The SQM Process

Actors on Acting with Parts

An actor's 'part' contains all their characters' lines and brief 'cues' consisting of three or four words from the speeches preceding their own. Only one professional part has survived from the period: Edward Alleyn's for the role of Orlando in Greene's play Orlando Furioso i. The parts used by our actors are available for download.

When actors work with parts, they cannot prepare by reading the lines spoken by the other characters in the play. In fact, the parts often do not clearly indicate to whom their characters are speaking or who is addressing them. The original players would get some sense of a scene from the playwright's reading, if they were in attendance, or from the company reading that usually took place once the parts had been distributed. They may also have chosen to refer to the 'book' of the play -- the one full copy that was kept safe in the hands of the company book-keeper. However, in comparison to modern actors, early modern players would have had a much less clear idea of the relationship between their characters' words and the words of the other characters, and the significance of those words in relation to the play as a whole. The evidence suggests that players most often learnt their parts alone and only gathered together for a brief company rehearsal on the day of the first trial performance. The implication is that actors may well have walked out on stage having never rehearsed the scene together. In front of a live audience, they would have heard the speeches of the other characters for the first time, delivering their own lines whenever they heard their cue.

It was important to the SQM team that the company was given every chance to succeed while experimenting with early modern rehearsal techniques. The original Queen's Men would all have been familiar with the process, adept at both learning their lines alone and performing in front of an audience with minimal group rehearsal. Our actors were not. The SQM company therefore worked with parts in the rehearsal room, but were given full copies of the plays for reference at home. While we did not run the entire play from beginning to end until the first trial performance, the actors did rehearse the individual scenes together several times before that performance. The SQM process was an approximation of early modern practice designed to accommodate the knowledge and experience of modern actors. Working with parts proved a useful tool in our speedy rehearsal process and affected the way many of the actors approached their roles, as their comments below will attest.


Don Master actor, Don Allison, speaks about how the use of ‘parts’ led him to listen more intently to the words of his fellow actors, but argues that modern actors create the equivalent of their own ‘parts’ when working on a new play. Watch the Video
Don Don Allison talks about his difficulties working with his part on King Leir and how he dealt with his problems. Watch the Video
David David Kynaston argues that the use of ‘parts’ is more efficient and natural than the modern process. Watch the Video.
Paul Master actor, Paul Hopkins, feels that the use of ‘parts’ did not significantly alter his working process. Watch the Video.
Peter Peter Higginson admits the use of parts was at first intimidating but he has now adopted the technique as part of his working practice. Watch the Video.
Scott In contrast Scott Clarkson felt that the use of parts actually took some of the pressure off the actor. Watch the Video.
Derek Derek Genova tells why working with ‘parts’ is terrifying and yet fun. Watch the Video.

A facsimile of this part can be found in W. W. Greg, Dramatic Documents from the Elizabethan Playhouses, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1931).