restricted access The American Shakespeare Center’s “Actors’ Renaissance Season”: Appropriating Early Modern Performance Documents and Practices
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The American Shakespeare Center’s “Actors’ Renaissance Season”:
Appropriating Early Modern Performance Documents and Practices
Abstract

Since 2005, the American Shakespeare Center's resident troupe has produced an "Actors' Renaissance Season" (or Ren Season) in which the actors, after a shortened rehearsal period, stage the plays without a director or design team. In addition, since 2006, and now for the majority of the Ren Season plays, the actors have experimented with memorizing their lines from individual parts, texts that provide the actors with their own lines and cues instead of the entire play. In personal interviews, Ren Season actors discuss the ASC troupe's process of cutting the text and creating actors' parts; rehearsing and performing with actors' parts, scene charts, and individual plots; and blocking the plays for performance. ASC actors' reliance upon and modification of original practices in rehearsals and performances have shaped an alternative rehearsal process that encourages ensemble members to be collaborative and independent as they fuse together early modern rehearsal systems with contemporary ones during the Ren Season.

Keywords

Original Practices, American Shakespeare Center, Actors' Renaissance Season, Blackfriars Playhouse, Ralph Alan Cohen, Benjamin Curns, Sarah Enloe, Allison Glenzer, Tyler Moss, Jeremy West

The American Shakespeare Center’s artistic staff and company pride themselves on providing audiences with an experience that is inspired by the theatrical practices of the early modern period (“What We Do”). The resident troupe’s productions are housed in the Blackfriars Playhouse, a reconstruction, based on the best available scholarship, of London’s second Blackfriars Theatre. As ASC’s co-founder Ralph Alan Cohen notes, the twenty-first century Blackfriars’ interior:

is a timber-framed room whose dimensions—length, width, and conjectured height—match those of the second Blackfriars, and whose overall design and decor are an attempt to replicate what the second Blackfriars might have looked like [ . . . ]. At the heart of the construction of this third Blackfriars was and is a desire to explore how the plays and how performance might have worked in the second Blackfriars, and some of the company’s results provide a useful context for looking back at the second Blackfriars

(210).

During the regular season’s productions, the actors adhere to some practices inspired by early modern conventions when performing their shows: for example, each production incorporates live pre-show, intermission, and post-show music, performed by the actors; the theatre’s lights remain on for productions to encourage interaction between audiences and actors; and the productions use a minimal amount of set pieces and props (“What We Do”). Since 2005, the American Shakespeare Center’s resident troupe has produced an “Actors’ Renaissance Season” (or Ren Season) in which the actors further explore their company’s ties to early [End Page 449] modern rehearsal and performance conventions. In the Ren Season, the actors stage the plays without the aid of a director; rehearse each play for a few days instead of a few weeks;1 and select their own costumes and props (Warren, McClure, and Moss). In addition, since 2006, and now for the majority of the Ren Season plays, the actors have experimented with memorizing their lines from individual parts, texts that provide the actors with their own lines and cues instead of the entire play, a practice founded upon Tiffany Stern’s research in Making Shakespeare (“Actor-Scholar Council”).

In personal interviews, Ren Season actors discuss the ASC troupe’s process of cutting the text and creating actors’ parts; rehearsing and performing with actors’ parts, scene charts, and individual plots; and blocking the plays for performance. The primary respondents (Benjamin Curns, Allison Glenzer, Tyler Moss, and Jeremy West) have participated in anywhere from three to six years of Actors’ Renaissance Seasons, so their accounts about ensemble work, staging techniques, and the Ren Season’s development, while primarily focused on the 2011 and 2012 seasons, are informed by several more years’ individual experience.2 Using early modern conventions cannot transform a theatre into a sixteenth-century space, but ASC actors note in personal interviews that the Ren Season’s use of modified original practices trains them to be more industrious, focused, and unwavering in their rehearsal and performance process (19 March 2011...


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