All productions of The Shakespeare Factory are expected to adhere to the performance vision for the organization as closely as is possible. It is the responsibility of the Artistic Director and Show Director to see that these philosophical principles are appropriately followed. Most of these principles have been inspired by the American Shakespeare Company at the Blackfriars Theatre in Staunton, Virginia.
In general, it is the overall philosophy of The Shakespeare Factory to imitate as closely as possible the theatre conditions that an audience in the Elizabethan and Jacobean Periods would have experienced if they attended the Globe Theatre, Blackfriars Theatre, or any other theatre of that time.
As a result, the basic principles we will adhere to are as follows:
It is critical that actors speak Shakespeare properly. Text that is improperly spoken will only confuse the audience and contribute to a boring production and reinforce the attitude that most people have when they hear the name Shakespeare (i.e. a gag reflex). It is the show director’s responsibility to train actors, or arrange training for their actors (if necessary) in this important skill.
Whether in the outdoor Globe Theatre or in the indoor Blackfriars Theatre, the lights were always on during a play in Shakespeare’s time. Actors and audience could see one another and frequently interacted. The “fourth wall” and proscenium arch present in most theatres today did not exist. Whenever possible, house lights in our indoor venues should be up, for the reasons that will be listed in the next section, “Interaction With the Audience.”
Interaction With the Audience
People should NOT feel they are AT a play – they should feel that they are IN a play. Many speeches and comments in Shakespeare should be spoken directly to the audience in general or to specific audience members. There are many opportunities for this in Shakespeare’s plays. Whether it is the funeral oration of Mark Antony in Julius Caesar or the wedding scene in Much Ado About Nothing, the audience should be made to feel like a part of the production.
Doubling parts (more than one part played by one actor) was a feature of theatre companies in the Elizabethan/Jacobean Periods. Many of Shakespeare’s plays would require a cast of over 30 actors, and that is obviously infeasible to companies today.
Cross Gender Casting
All roles in England up until 1660 were played by men. As a result, some of the greatest roles ever written such as Rosalind in As You Like It and Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra were played by young boys. So all those plays were a woman disguises herself as a man for some reason was really a man playing a woman playing a man. Great fun was had by all in those situations. If cross gender casting was the norm then, there is no reason both sexes can’t get in on the fun today in our productions.
Very few set pieces seemed to have been used for a typical production Shakespeare’s time – audiences were expected to use their imaginations. We think that is a good thing; therefore, we will also keep sets to a minimum.
Costuming was important to the theatre companies of Shakespeare’s day. Whereas the sets were meager as described above, costumes were often elaborate and colorful. Costumes were also important in order for an audience to immediately identify a character type or to differentiate between characters that are doubled. However, the costumes used in that time were often an mixture of historically inaccurate styles; for example, a typical play such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream may have some actors dressed in Greek garb (Theseus, et al) and others dressed in the clothes of a typical English workingman (Nick Bottom, et al). Costumes are important to us, as well, and we should make choices that are consistent with the text but allow for our own unique interpretation.
Shakespeare was repeatedly described by his contemporaries as “gentle”, so we need to be humane too and keep the running time as close to the “two hours traffic of our stage” as is promised in Romeo and Juliet. To reach this goal, productions must be FUN and FAST. Quick pacing and a continuous flow of action which utilizes quick entrances and exits must be a hallmark of our organization.
Shakespeare’s plays are filled with music, and we want our productions to also have plenty of music. That is not to say that we have to use the songs that Shakespeare did. He used the modern music of his time, and we can do the same.