The SQM Stages
Our three plays demand, at minimum, a bare stage with two exits/entrances and that the actors can access both exits/entrances from back stage. We referred to this configuration as the "tavern stage" as we imagine this is the kind of thing that might easily have been set up in the inn-yards or interior rooms of the taverns that the Queen's Men visited on tour. It is comparable to stages in the theatres that were later built in London.
This is sketch of the interior of the Swan theatre drawn by an eyewitness, a Dutch tourist named Johannes de Witt. It is the only contemporary image we have of the interior of an Elizabethan professional theatre. Strip away the trimmings and both stages are quite simple featuring a rectangular playing area which can be accessed through two entrances at the back. The curtains on our stage are equivalent to the two doors on the drawing of the Swan.
This is an image of the newly built Shakespeare’s Globe theatre in London, England. Here you will see there is another opening in the centre of the back wall. This is what is often referred to as a discovery space. It is thought that it might have been used to represent interior rooms like Friar Bacon's study or Juliet's bedroom or to reveal surprises such as the statue of Hermione at the end of Winter's Tale.
Smaller But Similar
Although on a much smaller scale, the central panel of curtains on our stage could also be used as a discovery space. The curtained space at the back is referred to as the tiring house and is where the actors changed their costumes. Since the Queen's Men were a touring company and would of necessity have worked on a variety of stages, our stage was designed so that it could be re-configured to create a different relationship between the actors and the audience.
This stage was based on Alan Nelson's research on the demountable stage used at Trinity College, Cambridge. Nelson established that the important members of the audience sat behind the stage and that there were two tiring houses on either side of the stage. While there is no evidence that this arrangement was common in Elizabethan England it was so striking an arrangement that we felt it worthy of experiment. To our knowledge, Elizabethan plays have not been performed in such a setting since. It proved to be an awkward space to work in for the actors, as the important members of the audience were sitting behind them. But sitting on the stage did actually feel like a privileged position even though one was often confronted by the actors' backs. Audience members sitting on the stage reported that they felt involved in the action as though they were living in the scene with the actors. The actors also learned to play to the hierarchy created by the on-stage audience, referring lines about the court to that section of the audience and addressing references to commoners or appeals to the people out front. See the opening scene of Friar Bacon as performed on this stage.
On our brief tour of Hamilton and Toronto, we also performed the play with no stage at all. This is a performance in Quarters, the student union bar at McMaster University. For this performance we strung the curtains along the back of the space and gathered chairs and tables around to form a semi-circle playing space in front of them. The actors freely improvised in this space, interacting with the audience and taking some of the action out into and behind the audience.
This was the stage for our final performance of King Leir at University College, University of Toronto. The room is configured to represent a performance at court. The queen sits at one end of the hall on full display flanked by important dignitaries. Other important nobles sit on a scaffold opposite. The photograph is taken from the nobles’ scaffold. The action of the play takes place in the space between them with lesser nobles seated on either side.BACK TO TOP