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Original Practice or Faith based acting

Original Practice Macbeth blog post: part the third.

We left off by looking at the cue script for Banquo’s first entrance in Act 1 Scene 3.
And yet that cue script is printed and type-faced. An original cue-script would have been handwritten like this one for Edward Alleyne, a leading man of the Elizabethan stage.

Elizabethan actors had different parameters within which they worked.And there is no way we can go back and reproduce it. There was no Stanlavski, Strasberg, Adler, or Meisner type schools of thought attached to their acting. They had senses, memory, and imagination.

An actor given a cue script has no context, only text. The world of the character in the play represents a vacuum fed by cues. Using this definition of a vacuum then: an enclosed space (i.e. the world of the play) from which matter (relationship and context to others in the scene) has been partially removed (still have cues) so that the matter or gas remaining in the space exerts less pressure than the atmosphere.

The curious difference is re-learning how to learn your part. Normally we would read the whole play and then zoom in on our character’s needs and wants in relation to the other characters we interact with scene by scene. Analysing my character’s through line using all available information from the whole script and beyond.

Here with cue scripts, our own language or what we say becomes the focal point and how others think about us is left to onstage interaction. We can guess from the way we say things or how we construct what we are saying. However there is no framework of the entire scene. How much time happens in between our cues and response also is impossible to gauge. Or who exactly spoke the cue. Or how long they have been speaking and conversely we listening.

The focus, our focus, my focus is on my lines. And to speak them i need my cue. Other actors feed me those cues as I feed them theirs. To be an Elizabethan or Jacobean actor commences as a solitary act of preparation. The first step is exactly memorising those lines along with their cues.

Right now in my own process of learning Banquo I am terribly aware of his pronoun usage. When does he use ‘you’ as opposed to ‘thou’. Unsurprisingly in his interaction with Macbeth he switches from ‘you’ to ‘thou’ in act 3 in his opening soliloquy.

[III-1] Actus Tertius. Scena Prima.
Enter Banquo.

Thou hast it now, King, Cawdor, Glamis, all,
As the weyard Women promis’d, and I feare
Thou playd’st most fowly for’t: yet it was saide
It should not stand in thy Posterity,
But that my selfe should be the Roote, and Father
Of many Kings. If there come truth from them,
As upon thee Macbeth, their Speeches shine,
Why by the verities on thee made good,
May they not be my Oracles as well,
And set me up in hope. But hush, no more.

His suspicions of his noble partner’s misdeeds are increasing, yet it’s only now that his own ambition is awakened. The more I read Banquo’s lines, the more conscious I am they would have been spoken in front of King James, who knew he was a descendant of Banquo.

Now compare those thou’s, thy’s, and thee’s, to his use of ‘your’, prior to the murder of the King in act 2 scene 1:

____________________________________ A Friend.

What Sir, not yet at rest? the King’s a bed.
He hath beene in unusuall Pleasure,
And sent forth great Largesse to your Offices.
This Diamond he greetes your Wife withall,
By the name of most kind Hostesse,
And shut up in measurelesse content.

And Yes, that’s Macbeth the ‘friend’, though we’d never know from the cue script until he spoke and Banquo recognised him. Or would we? The cue script I’m using tells me

Enter Macbeth, and a Servant with a Torch.

And normally i would have highlighted the dramatic irony of this friend who simultaneously is planning his friend’s murder. Because I have the whole script and can read Macbeth’s thoughts as closely as i do Banquo’s!

The amount of original professional early modern cue scripts we have to study are pretty much confined to one, Edward Alleyne’s. And he was a lead player. We have no smaller parts to study. And the truth of this statement needs to be tested. Nothing, remember, is certain when dealing with Early Modern Theatrical practice either.

We defer to the two of the leading experts of the 21stC moment Simon Palfrey and Tiffany Stern, Shakespeare in Parts chapter 1.

Go on, have a read of it.

Our next blog post will start to cover how many others are thinking about original practice.

And an online discussion can be followed on the Oxfraud fb page under Kim H Carrell’s Map and flashlight post. Kim has worked a number of Original Practice productions as an actor and fight director in the USA. His experiences will help us as we further explore this topic.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps Willy into English air space
to meet and workshop with some teachers from east sussex…

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