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Department of English

Choate Rosemary Hall

Wallingford, Connecticut

English 437

Shakespeare and the Death of Kings

Spring 2010 term


Instructions For Acting Troupes

This term the students in the class will be divided into "acting troupes" named after Shakepeare's own companies: The Lord Chamberlain's Men and The King's Men (though unlike what happened on the Elizabethan stage, our companies will include females!). Each company will make a ten-minute presentation to the rest of the class, a collaborative interpretation of how a particular scene (or part of a scene, or a conflation of two or more scenes) in a selected play should be staged. The presentation may be either a live theatrical experience or a videotaped, edited rendition.

The text should be memorized and acted with as much dramatic flair as you can muster. Costumes and props are encouraged. Scenes and monologues should be chosen carefully to illustrate key issues in the work; the significance of the scene must be briefly explained prior to the presentation. This required exercise will be graded collectively; that is, everyone in the group will share the same grade based on the quality of the overall performance.

Each troupe is free to organize members into specific roles: director(s), actors, deisgners, and technical staff. Some may fulfill more than one role, of course. If group members disagree on certain elements of the staging, record those disagreements and feel free to share them with the rest of the class when we discuss the performances--but you should attempt a presentation that is relatively unified in its vision of the scene. Since you are sharing the grade, I expect you to pool your efforts as fairly as possible; don't let one or two members of the group shirk their duty to the rest of you. The key concept here is don't exploit each other and don't be exploited. As a way of dividing the labor, groups should address the following three issues, with members of the group taking primary responsibility for one of the three categories below.

Text. Are there any parts of the dialogue you would remove in order to make the action flow more smoothly, or in order to emphasize a particular point or staging effect? Are there lines from other parts of the play that can be added to your scene to emphasize a particular idea or theme? You should also take into account the textual history of the play--are there Quarto or Folio readings that you prefer to the ones in our edition?

Setting, scenery, and props. Where is the scene set? Elizabethan England? Nineteenth-century Italy? Germany in the late 1930s? Wallingford, Connecticut in the early twenty-first century? Mars? What kind of clothing do the characters wear? Should the stage be filled with many pieces of ornate furniture, or only a few simple chairs and tables? Are sound effects or music necessary? Feel free to supplement this part of your presentation with sketches of possible stage layouts, or pictures of particular pieces of furniture, clothing, or props that you imagine the characters using. Most important, you should provide a careful and detailed explanation of why you think this setting (and attendant props, costumes, etc.) is justified, and you should explain what you hope to accomplish, theatrically, with it.

Blocking. Where do the characters stand on the stage? Where do they move, and when (and why)? How and where do they enter and exit the scene? How do they speak? What emotions do they display, and how, and why? Do they make distinctive gestures at specific points in the action? Try to describe the characters' movements and gestures as carefully (and imaginatively) as possible. If the text of the scene includes stage directions (note that these are often editorial additions), do you agree with them? Does the text itself suggest clues to how the scene might be dramatized? Most important, you should provide a careful and detailed explanation of what you hope to accomplish, theatrically, with these actions.

Please keep in mind that the purpose of this exercise is to develop a staging of one of Shakespeare's plays, not an adaptation (such as Ten Things I Hate About You, My Own Private Idaho, Forbidden Planet, or O). You are encouraged to edit Shakespeare's text (i.e., remove sections of text, condense a scene, or combine passages from different parts of the play)--but please don't rewrite it (i.e., don't modernize the language, or change or add words).

Your presentation can take any form you like--feel free to be imaginative. But it is essential that you articulate the idea behind your staging to the class. In all cases, be prepared to defend your choices, which should not be arbitrary, but carefully thought out.

At the end of the last class, each student will hand in in a short (perhaps half a page) written explanation of his or her contributions to the troupe (please indicate at the top of the page which of the above categories you were responsible for) and a short review of how the group handled the rehearsal or videotaping process: what were the pitfalls? surprises? what was fun? Your grade will be based on this brief written overview as well as the presentation itself. Each group should also submit a copy of its edited text, with stage directions and blocking indicated in brackets, along with any visual aids they have used in their presentation.