to meet the conflicting expectations of separate
directors as they switched between directors in a single day of rehearsals. The workload
of the actors was not equitable because the actors playing Portia, Shylock, Macbeth and
Lady Macbeth were only in one show. Actors playing roles in both plays felt that they
had to do twice as much work in half the rehearsal time. The perception of unfair
practices and the struggle to switch between various director styles undercut the cohesion
of the ensemble and the actors‘ confidence in performance.
Boyd‘s style of direction challenged actors accustomed to the production styles of
Goold that reflected the practices of the commercial theatre. The continual consultation
with the actors and resistance to setting blocking often denied the steady sense of
accomplishment that accompanied other rehearsal processes where actors set the
moments that ―worked‖ in previous rehearsals. Actors became anxious when they could
not figure out how to please both directors. As one actor noted, the actors wanted to
learn the rules that a director worked by, and then get positive reinforcement from
performing the way the director wanted. Boyd‘s attempt to change the power dynamics
of rehearsal to be more ―democratic,‖ some actors simply saw his approach as yet another
set of director‘s rules that they had to fulfill in order to have confidence in their
performance and future employment. These attitudes of professional actors were
dissonant with the theatre Boyd was hoping to create, one where actors were active
interpreters of the full play, not just doing their own part.
Crouch prioritized the well-being of his actors in order to encourage their
collaboration in rehearsal. During the first week of rehearsals he set up individual times
to meet with each actor in order to discuss their mental, physical, and creative states.
Amidst the general complaints of the session with the education department, one actor
told him that he did not want to be in rehearsal for The Taming of the Shrew. Crouch was
glad to hear even the actor‘s negative feelings so that he could better understand the
actors‘ responses in his collaborative rehearsals.
Crouch had developed a supportive relationship with the actors well in advance of
rehearsals. Before rehearsals began for The Taming of the Shrew, the ensemble had been
rehearsing and performing together for five months. They had established personal and
status relationships. Crouch knew that he would be at a disadvantage not knowing this
ahead of time, so he tried to position himself as an ally of the actors. Before rehearsals,
he discussed the play with actors via email and sent them good-luck cards on the opening
nights of Merchant of Venice and Macbeth. He supported their creative talents not only
to allow them to contribute freely to rehearsal, but because he believed that was the
proper way of treating people. Crouch said, ―[it] doesn‘t matter if the work is better for
it, humanity is better for it.‖230 This realignment of priorities helped actors to invest their
creative efforts in rehearsal more freely. The confidence of the collaborative actors
appeared at one point in rehearsal was when Crouch asked, ―who‘s the fucking director,‖
and one actor answered positively, ―we all are.‖
Crouch had never worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company‘s voice, text, or
movement coaches in rehearsal. The coaches approached him before rehearsal and said
―if you need us, we are here.‖ Crouch decided how or whether to use them. Although
one voice coach attended a rehearsal in the first week, Crouch said he did not feel as if he
needed them yet. He assumed that if actors knew what they were doing they would use
their voices properly.
Crouch extended these inclusive principles in the third rehearsal, an open
rehearsal for local teachers involved in the education programs. Crouch asked that each
of the observers bring a gift to the rehearsal. As the teachers and observers offered jaffa
Tim Crouch, interview.
cakes, artwork and tea, they physicalized the idea that they were supporters, not judges,
of the actors. The day started with two theatre games: ―Mashed potato‖ which
encouraged big acting choices, and ―paper cup‖ which encouraged simplicity of action on
stage. These games built a vocabulary that Crouch used in future rehearsals.231 The
actors returned to the extended improvisations with the aim of transitioning into the first
scene. The nature of Sly‘s disruption was further developed as Crouch asked them to
treat him as if he did not belong in the world of the play. They were able to tell him to
get off of the stage as Katherine and Bianca as well as annoyed actresses who were trying
to perform.
Because Crouch challenged the rehearsal practices at the Royal Shakespeare
Company, he was hired. He paid attention to the well-being of the ensemble. He paid
attention to the actors. He developed the show collaboratively. He allowed actors‘
personalities as well as their character interpretations to be part of their performance.
Crouch encouraged actors to express their own opinions. He trained the actors to respond
to the audience and each other so that they would adapt to young audiences in
performance. His style extended the power of the show creation to the imaginations of
the audience. It also undercut the expectation that a play was a fixed product that
audiences only watched and became a room in which actors and audience built,
disrupted, and reformed the events of the plot. In the relinquishing of control to the
audience, the rehearsal had to change to get actors to be mentally flexible in their
Another choice phrasing was ―your idea is strong and not wrong‖ and ―your idea is strong and wrong‖
which allowed the actors and director to talk about choices, not people when applying criticism.
preparation. This style worked well with the young audiences, and Crouch was rehired to
direct the Young People‘s Shakespeare production of King Lear for the 2012 season.232
Crouch also continued to work with the RSC in his 2012 solo show I, Cinna (the Poet), a piece
accompanying Julius Caesar.
Chapter 5: Shakespeare & Company
Legacy and Continuity
In 1978, Tina Packer and a group of master teachers founded Shakespeare &
Company in Lenox, Massachusetts to revolutionize actor training and performance
through the integration of voice, body, intellect and emotions in the rehearsal and
performance of Shakespeare‘s plays. Packer also explored management practices that
reflected the dynamics of collaborative rehearsals. All actors assumed administrative
duties in addition to their roles for performance. The unique training experience and the
artistic quality of the shows attracted actors who worked long hours for little pay. These
structures encouraged ensemble principles in the dedicated actors who sacrificed other
opportunities and better pay to work with the company. In 2010, when Tony Simotes
became the artistic director, the company produced a repertory of seventeen plays each
year, ran far-reaching educational programs, and offered several professional actortraining courses. This larger company could not maintain the cohesive ensemble that
earned the company its reputation. The core ethos and signature rehearsal techniques
developed from 1978 to 1988 continued to attract and inspire actors, even though the
company had adopted some of the hiring and rehearsal practices of the commercial
Tina Packer founded the company after she became frustrated with the acting
techniques and management styles of her successful theatre and television career.
Packer‘s professional acting career began in 1965 when she was awarded a three-year
contract as an associate artist at the Royal Shakespeare Company. She enjoyed working
on Shakespeare‘s plays because his ―terrific philosophical ideas‖ rewarded her emotional
and intellectual investigation of his words.233 She worked with John Barton and learned
his text analysis and acting techniques for Shakespeare‘s plays. She received challenging
roles and enjoyed the ensemble principles, but she later reflected:
It‘s very hard for people not to be unhappy in a theater group…I was happy but I
saw other actors being promised roles and then not getting them. There would be
a dispute about something, all the Associate Artists would meet to discuss it and
find a solution, and then our director, Peter Hall, would say it was just not
possible to use it. All of us would then get up in arms. I couldn‘t understand then
why the greatest theater company in the world shouldn‘t also be the
happiest…Now I‘m more tolerant.234
At the age of twenty-nine, she realized that ―what I really wanted to do was to develop
my own style of doing Shakespeare.‖235 When she began her own company, she sought
to invent non-hierarchical management practices as well as an ensemble of actors who
233 Helen Epstein, The Companies She Keeps: Tina Packer Builds a Theater (Cambridge, MA: Plunkett
Lake Press, 1985), 23.
234 Epstein, Companies She Keeps, 26.
235 Epstein, Companies She Keeps, 30.
would develop an approach to Shakespeare‘s plays that incorporated the strengths of both
English and American actor training.236
Packer first taught acting at the London-Academy of Music and Dramatic Art in
1971. At this school she met fellow teachers Kristin Linklater and B. H. Barry, who were
equally interested in recreating actor training for Shakespeare‘s plays. She also grew to
admire the development of her American students.237 From these experiences, she
proposed the development of a method of working with Shakespeare‘s text that conveyed
both meaning and emotion ―through the emotion contained within the sound of the word
itself.‖238 This proposal attracted the attention of Dick Kapp at the Ford Foundation who
encouraged her to develop her technique. In her 1972 grant proposal to the Ford
Foundation, she argued that actor training was deficient:
I am aware that there are other companies doing Shakespeare, but none are doing
what we are doing. To take the most obvious examples, Mr. Papp‘s company [the
New York Shakespeare Festival, later the New York Public Theatre] and Mr.
Langham‘s company [The Stratford Shakespeare Festival]: the former, while I
admire the actors‘ vigor enormously and feel they often capture Shakespeare in
spirit, are hard put to catch his soul because that is contained in the verse which
Mr. Papp‘s men seem to fear; and the latter, while admirable in many respects,
perpetuates the English Shakespearean acting tradition which even over here (in
England) is obsolete and in the States can only be a false grafting without
Packer argued that English actor training which focused on text analysis and vocal and physical
techniques did not engage the depth of emotion that American actors used. Likewise, the American actors,
she argued, lacked the knowledge of how to use the structure of complex texts like Shakespeare‘s plays.
237 Epstein, Companies She Keeps, 37.
238 Epstein, Companies She Keeps, 32.
reference to a strong indigenous roots of American theatre. And neither company
has the intention, or the time, to explore new approaches to the text that require
re-training in actual acting methods.239
In addition to this vision, she had the support of Peter Hall who wrote ―cross fertilization
of new American talents with the craft and expertise of the English Shakespeare tradition
is something that can do nothing but good.‖240 She won the grant. Her training program
combined a group of actors and master teachers, John Barton, John Broome, B. H. Barry,
and Kristin Linklater, who would work as ―one organic whole‖ rather than so many
separated specializations.241 In 1973, however, this training failed to translate into a
noteworthy performance.
In the second attempt in 1978, Packer directed A Midsummer Night’s Dream and
began the first of many artistically successful seasons. Packer had several members of
the acting company at New York University in a production of ―The Wars of the Roses,‖
a conflation of many parts of Shakespeare‘s History plays. Many of the students that she
taught and directed were inspired by her approach to Shakespeare‘s plays, and willingly
sacrificed other opportunities for the chance to continue working with her and the other
master teachers. One of these students, Tony Simotes, walked away from a role in All’s
Well That Ends Well at The New York Public Theatre because he ―was not dreaming
about the play.‖242 Dennis Krausnick, the head of training, decided to join the company
instead of continuing his studies toward a Jesuit priesthood. Five of the actors even
239 Epstein, Companies She Keeps, 35.
240 Epstein, Companies She Keeps, 38.
241 Epstein, Companies She Keeps, 38.
242 Tony Simotes, interview by Andrew Blasenak, Lenox, MA, May 28, 2011.
signed on to stay with Krausnick at The Mount, Edith Wharton‘s crumbling estate,
through the winter in dedication to the company.
The company of actors felt that they shared the revolutionary spirit embodied by
the Group Theatre in The Fervent Years.243 They also thought the shows and practices of
Broadway to be unoriginal and bad. The plays of Shakespeare and the quality instruction
from master teachers compensated for the poor living conditions at The Mount, low pay,
and long hours. A Midsummer Night’s Dream rehearsed for ten days with actors who
knew the play and Packer‘s working methods. The production was so successful
artistically that it started to build local support.
Throughout the next ten years, the actors and teachers worked together to create
the theatre company that they envisioned with Packer. She and the teachers sought to
make use of Shakespeare‘s verse and rhetoric to inform a character‘s emotional and
psychological circumstances. They also revitalized the extra-textual clowning heritage in
many of Shakespeare‘s plays. Linklater continued exploring the connection between the
sounds of words and the emotions of the actors. Packer encouraged actors to ignore
traditional interpretations of their roles and to use their own sensibilities to interpret the
words of the play. The gender-blind and race-blind casting practices further strengthened
this need for individual actors to innovate new character interpretations through their own
sensibilities. Packer also fought the enervating practices of rehearsal and performance in
the commercial theatre. As Natsuko Ohama stated:
Tina is my favorite director because she is not as form-directed as other directors.
There are many actors for whom this is a problem. They want more of a structure
243 Simotes, interview.
than she provides. But for me, her way of working is incredible. I have a real
sense of creation in every performance. Most shows you see are geared toward
opening night. They‘re set. And then, gradually, the performances die. Our
productions always seem to get better so that, by the end, we are doing our best
shows instead of being glad it‘s over.244
In rehearsals and performances, as with the acting techniques and classes, Packer and
company balanced forms (verse, text, stages) and freedoms (improvisation, artistic
sensibility, revision).
Packer and the expert teachers crafted techniques for contemporary performance,
but they did so under a Romantic interpretation of the Elizabethan theatre and culture.
The vision statement argued that Shakespeare‘s theatre was directly relevant to their
audiences. The vision was:
To create a theatre of unprecedented excellence rooted in the Elizabethan ideals of
inquiry, balance, and harmony, performing as the Elizabethans did; in love with
poetry, physical prowess, and the mysteries of the universe. To establish a theatre
company which, by its commitment to the creative impulse, is a revolutionary
force in society, which connects the truths of the past to the challenges and
possibilities of today, which finds its source in the performance of Shakespeare's
plays, and reaches the widest possible audience through training and education as
well as performance.245
244 Epstein, Companies She Keeps, 92.
245 ―Mission, Vision, and Values Statement,‖ Shakespeare & Company, accessed July 27, 2012,
By reaching back to the questions Shakespeare raised in his plays, the actors and
directors of the company hoped to connect their audiences to the creative engagement
with contemporary issues.
Because of the quality of the performance and training experiences, actors
willingly assumed administrative duties246 in publicity, box office, education, and even
gardening.247 Packer credited this group effort as the reason Shakespeare & Company
succeeded through the early years:
there have been a hell of a lot of people all pushing in the same direction here and
it wouldn‘t have happened without them either. If one person can‘t do something,
there‘s always been someone else to step in for them. It‘s the collective spirit that
has allowed us to survive.248
The company-wide commitment to the success of the company revealed the value actors
found in the rehearsals, training, and performance. As some long-term company
members noted, they had to stop thinking of themselves solely as actors and had to
redefine their identities to include various other jobs as well, such as education,
management, or even development and box office. Whereas the commercial theatre
emulated industrialized models that rewarded specialization and interchangeability, the
Shakespeare & Company model rewarded development of the present talent and diversity
of education and training. The actors‘ positive artistic experiences influenced their
246 In the 2011 season, some equity actors who had restrictions on the number of hours they could work
only performed their roles and did not have additional administrative duties.
247 When approaching the box office on a visit to Shakespeare & Company, Dennis Krausnick, a founding
member of the company and head of training, was planting flowers out front.
248 Epstein, Companies She Keeps, 104.
willingness to develop administrative talents, but the company ethos of self-discovery
and improvement encouraged actors to reevaluate their career goals beyond performance.
Training programs for professional actors helped the company meet the costs of
productions and actor and teacher salaries. The master teachers, and their followers,
offered professional actor training that integrated various traditions and techniques for
voice, text, and movement through a focus on Shakespeare‘s texts. Shakespeare was not
the reason for actor training, but his texts used elements of poetry, verse, complex
diction, as well as clown, combat and dance. Richard Dreyfuss stated in 1979: ―I have
come here because it gives me an opportunity to explore every facet of the actor‘s
equipment, and integrate them through the astounding medium of Shakespeare‘s
Educational programs for local students helped sustain the company‘s finances
and kept the ensemble actors employed when they were not in rehearsal. Kevin
Coleman, who began as an actor with the company, developed the education program
from the questions and techniques used in rehearsals. In 2011, the education program
reached over 40,000 students per year,250 and included award-winning programs like
Shakespeare in the Courts. Programs like these mirror the company‘s use of Shakespeare
to realize their own artistic goals, rather than attempting to honor the playwright. The use
of Shakespeare‘s text gave students a chance to discover their own thoughts and feelings
249 Epstein, Companies She Keeps, 84.
The company estimated that over one million elementary, middle, and high school students took part in
the education programs between 1978 and 2012. ―Education.‖ Shakespeare & Company, accessed July 27,
by confronting the language and dramatic situations in the text. One student said: ―the
whole project is particularly meaningful because it helped me figure out me.‖251
In 2011, the company still shared the ethos of personal discovery through the texts
of Shakespeare for actors, workshop participants, and students alike, but the rehearsal and
hiring practices more closely resembled those of the commercial theatre. When Tony
Simotes became artistic director, he reduced the size of the company and payroll while
increasing ticket sales and achieving critical success. Simotes maintained a core of longterm company actors and directors, but often hired actors who had neither worked nor
trained with the company before. Equity contracts also prohibited some actors from
assuming the administrative duties. Several actors argued that the division of artistic and
administrative duties to specialized personnel benefitted the quality of both. The ethos of
the company did not reflect the revolutionary spirit of the early years; rather, the actors
and directors committed to applying their techniques and experience to rehearsal as they
would in the rehearsal room of any company. The training of the company lived in the
artists who rehearsed and taught for the company and the thousands of professional actors
who had trained with them. The practices, though grounded in the ethos and training of
the company, accommodated the large repertory of plays, numerous actors, and diversity
of visions like any large Shakespeare company.
Stages and Stagecraft
Because the aesthetic of Shakespeare & Company featured the actors and the
company training, the theatre used bare thrust stages and imaginative blocking solutions
251 ―Education.‖ Shakespeare & Company, accessed July 27, 2012,
rather than illusory stagecraft. From 1978 to 2001, the company renovated and
performed in the mansion and on the grounds of Edith Wharton‘s former estate, The
Mount. A small stage erected at the edge of a grove of trees was the setting for the
summer Shakespeare productions. More intimate shows were produced within the rooms
of The Mount. In 2001, the company moved to the property on Kemble Street, the former
Lenox Boys School, where they built new theatres. The company performed primarily in
the flexible-seating Founder‘s Theatre as of 2001, the black box Elayne P. Bernstein
Theatre, opened in 2008, and began a project to rebuild The Rose Playhouse252 which due
to budget limitations only included a bare wood platform and three-door frons scenae
under a tent as the Rose Footprint Stage (opened in 2002). Each of these thrust stages put
the actors in close proximity with the audience. The company‘s interpretation of the
Elizabethan theatre as one of shared communication of actor and audience, these stages
encouraged such a dynamic without allowing room or resources for extensive set design.
The intense focus on the actor and limited design budget253 were apparent in the
1978 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on the grounds of The Mount (Figure
24). The pastoral setting served as the set of the play. Costumes were simple. A few
lights hung from trees. The performance relied on the actors‘ emotionally invested
interpretations of Shakespeare‘s text and vigorous physical movement in tumbling and
clowning. 254 The audience responded enthusiastically, both in print and in financial
contributions. Through the next thirty-five years the budgets increased and designers
252 The foundations of the Rose Playhouse were discovered in 1989 and provided the most complete
architectural evidence of an Elizabethan playhouse to date.
253 Packer once noted that ―most directors spend $100,000 on costumes and I spend $8‖ Epstein,
Companies She Keeps, 61. She continued ―but I need money for master teachers and that‘s very expensive.
I also need a place to perform.‖
254 Epstein, Companies She Keeps, 76-77.
were hired, but the company‘s performance style still focused on the simplicity of actors
performing with the audience.
Figure 24: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Directed by Tina Packer 1978, The Mount. Photo Courtesy of
Shakespeare & Company.
The chief performance venue in 2011 was the Founder‘s Theatre that had a
flexible seating arrangement for over four hundred audience members. In the 2011
season, the stage was set as a three-quarter thrust with entrances from the downstage left
and downstage right vomitoria. The configuration mirrored the Swan Theatre at the
Royal Shakespeare Company as the audience abutted the stage on three sides. A narrow
balcony wrapped around the theatre above these seats. Due to the proximity of the
audience to the stage, audience members shared the light spilling from the stage, which
encouraged actors to speak directly to them (Figure 25). Upstage center, a two-level
scaffold held designs for the shows. It also allowed for actors to play on different levels
and even use as a jungle gym.255 The blocking, however, often sent actors downstage
toward the audience. Actors entered with vigor from upstage or the vomitoria toward the
center of the often-uncluttered stage. The bare stage and visible audience demanded that
the actors use their bodies as well as their words to create character, conflict, and
Figure 25: As You Like It, Founders Theatre, 2011. Featuring Merrit Janson. Photo courtesy of Shakespeare &
Company, Lenox, MA. Photo by Kevin Sprague and Studio Two Design.
255 When Rosalind (Merrit Janson) was reading Orlando‘s poems, she climbed up the scaffolding, swung
herself upside-down, clutched the paper between her feet and read the poem.
The Founder‘s configuration forced more creativity in the staging of scenes.
Since the balcony/second level of the stage was so far removed from the audience, actors
were encouraged to set the scene with props or imaginative floor patterns. For the famous
balcony scene, in the 2011 Romeo and Juliet, the director did not use the second level of
the upstage scaffold for the balcony. Instead, Juliet stood on a chair in the middle of the
stage, and Romeo crouched below her, pretending to hide underneath her balcony. For
Tony Simotes‘ 2011 As You Like It (Figure 26), the design consisted of benches made to
look like Parisian landmarks: Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower (ca 1920). Actors created
seating arrangements for the court from these benches and cleared them for the wrestling
and woodland scenes. These small and versatile set elements suggested a setting
reinforced by the actors‘ costumes, songs, and dances. For instance, the outlaws in the
woods carried WWI-era rifles and legionnaire caps to create a clear contrast with the
finery of the court. Actors in smaller roles played songs on guitars and mandolins to set
the scene. Because actors defined the setting, the design never overwhelmed their
performance. The design could neither compensate for an actor who was unclear vocally
or uninteresting physically.
Figure 26: As You Like It, Founders Theatre, 2011. Photo courtesy of Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA.
Photo by Kevin Sprague and Studio Two Design.
Other theatres allowed a direct connection between actor and audience with a
light demand for technical elements. In 2008, the company converted a former hockey
rink into an office, rehearsal and performance space, complete with scene shops,
rehearsal rooms built to the dimensions of the Founder‘s Theatre, designer and stage
managers‘ offices, a bar, and the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre. The Bernstein theatre, a
black box, could hold a realistic unit set like the bedroom setting of The Memory of
Water. The realistic design matched the fourth-walled realism of the play, and actors,
though excellent in their performances, rarely spoke to the audience. The set for the
Performance Intern production of Two Gentlemen of Verona, however, had only a couple
of benches and a tennis judge‘s chair as a set. The actors frequently spoke to and moved
into the audience in an attempt to draw the audience members into the show.
Figure 27: Women of Will, Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, 2011, featuring Tina Packer. Photo courtesy of
Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA. Photo by Kevin Sprague and Studio Two Design.
The company‘s focus on actor and audience interaction appeared clearly in the
five-part series Women of Will. In these plays, Packer performed women in scenes
throughout Shakespeare‘s canon to illustrate her narrative describing Shakespeare‘s life
and development as an artist. Packer explained:
I believe the women reflect the development of Shakespeare‘s own
psyche….Shakespeare, being one of the greatest artists who ever lived, is able to
reveal over a 25-year span his mind to us, and this in turn actually exposes on an
archetypal level the development of a universal human psyche.256
In the show she likened her own development as an artist to the development of
Shakespeare‘s ―universal human psyche.‖ These performances showcased the acting
talents of Packer and scene partner Nigel Gore, as well as Packer‘s own biography,
philosophy, and a direct relationship with the audience. The set (Figure 27) held eclectic
set pieces that were used only when needed for each scene. A ladder formed Juliet‘s
balcony. A steamer trunk became the altar in the church where Beatrice collapsed
praying for vengeance. A collection of silken cushions and sheets center stage became
Cleopatra‘s court. This use of these various props invited the audience to use their
imagination to set the scene through the cues contained in Shakespeare‘s language.
Because language defined the space, Packer could easily step out of character and speak
directly to the audience and then, in the fraction of a second, resume the playing of the
scene. The lack of definition in the setting also allowed a particularly virtuosic mash-up
of a scene of Rosalind and Orland interwoven with a scene between Desdemona and
Othello. The bare stage and direct address to the audience, which were parts of the
company‘s stagecraft from the beginning, allowed Packer to demonstrate the entire canon
of Shakespeare‘s women rapidly and fluidly.
256 Tina Packer, ―Author‘s Note,‖ Theatre Program for Women of Will (Lenox, MA: Shakespeare &
Company, May 27, 2011).
Figure 28: Tartuffe, The Rose Footprint Stage, 2012. Photo courtesy of Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA.
Photo by Kevin Sprague and Studio Two Design.
The Rose Footprint Stage linked the style of the company to the Rose Playhouse
of the 1590s (Figure 28). Based on the architectural dimensions of the foundation of the
Rose Playhouse, the Rose Footprint Stage was the key project in the development of the
International Center for Shakespeare Performance and Studies. It was to become a center
for scholarship and exploration of how the Elizabethan architecture influenced actors and
audiences in performance. The Rose Footprint Stage, however, only added a historical
link to the current practices and stagecraft of the company. Packer‘s argument to build
the Rose reflected a concern to rediscover history for the sake of investigating
contemporary questions. She said:
A theatre is more than a Theatre. It is a place for debate and exchange. It is a
place for education. It is a place for community. At its core is humanity and
understanding. Its contribution is creativity.257
Packer‘s interpretation of the Elizabethan texts and the Elizabethan playhouse both
served the needs of contemporary actors and connections with audiences.
In 2011, the company did not have the funds to build the full replica of the 720seat Rose with traditional building materials and techniques. To begin to experiment with
the staging conditions of the Rose Playhouse, the company erected a wooden stage and
stage house under a tent. The stage house reflected the polygonal shape of the theatre. A
two-story, Tudoresque wooden frons scenae had a large central double-door. Doors stage
right and left angled entrances slightly toward the center of the stage. These entrances,
like the downstage vomitoria in the Founders‘ Theatre, encouraged actors to come into
physical conflict center stage. A row of benches lined the walls of the Rose foundations,
and lawn chairs provided seating for nearly two hundred audience members. Of all the
theatres Shakespeare & Company used, however, the Rose Footprint Stage most
resembled a proscenium theatre. The audience did not surround the stage. Actors made a
virtue of the unfinished playhouse to make entrances from the audience and through the
moorings of the tent. In order to continue their staging tradition of bringing actors and
audience into close proximity, the actors denied the constraints of the historically inspired
The selection of plays for the Rose Footprint Stage often featured physical
comedy and broad playing. It was a stage that accommodated bold physical and
257 ―The Rose Playhouse U.S.A. Project,‖ Shakespeare & Company, accessed July 27, 2012,
character choices. The commedia dell‘arte text The Venetian Twins by Carlo Goldoni
suited the stage since it required only a set of doors and included extensive audience
address. The Dr. Seuss-inspired costumes and the extensive physical activity, including
fights, dances, songs, and chases, helped the actors illuminate this otherwise bare stage.
Many of the actors had trained with the company previously, and they were prepared to
overcome the limitations of the space by focusing on the audience and creating great
specificity in their text and character choices. This bare stage and rough tent setting,
more than other stages, required that the actors keep the audience interested in their
performance through a variety of performance tactics and tactics of variety performance.
They did not rely on intimacy or subtlety or deep personal emotion but relied on pace,
energetic movement and line delivery, and delightful, comically structured plays.
The theatres of Shakespeare & Company focused the audience on the present
actors rather than a recovery of Shakespeare‘s past. Shakespeare & Company‘s
understanding of Shakespeare‘s plays, as founded in the 1960s company principles and
teachers of the Royal Shakespeare Company and developed further by Packer and
Linklater and a solid company of actors, trained actors to take command of Shakespeare‘s
language and bare stages and to direct the audience‘s imagination. Shakespeare &
Company actors and directors retained a vision that communed with the ideas of the
Elizabethan era, but their stagecraft focused on the immediacy of actors and audiences in
the present moment of performance.
Actor Training and Coaching
Shakespeare & Company began with a strong commitment to training and a way
of rehearsing that became more divided and specialized as the company grew. The
training once maintained a group of teachers and actors at the core of the company. From
the success of this way of working, company members became teachers both at the
company and in academic theatre programs throughout the nation. Training at
Shakespeare & Company served as a means of supporting the work of the company as it
continuously sought to discover significant and life-changing lessons through the plays of
Shakespeare. In 2011, the company solidified the methods developed to help actors
make these life-changing discoveries in intense workshops. From weekend single-topic
workshops to month-long and summer-long actor-training intensives, the training
resources provided opportunities for students to learn about Shakespeare and themselves.
Shakespeare & Company‘s training programs were one of the rare examples of a
professional company taking on the role of training on a large, professional scale,258 but
this role developed as a natural offshoot of the founding company.
The company sought to challenge both current modes of management and
theatrical production, and it saw a clear need to develop a sustained program of training
to maintain the company. As Terry Curtis Fox remarked in her 1980 review:
For this theatre—as free in its experimentation as it is strict in its devotion to text,
as concerned with training as it is with performance, permitting such deep and
When Packer applied for the 1972 Ford Foundation Grant, she noted that companies like the Royal
Shakespeare Company and the Stratford Shakespeare Festival had neither the time, resources, nor
inclination to train.
textured work—is not supposed to exist anywhere, much less in the American
equivalent of the greenwood.259
But it did exist. In fact, the retreat away from the pressures of the entertainment industry
(the constant auditions, the search for work, the networking) allowed them to commit
fully to training and performance. This incredible focus, fostered both by teachers and
the lack of competition, allowed the training to develop in a bold and taxing way that
involved stripping away the layers of habit and psychological protection to enable actors
to have a strong emotional connection to their words.
Packer and her coaches saw a need to change actor training. Packer realized that
Strasberg‘s interpretation of Stanislavski was useless for Shakespeare‘s plays.260 She
also saw the need to distance actors from the ―correct‖ Royal Pronunciation way of
speaking she was taught at RADA. Linklater‘s vocal techniques turned from the neutral,
beautiful-sounding speech of Edith Skinner toward embracing the actors‘ natural voice
and its capability to express emotion. Linklater summarized:
Our basic premise is that we are all equipped at birth with voices that can express
every nuance of our emotional life. But as we grow up and are socialized we put
limits on those voices. What you will be doing here is releasing those restraints
that you have created over the years and getting to your natural voice. 261
Epstein, Companies She Keeps, 94.
Tina Packer, interview by Andrew Blasenak, Lenox, MA, June 3, 2011.
Epstein, Companies She Keeps, 108.
In Freeing Shakespeare’s Voice, the book that resulted from her years of
experience, much of it with Shakespeare & Company, she reflected a combined approach
of voice, body, and mind through the exalted focus on Shakespeare:
The basis of all my work is the belief that voice and language belong to the whole
body rather than the head alone and that the function of the voice is to reveal the
self. This book, in consequence, has a more ambitious aim than that of a versespeaking manual. It aims to recondition both mind and body so that the voice can
express the visceral and spiritual urgency that was its subject matter in
Shakespeare‘s day.262
This unified vision of technique sought to address not only vocal production, but the
psychology and artistic philosophies of each student.
At Shakespeare & Company, the individual was the key source of creativity, but
the training sought to create a supportive environment in which actors could express that
creativity. Instead of working to fulfill a director‘s vision, Linklater and Packer sought to
fulfill the actors‘ potential. Packer, inspired by Erhard Seminar Training that sought to
strip away layers of psychological protection and habit, developed a company-wide basis
of ―communal trust‖ where actors could safely take risks and become more emotionally
connected to Shakespeare‘s language.263 With Linklater, Packer developed a practice of
―dropping in‖ that helped actors develop an immediate emotional connection with each
word they spoke: ―they fed the actors one word at a time, had them imagine that they
were breathing the word into their bodies, and asked them to let the word play on
Kristin Linklater, Freeing Shakespeare’s Voice (New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1992), 4.
Epstein, Companies She Keeps, 107.
emotions and memory.‖264 The commitment to this practice petered out over the years as
the company hired more and more people unversed in this type of training.
Additionally, the training included John Barton‘s ―more conventional analysis of
the structure of the verse, teaching the actors to read the clues in the written text by
speaking the verse and examining the implications of punctuation, line endings and
meter.‖265 B. H. Barry taught fight and tumbling. John Broome developed movement.
The company also developed ―personalization.‖ Instead of focusing on recovering a
traditional interpretation of a role, actors were encouraged to craft the role solely based
on how they viewed the role from their own real-life experience. Several of the original
participating actors were trained in Stanislavski-based (Stella Adler) naturalism with
Olympia Dukakis and Peter Cass who had valued greater actor input in the process. 266
Simotes noted that this basis was not ignored but augmented through the extensive work
with teachers of techniques. This support continued in 2011, as the company handbook
advertised to new actors: ―The symbiosis of performance, training, and education creates
clarity and a deepening of experience critical to a healthy company, and enhances the
creative impulse.‖
The value of the training emphasis of the company contributed to the
development of more skilled and daring actors and the creation of a tighter ensemble.
Many of the actors who came to the month-long intensive training had a transformative
experience. Each week, actors had ten to twelve hours of class time per day for six days.
Actors had classes and workshops in ―Text analysis, Voice, Movement, Elizabethan
Epstein, Companies She Keeps, 43.
Epstein, Companies She Keeps, 45.
Simotes, interview.
dance, Alexander Technique, Stage fight, Exploration of the actor/audience relationship,
Sonnet work, Scene work, and In-depth discussions about the function of theatre and the
role of the actor in today's world.‖267 The purpose of this overwhelming schedule,
according to Dennis Krausnick, was to create the ―ah-ha moment.‖ This moment
marked a transition to knowledge when an actor stripped away layers of his or her
psychological defenses and fully embodied a character‘s given circumstances and
expressed their desires with his or her natural voice. Once an actor had an ―ah-ha‖
moment, she or he reformed their definition of what it meant to act. With this discovery,
an actor could focus his or her future rehearsals and role preparation to reach this
performance state again.
The relentless search for self-discovery matched the company‘s search for a
deeper understanding of Shakespeare‘s texts. As Ben Brantley aptly summarized: ―The
company is dedicated to the proposition that Shakespearean speech, a foreign language to
many, can be best understood when its speakers understand it themselves.‖268 Actors
were encouraged to investigate every word that they spoke, with the same intensity of the
practice of dropping in, for the purpose of establishing a deeper emotional connection to
the words in Shakespeare‘s plays. This effort gave them confidence in their ability to
understand Shakespeare‘s plays which allowed the actors a playfulness in performance
with their words and their reactions to their fellow actors.
267―Comprehensive Training: the Month Long Intensive,― Shakespeare & Company, accessed July 27,
268 Ben Brantley, ―Turning Shakespearean Self-Discovery Into Child‘s Play,‖ review of Twelfth Night,
New York Times, August, 29, 2009, accessed July 27, 2012,
The benefits of the training became clear during the first rehearsal of Carlo
Goldoni‘s The Venetian Twins on the Rose footprint stage. The cast had all experienced
a month-long training intensive, and several of them had worked together before. In the
first rehearsal they improvised staging for the entire play with no premeditation or
discussion. They had prepared clear actions and character choices on their own. This
mutual preparation allowed the actors to challenge each other with unexpected and farfetched actions and line interpretations. Instead of spending early rehearsals building
trust and respect among the actors, the actors blocked the play efficiently and joyfully.
Training gave actors a common ethos and working vocabulary that strengthened
the ensemble. When several of the long-term company actors rehearsed together, they
did not indicate their choices to each other. They knew each other well enough to pick up
on aural and visual cues of their partners. This trust arose from training and working
together for many years. Young, untrained actors often lacked confidence in their ability
to be understood by their fellow actors. In beginning rehearsals, they often overacted and
expressed a physical and vocal tension that was not necessary for their roles. The
ensemble made bolder choices that challenged many preconceived (safe and
conventional) notions of what a scene was.
An actor‘s ability to have confidence in his or her craft was one of the most
important aspects of Shakespeare & Company‘s training. The training gave actors
techniques as well as inspirations to use the sounds and structures of Shakespeare‘s
words. Teresa Spencer, upon completing the training, remarked that ―I went from
thinking, ‗I want to be an actor,‘ to knowing, ‗I am an actor‘.‖269 The training unlocked
Shakespeare‘s text and gave actors like Spencer techniques for using their full voice and
body, but it also challenged actors to find themselves in their roles. As Lulu Fogarty,
another alumna remarked, ―it's surprising how quickly we forget to play because we try
to be 'right.‘‖270 Instead of attempting to create a ―right‖ interpretation, actors interpreted
Shakespeare‘s words according to their own real-life circumstances. For instance, Tony
Simotes was initially excited to play Peter, the clown, in Romeo and Juliet, and when the
play changed to A Midsummer Night Dream, and he was recast as Puck, he resisted the
role. He did not want to play an airy fairy that danced around the stage as had appeared
in countless other productions. Instead of circumscribing his performance in the
perceived tradition, he became a most reluctant Puck who made Oberon‘s requests
burdens. The choices he made for his role allowed him to have much more confidence
and ownership of his performance since he was making choices that made sense to him.
This empowerment changed some actors from people who performed the visions of
others to artists who created visions of their own.
The company also benefitted from the raised profile the training brought. The
company trained over eighteen hundred actors from twenty different countries, including
some established and famous actors.271 The reputation for training encouraged one actor
from the 2011 season to ignore both of his agents‘ wishes and sign a four-month summer
269 Teresa Spencer, ―Professional Actor Training: Alumni Response,‖ Shakespeare & Company, accessed
July 27, 2012,
270 Lulu Fogarty, ―Professional Actor Training: Alumni Response,‖ Shakespeare & Company, accessed
July 27, 2012,
Shakespeare & Company‘s famous alumni included Karen Allen, Lauren Ambrose, Gillian Barge,
Alicia Coppola, Richard Cox, Rebecca DeMornay, Richard Dreyfuss, Peter Firth, Karen Glazzer, Jennifer
Grant, Christine Lahti, Andie MacDowell, Maureen McCormick, Joe Morton, Bill Murray, Bronson
Pinchot, Oliver Platt, Diana Quick, Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Rubin, Jane Sibery, Anna Deavere Smith, R.H.
Thompson, Courtney Vance, and Sigourney Weaver
contract with the company. He had never taken workshops or trained with the company
before. Shakespeare & Company‘s reputation convinced him that he would learn better
acting techniques by working with the company, even though he could have earned better
pay elsewhere. This actor benefitted from a good deal of rehearsal time and the support
of voice and fight coaches, but the working conditions of the company did not mesh with
his way of working on a role. At the end of the season, he claimed that he did not learn
about Shakespeare or acting as much as he expected because he felt the director limited
his interpretation of his role. Once the show opened, however, he and the cast adjusted
some of their choices to respond to the audience‘s reaction rather than the director‘s
vision. Through this process, he gained more confidence in his own artistic
Rehearsals allowed little time and resources for training actors. Actors were
expected to have trained before rehearsals, but some actors benefitted from one-on-one
sessions and daily warm-ups with Lizzie Ingram, resident voice coach. Ingram could not
teach a full technique to actors in this limited capacity, but she helped actors achieve
greater specificity and emotional depth in their parts. Shakespeare & Company hired
several actors who had not trained before for the purpose of fulfilling a director‘s view of
the play. Actors, therefore, often had different techniques for performing Shakespeare‘s
plays. This diversity of approach had long been a strength of the company, as Fox noted
in her review of The Tempest: ―[the cast] ranges from conventional rep actor Harris Yulin
to post-Chaikinist Arthurt Strimmling who a few years ago would never meet on the
Anonymous (actor), interview by Andrew Blasenak, Lenox, MA, August, 19, 2011.
same stage.‖273 Actors and directors were often excited by actors with different
interpretations of the purpose of acting and theatre, but the lack of common vocabulary or
rehearsal expectations could slow rehearsals and create friction among new and old
ensemble members. The training allowed for profitable pre-rehearsal preparation, but the
process of rehearsals was a negotiation of actors from varied backgrounds attempting to
stage a play.
Shakespeare & Company was a company founded with a mission to explore the
ways of rehearsing and performing Shakespeare‘s plays. As those discoveries became a
teachable system of exercises, the company offered them as training to other actors.
These exercises increased the actors‘ confidence in their technique and their artistry. The
large number of positive training experiences raised the profile of the company in the
professional acting world which allowed them to attract a variety of talented and diverse
actors. However, when the company cast actors who had not had the training, the
benefits of sharing a common approach and vocabulary diminished.
Ensemble Acting
The principles of ensemble at Shakespeare & Company were largely a product of
innovative training and established performance techniques. Tina Packer founded the
company structure as a means of challenging the strictly hierarchical models of company
management. She was frustrated with authoritarian figures in her prior acting
experiences and inspired by Shakespeare‘s company of actor-sharers who performed and
ran the company. Each company member assumed artistic roles (actor, director, designer)
Epstein, Companies She Keeps, 94.
and management roles (teacher, administrator, publicist, facilities management). In 2011,
the members of Shakespeare & Company had more specialized duties. Some
administrative staff only managed part of the company. Some Equity actors did not hold
any additional duties. The exceptional group effort of the beginning years, however,
forged an ensemble ethos that valued collective efforts and the development of diverse
The ideal of actor-managers served practical ends as well. All of the senior artistic
leadership of the company (Dennis Krausnick, Kevin Coleman, Tina Packer, Tony
Simotes) had administrative as well as artistic responsibilities. Younger actors received
little executive power, but their artistic fulfillment in rehearsals and performance made
them willing to take on additional administrative duties. The collective sacrifice of time
and effort to ensure the survival of the theatre company reinforced the actors‘ respect and
conflict resolution skills necessary for ensemble rehearsals. However, as the company
has grown to include more actors who sought training and performance experiences, the
distribution of responsibilities and privileges became less equitable.
The company started with a much more solid ensemble of actors working on a
smaller number of shows. By 2011 such a model was untenable in the extensive
performance, training, and education commitments. Shakespeare & Company hired
people solely for administrative tasks to increase the competency and satisfaction of the
people in these positions. On the one hand, many people remarked that the
administrative work was of a better quality when the employee had no acting aspirations.
On the other hand, it lessened the necessity for company members to stop seeing
themselves as mere actors and to start thinking of themselves as members of Shakespeare
& Company. The sense of ownership over the company that came from having
administrative duties as well as artistic ones created as greater buy-in from the actors who
learned to develop skills beyond their acting technique. For instance, Jenna Ware
thought that she would be happier working only as an actress, so she left the company for
a few years. Although she worked steadily, she was not satisfied by the limited
challenges that performing role after role provided her. She returned to Shakespeare &
Company specifically because she found the variety of work more fulfilling than the
specialization required by the commercial theatre. She found Shakespeare & Company
and the teaching, learning, and directing opportunities more fulfilling than the
specialization of an acting career.
The inequitable workload for the actors in the 2011 season inspired inequitable
levels of commitment. During the 2011 nine-show summer season several different
ensembles worked together. The premier ensemble rehearsed Romeo and Juliet and As
You Like It for performance in the Founder‘s Theatre. Nine actors with supporting roles
rehearsed both plays, but several actors with leading roles appeared in only one show.
The ensembles mixed long-term company actors in leading roles, young actors who had
trained and worked with the company in supporting roles, and new actors distributed
amongst the various casting ranks. Romeo, Lady Capulet/Celia. and Tybalt/LeBeau were
all played by actors who had never trained or worked with the company before. For
many of the older characters (Dukes, Princes, Fathers, etc.), veteran actors who had
performed with Shakespeare & Company for many years took up these key roles that
were played by the key actor-sharers in Shakespeare‘s company. The three-actor Hound
of the Baskervilles and six-person The Memory of Water cast long-term company
members who had trained and worked together before, often with a director who had
been with the company for years. Tina Packer held the stage alone in Red Hot Patriot,
and shared it with Nigel Gore for all six plays in her Women of Will series. A group of
junior company actors who had all done some form of training at Shakespeare &
Company performed in Goldoni‘s The Venetian Twins and a revised morality play
EveryActor. Many of these junior actors also held administrative duties. Finally, actors
new to Shakespeare & Company participated in workshops and performed a shortened
version of Two Gentlemen of Verona as part of the Performance Intern Company.
This company structure resembled Shakespeare‘s company, since it had a core of
veteran actors, a host of up-and-coming actors, and new initiates. It differed in the
distribution of roles that reflected the commercial practices of hiring the best actor from
the audition to fit a role. The Romeo and Juliet/As You Like It company reflected this
hybrid of core ensemble with exceptions. The artistic director and a long-term company
director hired actors they knew and trusted for their core of actors. Then, they sought to
hire new actors who suited each director‘s vision of roles they need fulfilled. This
structure more closely resembled the hiring practices of other regional theatres that
maintained a group of actors and added new company members from auditions in major
cities. In many of the smaller roles, the company employed some of their teaching artists
and actors with other duties. Most of these actors accepted this arrangement because they
were content to serve, for a little while, the artistic mission of a company whose work
they admired.
The company that performed on the Rose Footprint stage, and the smaller-cast
productions such as The Memory of Water and The Hound of the Baskervilles that
featured long-term company actors reflected the actor-manager practices of the founding
of the company. Most of these actors had additional duties in administration, education,
publicity, or other shows. For instance, David Joseph, who came to the company after
playing off-Broadway and in national tours, played both twins in The Venetian Twins and
held duties as Director of Sales and Special Events. Most of the Rose Footprint actors
served as education artists. The improvisational style prevalent in performances on the
Rose Footprint stage benefitted from the actors mutual workloads, the lingua franca of
the training, and their prior experiences working together.
The performance intern company learned clown techniques to build cohesion in
the ensemble. Through clowning workshops, the actors improved their performance skills
and established the status and theatrical habits of their fellow actors. Because none of
these actors had worked with Shakespeare & Company or each other before, they lacked
the trust, courage, and confidence apparent in other ensembles. This company most
reflected the practices of the entertainment industry as the actors had the dual task of
building their relationship to the company of actors and the relationship of their
characters to each other.
Because the company had the triple aim of training, performance, and education
since its inception, it reaped benefits from a common ground among actors who had
trained and rehearsed and worked together. The hiring of new actors into the company
ensured that the company produced the best quality shows that it could. Even though
new actors reduced the efficiency of rehearsals among familiar actors, talented actors
often excited the long-term company members. In the 1990s, a shared vocabulary and
rehearsal practice allowed directors to shorten rehearsals from seven weeks to as little as
three weeks. Rehearsals in 2011 for Romeo and Juliet lasted seven weeks. As You Like It
rehearsals lasted five weeks. Much rehearsal time was devoted to working with the new
actors, many of whom stepped into leading roles. Part of the time, actors learned about
techniques like ―dropping in‖ and ―feeding in‖ and had the additional task of trying to
figure out how to benefit from such exercises. The long-term company actors prepared
much of their roles before rehearsals and were skilled in reacting to each other‘s physical
and verbal cues. The scenes blocked with little help from the directors. The actors tried
bold character choices freely and played along. Because the long-term actors shared an
unspoken ethos of the company, younger actors struggled to match the expectations of
their fellow actors. The very pressure to maintain a fresh and ambitious acting company
subverted their ability to maintain a cohesive ensemble.
What attracted actors to the company, as Packer said, was the quality of the shows
and the rehearsal experience.274 Without that nothing else mattered. As Shakespeare &
Company benefited from the success of thirty-four years of production, it grew larger to
accommodate its success. Shakespeare & Company‘s deserved renown for training and
performance methods brought more new members to the company seeking to learn the
performance techniques. One actor in the Performance Intern Company remarked in no
uncertain terms, ―I will be your bitch if you train me.‖275 The worth of the training and
company ethos resonated with actors who wanted to be a part of something significant
that they felt would improve their acting skills and personal satisfaction as artists.
Conversely, some of the new actors in Romeo and Juliet and As You Like It
considered their employment at Shakespeare & Company only a brief stop on their way
Packer, interview.
Anonymous Shakespeare & Company actor, interview by Andrew Blasenak, Lenox, MA, June 1, 2011.
between Boston and New York, or a short hiatus from their career path in television and
film. These actors reflected the commercial theatre: they expected to reap benefits from
working on the show, but did not assume that they needed to train or to obsess over their
homework or to contribute to administrative tasks in order to succeed. The actors who
remained with the company generally believed in its mission and the quality of the work.
This belief made them willingly undertake additional efforts in order to ensure the
survival of the theatre. From the interns to the artistic director, the collective endeavor of
having top quality training and performances, and the jointly-discovered system that
provided it, remained the reason that individuals were willing to sacrifice higher
paychecks, better living conditions, or more centrally located companies.
Shakespeare & Company in 2011 retained elements of its beginnings as an
ensemble acting company while embracing management practices of the commercial
theatre. Ensemble principles arose in the earliest years of the company from the core of
actors who developed Shakespeare & Company‘s rehearsal and performance techniques.
The low budgets and labor-intensive commitments were balanced by the dedication of the
fellow actors and vision of Packer and the teachers. In 2011, several actors joined
Shakespeare & Company due to its artistic reputation rather than any ideals of ensemble
in rehearsal or management. The administrative work, therefore, often conflicted with an
actor‘s vision of their ideal career, especially since not all actors had to share the
administrative responsibility equally. The lack of administrative tasks allowed the
company to attract actors who otherwise would not consider working with the company.
The responsibility of administrative tasks, however, encouraged actors like Jenna Ware to
develop a more rewarding career path. More often, the dislike of a split focus between
administrative and artistic duties, and the inability to advance into roles filled by more
talented actors encouraged actors to leave the company. The company maintained a
commitment to the artistic style of rehearsal and performance which fulfilled the artistic
satisfaction of many actors, but the ensemble management practice only in rare cases
fulfilled the professional satisfaction of these actors.
Rehearsal Practices
The rehearsals at Shakespeare & Company reflect the composition of each of the
companies and the spaces for which they were designed. Rehearsals for the summer
season began for As You Like It and Romeo and Juliet on 24 May 2011. During the same
week, the intern company began training in clown techniques and rehearsing Two
Gentlemen of Verona. On 27 May, rehearsals began for The Venetian Twins on the Rose
Footprint Stage. Each show had a different director, different stages and different actor
contracts. The rehearsals for each show served demands and composition of each
The ensemble rehearsing As You Like It shared several actors with Romeo and
Juliet. These two ensembles rehearsed in similar ways. Each day at 10:30AM, Lizzie
Ingram led a vocal warm-up that was required of all non-equity actors and recommended
to all equity actors. Several, but not all, of the equity actors attended these warm-ups.
Since the companies shared so many actors, the directors alternated days in which they
could work with the full cast. On secondary days, (i.e. when the other show in repertory
had the priority for calling actors) they worked with actors who either were not called, or
who were only in their show. This arrangement allowed the directors and coaches to
work with individuals or small groups of actors on secondary days while having the
luxury of a full cast on primary days. While a collaborative rehearsal process often
prevailed in the primary rehearsals, some of the specialized techniques of Shakespeare &
Company were used on the secondary rehearsals.
Some of these secondary rehearsals included the ―dropping in‖ exercise. This
exercise helped actors explore their associative connections with specific words in their
text. To begin, actors sat in chairs in a relaxed and aligned posture276 and concentrated
on their scene partners. A director then ―fed in‖ lines to an actor. In the ―feeding in‖
exercise, a prompter standing behind an actor spoke the actor‘s lines in short phrases with
a neutral tone. The actor would then repeat the phrase as appropriate to his or her
character‘s circumstances and the reactions of the scene partners. This exercise allowed
the actor to conceptualize his or her character‘s thoughts in images and emotional
connections rather than the denotation of the words. The ―dropping-in‖ exercise further
challenged the actors‘ instinctual connections to the words when a director asked
questions of the meaning of the words as they fed the line to the actor multiple times.
Shakespeare & Company once ―dropped in‖ the full play, but in the 2011 season,
few actors did the exercise. Kevin O‘Donnell ―dropped in‖ Mercutio‘s Queen Mab
speech with the aid of director Daniela Varon. Varon asked O‘Donnell to relax, close his
eyes, and listen to the sounds of the room. The actor did not respond vocally as he was
asked to imagine that he was in Verona with Benvolio, Romeo, and other gentlemen.
The director started ―feeding in‖ small phrases and single words of text. The brevity of
Throughout dropping-in exercise a director would touch parts of the actor‘s body that held tension,
including the joints between head and neck, shoulders, hands, and legs, so as to encourage the actor to relax
this tension.
the phrasing allowed the actor to hear and to feel the sounds of each single word as he
repeated the phrase. To explore emotional and connotative qualities of the words, the
director asked O‘Donnell questions to prompt a different use of the word or phrase. For
instance, Mercutio‘s monologue begins, ―O then I see queen Mab has been with you.‖277
The director got to the word ―I‖ and then asked, ―who is this I?‖ and repeated the word
for the actor, ―I.‖ O‘Donnell responded, ―I,‖ while concentrating on the question.
O‘Donnell was not trying to answer the director‘s question directly; rather he was to let
the question prompt whatever free associations it may as he repeated ―I.‖ By working in
such a detailed way, each word and each sound could inform O‘Donnell‘s character
For the ―dropping in‖ exercise, the directors needed to know how to prompt the
actors and actors needed to know how to respond to the rapid questions and that called
for nearly a subconscious textual exploration.278 ―Dropping in‖ was especially useful
when the director knew the actor well and helped him or her connect to ideas that
resonated. The questions were sometimes personal, like ―Have you ever known anyone
who died in childbirth?‖ and ―were you angry when you were at war?‖ to prompt an actor
to connect to Mercutio‘s words ―midwife‖ and ―soldier.‖ Questions were sometimes
absurd such as, ―what‘s a fairy‘s orgasm like?‖ or otherwise associative, ―ever been on
Law and Order?‖ to prompting the actor‘s response to the word ―lawyer.‖ Other
questions encouraged the actor to consider the homonyms associated with a word like
Romeo and Juliet, 1.4.53.
Varon noted failures of ―dropping in‖ when prompters did not know which questions to ask or when
prompters abused the trust of the actor by repeating psychologically sensitive questions to get an intense
emotional response rather than to inform the character or text. Alternately, actors had to avoid the hypnotic
pace of the questions and remain focused on the task.
―o‘er,‖ meaning ―over,‖ ―or,‖ and ―ore.‖ Afterwards, the actor discussed with the director
the utility of the exercise. He recalled the sensation of making words, noting a lot of M‘s,
N‘s and S‘s, the ―wooshing‖ of the phrasing as the imagery builds faster and faster, as
well as getting a more clear image of what Queen Mab looks like and how that image
changed and deteriorated through the course of the speech.
―Dropping in‖ incorporated the textual analysis of John Barton and the deeper
psychological connections to the spoken words sought by Packer and Linklater. It
allowed actors to explore many different interpretations of a line with minimal
prompting. However, this technique needed actors accustomed to the exercise and
directors who were sensitive to the actors. For this reason, few actors in the 2011 season
used the ―dropping in‖ exercise as part of their rehearsals. Even though ―dropping in‖
was efficient for in-depth text analysis, it took a significant amount of rehearsal time and
did not address the immediate goal of staging the play.
In the five-week rehearsals for As You Like It, director Tony Simotes did not use
the ―dropping in‖ exercise. He began rehearsals alternating between reading the scenes
and blocking them. For Romeo and Juliet, the ―dropping in‖ exercise was used only for
monologues and intimate two-person scenes and only with the actors who requested it.
The ―dropping in‖ exercise, once vital to the rehearsal practices of the company, was
mostly discarded due to restraints of time, lack of common training, and the assumption
that actors were doing similar in-depth text analysis before rehearsals began.
Without time for individual attention in rehearsal, actors often came in with a
good deal of their text analysis complete. In rehearsal, the actors experimented with
ways of reacting to each other and the audience while building their character
relationships. Although this was also the aim and practice of many theatres, the sense of
play and ability to challenge each other by making bold (sometimes disruptive) choices
was more freely practiced by the members of the company who had been there for a long
time and had worked with each other before. Because the company formed its ethos as a
training program, the rehearsal and performance ethos stipulated that the staging of the
play and development of character relations was always incomplete.
The first rehearsal for The Venetian Twins showed the abilities of a tight ensemble
of actors committed to a common way of working. On the first day of rehearsal, the
actors began by ―checking in‖ with each other. In this ensemble-building exercise, the
director asked the actors to ―say what you need to say to be in the room.‖ This exercise
marked the liminal space between the other duties of the actors and the rehearsal that was
about to begin. Many of the actors in The Venetian Twins had administrative duties, so
several of the ―check-ins‖ reflected each actor‘s thoughts about their other tasks. After
the costume designer‘s presentation, the actors did their first read-through, which was
actually a full, improvised staging of the play. This staging was possible, according to
director Jenna Ware, because the actors had ―not just a shared vocabulary, but a shared
faith‖ in the way of working they developed in Shakespeare & Company‘s training
programs. The shared training gave these actors the necessary skills and commitment for
this type of rehearsal where actors tried choices that could bewilder or disrupt the other
actors. For instance, David Joseph played Zanetto, the foolish gentleman,279 with wideeyed idiocy, vociferous cowardice, and lusty avarice. Often, Joseph would invade the
personal space of his fellow actors with such enthusiasm that they had to resist breaking
Joseph doubled as Zanetto‘s twin Tonio, a role that required more courtly behavior.
character with uncontrollable laughter. The actors enjoyed working in this way that
encouraged them to embrace the ridiculousness and farcical confusion of the play. The
session ended with a second ―check-in‖ exercise, this time called ―reinforcement.‖ The
actors said something positive about their work in rehearsal. This exercise gave them a
sense that they had accomplished something.
The actors of the Performance Intern Company did not have the benefit of prior
training or performance experiences with each other. In order to build a sense of
ensemble and provide skills for the performance of Two Gentlemen of Verona, the actors
took workshops together in clowning techniques with Michael Toomey, and did scene
study with Dennis Krausnick. By taking workshops together, this group of actors
discovered each other‘s abilities and temperaments and built a common vocabulary.
However, in such a short amount of time, the disparity of backgrounds and ability levels
easily led to some actors to identify the actors they liked and those they did not. Instead
of guaranteeing mutual respect and knowledge of how to work together, actors gravitated
to the actors they could work with most efficiently rather than those they did not
understand or who challenged them. The guidance of a master teacher and the companywide dedication to ensemble principles mitigated, but did not eliminate, some of these
tendencies. For much of the training, Toomey attempted to physically exhaust the actors
to create the conditions for personal psychological and technical breakthroughs.280
Krausnick did not cast the actors before rehearsals, so he allowed each actor to read many
of the roles as they read through the play together. Together, they encouraged the actors‘
The instructor described the process as ―opening Pandora‘s Box,‖ of clown. They had just seen a
fraction of what was possible and then had to move on to rehearsals.
self-improvement and respect for the ensemble in ways that were rare in the professional
Budget constraints forced several changes during the 2011 season. Each
Founder‘s Theatre show used to have a dedicated voice coach. The 2011 season shared
one, Lizzie Ingram, between both shows. She was not able to attend every rehearsal and
was not fully integrated into the two rehearsal processes. In addition to her daily warmups, she met with actors individually to explore sections of their text with the voice.
Because the rehearsals for As You Like It lasted only four weeks before technical
rehearsals, the company rarely practiced the in-depth exercises that helped create a
greater sense of ensemble. The actors did no training together. After the first readthrough they had no ―table work‖ where the full cast could read and discuss the play.
Actors did not have the extra time to do the ―dropping-in‖ exercise, nor did they often use
the ―feeding-in‖ practice for staging. The rehearsals for were highly dependent on actors
having the confidence and ability to bring in character choices and react to each other in
The brief period of rehearsals for As You Like It tested the abilities of the
ensemble to stage the show in a short amount of time and still make artistically
innovative choices. Tony Simotes, artistic director and director of As You Like It, was a
founding Shakespeare & Company actor. He trusted the actors to offer better
performance choices than he could for their characters. His trust was reinforced by
Shakespeare & Company‘s commitment to the technique of ―personalization.‖ Actors
were to read their roles not through the lens of the history of performance but through the
way the lines spoke to the actor in his or her present circumstances. Character, therefore,
was not a pattern of external behaviors merely, but a reflection of personal motivations
and attitudes. During the first week of rehearsal, the actress playing the melancholy
Jacques rehearsed the scene where Touchstone described his intent to marry Audrey in
order to satisfy his sexual needs. Instead of addressing the line ―Go thou with me, and let
me counsel thee‖281 to Touchstone as a warning about the dangers of marrying a lowerclass woman, this actress addressed the line to Audrey as a warning about the dangers of
marrying an insincere man. Through avoiding a tradition of interpretation in moments
like these, the actors spoke to their current circumstances and found new interpretations
in the play.
The personal approach to character required actors to prepare their roles before
rehearsal, but many of the rehearsal dynamics aimed at fostering the creativity of the
ensemble. On the first day of rehearsal, Simotes did not give a director‘s concept or an
introductory speech. Instead, the actors jumped right into the rehearsal and read the play
through. The read-through allowed the actors to hear each other and to consult other
texts, particularly the First Folio, for alternate line interpretations.282 Simotes reminded
the actors of the short rehearsal period and encouraged them to make choices at home.
During rehearsal, Simotes framed the action of the scenes as ―games‖ that the characters
played, keeping the actors focused on their scene partners and their movement rather than
interpretations of their lines. For instance, when Rosalind meets Orlando for the first
time in act three, scene two, the actors played around with the best way to illustrate the
many signs of a true lover. They also considered ways of incorporating Celia in the
As You Like It, 3.3.78.
Neil Freeman worked with the company to instruct them in a bibliographical background of
Shakespeare‘s original text(s) and the word and punctuation options available in an un-edited version of the
scene even though she had no lines. Simotes posed the actors with this challenge, and
after a few attempts, the actors turned Celia into the model of a ―true lover‖ who had to
make rapid physical shifts to match each verbal description.
The rehearsals were collaborative in several other ways. The directors in each
rehearsal avoided sitting behind a table. They preferred to walk among the actors to
discuss their performance and pose them questions. When working fight scenes, the
director blocked actors not involved in combat while the fight choreographer blocked the
fight. Directors almost always asked questions, rather than giving statements, about the
given circumstances of the characters and the actors‘ intentions. Sometimes, these
questions asked actors to strengthen or revise their interpretations. More often, directors
asked questions as if they did not have an answer so that the actors felt that they had a
strong control over their roles. Most actors valued the freedom to create their own
interpretations, but actors accustomed to pleasing directors often expressed a desire for
directors to tell them what to do.
The directors shared the actors‘ spirit of collaboration. In many repertory
companies, the actors had to be protected from directors who rehearsed beyond
reasonable hours. Kevin Coleman argued that the culture of Shakespeare & Company283
rejected the jealous guarding of actors for individual shows since all directors and actors
were, ostensibly, committed to the same goal: to make the company (not just the shows)
succeed.284 For instance, Coleman received an angry call from the stage manager
because he rehearsed with an actor who was in intense rehearsals for another play. The
stage manager sought to protect the actor, but he did not know that the actor volunteered
Shakespeare & Company was described by one actor as a company ―founded by workaholics.‖
Kevin Coleman, interview by Andrew Blasenak, Lenox, MA, May 29, 2011.
to come in for a short rehearsal with Coleman. The ease with which the actor
volunteered his time showed his dedication to the company and reassured Coleman that
such a rehearsal was not abusive.
Rehearsal practices in 2011 had changed since 1978, but the company maintained
its collaborative ethos (and some of the collaborative exercises) that made it a good place
to work. The rehearsal techniques developed during its earliest years continued to appeal
to developing actors who participated in training. Rehearsals were not designed to help
actors with personal breakthroughs. Rather they were designed to stage the play as
efficiently as possible. The double focus on artistry and efficiency required that much of
the work had to be done by the actors at home. In rehearsal, that preparation met the
reactions of other actors. In performance, the show‘s preparation met the reactions of the
audience. Because actors practiced responding unpremeditatedly to each other in
rehearsal, they were more able to incorporate the audience‘s reactions in the
performances. These rehearsal and performance experiences allowed the company to
keep the actors who enjoyed these ways of working. The actors who remained were
often more passionate about the work than getting more time off.285 This incredible
devotion was the result of the collaborative conditions and actor-centric rehearsal process
that had yielded shows of exceptional artistic merit.
Tony Simotes, interview by Andrew Blasenak, Lenox, MA. June 2, 2011.
Chapter 6: Shakespeare‘s Globe
Figure 29: Shakespeare's Globe, 2010, photo courtesy of Shakespeare’s Globe.
Legacy and Continuity
Shakespeare‘s Globe opened in 1997 in Bankside, Southwark in London,
England, close to the location of the original theatre.286 The American-born actor Sam
Wannamaker, the chief visionary behind the project, founded the Shakespeare Globe
This was not the first attempt to recreate the Globe Playhouse. Other notable examples included one in
the 1912 ―Shakespeare‘s England‖ exhibit at Earl‘s Court that featured actors portraying an Elizabethan
audience, one in the 1934 Chicago World‘s Fair, designed by a student of Ben Iden Payne, Thomas Wood,
The Old Globe in San Diego built in 1935. For more detail, see Falocco, Reimagining Shakespeare’s
Playhouse, 149-154.
Trust in 1970 to raise money to recreate Shakespeare‘s theatre. Many theatre artists and
potential donors were concerned that this American artist would cheapen the cultural
heritage of Shakespeare through the creation of a Shakespearean Disneyland. To
distance the Globe project from rank commercialism, he engaged foremost
Shakespearean scholars, such as Andrew Gurr, and authentic carpentry practices of Peter
McCurdy. A mission of historical authenticity made donors and officials less squeamish
in their support of the project. This foundation also led to the current missions of the
company that encompasses academic research, audience education, and performance.
The directors and actors who performed at Shakespeare‘s Globe (Figure 29) were
more concerned with making Shakespeare‘s plays clear and relatable to contemporary
audiences than reviving an ―authentic‖ Elizabethan theatrical experience. The stagecraft
indicated by a close reading of Shakespeare‘s plays and Elizabethan staging conventions,
limited the practices of directors and designers since they initially could not use
electronically derived sound, lighting effects, or sets. Under Mark Rylance‘s artistic
direction from 1997 to 2005, several actors found little value in the use of authentic
Elizabethan costumes, single-gender casting, and other experiments in Elizabethan
stagecraft.287 The ability to react to contemporary audiences, rather than Elizabethan
conventions, most excited the actors and directors.
When Dominic Dromgoole was
hired as artistic director in 2005, he discarded much of the dedication to the Elizabethan
practices and treated the stage as a blank canvas for directors, designers, and actors to
create staging conventions that fit the architectural demands and technological limitations
of the theatre. Instead of recovering Shakespeare‘s past, Dromgoole focused on the
The use of rushes strewn about the stage, for instance, was historically ―authentic‖ but noisy, distracting,
and, in fights, slippery.
present use of the theatre. As Dromgoole argued: ―modernity is already there because it
is present in the audience.‖288
Figure 30: Henry V at Shakespeare's Globe, 1997, photo courtesy of Shakespeare’s Globe.
Under founding artistic director Mark Rylance, Shakespeare‘s Globe applied
several of Shakespeare‘s staging practices to the production of Shakespeare‘s plays. In
the May 1997 production of Henry V (Figure 30), for instance, Jenny Tiramani led the
construction of historically accurate Elizabethan costumes, sewn and dyed using
historically accurate techniques, including Elizabethan underwear. The historical
costumes on modern actors only minimally informed their stage movements. Other
Dominic Dromgoole, interview by Pat Cerasaro, ―Shakespeare‘s Globe Film Spotlight: Artistic Director
Dominic Dromgoole,‖ Broadway World.Com, August 16, 2011, accessed July 28, 2012,
attempted experiments included the 2004 Romeo and Juliet and the 2005 Troilus and
Cressida wherein actors spoke with the accent and pronunciation used in Shakespeare‘s
London. Musicians composed original songs for historic instruments, including the
sackbut, recorders, and drums, a practice continued under Dromgoole.289
Actors and directors found more value in the visible audience than in these
historic stagecraft practices. Dromgoole maintained the company‘s focus on research and
education, but discarded alienating historical practices in performance. His productions
directors and actors liberty to use the stage as they best saw fit. Consequently, he
attracted stronger actors, directors, designers, and critical praise.290
The relationship of the actors and audience was different from most other theatres
because the lights (whether natural light during the day or electric light by night)
illuminated actors and audience equally. Dromgoole and the actors remarked that the
biggest, and most important character in the play was the audience. The universal
lighting and limited design possibilities of the Globe prevented directors from focusing
the audience‘s attention through the use of lights or large sets. Actors learned to address
the audience directly so as to include their reactions in the play. The limited design also
required that actors guide the audience‘s imagination to set the scenes. As Dromgoole
[Actors must] have a concrete understanding of what [they‘re] saying in [their]
bones. [They] have to understand relationships between people….In the absence
of sets or lights or sound effects, the physical body says: it‘s night time, we‘re in a
Original music also accompanies shows at the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Stratford
Shakespeare Festival, so this practice adapts rather than changes existing theatrical norms.
Dominic Dromgoole, interview by Andrew Blasenak, London, UK, June 22, 2011.
bedroom, there is a window there, it‘s cold, there‘s a breeze running through here.
The body does all that.291
Actors took the responsibility to define all the actions, settings, and words of the play
with little help from design elements.
The audience members were aware of each other as much as the actors. Unlike
other theatres that required the audience to sit back, relax, and enjoy the show, much of
the standing audience at Shakespeare‘s Globe interacted with the actors by making room
for their entrances, hiding them from other characters, or responding to the promptings of
the actors. When not engaged with this activity, the rest of the audience members
watched these improvisational performers. Therefore, the theatrical event at
Shakespeare‘s Globe emphasized the interaction of actors and audience in addition to
Shakespeare‘s plays. Mark Rylance encouraged actors never to set their blocking so that
they would be free to react to each audience. Dromgoole noted that some actors, once
they experienced the reaction of the audience were willing to sacrifice the tempo or plot
of the play in order to garner more attention. The audience remained an important
character in each play, but directors often prohibited actors from pandering to them.292
Dominic Dromgoole‘s approach at the Globe was greatly influenced by his years
of experience in new play development, both with the Peter Hall Company and as artistic
director of the Bush Theatre where he had premiered sixty-five new plays.293 Dromgoole
commissioned plays written specifically for the performance conventions of
Dromgoole, interview by Andrew Blasenak.
The fear of ―pandering,‖ one actor noted, constrained the freedom of actors to react to the audience. The
plays, and the unity a director brought to performance, overshadowed the immediate response to the
―Changing of the Guard: Dromgoole at the Globe,‖, April 21, 2008. Accessed
September 16, 2012,
Shakespeare‘s Globe. In 2011, the Globe had produced five plays set in the past, Anne
Boleyn (2010, 2011), The Globe Mysteries (2011), Bedlam (2010), Helen (2009), A New
World (2009) and two set in modern contexts, The God of Soho (2011) and The Frontline
(2009). Many of these plays used modern language. In the new plays, the performance
conventions of Shakespeare‘s Globe became disassociated from Shakespeare‘s plays.
They represented, instead, innovations within the constraints of Shakespeare‘s original
Dromgoole further disassociated Shakespeare‘s Globe from its historical tradition
by hiring directors who had little previous experience with Shakespeare‘s plays. He
encouraged directors to treat Shakespeare as if he were a modern playwright not a
cultural icon that needed reinvigoration. He described his hiring practice:
[We] try not to work with people who have worked on Shakespeare because most
people who have worked on Shakespeare have been so corrupted by the degree to
which they‘re given influence, the degree to which they‘re expected to control the
production with a concept or with a ―vision.‖…What we tend to do is go with
people who have worked with new plays and new writers….If you‘re working on
new plays your job as director isn‘t to say ―hello, look at me, aren‘t I fabulous‖
your job is to say ―isn‘t this play fabulous.‖294
The emphasis on realization rather than interpretation of Shakespeare‘s plays encouraged
actors and directors to simplify their approach to the plays. Dromgoole argued that
Shakespeare‘s plays as interpreted by modern actors and directors would be relevant to a
modern, visible audience. He hired directors that excited him with their stagecraft and
Dominic Dromgoole, interview by Andrew Blasenak.
rehearsal practices, not those that held a fidelity to Shakespeare‘s original theatre. The
technical limitations put on the productions by the historical conditions of performance
and the dynamic of a large, visible, standing audience provided the means for innovation
in both the staging and performance of Shakespeare‘s plays.
Stages and Stagecraft
The Globe stage excited both scholars and practitioners with its promise to
approximate the Elizabethan staging conventions. Through fifteen years of productions,
both scholars and practitioners abandoned the possibility of creating an ―authentic‖ or
―original‖ Shakespearean experience because the audience itself would never be
Elizabethan. Dromgoole was concerned with giving the theatre back to the audience:
without becoming stupid, or populous, or craven, [Shakespeare‘s Globe] has said
the audience are the people you have to respect in the theatre….It‘s them that the
event is about, the event is not about the actors, it‘s not about the director.295
In 2011, the modern audience, and their enjoyment, became the sole purpose of the
theatre. The manner in which directors incorporated the audience in their productions
varied as they changed the architecture of the theatre to suit their stagecraft practices. The
stagecraft conventions of Shakespeare‘s Globe limited the design possibilities for
directors, but their blocking and stagecraft resembled practices of the commercial theatre
and proscenium theatres.
The lack of movable sets and theatrical lights placed much of the design on the
actors‘ bodies. Matthew Dunster used an ensemble of actors and puppets to define the
Dromgoole, interview by Andrew Blasenak.
setting in the 2011 Doctor Faustus. Actors dressed in black cloaks, hats, and dark
sunglasses became, alternately, Faustus‘s library by holding books and his observatory by
rotating planetary spheres. Actor-operated puppets became supernatural creatures. In the
jig, actors animated rod-puppet fiends as they danced and sang. Faustus and
Mephistopheles flew over the Alps on bone dragon puppets that were wheeled onto the
stage. Stilt-walkers in shaggy fur robes and goat-skull masks stalked Faustus as he
remembered his mortal contract. Actors also created spectacle. Mephistopheles
produced fire from his hands. Faustus was decapitated as another actor held the
shoulders of his cloak and the actors playing Faustus dropped his head into the cradle of
his arms. In the pageant of seven deadly sins, Pride, Covetousness Envy, Wrath,
Gluttony, Sloth, and Lechery, each sin inspired his or her vice in the fellow sins moving
in choral harmony. The pageant ended with all seven sins writhing in Lechery-inspired
group grope. Within the limitations of the staging conventions, Dunster created the
spectacle required by the text with and through the actors.
Dromgoole hired directors not because they had prior experience with the staging
of Shakespeare‘s plays or deep knowledge of Shakespeare‘s original theatre, but because
their previous work interested him. Instead of seeking to get closer to the original
practices of Shakespeare‘s stage, the directors at Shakespeare‘s Globe were encouraged
to provide their own solutions to the design limitations of the performance space (no
electric sound or lighting effects). This inspired a variety of approaches to staging.
Directors often used the ―build up and cover up‖ strategy that allowed them to succeed in
spite of the space rather than because of it.
Shakespeare‘s Globe challenged blocking habits because two columns hid actors
standing center stage from the view of much of the audience. Actors and directors in
2000 repeatedly questioned the size and positioning of the columns.296 They extended
their frustration to the scholars who insisted that they were accurate, even though they
were noisome.297 The surrounding audience and positioning of the columns required that
actors move more frequently than on a proscenium stage. The most powerful and visible
positions on the Shakespeare‘s Globe stage were upstage center next to the frons that
acted as a sounding board298 and in the downstage left and downstage right corners where
actors were surrounded in a 270-degree arc of audience members. Actors enjoyed the
sensation of being surrounded by so many people as equally as they hated the columns
that hid them.
Instead of embracing the changed dynamic of the stage, directors and designers
built additions to the front of the stage and covered up the frons so as to provide a
different design for each play. Directors and designers have built additions like an
extended apron (e.g. Much Ado About Nothing 2011, dir. Jeremy Herrin) (Figure 31),
runways extending into the audience (e.g. Dr. Faustus 2011, dir. Matthew Dunster)
(Figure 32), ramps (e.g. Coriolanus 2006, dir. Dominic Dromgoole), or other audience
projections so that they could position actors as far away from the columns as possible
and closer to the middle of the audience. This configuration encouraged the abandoning
Jacquelyn Bessell, ―Actor Interviews 2000,‖ Shakespeare’s Globe Research Bulletin, issue 18, (March
2001), accessed September 16, 2012,
To accommodate the actor and directors complaints, the bases of the columns were reduced in size.
W.B. Worthen, Shakespeare and the Force of Modern Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003),
of upstage positions behind the pillars and the playing of scenes more in a prosceniumlike blocking with the stage starting in front of the pillars.299
Figure 31: Much Ado About Nothing, 2011, photo courtesy of Shakespeare’s Globe.
Directors transformed the stage so that it looked less like Shakespeare‘s Globe.
Instead of investigating ways to use the trompe l‘oeil and marbled-painted set, they
treated the stage as if it were a bare theatre into which they had erected their own set.
These directors reduced the historicizing ability of the stage by covering up its
architectural elements. In Much Ado About Nothing (Figure 31), the painted columns
were covered with plain brown canvass sleeves. Orange-tree branches were added so as
Audience members sitting in the area closest to the stage right and stage left entrance often abandoned
their seats midway through performance. The columns prevented them from seeing any of the action
to create an ―arbor‖ for the play. Staircases allowed entrances from the front of the stage.
Shallow pools of water were built into the extended apron increased the playing area and
provided stage business. The frons was covered with screening, which reduced the
upstage playing area and hid the marble-painted frons.
Figure 32: Jig from Doctor Faustus, 2011, photo courtesy of Shakespeare’s Globe.
This build up and cover-up strategy300 ignored the people on the sides of the stage
(Figure 32). The sets that covered the frons forced actors further downstage, and the
columns forced the actors even further downstage. In order to avoid playing on a small
strip of stage, the designers built platforms into the audience that moved the actors even
Dominic Dromgoole claimed that directors used set design more than he thought was necessary.
Dromgoole, interview.
further downstage. The blocking did not address the challenge of the columns, but often
resembled a proscenium theatre in front of the columns. Audience members frequently
moved closer to the front of the stage in order to see the action. Downstage center
became the focus of the production, as in proscenium theatres, which ignored the
surrounding audience.
The presence of the surrounding audience removed the surety that all audience
members would experience the performance in the same way. At the Globe, actors were
able to appeal to parts of the audience rather than thinking of the audience as a cohesive
whole. For instance, during the June 21, 2011, performance of act two, scene two of
Much Ado About Nothing, the audience‘s attention drifted away from the actors playing
John the Bastard, Conrad and Borachio. The actors were not particularly loud, and their
verbal plotting did not motivate much movement. However, one actor stood in the
downstage right corner and made a joke to the audience that made only that section of the
audience laugh. This laughter signaled to the audience that the scene was worthy of their
attention, and the rest of the audience quieted down and listened more intently. In
moments like these, the audience members had different experiences of the play. A
single artistic vision or audience experience was not possible at Shakespeare‘s Globe.
However, the unification of theatrical elements was exactly the type of training directors,
especially those practiced in contemporary plays, received. Shakespeare‘s Globe
changed the expectations of audience from the polished presentation of a show to a
multivalent, interactive event that was meant to be experienced.
Actor Training and Coaching
The performance conditions at Shakespeare‘s Globe encouraged actors to develop
vocal, physical, and textual analysis skills. This open-air theatre, with airplanes overhead
and sirens nearby, challenges actors to be heard. The large stage and surrounding
audience of sixteen hundred people encouraged larger gestures and energetic movement.
Finally, since the actors had to draw the audience‘s attention primarily with their words,
they had to be clear with both their words and character intentions. Finally, the actors
received instant, and sometimes unexpected, feedback from the visible audience that
forced the actors to adjust their performance or lose their audience. The actors did not
train in historical methods of performance, and several believed that ―absolute
historicity‖ as anathema to the vitality of their performances.301 A total dedication to
Shakespeare‘s history, to them, stymied their goal of communicating with the modern
audience. Instead, they were interested in investigating how the actor-audience dynamic
changed the way they prepared. As one actor noted, the need to respond to the audience
prevented naturalistic acting because they could not prepare for audience reactions in
their conception of their character. 302 The actors had to learn how to perform and react
rather than create repeatable characters.
Mark Rylance attempted to use the challenge of the stage and conventions at
Shakespeare‘s Globe to redefine acting company management. Rylance envisioned an
acting company that would have the same technical discipline as musicians and dancers
who practiced technical exercises each day. He had actors train in techniques for
performance that would, simultaneously, strengthen the ensemble mentality of the actors..
Anonymous Shakespeare‘s Globe actor, interview by Andrew Blasenak, London, UK, June 22, 2011.
Anonymous Shakespeare‘s Globe actor, interview by Andrew Blasenak, London, UK, June 22, 2011.
In the 2002 production of Twelfth Night, the company trained together for one hour twice
a week in workshops with the master of text, Giles Block, master of voice, Stewart
Pearce, and master of movement, Glynn MacDonald.303 Some actors also did circuit
training together to improve their physique and endurance. This training aided the general
skills of the actors, but it lacked a direct relationship to the shows.
Because the training was disconnected from the rehearsals, few actors found it
useful. In these training sessions, actors worked on sonnets and speeches from other
plays not on the text they were paid to perform. Training sessions sometimes forced
actors to come to the theatre on days they were not needed for rehearsal, which they
considered a waste of their time.304 The training that sought to increase the
professionalism of the actors in the company actually took time away from their
professional duty of creating a role for the play. Because the training sessions did not
serve the production and did not yield clear results, it was eventually cut down to a
warm-up before the shows.
The challenge of Shakespeare‘s plays and the inexperience of some actors
validated the continued efforts of the coaching staff, however. In 2011, Giles Block,
master of verse, helped actors speak the verse quickly and naturally.305 Sian Williams
choreographed the jigs at the end of Much Ado About Nothing and All’s Well that Ends
Well, aiming to build confidence and cohesion among the actors. Voice coaches ensured
actors could be heard in the open-air theatre, and movement coaches helped actors
develop appropriate movement for the sizable stage. These coaches helped actor gain
This was a change from previous productions where the acting company would train for the first week
of the production and every morning of rehearsal.
Anonymous Shakespeare‘s Globe actor, interview by Andrew Blasenak, London, UK, June 22, 2011.
Giles Block, interview by Andrew Blasenak, London, UK, June 19, 2011.
better understandings of the Elizabethan theatre and Shakespeare‘s plays, but addressed
the needs of individual actors, not an institutional style of performance.
Giles Block, the master of the word, worked at Shakespeare‘s Globe since the
beginning and remained the expert for speaking verse. Depending on director preference,
Block either attended rehearsals or worked one-on-one with actors to help them make the
language clear, spontaneous, and expressive. He stated that he aimed to make audience
members believe that the actors had changed Shakespeare‘s language to modern
English.306 To get to this result, he helped actors recognize verse forms through phrasing
and rhetorical structures in complex passages. Conversely, he encouraged simplicity
when the text was straightforward and plain. After each run-through to which he was
invited, he delivered to each actor a marked-up script with notes on how to construct a
clearer phrasing for each line of text. He estimated that at least eighty percent of the
actors he coached were enthusiastic about his notes and one-on-one training. In
interviews, actors often confirmed the value of his insights.
The availability of coaches like Block upheld the institutional commitment to
training actors; however, his input served only the needs of each production. Actors and
directors sometimes ignored his advice or interpretation of specific lines. At least one
director prohibited him from speaking with actors, and the ensemble had no regular
meetings with him. His value to the company appeared in the support of individual
actors who gained ease and confidence in their performance of Shakespeare‘s plays, not
as an additional director.
Block, interview.
The Globe itself was a catalyst for training and study for many more theatre artists
than those involved in productions. Because the historical space made demands on actors
that informed their techniques, the education department developed working relationships
with several academic institutions. Rutgers University partnered with the Globe for a
full-year course of study for acting and design undergraduates. Beginning in 2006, the
Drama Center London307 included a six-week intensive workshop at Shakespeare‘s
Globe. The design of the stage and the use of Elizabethan conventions challenged actors
and teachers in these programs to adapt their techniques.
Many of these programs explored how the Shakespeare‘s Globe stage altered
vocal and movement demands and how the performance conventions alter conceptions of
character and rehearsal practices. James Garnon, a veteran actor, remarked that he did
not worry about consistency of character from scene to scene or an overarching throughline, only the separate lines and actions of his script.308 For instance, he relied on the
audience feedback to modify or to strengthen his interpretation of Parrolles as a
pragmatic negotiator of the dangers of warfare. As the audience and other characters
began to perceive Parrolles as a coward, he found a greater commitment to the lines he
had prepared that justified or excused his actions. The audience provided an external
obstacle to his character‘s objective to portray himself as a war hero. 309 Garnon still
approached his character in terms of naturalistic acting, i.e. with obstacles and objectives,
but the audience helped inform the choices he made each night.
Partnered with the Vaktangov Institute in Moscow
James Garnon, interview by Andrew Blasenak, London, UK, June 22, 2011.
Garnon, interview.
The performance conditions at Shakespeare‘s Globe also trained actors to be clear
in their characters‘ intentions and relationships. This clarity allowed the actors to prompt
an audience response and incorporate their reaction. But this performance condition
required that actors be flexible in their blocking, character intentions, and line delivery.
The creation of meaning was no longer a transaction between director, actors, and
audience, but a negotiation between actors and audience. This was exactly the reason
why Shakespeare‘s Globe was such an exciting space for actors and audiences. In order
to prepare for this performance dynamic, actors needed utter confidence in the voice, text,
and movement techniques. Coaches and directors helped actors gain this confidence
throughout rehearsals, and the audience sustained this confidence in performance.310
The rigor of preparation and the necessity of reacting to an ever-changing, visible
audience provided actors with a greater understanding of which techniques held the
audience‘s attention. Dromgoole noted that these actors who performed at Shakespeare‘s
Globe, including Mark Rylance, often gained fame as actors in other theatres.311
Performing at Shakespeare‘s Globe remained a training ground that reformed the actors‘
ideas about what was useful in other theatres and media.
Ensemble Acting
Shakespeare‘s Globe, located in London, had access to a wide variety of theatre
professionals, so directors were able to hire stars of stage and screen as well as actors
specialized in performance on the Globe stage. Even with this access to actors, Mark
Dromgoole noted that actors were generally terrified before their first entrance, but after five minutes on
stage they often became so enamored of the feedback that they had to be reminded to leave the stage and
allow the play to move forward.
Dominic Dromgoole, interview by Andrew Blasenak, London, UK. June 22, 2011.
Rylance challenged the hiring practices of the entertainment industry by committing to
the development of an ensemble.312 Dominic Dromgoole prioritized the hiring of
directors who would bring myriad artistic visions. Dromgoole sometimes maintained the
practice of hiring actors as an ensemble that would perform two shows in repertory, but
often actors were hired for only a single show. These hiring practices often led to positive
reviews and continued popular success because Dromgoole was able to attract more and
better directors and actors. The maintenance of ensemble principles was not a vital part
of the Dromgoole‘s mission, the quality of the shows was.
The stuff of legend surrounded the Globe stage. Some actors quit after their first
show because they were unable to handle the live audience reacting in ways for which
they were not prepared.313 Actors, especially those in their first season, were anxious
about the way the audience received them. The actors who continued to audition and get
cast year after year (such as Peter Hamilton Dyer and James Garnon) thrived in the
interactive performances staged at Shakespeare‘s Globe. They were excited, not
unnerved, by the uncertainty of interactions with a live audience. They also valued the
voice, text, and movement coaching that helped them be as clear and well-prepared as
possible leading up to performance. Therefore, a core ensemble grew from the actors
who enjoyed the performance conditions.
When Dromgoole assumed artistic leadership, he attracted more famous and
accomplished actors. Eve Best, who became internationally known for her roles as Wallis
Simpson in The King’s Speech and as Dr. O‘Hara in the TV series Nurse Jackie and held
Mark Rylance, and several of the veteran actors at Shakespeare‘s Globe often referred to the
performance dynamic, like the company management, as ―more democratic‖ than other theatres and theatre
Anonymous Shakespeare‘s Globe actor, interview by Andrew Blasenak, London, UK, June 21, 2011.
two Tony nominations and an Olivier award, played Beatrice in the 2011 Much Ado
About Nothing. She also appeared as Lady Macbeth in 2001. Arthur Davril, famous for
portrayal of Rory Williams in Doctor Who, appeared as Mephistopheles in Doctor
Faustus. Two-time Olivier award-winner Roger Allam played a well-received Falstaff in
Henry IV, parts 1 and 2 (for which he won one of his Olivier awards for Best Actor).
Even though the theatre was not located in the West End, its hiring practices came to
resemble the hiring and management practices of the professional theatre.
Under Mark Rylance there were two distinct ensembles, often color coded, as
Yellow company and Blue company, to perform a repertory of plays. These two
ensembles did not share actors between them to minimize rehearsal conflicts and payroll
costs. Actors in each ensemble frequently had more than one role in each show. This
casting policy rarely allowed actors to specialize in only one type of role; rather, they had
to be protean and flexible to play any role that they were assigned. Rylance instituted the
training programs in order to make a company of actors capable of undertaking the
demands of performing a repertory of plays. Further, the directors often had to adjust
their artistic visions to suit the ensemble rather than casting the ensemble to suit their
visions. Rylance‘s attempt to maintain an ensemble at Shakespeare‘s Globe did not yield
positive reviews. Dromgoole saw little convincing evidence to support the practice and
adopted, instead, the director-led hiring practices of the commercial theatre.
One of Shakespeare‘s performance conventions instituted a sense of ensemble:
the jig. As was the practice of the Elizabethan theatre, each play at Shakespeare‘s Globe
concludes with a full-company song and dance. Before each show, the entire company
assembled on stage and rehearsed the jig. At the end of the show, they performed this jig
in front of the live audience. The jig brought the whole cast together, even those actors
who did not have scenes together, to reaffirm their commitment to the performance and
each other. This ―authentic‖ convention of Shakespeare‘s theatre had a practical value in
maintaining cohesion in the ensemble. Many of the actors spoke of the joy of working on
the jig. It was also a good McGuffin, as Boyd of the Royal Shakespeare Company said
because it kept actors thinking about physical skills rather than their apprehensions.
Shakespeare‘s Globe changed the focus from the development of the ensemble to
realization of directors‘ visions. The metropolitan location of the theatre, the limited
length of the contracts, and the unique performance conventions allowed Shakespeare‘s
Globe to attract top actors to the company. The improved quality of the actors and
theatrical reviews increased the professional satisfaction of the actors. In rehearsal, the
cohesion of the ensemble was dependent on the director‘s mentality. In performance, the
conventions of Shakespeare‘s Globe encouraged actors to rely on each other to negotiate
the audience‘s reactions. Combined with the jig, the conventions of Shakespeare‘s theatre
helped actors derive greater satisfaction from their performances together, even though
many of the management practices resembled the commercial theatre.
Chapter 7: The American Shakespeare Center
Legacy and Continuity
In 1988 Dr. Ralph Cohen and a group of students from James Madison University
in Harrisonburg, VA founded the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express, the company that
would become the American Shakespeare Center in 2005. On tours throughout
America, the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express produced Shakespeare‘s plays using the
conventions of the early modern English theatre. The rigorous academic mission to
discover and use conventions of the early modern theatre prioritized those conventions
over individual artistic visions. Actors and directors did not reject staging practices that
did not already fit in with their artistic sensibilities but experimented with scholars‘
interpretations of the performance conventions of early modern England, including
extensive actor doubling, the use of a bare stage, and rapid verse speaking. These
conventions enlivened Shakespeare‘s plays as well as those of his contemporaries. In the
2011-2012 season, the company produced eight of Shakespeare‘s plays,314 as well as
Beaumont and Fletcher‘s Philaster or Love Lies a-Bleeding, Middleton‘s A Mad World
My Masters, Marlowe‘s Dido Queen of Carthage, John Ford‘s Tis Pity She’s a Whore
and James Goldman‘s The Lion in Winter. The commitment to a repertory of early
modern plays and conditions of early modern performance inspired contemporary actors
Much Ado about Nothing; Richard III; The Winter's Tale; A Midsummer Night's Dream; The Merchant
of Venice; The Two Gentlemen of Verona; Cymbeline; King John.
to form a strong ensemble, to train performance skills, and to develop efficient rehearsal
The company was originally founded to experiment with the post-modern
application of the performance conventions of the early modern period. These
―experiments‖ in reviving Shakespeare‘s plays conditions proved to be popular with
audiences and earned the approbation of the scholarly community. After the tours of the
mid-Atlantic region in 1988 and the 1989 the company presented Julius Caesar at the
annual meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America 1990. The enthusiastic
response that the company received by scholars, especially Stephen Booth, ensured the
success of future tours to academic institutions and theatre festivals throughout the USA.
―I first saw the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express perform in Washington, D.C., in July of
1991,‖ Booth wrote, ―I haven‘t thought the same since about Shakespeare or the
theatre.‖315 By lighting the audience and actors alike, playing live music, reducing the
running time of the shows, and using direct audience address, the company revitalized
performances conventions of the contemporary theatre that used design elements like
lights, sets, and sound effects that added to the running time of the plays. By going old,
the theatre became new again.
The company‘s founding premise was that the plays of the Elizabethan and
Jacobean era are theatrically viable if performed with the staging conventions used in
their original performances. Historical accounts about performance as well as explicit and
embedded stage directions in the plays of the Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline periods
established the company‘s stagecraft. Every show at The American Shakespeare Center
Stephen Booth, ―The Shenandoah Shakespeare Express,‖ Shakespeare Quarterly 43, no. 4 (1992): 47683.
featured a bare stage316 and universal lighting (i.e. actors and audience members shared
the same pool of light). Because the chorus in Romeo and Juliet asks the audience to
attend to the ―two hours traffic of our stage,‖317 Cohen attempted to produce shows with
running times of no more than two hours with ―brisk pacing‖ and the ―continuous flow of
dramatic action.‖318 Like Shakespeare‘s acting company, American Shakespeare Center
actors often played several roles in each play. This doubling practice allowed audiences
to admire an actor‘s ability to play so many characters in a single evening, and challenged
actors to create these different characters. Finally, the company took the inspiration of
the music offered at the original Blackfrairs playhouse before the shows and during act
breaks319 to add musical interludes. All of these conditions provided a framework in
which twelve actors produced the plays of Shakespeare by directing the audience‘s
imagination with words rather creating a visual illusion.
The reason this style became successful, according to artistic director Jim Warren,
was because it directly challenged cinematic performance styles. ―There is more of a
future,‖ Warren argued, ―in theatre engaging audiences than in representational
movies.‖320 Because universal lighting and the presence of audience members on the
stage allowed actors to incorporate audience reactions into the play, Warren referred to
their performance as ―improv with a script.‖321 The lack of a unifying directorial vision
suited the plays of Shakespeare that were episodic, and often contradictory in tone and
Large props, such as thrones, tombs, tables, have been used, but each of these large props has been
brought on and removed by actors.
Romeo and Juliet, prologue, 12.
―Shakespeare‘s Staging Conditions.‖ Theatre Program for 2012 Actors‘ Renaissance Season (The
American Shakespeare Center: Staunton, VA, 2011), 10.
In the early modern Blackfrairs playhouse, the act breaks allowed assistants to trim the candle wicks in
the chandeliers.
Jim Warren, interview by Andrew Blasenak, Staunton, VA, August 1, 2011.
Warren, interview.
subject matter. The lack of illusory design and the emphasis on actor-audience
interaction created a sense of community between the actors and viewers which could not
be established between film actors and their audiences.322
Due to budget constraints, from 2008-2011, Warren was the sole director of the
plays for both the resident and touring troupes. Warren‘s directing aesthetic and actorhiring preferences reflected his experience as an actor/director in the inaugural 1988
production of Richard III. Because so many practices of the early modern English
theatre succeeded with modern audiences, he was willing to try staging conventions
brought to light by new scholarship.323 To make the company succeed, he preferred to
re-hire actors who had worked with the company before that were willing to take on extra
responsibilities in rehearsal, education, and tour management. This was most clear to the
actors of the touring troupe. They assumed additional duties such as driving and
servicing the vans, doing the laundry, moving their costumes and equipment into and out
of each venue, and so on.
Similarly, the rehearsal periods were short and required that actors did much of
their preparation before rehearsals began. Each actor wrote out paraphrases of all their
lines and completed the written scansion of their lines before the first rehearsal. During
the first week of rehearsals, the actors blocked the entire show without the aid of a
director, a practice that approximated Elizabethan rehearsals. The actors then performed
the full play for the director in a ―Renaissance run,‖ after which more in-depth rehearsals
began. Actors, therefore, had to learn how to work together quickly. The re-hiring of
Warren, interview.
Warren, interview. However, research in lighting effects, hanging the stage with black fabric for a
tragedy, the use of rushes, the design of the trap, and the use of the heavens had not been adapted to
common practice either due to budget constraints or dissonance with his artistic vision.
many of the same actors, especially in the resident ensemble, made rehearsals more
efficient. The actors who stayed, however, were the ones who enjoyed the ability to have
a large amount of input into the creation of the show.324 The performance conventions
and rehearsal autonomy offered actors a performance experience unlike any of the other
theatre companies. The efficient actors capable of performing several roles in each play
helped to keep the company‘s payroll manageable and the production calendar full. Most
actors in the resident ensemble remarked that they were happy to continue working with
the company for as long as the directors wanted them.
The American Shakespeare Center also maintained strong links to their research
mission. In 2001, the American Shakespeare Center built the world‘s only
Shakespearean indoor theatre: the Blackfrairs Playhouse.325 In that same year, the
company partnered with Mary Baldwin College to establish an interdisciplinary masters
degree in Shakespeare in Performance. Therefore, the company had a performance space
and scholars who supervised MFA theses about the staging and performing conventions
of the early modern theatre. These students also staged lesser-known plays both in
readings and performances. However, the actors and directors of the American
Shakespeare Center often used only the practices that simplified rehearsals, informed
character research, or illuminated the plays rather than practices that were historically
Practicality and historicity met, however, during the Actor‘s Renaissance Season.
Each spring actors worked in styles of rehearsal and performance that Tiffany Stern
Jay McClure, interview by Andrew Blasenak, Staunton, VA, August 1, 2011.
Shakespeare‘s Globe, in 2012, had planned to open an indoor playhouse that would expand their
production calendar year-round. Likewise, the American Shakespeare Center has had plans to build a
Globe theatre, based on the 1613 reconstruction of the original Globe after it had burnt down.
outlined in her two books: Rehearsal from Shakespeare to Sheridan and Making
Shakespeare: from Stage to Page. The actors used parts (or cue scripts) that contained
only their lines and cues. Actors worked without a director and each day they decided the
rehearsal schedule by consensus. They performed a rotating repertory of five plays.
Rehearsals were as short as three days and as long as three weeks. They often rehearsed
a show during the day but performed a different show during the evening. The rarity of
this experience attracted actors, and it increased the quality of the performers. Ralph
Cohen noted the historical pressures trained actors because of their difficulty, as he said:
―The more impossible the task, the better the work.‖326 The pressures of the early modern
theatre were the small cast size, lack of design elements, short rehearsals, incomplete
scripts, and the maintenance of a group of veteran actors, but these conventions fostered
the training, ensemble, and performance conditions that made the theatre popular for
actors, scholars, and audiences alike.
Stages and Stagecraft
The necessities of touring and the dedication to the conventions of the early
modern theatre encouraged minimal design elements at the American Shakespeare
Center. For the touring ensemble, props, sets, costumes, and actors fit into just two vans.
As they toured colleges and communities throughout the United States, they set up a
―portable discovery space,‖ a curtained structure that allowed for entrances, revelations
(as with the discovery of Hermione‘s statue in The Winter’s Tale) and blocking of
explicit stage directions (as with Polonius who hides behind the arras in Hamlet).
Ralph Cohen, interview by Andrew Blasenak, Staunton, VA, July 28, 2011.
Additional furniture was often built with rehearsal blocks. Costumes indicated status and
wealth of whatever time period inspired the costumer or director. Because the dedication
to Shakespeare‘s original staging practices influenced these conventions, when the
company built the Blackfriars Playhouse in 2001, they maintained an aesthetic similar to
that of the touring ensemble. The historically inspired theatre had little storage space and
no means for the creation or use of scenic design.327 Due to the inability of the theatre to
create spectacular effects, the actors had to prompt the audience‘s imagination with their
words and actions to create the settings of the plays.
Figure 33: The Blackfriars Playhouse 2009, photo courtesy of The American Shakespeare Center, photo by
Lauren D. Rodgers.
The attic of the theatre serves as storage for all props, costumes, and large props. The basement has a
small room for swords and hardware.
The Staunton Blackfriars, inspired by the playhouse built by James Burbage in
1598 (Figure 33), had a total of approximately three hundred and twenty seats in the pit
and in the galleries that wrapped around the stage. No audience member sat further than
thirty feet from the center of the stage. The proximity of the audience members
encouraged the actors to speak and interact physically with them. This intimacy was
further enhanced by excellent acoustics. Actors were audible even when speaking in a
low, conversational tone. The original Blackfriars had windows and candles for light.
The Staunton Blackfrairs used a series of Fresnel lights pointed at the ceiling and electric
chandeliers to create a general light wash. The directors did not use their dimming
function for special effects. The marble-painted frons was the set for every play that
could be augmented through the use of banners and ropes or the addition of tables, chairs,
and thrones. Shakespeare‘s texts and the direct communication between actor and
audience drew audiences into the plays rather than scenic spectacle.
The American Shakespeare Center relied chiefly on the actors and their costumes
to communicate to the audience the place and mood of the shows. Without sets, the
scenes changed as swiftly as thought. Instead of a pause after each scene, actors
overlapped entrances and exits and were expected to speak as soon as they appeared. The
actors set the scenes with the conveniently placed verbal cues such as ―Well, this is the
forest of Arden.‖328 The appearance of props such as lanterns and torches, as well as the
actors‘ physical reactions, directed the audience to imagine nighttime (Figure 34). The
actors assumed physical postures and reactions appropriate to their imagined given
circumstances, e.g. the storm in King Lear, in the fully lit playhouse. The greater
As You Like It, 2.4.12
necessity for the audience‘s imagination to create the storm, several actors and directors
argued, allowed them to identify with the characters to a greater degree. One audience
member watching the storm of King Lear in 2008 said she felt a cold chill watching the
scene and assumed a door had been left open to the cold weather outside. Only her
imagination, not an actual temperature drop, made this reaction possible. Character
costumes, such as monks, soldiers, or whores set scenes in monasteries, battlefields, or
brothels. Because the full lighting increased audience attention to the appearance and
physicality of the actor, the actors communicated quick shifts of location that were
required by the episodic plays.
Figure 34: The Blackfriars Playhouse, Much Ado About Nothing, 2012, Dogberry using a lantern to indicate a
nighttime scene, courtesy of The American Shakespeare Center, photo by Tommy Thompson.
Actors and directors used these conventions of the early modern playhouse not to
revive early modern performance but to allow direct communication between modern
actors and audiences. At the Blackfriars some audience members sat on the stage, and
the actors often interacted with them by flirting with them, giving them high-fives, or
hiding among them during the scenes. The actor-audience conventions allowed
improvisation. Additionally, actors expanded their small ensemble by naming audience
members as characters within the scene. For example, in the 2011 Henry V the actor
playing Henry V did not have enough nobles on stage for all the names he had to list in
the St. Crispin‘s Day speech. While other theatres had cast extras, at the Blackfriars the
actors used the audience as extras. This rapport between actors and audience arose from
both necessity and historical accuracy. ―Accuracy‖ remained only in the architecture and
staging conventions of the theatre.
As audiences walked into the theatre, they stepped into seventeenth-century
playhouse made entirely of Virginia oak. Unlike the Globe, the audience members were
not greeted by recorders and drums playing original or historic songs but by actors
playing acoustic guitars and singing modern pop songs. The lack of sound equipment
eliminated the possibility of a voice-over greeting, so two actors, before each show,
explained the conditions of performance to be used, solicited donations, and reminded
audiences to silence their phones. These pre-show speeches often reflected the clowning
or musical training of the company. For instance, Miriam Donald and John Harrell
created ―Miriam‘s Pre-show Song‖ that detailed all of the information in ―state-of-the-art
country tones‖ in the 2005 Actor‘s Renaissance Season, and in the 2008 Love’s Labour’s
Lost, John Harrell in pidgin French with comic gestures and J.P. Scheidler ―translated‖
the pre-show message to the audience. The company often performed one more
thematically appropriate song (such as ―Tainted Love‖ for A Winter’s Tale) before
transitioning, seamlessly, into the first lines of the show. Ralph Cohen emphasized music
as a ―trans-temporal‖ way of communicating with the audience.329 Because
Shakespeare‘s text had been perceived as an obstacle to the audience‘s enjoyment, Cohen
introduced audiences to the company by using familiar music and actors who spoke in
their own language before assuming the language of Shakespeare. The actors‘ familiarity
with Shakespeare‘s language allowed them to deliver lines in conversational tones which
made Shakespeare‘s plays sound as modern as the music they played.
The constraints of an historical space and the commitment to early modern
English staging practices made the design of the shows similar. As Cohen stated: ―if we
buy a prop, we‘re going to use it.‖330 During the first ten years of the Blackfriars‘
existence, the company purchased or built large props, such as thrones, tables and chairs,
and a dais. These props were used in many plays to suggest the locale of the scene.
Instead of building a set for each show, many of the above-mentioned props were used in
multiple shows. Similarly, the costumes were often recycled for new use in each season.
These practices reflected those of Shakespeare‘s company, and kept the focus of the
audience on the words and the actions of the actors.
The actors and directors had the sole duty to make the play clear and interesting to
their audience, even when reviving little-known plays by Ben Jonson or Thomas
Middleton. Some of these lesser-known plays attracted as many audience members per
night as some of Shakespeare‘s lesser-known plays. For instance, in 2011, the average
Ralph Cohen, interview by Andrew Blasenak, Staunton, VA, July 28, 2011.
Cohen, interview.
attendance for Marston‘s The Malcontent and the anonymously-written Look About You
nearly equaled the average attendance for Measure for Measure. Likewise, the average
attendance for Middleton‘s A Trick to Catch the Old One matched the average attendance
for Henry VI, part 3. The performance experience, as much as the content of the plays,
attracted the audience to these obscure plays. Reviewers like Peter Marks of the
Washington Post commented little about the qualities of the individual shows but the
quality of the experience ―that is both serious-minded and exuberant.‖331 After watching
the repertory of three plays in spring of 2012, Marks concluded ―While the intensity of
satisfaction varies from show to show, the cumulative takeaway is an admiration for the
careful treatment of text and the liveliness of the results.‖332 The ―lively‖ performance
conventions and actors put the early modern theatre on display equally with the talents of
individual artists.
Ralph Cohen described the American Shakespeare Center as a text-based theatre
company.333 The performances proved whether Shakespeare‘s ideas and words, rather
than contemporary theatrical design, were worthy of production. The enthusiastic
audience response, and the continued interest of the satisfied actors, suggested that
Shakespeare‘s words and ideas were, indeed, still relevant.
Peter Marks, ―In Shenandoah Valley, a Shakespeare tradition has taken root,‖ Washington Post, April
27, 2012, accessed September 19, 2012,
Peter Marks, ―In Shenandoah Valley.‖
Cohen, interview.
Actor Training and Coaching
Professional actor training was not a focus for the American Shakespeare Center.
Gradually, the actors were challenged to develop performance skills for the conventions
of the early modern playhouse. At the Blackfriars, the actors developed many of the
skills learned by actors at Shakespeare‘s Globe: actor-audience interaction, quick pace,
and attention to rhetorical clarity and intention so as to keep the audiences engaged in the
play. Additionally, the practice of heavy character doubling and the rotating repertory of
plays led the actors to develop a greater diversity of skills with a wider variety of roles.
The company did not hire coaches but encouraged actors in the company to
support their fellow actors. Actor René Thornton Jr. was the ―resident voice coach.‖
However, because the rehearsals were brief, actors rarely consulted him. Coaching often
happened according to individual skills. For example, actor Alison Glenzer had a great
deal of training in Alexander technique. Some actors sought her out for help to deal with
the physical rigors of performance. Due to the lack of coaches, the actors turned to each
other for advice and their support strengthened not only skills but the coherence of
Mary Baldwin College students studied how the early modern conventions of the
Blackfriars Playhouse influenced rehearsal and performance. The Master of Letters
degree combined historical research of Shakespeare‘s staging conventions and practical
experimentation with those conventions. The presentations and theses these students
produced sometimes informed the practices of actors and directors of the American
Shakespeare Center. Some of the Mary Baldwin College MFA acting students also
received the challenges and benefits of performing in the Actors‘ Renaissance Season.
Mary Baldwin College also offered classes, such as stage combat, to the American
Shakespeare Center actors.
In 2011, the American Shakespeare Center offered the Professional Training
Program. Colleen Kelly, the former head of actor training at the Alabama Shakespeare
Festival, led the three-week workshop for theatre professionals. They learned how the
conditions of early modern performance led to practical vocal, physical, and textual
choices during rehearsal at the American Shakespeare Center. Actors learned to
recognize embedded stage directions and to use them in blocking and character choices.
Kelly and the other instructors also taught the use of rehearsal techniques like
paraphrasing the full text of the play to create greater understanding and specificity for
each word. Cohen taught textual skills like scansion and rhetoric which were used in the
beginning of the rehearsal period. Actors also taught workshops explaining the way in
which the Blackfriars influenced physical characterization, stage movement, and
audience contact. For these types of workshops, the company put together its shared
experience on the stage and transformed it into a training method.
These classes and workshops benefited both the actors and their students. The
actors, as teachers, had to clarify what they had learned from their performances for
themselves as well as for their students. Their workshops at the American Shakespeare
Center, allowed them to reflect on these matters in a way the hectic rehearsals and
performances rarely made possible.
Training at the American Shakespeare Center was not a way to recruit new
company members. It was not like the training at the Birmingham Conservatory that
fostered new talent into the company. At the American Shakespeare Center, there was no
audition to get into the training program. Participants paid for tuition and housing, as
they did at Shakespeare & Company. This meant that they were selling the experience
their company had gained over the years by providing access to expert teachers who
understood the type of performances required for the Blackfriars stage. Shakespeare &
Company worked from technique development into rehearsal and performance. The
American Shakespeare Center worked from rehearsal and performance practices into
developed techniques.
Ensemble Acting
The American Shakespeare Center had an unofficial tiered hiring policy. Most
new actors joined the company as part of the touring ensemble. In the 2011-12 year-long
touring ensemble, seven out of eleven actors were first-time employees. Several of the
actors of the separate resident ensemble were once members of the touring ensemble who
proved their performance skills and interest in the company mission. In the resident
ensemble for the 2011 summer and fall seasons, only two out of thirteen actors were new
to the company. The twelve actors of the spring 2012 Actors‘ Renaissance Season had
all previously worked with the theatre, and they had each performed, on average, in
thirty-seven productions at the American Shakespeare Center. As actors at the American
Shakespeare Center mastered the conventions of the early modern theatre, they received
more performance opportunities. These hiring practices contributed to building stronger
personal bonds and more economical rehearsal practices than those of commercial
Because Ralph Cohen valued the primacy of the text, and Jim Warren valued the
primacy of actor-audience interaction, the American Shakespeare Center looked for
actors who wanted the challenge and the responsibility to block the play with their fellow
theatre artists before meeting with a director. Actors earned respect by arriving with their
roles prepared and memorized. Actors learned to support their fellow actors staging ideas
as they rehearsed the Renaissance Run in the first week of rehearsal. The actors had to
learn how to work together in a very short period of time. The Ren Run did not allow
time for the actors to discuss various interpretations of each action in the play. The actors
usually followed whoever had the clearest idea of how to stage each scene. With no
director present, the actors who had the most lines had the responsibility to lead. Those
with fewer lines had the responsibility to follow and offer their support. By working in
this way, the actors were allowed to make risky choices. The time pressure on these
actors resembled the time pressure on Shakespeare‘s actors that required preparation and
encouraged the bonding of an ensemble.
Each actor earned respect from the quality of his or her preparation before
rehearsals began. Individual preparation made their short rehearsal periods smooth and
productive. The American Shakespeare Center made actors paraphrase every word of
their text, since the act of paraphrasing ensured that actors knew exactly what they were
saying, and the director corrected any misinterpretations. With this preparation, the
veteran actors showed the new actors how to give and take focus in order to direct the
audience‘s attention without the aid of lighting. This performance dynamic also extended
to the give-and-take of the rehearsal process as actors had to learn how to ask for help
fulfilling their ideas and how to give support when other actors requested it. The
ensemble coalesced around the enormity of the workload and the need for each actor to
make positive contributions to staging the plays in a simple and direct way.
The Actor‘s Renaissance Season was fully committed to Elizabethan rehearsal
practices, and it increased the workload and necessary collaboration of the Renaissance
Runs. A group of well-trained actors was necessary if they were to rehearse without a
director on a repertory of five plays. The Actors‘ Renaissance Season forced actors to
become reliant only on each other for input, feedback, and assistance with everything
from blocking to costumes. The actors often had more challenging and equitable casting
opportunities when the twelve of them performed in all of the plays. Because the entire
season would not be possible without the full commitment of all the actors, actors either
had to rise to the task or the entire season would fail. Although the process was never
conflict-free, the satisfaction that the actors felt for having completed an entire season
was a career-changing experience.
The hectic production schedule of the Actors‘ Renaissance Season provided little
time for disagreement or for discussing controversial interpretations of the play. The first
play in the season, often a well-known play by Shakespeare that many of the actors had
done before, was rehearsed for as little as three days before opening night. This first
show (Much Ado About Nothing in 2012) depended on what the actors had prepared
independently before the rehearsals began. The rehearsal time was spent solving
questions of entrances, exits, songs, dances, fights, etc. The first show had the benefit of
having the longest run. Therefore, the actors planned to develop the show by responding
to audience feedback. Much Ado About Nothing opened on 7 January 2012 after three
rehearsals and a preview. The short rehearsals improved the company‘s finances. The
show was running and making money during the first week of the actors‘ contracts.
Management avoided the financial loss typically associated with rehearsals.
While the first play was in performance five times a week (from Thursday
through Sunday), rehearsals began for the other shows. Richard III opened on 20 January
2012 after eight days of rehearsals and one preview. Two weeks later, on 3 February
2012 Philaster, or Love Lies a-Bleeding was added to the rotating repertory. With three
shows up, the rehearsal schedule expanded to three weeks for A Mad World My Masters
(24 February 2012) and Dido, Queen of Carthage (16 March 2012). As soon as all the
plays in the season were rehearsed, the company added performances on Wednesdays.
This kind of production calendar was beyond the pressures of the commercial
theatre. Because so many actors had done several seasons of the Actors‘ Renaissance
Season, they had developed a working relationship that allowed them to communicate
quickly and efficiently. When they got stuck on a staging problem, others offered
solutions, but only insomuch as they felt comfortable to do so. One actor noted that he
only felt free to offer advice to other actors after experiencing three Actors‘ Renaissance
Seasons. Actors missed having an outside eye to watch the composition of the scenes, so
all actors shared this responsibility, and, when asked, provided feedback. In a way, the
company had twelve directors instead of one.
The adherence to the early modern practice of using ―parts‖ (or cue scripts)
further bonded the actors out of necessity as well as (or in spite of) choice. Each actor
received only his/her lines and an approximately three-word cue. For instance, Hamlet‘s
―part‖ contained only his full lines and three-word cues (Figure 35). Before rehearsals
began, actors did not know for how long other actors spoke before they did. Therefore,
for at least the first rehearsal, actors had to pay close attention to the words and actions of
all the other characters so that they could help each other stage the scene. In order for
―parts‖ to be useful, actors had to be prepared with a clear interpretation of their roles, but
flexible enough to adapt to each other. Without knowledge of the other characters‘ lines,
actors make choices based only on the changes in verse, rhetoric, tone, or intention in
their own part. For instance, Hamlet speaks short pithy lines in the beginning of his part
(Figure 35). The actor, therefore, would come to rehearsal prepared to support other
actors‘ blocking. However, when the actor playing Hamlet prepares the longer speech,
―Seems madam,‖ she or he must be prepared to initiate the blocking of the scene.
The ―part‖ focused an actor‘s preparation onto a single, relatively short document.
An actor had to create clear acting intentions to prompt the other actors‘ and to find
embedded stage directions to help block the scenes. When actors arrived to rehearse, offbook, they were also flexible enough to help other actors with their interpretations. Of
course, sometimes actors had unclear or conflicting interpretations of scenes, and they
had to stop rehearsing and discuss the action of the scene and their character
relationships. The actors all preferred, however, to try choices in action rather than
The actors with the largest ―parts‖ often had the responsibility of becoming the
main ―director‖ of the scene. The lead actor in a scene was responsible for guiding the
other actors. Of course, the actors who were led had to be willing to follow and later
assume leadership themselves when they had a sizable speech. Lead actors also changed
between main plot and subplot and between plays. Many actors learnt to take
responsibility for scenes and direct each other. This responsibility and shared workload
helped actors earn each other‘s respect when they made the shows successful.
[entrance cue] _______________________________________most conveniently.
Scene 1.2.
VOLTIMAND, CORNELIUS, Lords, and Attendants
[64 lines spoken, ending with the cue] ___________________Hamlet, and my son,
A little more than kin, and less than kind.
[1 line spoken]______________________________________hang on you?
Not so, my lord; I am too much i' the sun.
[6 lines spoken]_____________________________________nature to eternity.
Ay, madam, it is common.
[2 lines spoken]_____________________________________particular with thee?
Seems, madam! nay it is; I know not 'seems.'
'Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
Nor windy suspiration of forced breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected 'havior of the visage,
Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,
That can denote me truly: these indeed seem,
For they are actions that a man might play:
But I have that within which passeth show;
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.
[33 lines spoken ]_____________________________________not to Wittenberg.
I shall in all my best obey you, madam.
[8 lines spoken]______________________________________Come, away.
O that this too too solid flesh would melt (etc.)
Figure 35: Part (Cue Script) for Hamlet, amended with [notes] marking the number of missing lines between
each cue.
In the earlier seasons, lead actors tried to become director-like and influence the
other actors‘ interpretations according to their vision of the show. When this happened,
the cohesiveness and efficiency of the group broke down. Therefore, the actors realized
that their key job was to produce the play, not to discuss the play. The success of the
season depended on the quality of the plays and the enthusiasm of the actors and
audiences. These rehearsal practices also appealed to disjointed interpretations of early
modern plays which countered the directorial practice of presenting a play as a complete,
coherent fictional world. Because plays at the Blackfriars use a bare stage defined by
verbal cues, the division of the play according to individual interpretation provided a
vitality and energy to the actors who sold their choices to an audience who did or did not
follow their interpretation. Failure was always dangerously close.
The excitement and danger of this way of working appeared in Tyler Moss‘s
interpretation of Corvino in the 2008 production of Ben Jonson‘s Volpone. He played his
role according to what was written, i.e., an abusive, money-grubbing husband willing to
pimp his wife to win Volpone‘s estate. Moss did not assume that he was in a comedy, so
he was able to threaten other characters and his wife to a disturbing degree. In his scenes,
Corvino‘s vice extended well beyond the acceptable foibles of humanity expected in a
comedy and became a harrowing depiction of the depravity of a man who sought the
fortune of a dying man. When actors came to rehearsals with such an unexpected
interpretation of their ―parts,‖ they surprised the other actors and gave them plenty of
material to fuel their reactions. They proved themselves to be good collaborators with
much to offer to the ensemble and the audience. Those who enjoyed this way of working
and brought to rehearsal strong choices such as these were often invited back each year to
continue to experiment with this way of working.
Just as the Globe‘s jig call brought all actors together, musical interludes allowed
the America Shakespeare Center actors to collaborate on a skill that also required leading,
supporting, and listening. Instead of separate musicians, the actors played live music
before the show, at intermission, and as the text of a play demanded. In addition to being
a key way to address the audience as they walked into the theatre, the music allowed
actors to learn about each other as they played and collaborated. Their ability to play and
listen to each other in the music extended to their ability to play and listen to each other
on stage. The time spent playing music was also a good McGuffin to get actors working
together on a project that was often fun and helped actors develop musical skills as they
learned new songs, vocal styles, and instruments.
The performance and rehearsal conventions of the American Shakespeare Center,
as derived from Shakespeare‘s own conventions fostered the cohesiveness of the
ensemble. Actors bonded over the difficulty of the task and earned respect through the
success of the season. The actors with the largest roles or longest tenure in the company
exercised more sway over the direction of the shows, but no actor had a controlling
interest in the plays. The actors who played mostly supporting roles had less input, but
the small size of the company meant that no one could afford to alienate a fellow actor.
Each of the twelve actors was necessary. With this great responsibility, came great
power. But, that power was shared.
Rehearsal Practices
The dedication to Shakespeare‘s staging practices334 and budget constraints made
the American Shakespeare Center‘s short rehearsals dependent on actor preparation. The
rehearsal process focused intensely on the staging of difficult scenes with many
characters and physical activity, such as dances, fights, masques, and large group scenes.
The rehearsals typically lasted between two and three weeks. Therefore, the success of a
show was highly dependent on the actors‘ ability to bring in clear choices and create the
show with minimal direction.
From 26 July through 2 August 2011 The American Shakespeare Center had two
ensembles rehearsing shows. The touring ensemble, which had assembled on 11 July
2011 finished the second of two dress rehearsals for A Winter’s Tale on 28 July. On 29
July, the touring ensemble began the three-weeks of eight-hour rehearsals (including two
dress rehearsals) for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The separate resident ensemble
finished mounting the third show, Hamlet, which added to the present repertory of The
Tempest and The Importance of Being Earnest. On 26 July, the resident ensemble began
rehearsing Henry V, which rehearsed for about twenty hours per week for five weeks.
Both companies had similar amounts of rehearsal, and the company had set working
practices, including Renaissance runs, scansion, and paraphrasing. The veteran actors of
the resident ensemble, however, showed a greater ability to make blocking and artistic
decisions with their fellow actors.
334 Once called ―original staging practices,‖ ―Shakespeare‘s staging practices‖ refers to the practice of
imitating, as close as scholarly possible, the conditions of Shakespeare‘s theatre in actor-audience
relationship, rehearsal time, and text use. For further information, see Weingust, Don. Acting from
Shakespeare's First Folio: Theory, Text and Performance. New York: Routledge, 2007.
The rehearsals for A Midsummer Night’s Dream reflected the working practices
that the company had developed for actors who were just learning the performance
conditions of the American Shakespeare Center. For the first day of rehearsal, in two
four-hour sessions, the acting company prepared the Renaissance Run without the input
of a director. Unlike the Actors‘ Renaissance Season, actors had the benefit of the full
script with the entrance and exit locations marked. Most of the actors were well off book
since they were facing such a short rehearsal period. The cast comprised mostly actors
new to the company and three actors who had worked with the company before.
To prepare the Renaissance Run, the actors listed all the scenes of the play on a
whiteboard according to the number of actors in each scene. They prioritized rehearsals
according to the scenes that had the most people. Scenes with fewer actors rehearsed
simultaneously when actors were available. Actors not in rehearsal pulled costume
pieces and assembled plots. Because many actors were working simultaneously, the play
was staged quickly.
Vital to the success of a show was the presence of experienced actors. For
instance, Rick Blunt, who played Bottom, had a good sense of where the embedded stage
directions were in the script. For instance, when he said, ―masters, spread yourselves,‖
he asked the other actors to help him make stage action that reinforced the meaning of the
line. This led the actors to become a clump at the beginning of the scene and then spread
out at Bottom‘s command. In order for this to work, the actors had to remain willing to
go along with each other‘s ideas and support them. The time constraints meant that
actors often did not debate their choices, but followed the actors who had a clear physical
choice that was supported by the text.
Sometimes differing interpretations or uncertainty slowed down the process. For
instance, when the First Fairy met Puck, the actor playing Puck tried to use magical
gestures to control First Fairy to which she did not respond. She expressed doubt that his
character would have power over her, but the veteran actor who played Puck
enthusiastically pleaded ―say ‗yes‘ to me!‖ Because the actor playing First Fairy did not
have a different idea, the actor playing Puck persuaded her to react to his magic and to
take on some of her own. Since the creative process under pressure was about getting to
a solution, not the ―right‖ solution, the company developed the ethos that said ―your
something is better than my nothing,‖ meaning that actors must support each other‘s ideas
unless they had a better idea. As a result, actors tried choices physically rather than
debating them intellectually. In an eight-hour rehearsal to stage the entire play, there was
no time to conceptualize, only to stage.
Getting a scene staged in as short amount of time as possible was key to this style
of working. In the Henry V Ren Run preparation, the veteran actors joked about an
actor‘s idea which was, in their opinion, an ―artistic‖ choice rather than a ―practical‖
choice. The practical choices were useful starting points for the director. Kate
Powers,335 who met the cast for the first time at the Midsummer Ren Run, was able to see
the actors‘ interpretations before she gave any of her interpretation of the play. She also
saw which scenes needed additional rehearsal. The rehearsal process, therefore, was not
dedicated to finding the meaning of the play but to clarifying and finalizing the actions
and character relationships the actors had prepared.
335 Due to budget constraints, the artistic director, Jim Warren, had been directing nearly all of the shows
of the previous seasons, thus adding more continuity to the working styles.
The touring ensemble‘s next rehearsals worked through the play scene by scene.
The actors would read through the scene on their feet and emphasized trochees, spondees,
pyrrhic and other unusual verse structures. After the scene, the actors sat with the full
cast and read their paraphrased version of the scene. The actors, in their preparation,
provided a word-for-word paraphrase for their lines. For instance, Romeo‘s line ―What
light through yonder window breaks‖ could be paraphrased to ―which illumination from
that far away fenestration emits.‖ The actors generally enjoyed the ridiculousness of
some word choices. Skilled actors listened to and repeated other actor‘s paraphrases. For
instance, one actor paraphrased ―eyes‖ as ―peepers,‖ and other actors echoed this choice
by changing their paraphrases of ―eyes‖ to ―peepers‖ in order to mark that the characters
were using each other‘s language.
Paraphrasing and scansion readings were developed to make sure all actors
understood exactly what they were saying and that they had sensitivity to the verse and
could, possibly, make choices based on elements in their text: verse, diction, and
embedded stage directions. The actors who put their choices in action during rehearsals
were often the same actors who were rehired in future seasons. Throughout this
rehearsal, the director asked questions of the actors to get them more specific about the
given circumstances of the play and their character relationships. Since Jim Warren, in
addition to director Kate Powers, was present for many of these beginning rehearsals, he
was able to provide information on the house preference for the pronunciation of certain
words and scansion of diphthongs and triphthongs. Warren served as a reference point for
the actors and the director, but tried not to intrude in the rehearsal process.
Nearly all of the actors in the resident ensemble had rehearsed and performed in
an Actors‘ Renaissance Season. The efficiency and confidence that they had built with
the company allowed the director, Ralph Cohen, to let them produce much of the play on
their own. The entire first week of rehearsals approximated the conditions of the Actors‘
Renaissance Season. Cohen benefitted from the ensemble of actors who had worked
together on the previous plays of the tetralogy: Richard II (2008), Henry IV, part 1
(2009), and Henry IV, part 2 (2010). Therefore, the actors brought with them an
understanding of the play, their characters, as well as their fellow actors.
The resident ensemble was self-sufficient. Each morning the ensemble sat
together to schedule the scenes to be rehearsed and the time needed for each scene.
When actors were not called for this rehearsal, they were often working with their scene
partners in other rehearsal studios or working on music for the show, and/or finding props
and costumes for the Ren Run. This structure gave the actors the freedom to know which
scenes were to be rehearsed and the responsibility to fill the rest of their rehearsal time
with tasks that helped the run of the show.
Even though the company had five rehearsals to prepare the Ren Run, they still
worked at a fast pace with great cooperation. For scenes requiring sound cues such as
trumpet calls, an actor/musician prepared it without being asked. When blocking scenes,
the actors used the embedded stage directions and encouraged each other by giving
permission to pursue blocking impulses. For instance, during the siege of Harfleur,
Miriam Donald, who played the boy, encouraged the imposing long-time company
member James Keegen (Fluellen) to toss people to the ―breach‖ (i.e., the ―discovery
space‖). This direction not only gave her fellow actor permission to make physical
contact, but also supported Keegan‘s expressed impulse to hurl the ―dogs‖ back into the
fight. So, Keegan determined an action based in the text that he had, then came to the
rehearsal with a clear intention and asked his fellow actors for help with his character‘s
blocking. They agreed and the scene received a clear, physical action that reinforced the
words. This, in turn, helped Miriam motivate her hiding amongst the audience to get
away from the ferocious Fluellen. Because of the complex blocking that had developed,
the actors asked the ensemble for fifteen more minutes of stage time. Their request was
granted. In the absence of a director, Miriam, whose character watched much of the
scene after she hid, was able to give direction to her fellow actors in order to increase the
pace and urgency of the battle scene.
Actors also offered each other moral supported. After a scene where Fluellen
confounded Macmorris, James Keegan asked Patrick Midgley, a three-season veteran,
―Was I frustrating you with that scene?‖ Patrick assured him that he was not. Because
the scene concerned the contention between the soldiers of different nations, the actors
made choices that irritated or intimidated the other characters. This same dynamic was
usually not welcome between actors in rehearsal, so this moment of check-in and support
was vital. Similarly, lead actors often spent much of their time directing other characters
to support their scenes. The actor playing Henry V had rarely been the focus of so many
scenes during rehearsals for previous shows. The other actors kept asking him what he
wanted them to do in rehearsal and resisted giving blocking notes to him. During breaks
actors went over to him and patted his back and reminded him that he was taking on a
huge role. They promised to offer him any support they could.
This dynamic also appeared in the Actors‘ Renaissance Season. When Ben Curns
was preparing the role of Hamlet in the 2007 Actors‘ Renaissance Season, fellow longterm company actor René Thornton Jr. asked him if he needed time to work on the
soliloquies. Curns did not realize that he was missing rehearsal time since soliloquies did
not involve other people to stage them. Thornton demanded time for Curns to work on
some of the most famous speeches in the English language. Because the attention in
rehearsal was constantly focused on helping other actors, the actors rarely had time to
consider what they needed for themselves. The support of the eleven other actors became
as vital to the process as paraphrasing or scansion.
In order to maintain an ethos of mutual support, the twelve actors often asked
questions of each other about the best way to stage the play. Actors often requested a
sound cue or blocking choice by beginning ―I wonder if there can‘t be…‖ or ―what
happens if…‖ Actors did not tell each other what to do, but asked if anyone else wanted
to add a new element to the scene or to rework one that was difficult or unclear. They
also offered feedback on acting choices, as when Henry V after the parley to the governor
of Harfleur decided to take on a limp. John Harrell, long-term company actor,
commented that it was a nice humanizing detail to come after such a ferocious speech.
Therefore, the actors had responsibility to give feedback and to ask questions that led to
the staging of the play, even though they did not always have to agree.
The rough staging in rehearsal remained unpolished up to and through
performances. The soliloquies and two-person scenes, sometimes, resisted setting the
blocking until the performance, so that they could incorporate the audience‘s reactions.
Most actors noted that once a show opened, they still saw room to continue altering the
character and staging choices. Instead of setting the show as a fixed product to be
consumed, the show remained an event that reacted to the needs and reactions of the
audience and actors alike in each performance.
The design of the play used a bare stage, costumed actors, and minimal props.
The focus of the performances remained on the actor and their interpretation of the text of
their roles. One reviewer summarized the appeal of this aesthetic: ―what ultimately made
this performance so commanding was that this Henry V was played the way Shakespeare
wrote it.‖336 The ―way Shakespeare wrote it‖ was dependent on an understanding of the
Elizabethan theatre as one focused on language, imagination, and a direct relationship
between audience and actors. The reviewer‘s analysis of the chorus explained:
In a theatre like the Blackfriars, limited to the staging conditions of Shakespeare‘s
time—no sets and no electronic lighting or sound effects—Chorus was more than
an allegory. He was our special effect, enjoining us to use our own imaginations
to provide the settings and atmosphere.
Because the theatre successfully marketed itself as the place to see Shakespeare as the
way his company would have done it, they were able to change the expectations of the
audiences. Instead of spectacle, Cohen offered an interpretation of the play dependent on
the actors‘ clarity and relationship with the audience.
In performance, actors used their text playfully. For instance, Rene Thornton Jr
delivered Captain Jamy‘s line: ―It sall be vary gud, gud, faith, gud captains bath, and I
sall quite you with gud leve, as I may pick occasion. That sall I, marry‖ 337 in an
Eric Minton. ―The Legend of Hal, Part Three.‖ October 12, 2011. Accessed
July 31, 2012.
Henry V, 3.3.43-45.
incomprehensibly thick brogue which prompted quizzical looks from the fellow cast
members. Likewise, Allison Glenzer, as the French lady Alice, interpreted Princess
Catharine‘s French as ―de tongues of de mans is be full of deceits‖ but pronounced
deceits as ―de-sheets,‖ creating a seemingly unintentional scatological pun that stopped
the show with continuous audience laughter. The performance and rehearsal focused on
the verbal cues for actors, audience, and characters alike, supporting a text-based
interpretation of Shakespeare‘s theatre. Because the American Shakespeare Center relied
on the actors and the cleverness with their text to amuse audience rather than scenic
spectacle, rehearsals achieved more collaboration with the actors both in dialogue with
the director and in the initial preparation by the ensemble.
Chapter 8: Epilogue
The reciprocal relationship between understandings of Shakespeare‘s original
theatre and the demands of modern performance and company management in the six
theatre companies in this dissertation revealed a greater preference to meet the demands
of the current audience than deference to honor Shakespeare‘s original theatre. Each
company originally made changes to theatre design, stagecraft, acting techniques, and
company management, based to some degree on Shakespeare‘s original theatre, in hopes
of revitalizing the performance of Shakespeare‘s plays for their audiences. The
marketing rhetoric used to justify these changes often reflected a preference to perform
Shakespeare ―as written‖ or ―as originally performed.‖ Some critics, like W.B. Worthen,
argued that this rhetoric lessened the creative innovation of the theatre artists because
they saw ―performance less as a means of constituting meaning than as a means of
realizing it.‖338 But the actors and directors of these companies refashioned
Shakespeare‘s original theatre only so far as it served their own aesthetic. The
underlying assumptions of how to ―realize‖ the meaning of a text, therefore, were linked
with modern and postmodern trends in theatre practice. Most actors, directors, and
designers interviewed for this dissertation held little interest in or knowledge of
Shakespeare‘s original theatre. Instead, actors and directors expressed enthusiasm for
W. B. Worthen, Shakespeare and the Force of Modern Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge UP,
2003), 208.
Shakespeare‘s language and the ability to speak directly to audience members. The
historical justification for making changes to the stagecraft and company management
served the goals of these theatre artists who wished to make the theatrical event more
interactive than movies of plays using proscenium conventions. The stagecraft and
language of Shakespeare‘s past created possibilities, not constrictions, for the present and
future theatre artists.
In 2011, few critics or arts funding organizations viewed these six companies‘
dedication to Shakespeare‘s plays and stages as generative of possibilities for the future
of theatre. In order to warrant public support, each of the theatres proved that
Shakespeare was only part of a larger theatrical or educational mission. The six
companies often produced new plays and cast actors from diverse backgrounds to
overcome the challenge of Shakespeare‘s limited repertory of thirty-seven plays and
mostly white, middle-age male characters. The revitalization of Shakespeare‘s plays,
though praised by scholars and popular with audiences, did not warrant equal respect
among the critics. With these major challenges, these six theatre companies found ways
to remain relevant beyond their initial dedication to Shakespeare. The demand of the
audience and funders dictated how each theatre used their Shakespearean inspiration.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival used Shakespeare‘s plays and theatre as a
foundation to initiate innovations in stagecraft and repertory. This company confronted
the limitations of Shakespeare‘s plays, however, by addressing issues of American
identity. The Elizabethan stage allowed Bowmer to produce Shakespeare‘s plays
according to the vision of Ben Iden Payne, but when the Bowmer theatre was built in
1970, it emphasized the ways in which the actors and audience shared the same space.
This emphasis reflected the trends of the regional theatre movement and the theatre-inthe-round which had become popular in the 1960s in the United States of America.
Shakespeare‘s limited repertory led the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to commission new
works, which were ―Shakespearean‖ in scope, produced by nationally prominent
playwrights and directors. The loose criteria of a generalized ―Shakespeare‖ inspiration
allowed a wide interpretation that justified nearly any approach, from hip hop in Party
People to fantasy storytelling in Mary Zimmerman‘s The White Snake. Just as the new
plays diversified the repertory, the diverse actors fulfilled Bill Rauch‘s goal of
representing the rich cultural heritage of the United States. Even with the introduction of
more new actors to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the company‘s commitment to the
skill development and personal satisfaction of the actors helped it compete for acting
talent. Bill Rauch‘s focus on the maintenance of a diverse American company and
repertory, helped fulfill their aspirations to become a nationally relevant theatre despite
their geographic isolation.
The Stratford Shakespeare Festival began with Tyrone Guthrie‘s mission to using
open stages in an effort to revitalize the staging of Shakespeare‘s plays. Sixty years later,
Des McAnuff focused on improving the quality of the directors and the designers that
were hired in order to sustain this Canadian theatrical institution. McAnuff and other
directors appealed to audiences often with a greater degree of spectacle than directors at
the other theatres in this dissertation. McAnuff was able to reach a broader audience with
his visually resplendent productions of Shakespeare‘s plays by translating them to film
and using more cinematic editing and cinematography than typical theatrical recordings.
Canonical modern plays, musicals, and new Canadian plays complemented the repertory
to provide a wide range of theatrical experiences. The training programs educated young
actors to be the next generation of top quality Canadian actors. The Stratford Shakespeare
Festival through its repertory, training, and distribution practices became a national
theatre, not just a Shakespeare festival.
The Royal Shakespeare Company shared similar budgetary and design resources
as the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, but Michael Boyd used Shakespeare‘s plays and
thrust stages to revitalize the acting profession by adopting rehearsal, staging, training,
and hiring practices of a smaller, fringe theatre. Boyd‘s thirty-month contracts for actors
sought to give them the stability to develop their acting skills and learn to work as an
ensemble. In a way, he mirrored the practices of the Malaya Bronnaya Theatre, and he
hoped to change the expectations of English actors and directors. The change he hoped
to bring about was not fully realized because actors and directors did not necessarily
change their professional expectations or aesthetic preconceptions when they joined the
Royal Shakespeare Company. Nonetheless, Boyd opened up new possibilities for actors,
directors, and their audiences through the redesign of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and
his commitment to collaborative rehearsals and performances.
Shakespeare & Company used Shakespeare‘s plays and stagecraft to develop
new acting and rehearsal techniques. The plays of Shakespeare rewarded both the
emotional depth of the American acting tradition and the technical virtuosity of the
English acting tradition. Through thirty-four years of workshops, these techniques
reached thousands of professional actors. The impact of the company was even more
pronounced in the thirty-four years of educational workshops that introduced
Shakespeare‘s plays and theatre to over one million elementary, middle, and high-school
students. The combination of dedicated teachers and dedicated company members
developed techniques and working philosophies that made Shakespeare relevant to actors
and audiences. Moreover, the dedication of these company members, and the satisfaction
they found in the artistic practices of the company, inspired the use of artist-managers.
The inspiration actors found in the work made them more willing to take on these
additional duties. In both technique and management, Shakespeare & Company provided
new models for actors, directors and educators.
Shakespeare‘s Globe began as a joint theatrical and historical enterprise. Under
Dominic Dromgoole‘s artistic direction the emphasis shifted from reviving Shakespeare‘s
stagecraft and design practices to hiring directors who provided diverse methods for
using Shakespeare‘s stage. The stage and surrounding architecture remained Elizabethan,
but the directors were given freedom to add and alter the space as they saw fit. These
directors‘ shows, however, received more positive critical reviews than the earlier
historically inspired performances. The emphasis shifted from the building‘s history to
focus solely upon the actor-audience interaction during performance. Many credited this
attention to the audience as a revolution in actor training which led to the popularity of
one of the finest stage actors in the world: Mark Rylance. The performance dynamic,
though undeniably connected with Shakespeare, influenced actors‘ techniques and
audience expectations.
Of all the companies, The American Shakespeare Center, which focused on
staging research and researching stagecraft, maintained the strongest link to the past. The
time and design constraints of Shakespeare‘s original staging practices necessitated
imaginative stagecraft and verbal acuity. The practices derived from Shakespeare‘s
rehearsal practices provided new strategies to stage plays and to build strong
actor ensembles. The conventions established at the American Shakespeare Center
inspired the working practices of theatre companies founded by former actors and
students of The American Shakespeare Center. 339 These new theatre companies did not
have the benefit of the reimagined Blackfriars Playhouse, but the specificity of word and
action necessitated by a bare stage and interactive audience translated to other venues.
The above six theatre companies expanded their missions to meet the demands of
the theatre industry in the USA, England, and Canada, as explained in each of the subsections in this dissertation. The six companies used Shakespeare‘s plays to inspire
stagecraft, management, and actor training. Through the dedication to revitalizing
Shakespeare, these companies attempted to revitalize the theatre industry. Although each
company maintained many years of successful productions, they are analyzed here only
according to the criteria of the research questions. The final section, ―suggestions for
further research,‖ raises questions that are raised through the description of the practices
of each of these companies that could lead to a fuller understanding of how
Shakespeare‘s plays continue to influence, and be influenced by, the practices of the
professional theatre.
Legacy and Continuity
The first major investigative question in this dissertation was as follows: ―did the
re-staging of Shakespeare's plays in six ‗non-profit‘ theatre companies introduce new
Theatre companies inspired or influenced by the American Shakespeare Center included The Maryland
Shakespeare Festival, The Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company in Grand Haven, MI, and The Shakespeare
Forum in New York City.
stagecraft and managerial strategies?‖ For most companies, the Elizabethan-inspired
stages urged changes to stagecraft and managerial strategies, particularly during the early
years of each company. As these six companies hired more personnel to produce more
shows, they often adopted the casting, stagecraft, and management practices of the
commercial theatre. Their dedication to productions of Shakespeare‘s plays built up their
reputations and resources. In turn, their need to maintain this reputation and
accommodate larger audiences led to the hiring of directors and actors who did not
necessarily embrace the managerial strategies or stagecraft of the Elizabethan-inspired
In 2011, companies like the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Oregon
Shakespeare Festival, and the Stratford Shakespeare Festival each produced seasons of at
least twelve plays from various theatrical traditions. The directors that were hired rarely
shared the theatre‘s dedication to Shakespeare‘s plays on Elizabethan-inspired stages.
Therefore, their stagecraft practices often followed modern and postmodern trends in
directing that sometimes suited the Elizabethan-inspired stages for Shakespeare‘s plays,
but rarely did they reinvent their stagecraft practices to take full advantage of the
Elizabethan-inspired stages.
The logistics of managing a large repertory of plays required separate
administrative personnel. At the founding of these companies, actors often assumed
administrative and artistic duties that required of them a greater personal investment in
the company. When possible, actors gladly delegated these responsibilities to
administrative personnel so that they could focus solely on their performances. This
delegation of duties created stakeholders who had nothing to do with rehearsals. In turn,
conflict arose between the managers whose responsibility was to make the theatre
financially successful and the actors and directors who required artistic freedom to
change the practices of the commercial theatre based on their dedication to Shakespeare‘s
plays on Elizabethan-inspired stages. While Richard Monette of the Stratford
Shakespeare Festival chaffed at the conflict between financial concerns and artistic
morals, Shakespeare & Company, and to a lesser degree Oregon Shakespeare Festival,
often avoided such conflict by incorporating actors into the management decisions of the
Beyond Shakespeare‘s thirty-six plays, the theatre management of these six
companies often expanded the repertory to include a broader selection of plays. New
plays distanced these companies from the harsh criticism that they were only ―museum
theatre.‖ The fear of being called ―museum theatre‖ forced each company to assert its
contemporary relevance rather than its historical affiliations in the selection of its
repertory. The Royal Shakespeare Company and the Stratford Shakespeare Festival
justified their large government subsidies by reflecting the interests and values of the
entire country in new play commissions and casting practices. Bill Rauch at The Oregon
Shakespeare Festival produced nearly as many world premiers as Shakespearean plays on
their Elizabethan-inspired stages. Because Shakespeare‘s plays and stages only
implicitly fostered innovation in these companies, the commitment to new plays
explicitly showed the company fostering new playwrights and performance techniques.
Each company began with a season that featured a large percentage of
Shakespeare‘s plays, but in 2011, their repertories were much more diverse. Oregon
Shakespeare Festival‘s 1935 season featured only The Merchant of Venice and Twelfth
Night, but in 2011 their season of thirteen plays included four plays by Shakespeare. In
1953, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival also started with two of Shakespeare‘s plays:
Richard III and All’s Well that Ends Well. In 2011, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival
produced a twelve-play season featuring four plays by Shakespeare. The Royal
Shakespeare Company in 1961 produced twelve plays, seven of which were
Shakespeare‘s, and in the 2011-12 season, the Royal Shakespeare Company produced
seventeen plays, six of which were Shakespeare‘s (seven if Cardenio was to be counted)
and one play by Phillip Massinger, The City Madam. Shakespeare & Company‘s
inaugural 1978 season featured A Midsummer Night’s Dream and later Three Voices of
Edith Wharton. In 2011 Shakespeare & Company produced a sixteen-play season that
included three of Shakespeare‘s plays. Shakespeare‘s Globe produced Henry V and The
Winter’s Tale by Shakespeare as well as Beaumont and Fletcher‘s The Maid’s Tragedy
and Thomas Middleton‘s A Chaste Maid in Cheapside in the 1997 opening season. In the
nine-play 2011 season, four of Shakespeare‘s plays and Doctor Faustus were featured.
Finally, the American Shakespeare Center began as Shenandoah Shakespeare Express in
1988 with one Shakespeare play, Richard III, and in 2011 they produced sixteen plays
including eight by Shakespeare, one by Marlowe, and three by Jacobean playwrights.
Due to cost limitations, most non-musical plays produced in the commercial
theatre featured a small number of actors. However, these six theatre companies hired
large numbers of actors, offering playwrights the opportunity to write large-cast shows.
Playwrights had the benefit of knowing the actors who would play their roles, the theatres
in which they would be performed, and the regular audiences of these six companies.
Playwright Bill Cain took advantage of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival‘s ensemble
principles and actors as the basis for the character relationships of Shakespeare‘s
company in his play Equivocation. Paul Menzer‘s The Brats of Clarence satirized the
actors and staging conventions of the American Shakespeare Center for an audience who
had grown familiar with both over years of repeat visits. The limitations provided by the
known actors, theatres, and audiences fostered the creativity of playwrights.
Because new plays were financially risky, these six theatre companies added
canonical modern plays and musicals to their repertories. Due to the minimal demands
for scenic effects and the emphasis on clever lyrics, the musicals of Gilbert and Sullivan
were popular at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.
To appeal to student audiences, companies produced adaptations of canonical novels, like
Oregon Shakespeare Festival‘s To Kill a Mockingbird (2011) and Shakespeare &
Company‘s The Hound of the Baskervilles (2011). The Royal Shakespeare Company
added epic plays to their repertory such as Marat/Sade (2011) and The Life of Galileo
(2012). These plays relied on their past reputation to appeal to audiences, and they often
balanced, financially and aesthetically, new works and Shakespeare‘s plays. Although
these six theatre companies kept Shakespeare‘s plays at the core of their repertory, they
produced a variety of plays to appeal to a general theatre audience.
Shakespeare‘s Globe and the American Shakespeare Center expanded their
repertory with plays written by Shakespeare‘s contemporaries: chiefly Christopher
Marlowe, Ben Jonson, and Thomas Middleton. The Globe had no annual government
subsidy, and The American Shakespeare Center received little government support. They
remained committed to rediscovering the stagecraft and rehabilitating the plays of the
Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline eras. Dominic Dromgoole, however, committed to
producing new plays that used the performance conventions practiced at the Globe
including the visible audience, verbally defined locations on a bare stage, and extensive
actor doubling. In this way, Shakespeare‘s stages and stagecraft inspired playwrights,
actors, directors, and designers to change their practice to suit the stages.
The dedication to Shakespeare‘s plays also challenged the casting practices of
these theatre companies. Shakespeare‘s characters reflected the mostly adult, white, male
demographics of the Lord Chamberlain‘s Men. Contemporary theatre practice, however,
valued race and gender diversity. Therefore, theatre companies often adopted policies of
cross-gender and race-neutral casting. Cross-gender casting often highlighted principle
actresses in leading male roles. Seana McKenna played Richard III as a man at The
Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Vilma Silva at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival played
Julius Caesar as a woman. More often, companies reversed Shakespeare‘s practice of
casting boys as women by casting women as boys as did the Oregon Shakespeare
Festival‘s Love’s Labour’s Lost, where Emily Sophia Knapp played Armado‘s page,
Moth,340 and Robin Goodrin Nordli played Boyet.341 Cross-gender casting also allowed a
small acting company to perform many plays in a season. The four actresses in the
American Shakespeare Center‘s Actors‘ Renaissance Season played all the female roles
and thirteen additional male roles.342 Because cross-gender casting was a practical
Moth was also played by an eleven-year-old girl, Abigail Winter-Culliford, in The Stratford
Shakespeare Festival‘s 2008 production and a pregnant woman, Doreen Bechtol, in the American
Shakespeare Center‘s 2007 production
Boyet is not usually considered a boy part, but he shares the clever language and ability to undercut or
mock characters of higher status generally shared by boy characters.
These practical solutions contrast greatly with the conceptual experiments with single-gender companies
in Shakespeare‘s Globe 2003 season with an all-female Taming of the Shrew and all-male Twelfth Night.
See: Shand, G. B. ―Guying the Guys and Girling The Shrew: (Post)Feminist Fun at Shakespeare's Globe.‖
A Companion to Shakespeare and Performance. Eds B. Hodgdon and W. B. Worthen. Oxford: Blackwell
Publishing Ltd, 2007.
solution to the problem of Shakespeare‘s limited roles for women, many theatre artists
did not think of the practice as radical or worthy of note, even though much of the press
surrounding cross-gender performance reinforced the novelty of the casting.343
Racial and regional diversity were equally desirable among the six companies.
The World Shakespeare Festival in 2012 invited theatre companies from around the
world to perform at Shakespeare‘s Globe and in Stratford-upon-Avon to represent
Shakespeare as a world theatre artist rather than a relic of English imperialism. Within
each of the six theatre companies, actors of all races and ethnicities were welcome. Just
as women who played men asked audiences not to read their gender, actors from different
racial backgrounds made the same demands for their performances. Bill Rauch altered
this trend by asking the actors and audience to discover the meaning of the Shakespeare‘s
plays in a specific cultural context. By setting productions in places like Iraq (2012
Troilus and Cressida) and Southern California (2011 Measure for Measure),344 Rauch
used Shakespeare‘s plays to highlight, rather than erase, the cultural heritage of the
The staging, repertory, and casting practices reflected the directors‘ and actors‘
anxiety about Shakespeare‘s cultural authority. Rather than recreating the theatrical past,
these six companies addressed the theatrical needs of the present. Therefore, the influence
of Shakespeare‘s plays was diminished as soon as the vision of the new artistic directors
Actors often commented that gender made no difference to the character since the words and actions of
the character were more important than any essential concept of gender. Reviewers often either praised the
daring casting of the company to feature a woman in a major role or expressed regret that the casting of a
woman in a major role did not inspire new romantic possibilities in the play.
This is a delicate balance to strike, however, since setting a play in a setting like Southern California for
the 2011 Measure for Measure could essentialize or stereotype the actors. In order to counteract this
danger, he encouraged actor input in the process and set the tone of the rehearsal room that made the actors
feel as if they were allowed to challenge him without suffering repercussions.
redefined the mission. The American Shakespeare Center, however, made the most
drastic changes to the stagecraft and management styles through their adoption of the
Actors‘ Renaissance Season. By committing fully to the rehearsal conditions of
Shakespeare‘s original troupe, they discovered a new way of producing a season of plays
efficiently and imaginatively. Because they were successful with plays by Shakespeare
and his contemporaries alike, the Actors‘ Renaissance Season proved that the stagecraft
and rehearsal styles they practiced were artistically and financially viable, even though
they were far different from the practices of the commercial theatre.
Stages and Stagecraft
The second major investigative question in this dissertation was as follows: ―to
what degree did those directors who re-staged Shakespeare's plays in six ‗non-profit‘
theatre companies successfully integrate the audience in the performance?‖ Each of these
theatre companies used a stage inspired by one of Shakespeare‘s original theatres for the
purpose of integrating the audience in the performance. The director‘s preference, more
than the dictates of the architecture, determined the extent to which the audience was
integrated in the performance. For the directors and artistic directors who were interested
in a direct actor-audience relationship, the Elizabethan-inspired stage helped integrate the
audience in the performance. Directors who were hired based on their visually stunning
stagecraft integrated the audience indirectly, if at all.
The Elizabethan-inspired stages encouraged but did not dictate stagecraft.
Because the audience members surrounded the stage on three sides and could see each
other, directors and actors from the six theatre companies claimed that the audience was
integrated in the performance. Actors in each of the six companies remarked that they
felt a greater intimacy with the audience. The Globe and the Blackfriars playhouses,
however, lit actors and audience alike. In the shared pool of light, actors could expand
their focus from the stage to include the audience‘s reactions in the show. Other
companies used lighting effects and scenic spectacle to focus the audience‘s attention on
the stage rather than each other. Actors in these companies sometimes used direct
audience address, but the fact that the audience was not lit kept attention focused on the
stage rather than the integration of the actors with their audience.
Integrating the audience into the show did not have a significant effect on critical
reception. Critics typically commented solely on actor performances, directorial
interpretations, and design. Shakespeare‘s Globe enjoyed near-capacity crowds
throughout its existence while suffering poor critical reviews. The reason for the Globe‘s
popularity among international tour groups was often attributed to the fetish for the
building and the ―original‖ Shakespeare. However, Globe actors and directors often
credited the integration of audience reactions in performance as the reason for the
theatre‘s popularity. Audiences at The American Shakespeare Center tended to be
enthusiastic but small. Reviews from the Washington Post often praised the company‘s
approach to Shakespeare‘s plays and integration of the audience. Because the
Washington Post printed only two reviews in the twelve years of the company‘s
existence, they had little effect in drawing attention to the company or praising the
quality of individual shows.
Critical response was equivocal when directors in a single company took different
approaches to integrating the audience in performance. On the redesigned Royal
Shakespeare Theatre, Michael Boyd attempted to integrate the audience, but director
Rupert Goold did not integrate the audience in performance. Michael Boyd repeatedly
stated the importance of making the theatrical event a communal experience. Rupert
Goold had received praise in other plays for his ―eye-boggling technical effects.‖345
Boyd used a mostly-bare stage, and actors often used direct audience address. Goold‘s
actors rarely used direct address and competed for attention against the lush visual
accouterments of a casino and a live band of a dozen musicians. Both shows received
positive, but unenthusiastic, reviews. The integration of the audience did not make a
clear difference to the traditional criteria of review. In short, the Elizabethan-inspired
stages needed a commitment from directors and actors to integrate the audience into the
performance, even though such a dynamic did not guarantee better critical responses.
Shakespeare‘s Globe and the Blackfriars Playhouse were often successful in
incorporating the audience because they shared a common pool of light, and directors
highlighted the ability of actors to speak to and interact with the audience. Because these
two theatres aimed to recapture the spirit of Shakespeare‘s original performance, they
were most likely to integrate the audience. Directors at Shakespeare & Company,
however, equally emphasized the interaction of actors and audience members. The actors
used the entire theatre, not only the stage, for the play, including frequent excursions into
the audience area which was lit by ambient light from the stage. Even though
Shakespeare & Company did not have a full theatre inspired by Shakespeare, the
Ben Brantley, ―Theater Review: Macbeth, ‗Something Wicked This Way Comes,‖ New York Times,
February 15, 2008, accessed September 1, 2012,
company aesthetic was most effective in the incorporation of the audience in nearly all of
their productions.
Actor Training and Coaching
The third major investigative question in this dissertation was as follows: ―how
important was the coaching of actors in six ‗non-profit‘ theatre companies to stimulate
rewarding rehearsals, quality performances, and actor loyalty to the company?‖ Coaches
were highly important to providing a rewarding rehearsal experience for young actors,
which in turn increased the actors‘ loyalty to the company. Established actors, however,
rarely used coaches unless they had developed a prior working relationship with a
specific member of the coaching staff. Coaches did not markedly improve performances,
but they helped actors address the technical demands of Shakespeare‘s texts and the
Elizabethan-inspired stages. By addressing these challenges, coaches gave actors
confidence in their performances and tools for role preparation, which young actors
found rewarding. The quality of each actor‘s preparation and the clarity of each director‘s
vision, however, were more important in the popular and critical success of a show.
Coaches helped young actors adjust to working in a Shakespeare company. The
fame of the cast, the reputation of the theatre company, and Shakespeare‘s plays often
intimidated even experienced actors. Young actors often had small roles, so they did not
receive much attention from directors. Coaches gave young actors someone to turn to for
advice and performance techniques in order to gain confidence. Actor Muzz Khan
described a crisis of confidence that echoed actors‘ rehearsal experiences in each of the
six companies:
The general public opinion is that actors, particularly those performing for the
likes of the RSC (et al), are all über-confident in their abilities; that they surely
CAN'T be full of self-doubt or suffer from a crisis of confidence. Regardless of
the length of the CV – we all go through [a crisis of confidence]. It's all a part of
the process and that's what goes into creating a piece of art.346
Because coaches offered one-on-one attention, they helped assuage these fears, or at least
they reminded actors that the crisis of confidence was a normal part of the process.
Coaches and training programs also built the actors‘ loyalty and gratitude to the
company. Large theatre companies like the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Stratford
Shakespeare Festival, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival had the resources to dedicate
to training programs. These programs often mirrored the long-established tradition of
European state theatres that incorporated training programs into the artistic mission of the
company. They also had more than enough quality actors to fulfill their casting needs
each season. The coaching experiences made young actors doubly grateful to the
company, partly for the excitement of working with generations of top actors, and partly
for the quality of the coaching experience. The individual attention to the craft of acting
from coaches, directors, and fellow actors often encouraged young actors to see the
theatre as their parent company that launched their career. Artistic directors at these large
companies expressed a preference for actors to leave the company and to return later in
their careers. By leaving the company, these actors took their impressive training with
Muzz Khan, ―Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway,‖ RSC Whispers from the Wings (blog), July 16, 2012,
accessed September 1, 2012,
them to other theatre companies. Their absence allowed the directors to hire new actors,
and thus they perpetuated a larger network of quality actors for casting.
Coaches did not have positive reactions from all actors. Actors sometimes worried
that working with a coach diminished their status in the company, even though coaches
and directors denied such impressions. Actors sometimes complained that the coaches
attempted to contradict the director in coaching sessions by providing ―subliminal
direction.‖ Instead of building confidence, these sessions added to frustration, especially
with actors accustomed to a single, authoritative directorial voice. Most actors
accustomed to the practices of the commercial theatre preferred a single director‘s voice,
so that they knew exactly what was expected of them, especially in rehearsals held near
the opening of the show. The coaches, then, were often useful in early preparation and in
maintaining technical proficiency in dress rehearsals. Any reach outside of these strictly
defined roles was a conflict most coaches actively avoided.
Coaches were particularly effective in increasing the confidence of actors by
adapting actors‘ current acting techniques to the texts of Shakespeare. Coaches like John
Barton, Cicely Berry, and Scott Kaiser adapted understandings of Shakespeare‘s rhetoric
and verse structures to inform actors with prior training in Stanislavsky-based naturalistic
acting. Coaches, therefore, aimed to make actors comfortable and confident with
Shakespeare‘s language rather than attempting to recreate systems of Elizabethan
performance. However, few coaches were able to institute a company-wide standard for
verse speaking or text analysis, as was once a goal of Peter Hall at the founding of the
Royal Shakespeare Company.
Instead of teaching a new system for performing Shakespeare‘s plays, coaches
addressed individual needs of specific roles, speeches, and lines according to what the
actor desired. This attention to the individual mirrored the missions of these six
companies to make Shakespeare accessible to everyone. At the basis of techniques like
Kristin Linklater‘s, and the missions of education programs like The Royal Shakespeare
Company‘s Stand Up For Shakespeare, individuals were encouraged to make a personal
connection to the words of Shakespeare, rather than to his identity as a cultural authority.
Instead of a playwright with works to be understood, Shakespeare became an idea to be
discovered. This individualized approach was particularly important in order to maintain
the benefits of a diverse acting company. Most directors argued that the strength of
diversity was in the ability of actors to have conflicting opinions and for the best idea to
win. Training, therefore, gave actors tools for expression of their artistic interpretation
rather than a system of ―correct‖ movement, speech, and text analysis.
Audiences often served as coaches at Shakespeare‘s Globe and The American
Shakespeare Center. Because actors directly responded to the audience in performance,
their assumptions of character reflected postmodern conceptions of ―character.‖ Rather
than a unified psychological concept, actors diminished the value of internal consistency
for the pluralistic reactions to their words and actions. As Mark Rylance described of his
own experience:
As Artistic Director of Shakespeare‘s Globe I had imagined I would learn a lot
about Shakespeare‘s acting, and I did, but I learnt more about Shakespeare‘s
audience. And along the way it was they who taught me how to play
Shakespeare. They would find something funny or tragic long before I sensed the
deep wit or grief operating in a line.347
The Globe and Blackfrairs playhouses encouraged actors to challenge Stanislavsky-based
naturalism and learn improvisational performance techniques that were flexible to
audience responses. Each performance, then, became a coaching experience that taught
the actors about the text and stages of Shakespeare.
Of all the theatre companies, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival was the most
successful in using training resources to stimulate rewarding rehearsals, quality
performances, and actor loyalty to the company. Company policy invited coaches to all
rehearsals. Scott Kaiser was solely dedicated to developing the playing range and
technical abilities of actors in the company. The actors‘ professional and artistic
ambitions were considered in many levels of the company, from training to future
employment. This managerial and material consideration often increased actors‘ loyalty
to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, regardless of the geographical and professional
drawbacks. The structure of the training resources, without comparing the quality of the
coaches and their interactions with actors, provided the most successful model for
reaching the goals stated in the research question.
Ensemble Acting
The fourth major investigative question in this dissertation was as follows: ―was
‗ensemble acting‘ in six ‗non-profit‘ theatre companies detrimental to the professional
Mark Rylance, ―Purple Sprouting,‖ quoted in The Guthrie Thrust Stage: A Living Legacy, Association
of British Theatre Technicians: 2011, published on the occasion of the 2011 Prague Quadrennial of
Scenography and Theatre Architecture, 20.
and emotional well-being of the actors?‖ In general, the dedication to ensemble acting
increased the emotional well-being of the actors who were comforted by the ability to
work with some of the same actors and directors in consecutive seasons. Ensemble
acting, however, could be detrimental to the professional well-being of the actors because
actors were often required to perform some roles that did not correspond to their level of
talent and experience. Because actors in these six companies performed in two or more
plays in a season, they sometimes enjoyed having a mixture of large and small roles to
play, including roles that they would not typically play in other commercial theatres.
When roles were distributed evenly, ensemble acting was beneficial to the emotional and
professional well-being of the entire company, but when roles were not evenly
distributed, ensemble acting became merely a philosophy rather than a necessity as
actors‘ professional and emotional well-being suffered.
The dedication to ensemble acting was an idealistic remnant of the 1960s regional
theatre movement in the United States and the fringe theatres of the United Kingdom.
These movements attempted to imitate the practices of companies like the Moscow Art
Theatre and the Group Theatre which maintained a steady group of actors for many
years. In 2011 these six companies were some of the few companies who still attempted
to challenge the enervating and maddening practices of the entertainment industry
through a dedication to ensemble.
At the founding of these six companies, the dedication to Shakespeare often
created a consistency of style and a unified commitment from the actors to the mission of
revitalizing Shakespeare‘s plays in performance. As these theatre companies grew to
include several acting companies and the plays of many playwrights, the unity of purpose
and style became diffused. Artistic directors valued cooperation and equality in rehearsals
and gave actors financial stability through longer contracts. When directors cast actors to
make the best shows rather than the best opportunities for ensemble, the limitation of
casting opportunities and the unequal distribution of roles among the company created
friction among the ensemble. In 2011 the conflict between the ensemble ideal and the
realities of the commercial theatre led to the breakdown of ensemble acting in several
large companies.
Many actors joined the six Shakespeare companies despite their agents‘ warnings
because they believed that they would have rewarding and challenging rehearsal and
performance experiences. Each actor who joined one of these six companies shared, to
some degree, the sacrifice of time away from pursuing other opportunities in film,
television, or other professional theatres. Rewarding training, rehearsal, and performance
experiences, therefore, had to offset this loss. The emotional well-being of the actors
needed to be balanced against the sacrifice of professional well-being or else actors
would not do their best work for the company or return for future seasons.
The best way to ensure that actors received professional and emotional support
was, ironically, to offer them extremely difficult tasks that required the support of fellow
actors, coaches, and directors. The tightest ensembles appeared in the companies asked to
do the most difficult tasks, such as the eight-play Histories Cycle348 at the Royal
Shakespeare Company performed for two years or the five-play Actors‘ Renaissance
The Histories Cycle was uniquely suited among Shakespeare‘s plays to feature an ensemble cast.
Unlike other plays by Shakespeare that focus chiefly on one or two characters, the histories focus on
warring families who love, fight, and die with frequency. Therefore, the distribution of lines, and the
necessity for doubling is much more extensive than within a typical repertory. For these reasons, both
Michael Boyd and Peter Hall used the history plays as a means of establishing ensemble principles in the
Royal Shakespeare Company.
Season at the American Shakespeare Center performed in three months. Because actors
in these ensembles had more responsibilities in design, staging, and interpretation, they
turned to each other for support and advice more often than in rehearsals for single
shows. Actors developed equal status by leading and following in rehearsals. In scenes
where they played large roles, they gained respect by leading the blocking of the scene
with clear character choices and movement. In scenes with smaller roles, they gave
respect to their fellow actors as they supported their blocking and character choices. The
willingness to undertake such imposing tasks was only endemic to the types of actors
who enjoyed having additional input and responsibility. Therefore, actors chose
ensembles as much as ensembles chose actors. The best ensembles got the best work out
of their actors because they loved the company, rather than feared unemployment.
The limitations of a short rehearsal period, extensive doubling, and the lack of a
single director, made actors at The American Shakespeare Center assume the
responsibility for the show and contribute the extraordinary effort to make the shows
successful. These actors experienced significant stress levels throughout the process, but
they were happy with their ability to play many roles, to work with a supportive company
of actors, and to premier plays not produced for hundreds of years. Since they were all
committed to the mission of reviving the early modern plays and stagecraft, they had a
unity of purpose that rewarded them emotionally while the numerous roles added to their
résumé rewarded them professionally. Therefore, by adhering to the supposed rehearsal
practices of the Elizabethan theatre, the American Shakespeare Center achieved the
strongest ensemble of any of the theatre companies in this dissertation.
Shakespeare companies with larger numbers of actors and more rehearsal time
often had less equality established among the actors. Actors in large companies were
more likely to be cast according to their talent level: famous or more experienced actors
played larger roles while less experienced actors played smaller roles. Because the
rehearsal period was long enough for experienced actors to play two or more large roles,
directors were able to cast their own shows as strongly as possible without consideration
to the well-being of the actors who may be overworked by the large roles or underworked
by the small roles. Actors were also cast according to their specialization: lover, fighter,
clown, or father/mother. This focus required rewarding rehearsal and performance
experiences to maintain the actors‘ emotional well-being. Even though young actors often
played less-substantial roles, the ability to work with a major company provided
networking opportunities with fellow actors and directors that helped their professional
In rehearsal, directors used the collaborative principle of ensemble to benefit from
the actors‘ years of experience with the plays and stages of the theatre company.
Directors were more likely to seek input from experienced actors who prepared clear
character and staging choices before rehearsal. Directors like Michael Boyd, Tim
Crouch, and Bill Rauch were dedicated to having collaborative rehearsals, which actors
often called ―democratic.‖ These directors encouraged all actors, whether playing a lead
or a lady in waiting, to offer ideas in the search for the ―best‖ idea concerning the staging
and interpretation of the play. The quality and experience of the actors made the
collaborative methods beneficial to the production as well as the emotional well-being of
the actors who felt that their artistic voice mattered.
Actors often contrasted these collaborative rehearsal practices with those of the
entertainment industry. In television, film, and short-run plays they often were expected
only to prepare their role and ―deliver the goods‖ on the day of performance. The
collaborative rehearsal allowed them to take more of a director‘s interpretive role. Actors
who enjoyed the responsibility and respect of collaborative rehearsals were more likely to
forgo higher-paying contracts to spend more seasons with the company. Other actors,
especially ones new to a collaborative company, simply saw rehearsal as a game in which
they tried to make the director happy. The collaborative rehearsal, to them, was
bothersome since they preferred that the director tell them exactly what she or he wanted,
as was the case with the rest of the entertainment industry. The collaborative rehearsal,
therefore, rewarded the emotional well-being of actors who envisioned theatre according
to the principles of ensembles but frustrated those actors whose expectations reflected the
commercial theatre.
Rehearsal Practices
The case studies of rehearsal focused on the way directors, actors, designers, and
coaches interact. They do not attempt to show what rehearsal practices lead to the best
shows. Many actors remarked that a good rehearsal does not necessarily a good show
make. Torturous rehearsals have yielded great shows, and pleasant rehearsals have made
flops, but the converse has been equally true. Therefore, the case studies show the
correlation between the rehearsal practices of the director and the performance dynamic
the actors use with the audience.
The fifth major investigative question in this dissertation was as follows: ―to what
degree were rehearsal patterns in six non-profit theatre companies influenced by the
relationship established between actor and audiences during performance?‖ Throughout
the companies, the level of collaboration between director and actors in rehearsal directly
corresponded to the level of collaboration between actor and audience in performance.
Directors who used few scenic effects, like Tim Crouch and Ralph Cohen, concentrated
rehearsal on the clarity of the text to be communicated through dialogue with the actors.
The lack of scenic effects gave actors the freedom to change blocking choices in each
performance. These directors also encouraged actors to lead the rehearsals, either through
improvisations or staging the scenes themselves. These rehearsal methods helped ensure
that actors had sufficient ownership of the plays so as to accommodate the audience‘s
responses in the shows. Because actors improvised in rehearsal, they were able to
improvise in performance.
Directors who used large scenic effects, like Des McAnuff and Rupert Goold,
often spent more rehearsal time creating scenic effects for the audience to view. The
spectacle, though often popular with audiences, limited both audience interaction and
time dedicated to discussion with actors to prepare for an interactive audience. The
precision of the transitions as well as the set and lighting designs required actors to repeat
their blocking the same way each show. These rehearsals often had a collaborative ethos,
especially among the designers, choreographers, coaches, composers, and dramaturgs.
These supporting roles decreased the actors‘ workloads, but they decreased the actors‘
ability to change the show in response to the audience each performance.
William Poel‘s process of re-discovery of the conventions of the Elizabethan
theatre opened up new possibilities for the production of Shakespeare‘s plays. By
continuously investigating Shakespeare‘s plays and the conventions for the Elizabethaninspired stages, directors and actors in these six companies were able to challenge the
stagecraft and company management practices prevalent in the entertainment industry
from 1895 to 2012. Using Shakespeare‘s plays as the source of innovation, however,
limited the relevance of these companies to the professional theatre since they appeared
to have a narrow focus on a single playwright. Only by expanding the use of their stage,
the repertory of plays, or their management practices were these six theatre companies
able to prove that they were not concerned in providing ―museum‖ pieces. Although most
actors and directors in Shakespeare companies claimed that Shakespeare‘s plays were
―universal,‖ they only became so through careful hiring practices, clever direction, and
the emphasis in performance on the present audience, rather the historical past.
No company would dedicate its mission to Shakespeare‘s plays and original
theatre if quality productions of Shakespeare‘s plays were common. Only when the
commercial theatre companies of the twentieth century failed to ensure quality
productions of Shakespeare‘s plays did this niche market become a source of innovation.
These companies dedicated to Shakespeare‘s plays expanded their missions to borrow the
best elements of the commercial theatre while attempting to remedy its failures and
frustrations. By claiming to recreate Shakespeare‘s original theatre, these theatres
legitimated changes to theatrical practices that defied the common sense of the
entertainment industry and individual directors. By claiming that naturalistic acting
techniques alone did not serve the plays of Shakespeare, teachers had to discover new
techniques for the performance of Shakespeare‘s plays. By running the plays in
repertory, these companies required hiring and management practices that challenged the
commercial theatre. Conversely, by claiming that the audiences demanded spectacular
staging to enjoy the plays of Shakespeare, directors legitimated their current scenic
practices regardless of textual demands. Because all theatre artists could claim
Shakespeare as their own, they were able to prove the validity of their performance
practices by their ability to succeed with Shakespeare‘s plays.
Questions for Further Research
The six companies in this dissertation provided six examples of how theatre artists
used historical inspirations to challenge the stagecraft and company management
practices of the commercial theatre. The purpose of this dissertation was to describe how
these six companies used Shakespeare‘s original theatre for inspiration; therefore, it left
unanswered several questions pertaining to why Shakespeare was chosen as the
inspiration or what other reasons these companies had for the adoption of their stagecraft
and management practices. Below are questions raised by each of the sections that could
yield a more complete understanding of the role of Shakespeare‘s plays and Elizabethaninspired stages in the modern theatre.
The sections entitled ―Legacy and Continuity‖ show how each company used
Shakespeare‘s plays and theatre as an inspiration in their founding years and in 20112012. These sections did not seek to explain why Shakespeare was the playwright
chosen for these inspirations. Could other playwrights as fruitfully inspire festivals of
plays that would allow a greater diversity in stagecraft, mission, and company
management? Would these theatres have as great a fear of producing ―museum theatre‖
as those that produce Shakespeare‘s plays? The Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake,
Ontario provides one model for comparison on a large scale, but other festivals dedicated
to other playwrights tend to be significantly smaller with shorter runs of the plays. What,
then, is the artistic and financial value of producing Shakespeare? Are Shakespeare‘s
plays and theatre a significant enough departure from the commercial theatre to warrant
such specialized attention?
Many theatre artists interviewed described his plays as containing ―universal‖
themes and situations, but they all are confined, to some degree, to producing the same
thirty-seven plays at the heart of their repertory. As these companies expand their
repertories to include musicals, modern plays, and devised new plays, why do they insist
on keeping Shakespeare‘s name in their title? What is the worth of the name of
Shakespeare to the theatre companies that allows them to draw in audiences even when
less than half their repertory is dedicated to Shakespeare‘s plays? For instance, the
Stratford Shakespeare Festival used the simpler name ―The Stratford Festival‖ throughout
much of its history in order to highlight the diversity of their repertory. Should other
theatres follow suit and remove Shakespeare from their names if they are, in fact,
dedicated to a diverse range of plays and theatrical traditions?
Through the ―Stages and Stagecraft‖ sections of this dissertation, the tendency of
theatre artists was to adapt Shakespeare‘s plays and playhouses to their current interests
in stagecraft. Although Shakespeare‘s original theatres inspired several of the stages, are
the Globe, the Rose, and the Blackfriars‘ playhouses the optimal settings for
Shakespeare‘s plays? Do some plays, such as the ―drum and trumpet‖ plays requiring
battles, benefit from the outdoor playhouse? Do the later plays, like The Winter’s Tale
and The Tempest, benefit from performance in the more intimate indoor playhouse?
Moreover, most theatre companies in this dissertation had several theatres in which they
produced the plays of Shakespeare. For how long does a dedication to Shakespeare‘s
original theatre, therefore, last? Why do theatre companies shy away from the anathema
of ―museum theatre,‖ and for what, exactly, is ―museum theatre‖ a shibboleth?
The other major issue raised in the sections on stagecraft is the rising
phenomenon of increasing access to the theatre and Shakespeare‘s plays through the
video recording of the play and the presentation of these films in cinemas, and later in
video. To what degree do the demands and styles of cinema influence the staging of the
plays? Or, does the necessity to translate a stage performance to film encourage
innovations in cinematic styles that allow the interactive quality of theatrical performance
appear in film?
What are the strategies filmmakers have used to make a live
performance appear lively on film?
The sections on ―Actor Training and Coaching‖ reveal some individual qualitative
accounts of the actors‘ satisfaction, or lack thereof, derived from the training resources
and coaches. But, to what extent does the training contribute to the quality of the shows?
Moreover, how well do coaches serve the needs of the entire company? Many people
praise the coaches, but because the actors often assimilate their work, the real effect of
their efforts is difficult to measure.
Because the current trend in actor training is to adapt techniques to the individual
actor, can any theatre company truly innovate performance techniques for acting in
Shakespeare‘s plays? Would a system of performance be a desirable thing for a
company, as was championed by earlier theatre artists like Peter Hall and William Ball,
or would it only reduce the value of hiring a diverse company of actors with diverse
training backgrounds? Several directors complained of the difficulty of trying to find a
common vocabulary and ways of working with actors of different training. Are the
coaches and training programs capable of alleviating these difficulties? Further, how do
these coaches avoid duplicating or contradicting a director‘s work?
Shakespeare‘s plays inspired some stagecraft techniques to followed postmodern
trends in performance, but did they inspire postmodern approaches to the actors‘
technique? For instance, actors who had to adapt to audience responses in their
performances developed ―characters‖ that could change each night, based on audience
responses. What companies are dedicated to redefining performance in post-modern
ways, and how do coaches and training programs prepare them, if at all? Finally, does
the presence of coaches in these companies indicate a failure of training programs to
prepare actors for employment in the theatre?
The conflict of ideals and realities of ―Ensemble Acting‖ raised several questions.
First, are the practices of the commercial theatre, i.e. hiring actors, directors, and
designers for one show at a time, more or less effective at producing top-quality
performances than ensembles of actors producing a repertory of plays? Second, what are
the best hiring practices for directors who desire a collaborative rehearsal room?
Contingent to this question is whether the collaborative rehearsal room is the most
efficient way of producing a top-quality show. Third, does a dedication to ensemble
actually provide substantial non-financial benefits to the entire acting company? If so,
what are they, and can they be replicated with any group of actors? As rehearsal times in
most companies have shortened, does the maintenance of an ensemble make rehearsals
more efficient and successful at producing quality shows over many years of productions,
not just in one season? Finally, are the plays of Shakespeare conducive to an ensemble of
actors, or are they better served by hiring star actors to play the leading roles? The
dedication to Shakespeare and ensemble seem to be at odds in many cases, but much
more detailed research would be needed to describe where ensemble succeeds and where
it fails for the production of plays in the economic climate of the twenty-first century.
The case studies of rehearsal at the four companies did not aim to reveal
generalizable principles, but they showed the diversity of approach used for
Shakespeare‘s plays. In a field dominated by individual director and actor preference, are
there models of rehearsal that are best for making the plays of Shakespeare
understandable and entertaining? What rehearsal practices best prepare actors to
incorporate audience responses into their performances directly? Finally, should
rehearsals for the plays of Shakespeare differ from rehearsals of plays by other
playwrights? If so, how? Few academic studies examine rehearsal because it is difficult
to establish a cause and effect of the techniques used and dynamics between the actors
and the director and the actors and each other. However, as more and more directors
cease to treat the rehearsal room as a sacred, private space, they offer the chance for study
and comparison. Is it possible to bring directors and their techniques into useful dialogue
in a field habitually kept private and individual rather than public and methodical?
Albright, Christine. Interview by Andrew Blasenak. Ashland, OR, September 8, 2011.
Adler, Steven. Rough Magic: Making Theatre at the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois UP, 2001.
―All the Way‖ The Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Accessed August 6, 2012.
―American Revolutions.‖ The Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Accessed July 28, 2012.
Anonymous (Actor). Interview by Andrew Blasenak. Stratford-upon-Avon, UK, June
15, 2011.
Anonymous (Actor). Interview by Andrew Blasenak. Ashland, OR, September 11,
Anonymous (Actor). Interview by Andrew Blasenak. Ashland, OR, September 11,
Anonymous (Actor). Interview by Andrew Blasenak. Stratford, ON, August 19, 2011.
Anonymous Royal Shakespeare Company actor, email to author, August 7, 2011.
Anonymous Shakespeare & Company actor. Interview by Andrew Blasenak. Lenox,
MA, June 1, 2011.
Anonymous Shakespeare & Company actor. Interview by Andrew Blasenak. Lenox,
MA, August, 19, 2011.
Anonymous Shakespeare‘s Globe actor. Interview by Andrew Blasenak. London, UK,
June 22, 2011.
Asbury, Nick. Exit Pursued by a Badger: An Actor’s Journey Through History with
Shakespeare. London: Oberon Books, 2010.
Atkinson, Brooks. ―Canada‘s Festival: High Praise is Given to Acting Company.‖ New
York Times, July 3, 1960.
Atkinson, Brooks. ―Shakespeare Festival: Measure for Measure' Staged in Canada.‖ New
York Times. June 30, 1954.
―A Word or Two.‖ Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Accessed July 27, 2012.
Bard, Sweat, and Fears. Prod. Ragtop Productions. Stratford, ON: The Corporation of the
City of Stratford, 2002. Videocassette.
Barton, John. Playing Shakespeare. London: Metheun, 2001.
Basil, John. Will Power: How to Act Shakespeare in 21 Days. New York: Applause,
Beauman, Sally. The Royal Shakespeare Company: A History of Ten Decades. (Oxford:
Oxford UP, 1982), 239.
Berry, Cicely. The Actor and the Text. New York: Applause, 1992.
Bessell, Jacquelyn. ―Actor Interviews 2000.‖ Shakespeare’s Globe Research Bulletin.
Issue 18, March 2001. Accessed September 16, 2012.
Blacker, Robert. Interview by Andrew Blasenak. Stratford, ON, July 9, 2011.
– –.
―A Tribute to Des McAnuff, June 13, 2011.‖ Stratford‘s Longstanding Artistic
Philosophy. Accessed August 15, 2012.
Block, Giles. Interview by Andrew Blasenak. London, UK, June 19, 2011.
Booth, Stephen. ―The Shenandoah Shakespeare Express‖ Shakespeare Quarterly. 43: 4
(1992): 476-83.
Bowmer, Angus. As I remember, Adam: An Autobiography of a Festival. Ashland, OR:
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival Association, 1975.
Boyd, Michael. ―The Imminent prospect of a radical new theatre.‖ Memorandum, The
Royal Shakespeare Company, September 22, 2008.
– –. ―Making Theater and New Communities: A Talk by Michael Boyd.‖ Presentation
at the New York Public Library, New York, NY, June 20, 2008. Accessed July
28, 2012.
– –. ―Playing our Proper Role. The Way Forward for The Royal Shakespeare
Company.‖ Memorandum, The Royal Shakespeare Company, October 2003.
– –. ―Who‘s Who: Michael Boyd.‖ The Royal Shakespeare Company. Accessed July 28,
Brantley, Ben. ―Theater Review: Macbeth, ‗Something Wicked This Way Comes.‖ New
York Times. February 15, 2008. Accessed September 1, 2012.
– –. ―Turning Shakespearean Self-Discovery Into Child‘s Play.‖ Review of Twelfth
Night. New York Times. August, 29, 2009. Accessed July 27, 2012.
Brown, John Russell. Introduction to Routledge Companion to Directors’ Shakespeare.
New York: Routledge, 2008.
Canwest News Service. ―Stratford put Shakespeare Back into Festival.‖ July 17, 2007.
Accessed July 24, 2012.
Carey, David and Rebecca Clark Carey. Interview by Andrew Blasenak. Skype. August,
31, 2011.
Chambers, Colin. Inside the Royal Shakespeare Company. London: Routledge, 2004.
Chambers, E. K. The Elizabethan Stage. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1923.
―Changing of the Guard: Dromgoole at the Globe.‖ April 21, 2008.
Accessed September 16, 2012.
Cohen, Ralph. Interview by Andrew Blasenak. Staunton, VA, July 28, 2011.
Coleman, Kevin. Interview by Andrew Blasenak. Lenox, MA, May 29, 2011.
―Comprehensive Training: the Month Long Intensive.― Shakespeare & Company.
Accessed July 27, 2012.
Crouch, Tim. ―The Author: An Article by Tim Crouch.‖ Tim Crouch Theatre. Accessed
July 28, 2012.
– –. Interview by Andrew Blasenak. Stratford-upon-Avon, UK, June 16, 2011.
Cushman, Robert. Fifty Seasons at Stratford. Toronto: Madison Press Books, 2002.
Diamond, David J. ―Balancing Acts: An interview with Anne Bogart and Kristin
Linklater.‖ In The American Theatre Reader, edited by the staff of American
Theatre Magazine, 480-488. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2009.
Dickson, Andrew. ―Shakespeare's Globe theatre: are the bad reviews right?‖ The
Guardian (theatre blog). April 15, 2009.
Dickson, Joy. Interview by Andrew Blasenak. Phone. September 18, 2011.
Douthit, Lue. Interview by Andrew Blasenak. Ashland, OR, September 9, 2011.
Dromgoole, Dominic. Interview by Andrew Blasenak. London, UK, June 22, 2011.
– –. ―Shakespeare‘s Globe Film Spotlight: Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole.‖
Broadway World.Com. By Pat Cerasaro. August 16, 2011. Accessed July 28,
– –. ―Changing of the Guard: Dromgoole at the Globe.‖ April 21,
―Education.‖ Shakespeare & Company. Accessed July 27, 2012.
Epstein, Helen. The Companies She Keeps: Tina Packer Builds a Theater. Cambridge,
MA: Plunkett Lake Press, 1985.
Ewert, Kevin. ―Michael Langham.‖ In The Routledge Companion to Director’s
Shakespeare, edited by John Russell Brown, 211-232. New York: Routledge,
Falocco, Joe. Reimagining Shakespeare’s Playhouse: Early Modern Staging
Conventions in the Twentieth Century. Rochester, NY: D. S. Brewer, 2010.
Fantasia, Louis. Instant Shakespeare. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2003.
Fogarty, Lulu. ―Professional Actor Training: Alumni Response.‖ Shakespeare &
Company. Accessed July 27, 2012.
Foster, Catherine. ―Breaking Barriers.‖ Prologue. [Magazine for members of the
Oregon Shakespeare Festival], Summer 2011.
Frankel, Tony. ―Regional Theater Review: Julius Caesar.” Stage and Cinema.
September 12, 2011. Accessed September 9, 2012.
Garfield, David. A Player’s Place. New York: Macmillan, 1980.
Garnon, James. Interview by Andrew Blasenak. London, UK, June 22, 2011.
Gilbert, Miriam. ―The Leasing-out of the RSC.‖ Shakespeare Quarterly 53, no. 4 (2002):
Guthrie, Tyrone. ―A Long View of the Stratford Festival.‖ Twice Have the Trumpets
Sounded: A Record of the Stratford Shakespearean Festival in Canada in 1954.
Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1954.
Guthrie Thrust Stage: A Living Legacy. Association of British Theatre Technicians:
2011. Published on the occasion of the 2011 Prague Quadrennial of Scenography
and Theatre Architecture.
Hall, Peter. ―Chekhov, Shakespeare, the Ensemble and the Company.‖ New Theatre
Quarterly 11, no. 43 (1995): 203-10.
Harrell, John. Conference paper in ―TheoryFear.‖ The Blackfrairs Conference.
Staunton, VA. October 27, 2011.
―Henry V [Review]‖ The Mid-Atlantic Traveler. September 26, 2011. Accessed July 31,
Henry, Martha. Interview by Andrew Blasenak. Stratford, ON, July 8, 2011.
Higgins, Charlotte. ―RSC's Artistic Director Michael Boyd Announces Final Curtain.‖
Guardian. October 14, 2011.
Hildy, Franklin, ―Why Elizabethan Spaces?‖ Theatre Symposium 12 (2004): 98-120.
Isherwood, Charles. ―Theater Talkback: A Final Scorecard for the RSC.‖ New York
Times Arts Beat (blog). August 18, 2011. Accessed July 28, 2012.
Jays, David. ―Are the RSC‘s ensemble glory days over?‖ Guardian (theatre blog).
February 1, 2011. Accessed July 28, 2012.
Jones, Margo. Theatre-in-the-Round. New York: Rinehart & Company, Inc. 1951.
Joseph, Sister Miriam. Shakespeare’s Use of the Arts of Language. 1947. Reprint,
Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2005.
Kaiser, Scott, interview by Andrew Blasenak. Phone. September 18, 2011.
– –. Mastering Shakespeare: An Acting Class in Seven Scenes. New York: Allworth
Press, 2003.
– –. Shakespeare’s Wordcraft. New York: Limelight Editions, 2007.
Khan, Muzz. ―Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway,‖ RSC Whispers from the Wings (blog),
July 16, 2012. Accessed September 1, 2012.
Knapp, Tom, interview by Andrew Blasenak. Ashland, OR, September 12, 2011.
Leary, Kathleen F. and Amy E. Richard. Images of America: Oregon Shakespeare
Festival. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2009.
Linklater, Kristin. Freeing Shakespeare’s Voice. New York: Theatre Communications
Group, 1992.
– –. Freeing the Natural Voice. London: Nick Hern Books, 1976.
McAnuff, Des. Interview by Andrew Blasenak. Stratford, ON, April 11, 2012.
– –. ―Annual General Meeting, March 3 , 2012.‖ Stratford’s Longstanding Artistic
Philosophy. Accessed August 15, 2012.
– –. ―Live Art in the Digital Age.‖ Keynote Address to the Bi-annual Congress of the
International Society of Performing Arts, Toronto, ON, June 15, 2011.
– –. Rehearsal observation by Andrew Blasenak. Stratford, ON, April 14, 2012.
– –. ―Season Opening Night.‖ May 28, 2012. Stratford’s Longstanding Artistic
Philosophy. Accessed August 15, 2012.
McClure, Jay. Interview by Andrew Blasenak. Staunton, VA, August 1, 2011.
McDonald, Russ. Shakespeare and the Arts of Language. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001.
McGee, C. E. ―Shakespeare in Canada: The Stratford Season, 1992.‖ Shakespeare
Quarterly 44: no. 4 (1993), 477-483.
Mackintosh, Iain. The Guthrie Thrust Stage: A Living Legacy. Association of British
Theatre Technicians, 2011.
Marks, Peter. ―In Shenandoah Valley, a Shakespeare Tradition has Taken Root.‖
Washington Post. April 27, 2012. Accessed September 19, 2012.
Minton, Eric. ―The Legend of Hal, Part Three.‖ October 12,
2011. Accessed July 31, 2012.
―Mission, Vision, and Values Statement.‖ Shakespeare & Company. Accessed July 27,
Moore, Edward M. ―William Poel.‖ Shakespeare Quarterly 23, no. 1 (1972): 21-36.
Nunn, Trevor. Foreword to The Actor and the Text. By Cicely Berry. New York:
Applause, 1992.
Offstage-Onstage: Inside the Stratford Festival. Directed by John H. Smith. Toronto,
ON: National Film Board of Canada, 2002. DVD.
Osborne, Keith. Something Written in the State of Denmark. London: Oberon Books,
―Our mission.‖ The Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Accessed July 28, 2012.
Ouzounian, Richard. ―Henry V review: Des McAnuff ends his Stratford days with a
bang.‖ The Toronto Star. July 16, 2012. Accessed July 31, 2012.
– –. Stratford Gold: 50 Years, 50 Stars, 50 Conversations. Toronto, ON: McArthur &
Company, 2002.
Packer, Tina. ―Author‘s Note,‖ Theatre Program for Women of Will. Lenox, MA:
Shakespeare & Company, May 27, 2011.
– –. Interview by Andrew Blasenak. Lenox, MA, June 3, 2011.
―Party People.‖ The Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Accessed August 6, 2010.
Pearson, Janine. Interview by Andrew Blasenak. Stratford, ON, July 7, 2011.
Poel, William. An Account of the Elizabethan Stage Society: Printed for the Society.
London: Elizabethan Stage Society, 1898.
Polley, Nora. Interview by Andrew Blasenak. Stratford, ON, April 8, 2012.
Portman, Jamie. ―A Stratford salute to Henry V: Retiring Stratford artistic director Des
McAnuff‘s farewell to Shakespeare a triumph of flash over substance. Review.‖
Postmedia News Service. July 16, 2012. Accessed July 31, 2012.
―RSC by the Numbers.‖ Park Avenue Armory. August 31, 2011. Accessed July 28, 2012.
―Richard III.‖ Globe Education Online. Accessed July 26, 2012.
Rauch, Bill. Interview by Andrew Blasenak. Ashland, OR, September 8, 2011.
Rauch, Bill. ―Bill Rauch, Cornerstone Theater Company.‖ Leadership for a Changing
World. May 31, 2002. Accessed November 15, 2012.
Roach, Joseph. The Player’s Passion: Studies in the Science of Acting. Newark:
University of Delaware Press, 1985.
Rodenburg, Patsy. Speaking Shakespeare. New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2002.
Rosenthal, Daniel. ―The Power Behind the Throne.‖ Independent (London), December
13, 2000.
―Rose Playhouse U.S.A. Project.‖ Shakespeare & Company. Accessed July 27, 2012.
Selbourne, David. The Making of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. London: Methuen,
―Shakespeare‘s Staging Conditions.‖ Theatre Program for 2012 Actors‘ Renaissance
Season. The American Shakespeare Center: Staunton, VA, 2011.
Shakespeare Theatre Association, ―Member Index,‖ accessed September 6, 2012.
Shakespeare, William. The Norton Shakespeare: Based on the Oxford Edition. Eds.
Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard, Katharine Eisaman Maus.
New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997.
Shaughnessy, Robert. ―Tyrone Guthrie.‖ In The Routledge Companion to Director’s
Shakespeare, edited by John Russell Brown, 211-232. New York: Routledge,
Shand, G. B. ―Guying the Guys and Girling The Shrew: (Post)Feminist Fun at
Shakespeare's Globe.‖ A Companion to Shakespeare and Performance. Edited by
Barbara Hodgdon and W. B. Worthen. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2007.
Shurgot, Michael W. ‖Breaking the Sound Barrier: Howie Seago and American Sign
Language at Oregon Shakespeare Festival.‖ Shakespeare Bulletin, 30, no. 1
(2012): 21-36.
Silbert, Roxana. ―Director Talk: Dunsinane.‖ Stratford-upon-Avon, UK, June 17, 2011.
Simotes, Tony. Interview by Andrew Blasenak. Lenox, MA, May 28, 2011.
– –. Interview by Andrew Blasenak. Lenox, MA, June 2, 2011.
Speaight, Robert. William Poel and the Elizabethan Revival. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
UP, 1954.
Spencer, Teresa. ―Professional Actor Training: Alumni Response.‖ Shakespeare &
Company. Accessed July 27, 2012.
Stern, Tiffany. Rehearsal from Shakespeare to Sheridan. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000.
– –. Making Shakespeare: from Stage to Page. London: Routledge, 2004
―Stratford put Shakespeare back into festival.‖ Canwest News Service. July 17, 2007.
Accessed July 24, 2012.
Styan, J.L. The Shakespeare Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1977.
Teachout, Terry. ―The Glorious Tragedy of Julia Caesar.‖ The Wall Street Journal,
August 26, 2011. Accessed September 9, 2012.
―The Story of the Festival Stage.‖ The Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Accessed July
27, 2012.
The Stratford Adventure. Directed by Morten Parker. 1954. Toronto, ON: National Film
Board of Canada, 2005. DVD.
The Stratford Shakespeare Festival, ―The Story of the Festival Stage.‖ Accessed July 27,
The Stratford Shakespeare Festival. ―A Word or Two.‖ Accessed July 27, 2012.
Tucker, Patrick. Secrets of Acting Shakespeare: The Original Approach. London:
Routledge, 2002.
Turner, Jerry. Epilogue to As I remember, Adam: An Autobiography of a Festival.
Ashland, OR: The Oregon Shakespeare Festival Association, 1975.
Uzzi Brian, Guimerà, Roger, et al, ―Team Assembly Mechanisms Determine
Collaborative Network Structure and Team Performance" Science. 308: 5722 (29
April 2005), 697-702.
Warren, Jim. Interview by Andrew Blasenak. Staunton, VA, August 1, 2011.
Weber, Bruce. ―Richard Monette, Artistic Director for Shakespeare Festival, Dies at 64.‖
New York Times. September 11, 2008.
Weingust, Don. Acting from Shakespeare's First Folio: Theory, Text and Performance.
New York: Routledge, 2007.
Wilk, John R. The Creation of an Ensemble: The First Years of the American
Conservatory Theatre. Carbondale and Edwardsville, IL: Southern Illinois UP,
Wolfe, John. Lecture ―Music in Shakespeare.‖ Stratford-upon-Avon. June 13, 2011.
Worthen, W. B. Shakespeare and the Force of Modern Performance. Cambridge:
Cambridge UP, 2003.
Wright, George T. Shakespeare’s Metrical Art. Berkeley: U of California P, 1988.
Appendix A
Interview Questions
The questions in this appendix were the prepared for interviews with artistic
directors, actors, coaches, and education and administrative personnel. The conduct of
the interviews focused on these questions but often allows time for further detail and
explanation of the artistic and managerial practices of the theatre. Not all interviewees
answered all questions, but the most frequently answered questions (at least 80%
respondent) are marked with an *.
Questions for Artistic Directors
1) *How has your background as (director/new play developer/community outreach,
etc.) influenced the way you work at the (name of theatre company)?
2) *How does the (name of theatre company) influence the present art of theatre in
terms either of audience expectation or actor/director approach?
3) *What are the benefits of the current rehearsal structure?
4) *What are the drawbacks in the current rehearsal structure?
5) What, do you believe, is the key to the success of shows at the (name of theatre
6) How do you envision Shakespeare‘s original theatre? How does that vision
influence how you run the company?
Questions for Artistic Directors, continued
7) What training is necessary for actors in the company? What training does the
(name of theatre company) provide actors (either in or out of rehearsal)?
8) What are the qualities of your ideal company member? What do you do to keep
such company members?
Questions for Actors
1. *What originally attracted you to (name of theatre company)? What keeps you
coming back?
2. *What have you found valuable about the rehearsal methods at (name of theatre
3. *What have been some of the challenges of the rehearsal methods at (name of
theatre company)?
4. *How have you used coaches (voice, text, movement) in the rehearsal process?
5. *What's the most important thing for me to understand about the (name of theatre
6. How does your time at the (name of theatre company) fit in with your career
7. What experiences/resources at the (name of theatre company) have helped your
growth as an actor?
Questions for Coaches
1. *How is rehearsal going/how was rehearsal for this show/season? What are the
benefits and drawbacks of the current structure?
2. *What is your role in training the (name of theatre company)?
Questions for Coaches, continued
3. *What is your role in rehearsal?
4. What, do you think, is the optimum use of your talents in the company?
5. What is the most important thing for me to understand about the (name of theatre
Questions for Education Directors
1) *What is the role of the education department in relation to the vision of the
2) *How does the educational focus of the company impact the productions?
3) *What opportunities does it allow for actors/directors/audiences?
4) *What impact do you hope for your theatre company to make?
Appendix B
Founding Mission Statements/Articles of Incorporation.
This appendix contains the earliest available documents that state each theatre
company‘s mission and/or values. This information is not freely available from
companies in England because, due section 11 of the Charities Commission statement,
governing documents are considered intellectual property rights and cannot, therefore, be
re-printed without expressed consent. The regulation states:
In providing copies of the governing documents, annual reports, accounts, and
extracts from the Register the Commission is not making these available for reuse. The issue of re-use is a matter for the person owning the intellectual property
rights. In the case of governing documents, annual reports, and accounts this will
usually be the charity concerned. The issue of re-use with regard to the Register is
a matter for [the Office of Public Sector Information].349
Therefore, other statements of the artistic mission of these companies, where possible,
have been included.
―Charity Commission policy on provision of electronic copies of publicly available information.‖
Charity Commission.
Accessed November 14, 2012.
Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Articles of Incorporation, Collection Number M0008 Board of Directors Records, 19372010. Oregon Shakespeare Festival Archives.
Stratford Shakespeare Festival
Letters Patent, courtesy of The Stratford Shakespeare Festival Archives
Royal Shakespeare Company
No original mission statement or articles of incorporation/association available.
Peter Hall lists his ambitions for the company in a three-part interview, ―Theatre for Me‖
the Sunday Telegraph, 17 July 1966, 24 July 1966, and 31 July 1966. The book The
Royal Shakespeare Company: The Peter Hall Years, by David Addenbrooke (London:
William Kimber, 1974) cites these sources.
Shakespeare & Company
The following statement of Mission, Vision and Values was provided by
Shakespeare & Company. As of publication, earlier documents could not be obtained.
Mission Statement
Founded in 1978, Shakespeare & Company aspires to create a theatre of
unprecedented excellence rooted in the classical ideals of inquiry, balance and harmony;
a company that performs as the Elizabethans did — in love with poetry, physical prowess
and the mysteries of the universe. With a core of over 150 artists, the company performs
Shakespeare, generating opportunities for collaboration between actors, directors and
designers of all races, nationalities and backgrounds. Shakespeare & Company provides
original, in-depth, classical training and performance methods. Shakespeare & Company
also develops and produces new plays of social and political significance. Shakespeare &
Company‘s education programs inspire a new generation of students and scholars to
discover the resonance of Shakespeare‘s truths in the everyday world, demonstrating the
influence that classical theatre can have within a community.
Statement of Vision
To create a theatre of unprecedented excellence rooted in the Elizabethan ideals of
inquiry, balance, and harmony, performing as the Elizabethans did; in love with poetry,
physical prowess, and the mysteries of the universe. To establish a theatre company
which, by its commitment to the creative impulse, is a revolutionary force in society,
which connects the truths of the past to the challenges and possibilities of today, which
finds its source in the performance of Shakespeare‘s plays, and reaches the widest
possible audience through training and education as well as performance.
A Statement of Values that Unite Us
Under all Shakespeare‘s plays are three vital questions:
What does it mean to be alive?
How should we act?
What must I do?
By making the performance and exploration of Shakespeare‘s plays the center of
our lives, it follows as the night does the day that we must ask ourselves these questions
in all our actions. The plays themselves demand that we take ourselves out into the social
and political fields, making connections between the arts and humanities, arts and
government, arts and business, arts and education, arts and spirituality.
Shakespeare & Company is made up of activities in the following areas:
Shakespeare & Company is generated out of the classical principles present in the
experience of performing and producing Shakespeare‘s plays. These classical principles
are the foundation upon which all programs and activities are built.
By classical, we mean: ―the highest truths told in a universally accessible form
which have an impact that is healing for the individual and society.‖
The ethic and aesthetic of the following commonly-held values and beliefs
identify and unify this Company. These values and beliefs help to align us with classical
We believe that the creative impulse is essential to the human soul, and that the
Arts are the most realized expression of this impulse.
We believe that the ultimate pursuit and practice of Art creates values that are
compassionate and humane.
The symbiosis of performance, training, education, and management creates a
clarity and deepening of experience critical to a healthy company and enhances
the creative impulse.
We believe that participating in the community where we live both enriches our
lives and the quality of our work. We strive to be good neighbors.
We value a society in which peoples of all races and ethnicity live with mutual
respect, generosity, interest in, and commitment to the greater good of all. We
continually strive to have this value reflected in the makeup of our Company.
While working for an arts organization is a privilege and has its own rewards, we
believe that our employees should receive competitive wages and secure benefits.
We believe in a mentoring model that both educates and transmits values, and that
this model is essential to the health of this Company as well as society.
We value open and honest communication and strive to implement it on every
level, even when it is difficult or unpleasant.
We value the exercise of wit and humor to leaven our interactions with ourselves
and others. We believe in playfulness and grace in all our actions.
We value the pursuit of excellence, and work to feel pride and pleasure in all of
our endeavors.
Shakespeare‘s Globe
Excerpt from email to author regarding the availability of articles of
―The information which was given to you in my absence is correct: we can't send you
copies of the documentation we have, as most of it is contained in correspondence - there
was no official mission statement - to which we don't own copyright. This material is
only available for consultation at the archives. Rebecca's list of recommendations is a
good one; if you need more formal documentation, you could look at the entry for the
Shakespeare's Globe Trust in the Charities Commission register, accessible online at (The trust is registered as a charity rather than a
limited company, hence no articles of incorporation are required to be registered under
British law).
Ruth Frendo
Archivist, Shakespeare's Globe
Shakespeares Library Shakespeare's Globe Library & Archive
In absence of articles of incorporation, Farah Karim-Cooper, head of research at
Shakespeare‘s Globe, pointed to the Draft Artistic Policy (from a file labeled ―Artistic
Committee Correspondence‖ and ―Ten Commandments for the New Globe‖ by Alan
Dessen found in Appendices to Shakespeare’s Globe: A Theatrical Experiment.350
Christine Carson and Farah Karim-Cooper, eds, Shakespeare’s Globe: A Theatrical Experiment,
(Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008).
A Draft of Artistic Policy—1988
The policy of every company is circumscribed by the physical plant it operates
and the income it receives. Some willingly add to their constraints (the English National
Opera sings only in English, for example), so the chosen constraints of the Globe project,
plus the expectations of its public and its backers, must be reflected in its policy:
1. The purpose of the project is to present the plays of Shakespeare in the building
for which he wrote many of them.
2. At least one play each season should be presented as authentically as possible.
3. The repertoire should include plays by other writers and of other periods.
4. No production should alter or damage the fabric of the building.
5. The audience-actor relationship created by these sixteenth-century conditions
should be explored.
6. Natural light should be the rule. Artificial light, if needed at night, should be
general enough to cover both players and spectators.
7. No modern sound amplification should be used.
8. The experience and discoveries of the Globe should be recorded and transmitted
by all modern methods.
Ten Commandments for the New Globe by Alan Dessen, 1990
1. Thou shalt sidestep modern editions (and the entire eclectic editorial tradition
since the eighteenth century) and rather mount any experiments on the basis of the
relevant quarto and Folio scripts.
2. Thou shalt honour and respect the original stage directions as precious evidence
(as opposed to the casual treatment often given these signals by modern editors),
including where such signals are positioned in the original printed editions.
3. Thou shalt not retreat from (apparent) anomalies in the early printed editions but
shalt be open to the possibility that what may seem strange to us today may in
turn provide a window into what was distinctive or taken for granted then.
4. Thou shalt strain mightily to transcend, as to the be-all and the end-all in the
interpretive process, various manifestations of ‗realism‘ (whether psychological,
geographical, or narrative).
5. Thou shalt start afresh in the new Globe with as few preconceptions as possible
about the aside, the soliloquy, and the other forms of direct address to (and eye
contact with) the audience (and rethink which speeches are asides and how they
should be signaled).
6. Thou shalt reject as a false god variable lighting (or any equivalent) and all the
anachronistic thinking it inevitably (and sometimes disastrously) brings with it.
Only the rare theatrical professional can resist the siren call of variable lighting if
it is available in any form.
7. Though shalt avoid as another false god Designer‘s Theatre or Director‘s Theatre
and all the ‗concept‘ thinking that goes with it and instead explore the
Elizabethan/Jacobean sense of design (e.g., their rationale for costumes and
8. Thou shalt eschew intervals-intermissions so as to eliminate the anachronistic
single fifteen-minute break that changes the rhythm and dynamics of
performance. Without such breaks, seeing a play at the new Globe will be a
different experience from seeing a play elsewhere in London (and the added
momentum-continuity will help the standees).
9. Thou shalt never forget the watchword of the faith enunciated in the choric
speeches of Henry V (e.g. ‗piece out our imperfections with your thoughts‘ or
‗eke out our performance with your mind‘) and therefore always keep in mind the
pivotal role of the playgoer‘s imagination in the unspoken contract assumed
between the original players and their audience.
10. Above all else, thou shalt trust the scripts (and, as a corollary, the actors and
playgoers), for the surviving scripts (as reflected, however accurately or
inaccurately, in the early printed editions) are our only evidence. These scripts
(not scholarly formulations, directorial concepts, or actorly ingenuity) must
therefore drive or control all experiments or tests. Without sufficient trust in these
documents, the process will be tainted.
The American Shakespeare Center
Excerpt from 1993 NEH Grant Application for Shenandoah Shakespeare Express.
Earliest Mission Statement for Shenandoah Shakespeare, courtesy of Ralph Alan Cohen
In 2004, the Mission Statement was established as:
―Shenandoah Shakespeare—through its performances, its theatres, its exhibitions, and its
educational programs—seeks to make Shakespeare, the joys of theatre and language, and
the communal experience of the Renaissance stage accessible to all. By re-creating
Renaissance conditions of performance, Shenandoah Shakespeare explores its repertory
of plays for a better understanding of these great works and of the human theatrical
enterprise past, present, and future.‖