restricted access Shakespeare, Rehearsal and the Site-Specific
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Shakespeare, Rehearsal and the Site-Specific
Abstract

This essay considers the rehearsal processes and productions that might be created by working with Shakespeare in non-theatrical space, and the meanings that might be produced by privileging space alongside (or even over) text and character in Shakespeare production. It argues that early modern drama lends itself particularly to such practices due to its material origins, in which acting companies such as Shakespeare's toured and performed at court as well as in the London theatres, meaning that their work, though generated with particular theatre buildings in mind, also had to be adaptable to a range of non-theatrical spaces. The essay suggests that the radically different rehearsal practices of the early modern period - in which anything approaching the modern sense of ensemble practice only took place in the theatre, in front of an audience - produced plays with a particular openness to space, architecture and audience: qualities that are, today, emphatically on display at Shakespeare's Globe in London. While acknowledging that the practical and economic considerations of today's rehearsal practices mean that most Shakespearean work is produced and rehearsed away from the site where it is eventually performed, encouraging particular kinds of discursive and hermeneutic practices in which text is privileged of text over space in the production of meaning, the essay argues not for "original practices" in Shakespeare rehearsal but rehearsal processes in which the material presence and the historically accrued meanings of the performance space make meaning of and intrude upon the text, as Shakespeare's work was bound to do.

Keywords

Shakespeare, Rehearsal, Site-specific, Original practice, Acting, Space, Globe Theatre, Hermeneutics, Dominic Dromgoole, Coriolanus

In 2002, New Theatre Quarterly published an article by Fiona Wilkie, on site-specific performance practice in the UK. The article drew on a survey sent to performance companies who had been using non-theatrical space to inspire or generate their work. In the article, Wilkie mentions a Hamlet produced by Creation Theatre, a company who, in 2001, had abandoned their usual venue of the gardens of Magdelen College School for a BMW car plant. This was the only Shakespeare-related work in the survey. This is unsurprising, given that Wilkie’s article defines site-specific theatre as “performance specifically generated from/for one selected site” (Wilkie 150). Shakespeare outside of the theatre might rather recall relentlessly cheerful summer productions, set against lovely, verdant or historical backdrops but in no way infected or inflected by “site,” except insofar as the actors are required to shout beyond their capacity. In this essay I consider the rehearsal processes and productions that might be created by working with Shakespeare in non-theatrical space, and the meanings that might be produced by privileging space alongside (or even over) text and character in Shakespeare production. I argue that early modern drama lends itself particularly to consciously spatial practice of this kind because of its material origins in the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre. A company like the Chamberlain’s/King’s men toured and performed at court, so their work had to be adaptable to a range of spaces—but their work was also generated with particular theatre buildings in mind. If Tiffany Stern’s estimation of the minimal group rehearsal time undertaken by these companies is correct (Stern 76–8), then rehearsal in anything approaching the modern sense of ensemble practice only took place in the theatre, in front of an audience—at which point it would today no longer be considered rehearsal. But for Shakespeare’s company, though playing at the Globe was only “rehearsal” for court in an official and legal [End Page 505] sense, the fact that the performers were unable to “polish” a performance, as Andrew Gurr puts it (Gurr 209), except at the site of the theatre, produced writing for the theatre with a particular openness to space, architecture and audience.

Wilkie’s writing was for NTQ was timely. As she pointed out, the term “site-specific” had entered the vocabularies of artists and arts funders in the UK during the eighties and was being used by British broadsheet theatre reviewers by the mid nineties. By 2002, scholars were writing...


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