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Get started play-reading with Macbeth

A lot of people are interested in Shakespeare play-reading. We’ll be restarting our play-reading group in September, and we’ve just published a new version of Macbeth, which we’ll play-read then. We hope that some of you will join us by play-reading the same play in September, and perhaps let us know how it went, by completing a play-reading report, which we’ll publish, provided it meets our standards for posts.

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At the time of writing, it’s the start of July, so we’ve got two months to go. This seems like a long time, but it takes quite a bit of time to prepare for your first play-reading, so you’ll probably need the time – and anyway,  nearly everything you have to do is fun.

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We’ve published quite a few posts on play-reading, which you should find complementary to this one. The main ones you might like to look ad are:

So why are we writing yet another post on this topic? Well the focus of this post is building your (and others’) skills in using our tool-set, so you have the confidence to go-ahead and actually start play-reading, using Macbeth as our example. We’ll walk you through a number of steps and we’ll start on that right now.

There’s a lot of detail in this post. Don’t feel obliged to read it all in one go. Take it step at a time, and don’t just read it – try it out by opening the script window when suggested and make the suggested changes.

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Step 1: Read Macbeth using our edition:

The technical environment:

Our edition is available online, so you’ll need a web browser, and for this first experience, it is probably best if you use a lap-top or a tablet. Our web-site will work on smartphones, and reading a script is fine, but some things you’ll want to do will be easier on a lap-top / tablet.

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We use a Window 10 laptop running Google Chrome as the laptop, and an Apple Mini iPad, as our tablet for the followoing reasons:

  • Windows 10 / Chrome has the advantage that it’s what we test our web-site on, so everything works on that, and you can translate any scene from a Shakespeare play that we’ve published into pretty much any language in the world.
  • The Apple Mini iPad with Safari displays both the script of the play and the index to the play (very useful to see everything else about the play) on the same screen in both landscape or portrait mode.

Don’t get me wrong, you can use other environments (e.g. Linux laptops; Android laptops and smartphones; Apple iPhones; Microsoft Edge; Opera, or Mozilla Firefox, etc., etc.,), but they may not be quite so easy to use. And when you’re play-reading you don’t want the technology interfering with the play-reading – you want it to be as invisible as possible.

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It should be obvious that each browser you are using needs to be connected to the Internet, and most people will do that via a wi-fi connection. If a group of you are getting together to read a play, it’s good if the wi-fi connection to the internet is fast.

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Read the play on your own:

So now we can get started by reading the play on your own.

  • Get to our script of Mcbeth:
    Open your web-browser and go to https://players-shakespeare.com
    You’ll see our Home Page in which there’s a table of the plays we’ve published.
    Find Mcbeth in that table and click on the actual name of the play.
    The browser window will update and show Act 1 Scene 1 of Macbeth in Standard Script mode – rather like a book.
  • Read the script (out loud if you like):
    Start reading the script. It’s good to read it out loud to get your mouth used to saying the words, and get rid of a common self-conscious feeling about speaking out loud – you’ll have to speak out loud when you’re play-reading with friends.
    It won’t take you long to read Act 1 Scene 1 – it’s rather short.
  • Move on to the next scene:
    You’ll notice that, before the script for Act 1 Scene 1, and after it, there’s a grey box with the Act / Scenes in Macbeth (e.g. A1S1, A11S2…A5S9).
    Click on one of those A?S? boxes, and you’ll move to that scene.
    Let’s clcik on A1S2, and read the next scene, and so on through the rest of the play. Of course you don’t have to read the scenes in sequence, you can go anywhere you like.
  • A note on scrolling (try this on A1S3 of Macbeth):
    In some environments (e.g. Windows 10 with Chrome), there is a limit to the size of the script window. If the script is larger than that window, then you can scroll the text independently of the rest of the window (e.g. the index). Put your mouse cursor inside the text window and scoll, and just the text scrolls; put your mouse cursor outside the text window and scoll; and the text and index scrolls.
    On an Apple Mini iPad, you don’t have this ‘split scrolling’, the whole text and index scroll together.
  • Changing text size and font:
    Perhaps the size of the text or the font isn’t satisfactory for you.
    You can change them in the following way:

    • In the right-hand top corner of the top Act / Scene grey box, you’ll see a gear wheel.
    • Click / touch the gear wheel, and it will open up the configuration window.
    • Ignore the  Viewing Mode & Content to Show  sections for the moment, we’ll address them later.
    • In the Font Options section, you can change the Font Size, and the Font Type. Select which ever you prefer (I find Medium size and Sans Serif Font works best for me on both my Windows 10 PC and my Apple Mini iPad.
    • When you’ve chosen the font size and type you like, click / touch the gear wheel again, and the configuration window will close and the font size / type will be updated.
  • Read the rest of the play, changing scenes with the A?S? boxes, and trying out different font sizes / types as you like.

Read some soliloquies, using the Index:

Now you’ve read some, or all, of the play, it’s worth exploring some of the more interesting bits using some of the features we provide to make it easier to read some of the soliloquies.

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The easiest way to get to these, is to use the index to the play. If you’re using a laptop, or most tablets, you’ll find the index to the right-hand-side of the script. On smartphones and some tablets, the index comes after the script. If you look at the index now, you’ll see that there’s a section called Let’s Explore, just below the cast lists. Click on the third entry, labelled “Macbeth‘s Soliloquies’. The script of the play is replaced by a post outlining some of Macbeth‘s solilouies.

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Now click on the link labelled ‘Act 1 Scene 7: Should I murder Duncan’.  The post of Macbeth‘s soliloquies is replaced by the script of Macbeth, at Act 1 Scene 7, and with only Macbeth‘s speeches shown, plus the cues for each of his speeches, and stage directions. We call this ‘Parts and Cue’s mode. It can be useful in many ways, the most obvious of which is that it allows you to focus on a particular character’s part. Now read the speech starting ‘If it were done, when ’tis done;’ out loud.

If you want to understand a little more about Parts and Cues, have a look at “Macbeth’s first scene (A1S3) in Parts and Cues mode”.

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When you’ve read the speech, click on the index entry labelled “Macbeth‘s Soliloquies'”, or click the back-button, probably twice,  to get back to that post. Now you can click on some of the other links  at the beginning of each section to read other soliloquies.

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The most famous of these soliloquies is ‘Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow’ and as well as providing a link so that you can read it, we also provide a Video Reading of it.  Click on the arrow in the middle of the picture, and the Video Reading will start to play, letting you hear the speech, as you read the text.

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There are some soliloquies you can read for Lady Macbeth as well. Find the index again and click on the “Let’s Explore” link labelled ‘Lady Macbeth‘. A new post opens up, showing you two soliloquies by Lady Macbeth. To see the first, click on the link labelled  ‘Lady Macbeth in A1S5 (Parats and Cues)’ and read the speech.

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The second soliloquy isn’t really a soliloquy. It’s Lady Macbeth‘s sleep-walking scene. In the complete scene, Lady Macbeth‘s words are interspersed with lines from the Doctor, and the Gentlewoman. Dramatically, this is very effective, but if we want to explore Lady Macbeth‘s state of mind, it’s helpful to see only her lines. You can do this by clicking on the link labelled ‘Lady Macbeth in A5S1 (the sleep-walking scene in Parts and Cues mode)’.

 

So now you’ve read some of the play in standard script mode, and you’ve read some soliloquies in parts and cues mode. You’re getting familiar with how the index works, and how you use our script. It’s  time to start thinking about the play-reading.

 

Step 2: Choose how many people to invite to the play-reading, using the Index:

Overview of how to choose how many people to invite:

The first thing you have to do, is choose the number of players. For Macbeth, we provide cast lists for 7 – 10  players. Cast lists allocate the roles in the play, across the number of players at the play-reading. In choosing how many people to invite, the following rules-of-thumb are useful:

  • Try to make sure that every player has at least one ‘meaty’ role to play. Do this by looking at  the different cast lists for the play you’ve selected. You’ll find the cast lists in the index of the play, to the right of the script on a lap-top or most tablets.
  • Try to make sure that no player has an excessive number of parts to play (say 6 or 7 max), and that no player has to speak to himself in different roles too often (shown in the cast list).
  • Invite 2 more people than the perfect number, so that if you get two ‘no-shows’ on the day, you’ll  still be able to run a play reading.
  • For most Shakespeare plays, if you aim for around 10 invitees, you’re probably in the right ball-park. If you want to be more accurate than that, have a look at the cast-lists we’ve published for the play you’re thinking of, and apply the rules-of-thumb above.  You’ll find a list of our MFFEV5 plays at https://players-shakespeare.com

Where do you find people who want to play-read? There’s a number of potential sources:

  • The first choice for most people, is their friends, but there are other options.
  • If you’re a drama teacher (school or university) your pupils are an obvious starting point. Other sources include:
  • Community theatre groups
  • Lovers of English Literature
  • Members of University of the 3rd Age groups
  • Commercial theatre loyalty club members
  • etc

You may find people who would like to come, but feel nervous about reading a play in a group. You can help people to gain confidence by:-

  • Exploring monologues with them individually, using “Let’s Explore” as described in Step 1 above.
  • Exploring interesting scenes for 2, 3, 4, or more players using “Let’s Play” (see below)
  • Only when they’ve gained confidence, move on to involving them in a play-reading. Note that if you want to explore a play seriously, you might encourage members of the group to use “Let’s Explore” and “Let’s Play” to explore monologues and scenes from the play before the play-reading of the complete play.

Using Let’s Play :

When you get one or two people round to explore Shakespeare play-reading, you can use “Let’s Play”  to read a few scenes, so they, and you, feel comfortable with using the technology.

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For Macbeth, we’ve set up 2 “Let’s Play” scenes for 2 people, 1 for 4 people, and 1 for 7, so as the group grows you can do more ambitious scenes.  You can find these “Let’s Play” items in the index. Just below the Let’s Explore section, is the Let’s Play section, with Index Entries for each of the items. Click on any of these items, and you’re taken to a page which is similar in format:

  • A brief description of the context of the scene
  • Links for each player to the script for their part (may be in parts and cues, highlight text, or standard script format)
  • Instructions on how to play the scene.

Each player needs their own browser, and each player should select a different link in the scene. Once all the players have their own script, you can read the scene.

With a friend, try this out for  ‘Lady Macbeth’s dreadful resolve (A1S5, 2 players)’ and ‘Macbeth shall sleep no more (A2S2, 2 players)’, using the Index entries to get started.

After you’ve read those two scenes, you may want to try some more scenes for 2 players. We don’t have any more scenes from Macbeth, but we do have scenes for two players from other plays. If you want to try some of those:

  • Click on the Let’s Play menu item on the menu bat at the top of the page
  • Scroll down to the ‘Playreadings for 2 players” menu item and click on it
  • When the page of Playreading-related items appear, click on one of the items you want to play and the “Let’s Play” item will open up and you can each select your parts to play.

Once you have two or three friends familiar with using these functions, and other who want to be part of a play-reading, it’s time to try your first play-reading – send out the invitations!

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Step 3: Running the play-reading:

The great day arrives and everyone has turned up with their own web browser (or you’ve provided them with one). So how do you run the play-reading? It’s very similar to “Let’s Play” except you use Cast Lists instead of “Let’s Play”.

On the Index, you’ll see a section called ‘Cast lists for play-readings etc section‘. Everyone should choose the cast list for the number of people present at the play-reading, and each person present needs to be allocated a Player No.

There are two main ways of allocating the parts to the players:

  • By lot, letting the gods choose who plays whom. (We use dominoes in a bag.) This is the way we normally allocate parts in the Edinburgh play-reading group. It has a number of advantages: people don’t get type-cast; the casting will be gender and age blind; the focus is on the play, rather than the characters in the play; no one carries the can for the casting. (Note that in Edinburgh, occasionally a pair of players will agree to swap roles, and we’re OK with this, but there is no obligation on anyone to agree to swap).
  • Someone takes responsibility for allocating the parts. You can do this at the play-reading, or well before so you have a ‘rehearsed reading’, but everyone needs to turn up for this to work well.

Now the parts are allocated, everyone selects the Player No. that they  have been allocated from the cast list, When they select their part, the script of the play appears, starting at Act 1, Scene !, and the play-reading commences.

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 Step 4: Fallback plan (Round-robin Reading for 2- 6 players):

If you can’t persuade the minimum number of 7 players (for Macbeth) to get together on the same day, you can still run a play-reading, but without allocating specific characters to particular players. You can run a round-robin reading, with from 2 – 6 players (or more)  where each person reads a speech in turn. It is, perhaps, not so much fun as running a play-reading with allocated parts, but it still lets you get to know the play in a shared experience.

The first entry in the ‘Cast lists for play-reading section’ of the index, is for ‘Round-robin play reading’. If every person present clicks on that link, they’ll be taken to a page explaining how a Round-robin playreading works, with a link for each of them to click to get to the script.

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And now it really is time to stop talking aobut play-reading, and get on and do it. Good luck!

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Let’s play read!

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Richard Forsyth
‘The Director’
Players-Shakespeare.com

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