Yesterday afternoon, the cast of ‘The Tragedy of Thomas Merry’ got together for a workshop on cue-scripts. The majority of the cast have worked together before, either through the theatre company Reverend Productions, or as part of my previous production, Samuel Daniel’s The Tragedie of Cleopatra. However, this was the first time that the full cast were all together in one room. In order to approximate the experience of an Elizabethan company, it’s important that the cast build on their existing relationships to become used to working together and trusting one another. The cue-script workshop was a fantastic opportunity for the cast to practice working as a company.
A ‘cue-script’ is composed of a character’s lines and the ‘cue’ for each line: the final three words or so said by the preceding character. Working with cue-scripts is, in a sense, working blind, as the actors have no idea what is going on for any character but their own. No actor gets to see the whole scene, and so no-one (except the offstage prompter) has a full understanding of how the action will unfold. This can produce exciting and naturalistic reactions to situations, but can also be daunting and difficult for the actors involved. You can see how little information a cue-script provides in this image of the cue-script for Rachel, a character from ‘The Tragedy of Thomas Merry’:
Philip Bird is an experienced cue-script actor; he worked with the Original Shakespeare Company in the 1990s, and regularly leads workshops on cue-scripts at Shakespeare’s Globe and elsewhere. Concentrating on examples from Shakespeare, he worked with the actors on how to approach a part, before giving out the cue-scripts for scenes of various sizes. The actors all rose to the challenge, and though they admitted to finding the experience of working with cue-scripts ‘terrifying’ at first, it produced some fantastic scenes where everyone was engaged, responsive, and listening very hard indeed. Because no-one knows when their cue will come, cue-script acting involves listening intently to every line said onstage, and being ready to leap into action the second the cue is heard. It is a demanding process, but Philip was generous with advice about how to approach it, and everyone participated with enthusiasm and immense concentration.
At the read-through on Saturday 8th March, the actors will get to see their own cue-scripts, when the parts are handed out. As soon as the parts have been distributed, an intense rehearsal fortnight will commence, culminating in a performance on 21st March. After the read-through, there will be only two group rehearsals: one to choreograph the more complex stage business, such as fights and dances, and the dress rehearsal, the only time the actors will speak their lines together without scripts, prior to the performance. It will be a challenging undertaking, but also an exciting one: we hope it will demonstrate how working with parts can illuminate early modern plays. I will continue to document the process on this blog, with photos, video footage, and a record of each decision we make. Booking is now open, so email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a ticket. I hope to see you there!