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“Let’s Play” Update (Jan 8th 2016)

Since we launched “Let’s Play” at the beginning of the year, quite a lot has happened. (If you don’t know about “Let’s Play” – – an easy way to read Shakespeare’s plays inter-actively, on the cloud, using MFFEV5 – check it out at “Let’s Play”): Hamlet has been configured for “Let’s Play”; we’ve had some insights into Shakespeare’s dramaturgy; and we’re getting ready to mark the 450th anniversery of his death. More details below:

Hamlet configured for “Let’s Play”:

We’ve configured Hamlet MFFEV5 for play-reading in “Let’s Play”:

  • First, (and best) you can read the whole play with a group of 10 players. Each player starts in “Highlit Text” format which means that they see the whole script, but their part(s) are highlit in different colours. Of course, each player can change to “Parts and Cues” format if they wish, though it’s good to have at least one player in Highlit Text format to act as prompt if things go wrong.
  • We’ve also configured a couple of extracts from Hamlet for smaller numbers of players to play:
    • ‘Hamlet berates his mother’ (three players) plays A3S4 where Hamlet has a go at his mother, and kills Polonius. Hamlet and Queen (Gertrude) are in ‘Parts and Cues’ format, and the player who plays Polonius and (later) The Ghost is in ‘Highlit Text’ format, so he can act as prompt if needed.
    • ‘Hamlet and Ophelia fight’ (four players) plays the part of  A3S2 where Hamlet enters to “To be or not …” and then has a fight with Ophelia, with Claudius and Polonius hidden, but listening. Hamlet and Ophelia start off in “Parts and Cues” mode with Polonius and Claudius in “Highlit Text”.

So if getting 10 players  together is too difficult, you can get going with 3 or 4 players.

There are three main barriers to play-reading. “Let’s Play” minimises the first two: Getting all players together with the same (interactive, online) script; and configuring the script so that everyone can clearly see what they must read.

The third problem is up to you. It is no longer common practice for people to read out loud to eachother, and it may make some people self-conscious. Persevere and you’ll soon find the delights of reading Shakespeare in a group, and, after all, you’re all reading out loud, so you’re in the same boat.

Shakespearean dramaturgy?

I feel a little self-conscious talking about Shakespeare’s dramaturgy, but the process of selecting extracts to put up for “Let’s Play” has highlit a few things for me:

  • Quite a number of scenes (though not all) in each play have an almost archetypal nature. For example, “Hamlet berates his mother” has this feel. Of course the audience can smile to itself and think “Oedipus complex”, but I think it goes much further than that. I’ve run a little informal survey of the adult males in my family, and they all are guilty of having berated their mothers. As well as the Oedipal overtones, there are some other common themes: disgust at their parents’ sexuality; resentment that their mother (and father too) has formed their character, etc.
    So there’s one example, but their are others: Romeo and Juliet demonstrate young, first love in A2S2, and demonstrate Lovers’ parting in A3S5. These ring bells with my personal experience as I’m sure they do with most of us.
    Now this may be nothing more than banal – Shakespeare writes about human experiences common to us all, if by uncommon characters – but it will be interesting to see whether, as we add more extracts, many of them have this archetypal character, and we can find a deeper significance.
  • Another thing of dramaturgical interest has come to light. Shakespeare’s drama doesn’t consist only of words. We have a classic example in A2S2 of Romeo and Juliet. The Nurse says almost nothing in the scene and I toyed with the idea of cutting her lines (“Madam”). But those “Madams” are important. They cause Juliet to leave the balcony to protect Romeo. That also shows “two lovers separated”. For the first time since thy have declared their love Romeo and Juliet are separated. That visual separation says more than 1,000 words. And then they are re-united when Juliet returns. And the re-united lovers again says more than another 1,000 words.
    Actually there’s quite a lot of this non-verbal playcraft (or dramaturgy – dread word) in Shakespeare’s plays. Two which spring to mind are: in As You Like Itthe exiled court set a picnic banquet, and leave the scene with the banquet still set. Orlando and Adam enter, and Adam complains of hunger, with the banquet, presumably on the other side of the (Globe) stage. In the next scene, the court sits down to the banquet, and Orlando arrives demanding food. The banquet, on stage for three scenes, heightens the drama; a final example from Richard III, towards the end of the play both Richard III’s  and Richmond’s campaign tents are on stage at the same time. Not very realistic, but it enables each ghost to curse Richard and bless Richmond in the same scene.
    If we focus on Shakespeare’s words, and forget his visual playing with place and time, we can diminish the plays.
  • One more thing on dramaturgy. I’m reading James Shapiro’s The Year of Lear – 1606 at the moment. He is very interesting on King Lear, claiming that it is mostly derived from King Leir, (edited by Tiffany Stern in a 2003 edition) plus the story of Edmund from Arcadia (?). Now what’s interesting about this, if it is true, is that we can see a play which Shakespeare has taken and turned into one of his masterpieces. This is worth a bit of exploration. Shapiro has started this process, but it’s worth a bit more exploration. Watch this space.

Let’s celebrate Shakespeare’s 450th anniversary!

One of the reasons we’ve launched “Let’s Play” is to mark the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016. As well as “Let’s Play” for the first time we’re running a couple of “prepared” play-readings:

  • On Jan 17th (as near as we could get to Twelfth Night), we’re running a prepared play-reading of Twelfth Night. Ten of us have each taken one of the roles in the Twelfth Night play-reading for 10 (I’m playing Malvolio, and I’m behind in my preparation) and are preparing for that play-reading. We’re also running an unprepared playreading on 31st Jan.
    Why don’t you mark Shakespeare’s death in a similar way? It doesn’t have to be on 17th Jan and it doesn’t have to be Twelfth Night. You can choose another play from “Let’s Play”. There’s eight there already, and there’ll be more coming along shortly.

What’s available in “Let’s Play”?

So far, we’ve configure MFFEV5 versions of eight plays for playreadings. They are organised by the number of players required to play the scenes / plays. You can find them all at:

 There are around 25 extracts and plays (8) configured for playing already, and there’ll be more coming along shortly. Actually, it looks like they’ll be faster than planned – our new software is working better than expected: Julius Caesar went from First Folio electronic version to MFFEV5 version in one day, though there’s still a lot of proof-reading to happen.

We run a play-reading a month, so be knowing our schedule, you can get an idea of what’s coming along shortly. Our current plan is:

January: Twelfth Night
February: Julius Casesae
March: King John
April: Love’s Labour’s Lost
May: Macbeth

If you’re wondering what “Let’s Play” is all about, check out “Let’s Play”
If you think the idea of Play-reading is daft, have a look at: Why read Shakespeare’s plays in a group?

But it’s time to stop wondering and to start – Let’s Play!

‘The Director’,
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