The approximation of the rehearsal and performance conditions likely faced by the original Queen’s Men was central to the SQM project. In this module you can access interviews with the actors and the director, describing and analyzing their experience of the experiment.
Evidence about early modern rehearsal suggests that the Queen’s Men's approach to preparing a play for performance would have been strikingly different from modern rehearsal practice. The actors worked more independently, and plays were prepared for performance more quickly with very little time spent working together as an ensemble. Since our actors were not accustomed to working in this manner, the SQM rehearsal process was designed to reflect the current understanding of Elizabethan practice but also to give our modern actors time to adapt to now unfamiliar rehearsal techniques.
Like the Queen’s Men our actors worked from ‘parts’ while in the rehearsal room, but because this technique was new to them they had copies of the entire plays for reference when at home. The actors responded in a variety of ways to this rehearsal methodology and opinion was divided on how working with actor’s ‘parts’ affected their approach to performance.
The more experienced actors in the company were designated ‘master actors’ and they were granted authority in the rehearsal room. Directing fellow actors is strongly discouraged in modern theatre practice and our master actors had to learn how to direct from within their scenes without causing offence. There were no directors in early modern theatre but the original players were familiar with the language of the plays, the rehearsal techniques and their own cultural context. Our actors did not have that advantage and the SQM ‘director’ played an important facilitating role, giving advice on theatrical and cultural contexts and the meaning of lines.
The company had to be capable of performing the plays in a variety of venues and stage configurations while on tour without additional rehearsal. This was extremely challenging for actors, who had to develop flexible blocking techniques in order to be able to adjust to changing performance conditions. The company worked quickly by modern standards, preparing three plays for performance in the space of 7 weeks and the increased time pressure forced our actors to find new, efficient ways to prepare the plays for performance.
In keeping with our understanding of early modern theatre practice, the company did not run the plays in their entirety before the first trial performances and these performances were nerve-wracking affairs. The addition of a visible and interactive audience had a profound effect on the actors and was a key factor in bringing the plays to life.
The Shakespeare and the Queen’s Men project combined the skills and expertise of academics and theatre practitioners, enabling us all to learn from each other. Observing this process in action allowed the research team to examine and compare modern and early modern approaches to rehearsal. The actors in turn drew their own lessons from the research experiment.