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Playing Shakespeare: Parts and Cues – Progress report

As you may be aware, we’re in the process, over the summer ,of updating our Modern First Folio Edition (MFFE) to Version 5.00 to support Parts and Cues, and other goodies. What this means is that as well as producing an ‘ordinary’ script of a Shakespeare play, we can also provide a version in ‘Parts and Cues’ format.

What are Parts and Cues?

Parts and Cues lets a player only see his part(s) in the play, together with the cues (speech cues, but also entrances and exits) which affect him. This is how the original “Lord Chamberlain’s Men” would have received their parts. They prepared for a performance by learning their Parts (and cues), and then came together with the other players, and performed the play with virtually no rehearsal. Very different from a modern production process. Of course, it does depend on having pretty good players.

We were encouraged to undertake this project by three main books: Shakespeare in Company (Bart Van Es, OUP: see review at: https://wp.me/p3PGVg-AD); Shakespeare in Parts (Simon Palfrey & Tiffany Stern, OUP: see review at: https://wp.me/p3PGVg-AO) and doing shakespeare (Simon Palfrey, The Arden Shakespeare, Bloomsbury) – yet to be reviewed.

Our version of Parts and Cues supports both production companies, putting on a play, and playreading groups, where a small group of people come together to read a play, with each player usually reading more than one part.

Parts and Cues in practice:

We’ve already edited one play, The Tempest, in Parts and Cues format (and we’re 2/3rds the way through Othello at the time of writing), and we’ve run a play-reading of The Tempest at which many of the players got quite excited about the new format (read our Play-reading report at: https://wp.me/p3PGVg-1L3).

Since then we’ve discovered a few other things you can do with a play script in Parts and Cues format. Most importantly, we think this format is useful for production companies:

  • It’s possible to produce individual scripts for all players in a production with just their parts and cues. We think this may have advantages in the rehearsal process. A director friend who attended our play-reading of The Tempest, has sworn that from now on, most rehearsals of Shakespeare plays she directs will use Parts and Cues at the start of the rehearsal process, and in later rehearsals. Of course the really exciting thing would be to produce a play without the six or seven weeks of rehearsal. Wouldn’t that be a good idea for the new artistic director of The Globe? Not only to use an original Elizabethan theatre, but also to use original Elizabethan production processes! That would be closer to an authentic Elizabethan production – and think of the money-saving from reduced rehearsal costs!

  • It’s also possible to print just the cues with no parts. That gives you the start of a Stage manager’s cue list for the production. Admittedly, you have to add lighting and sound cues, etc., but at least it’s a start. You can also get a very good idea of the ‘shape’ of a play, just be looking at the entrances, exits, and major stage directions.

Parts and Cues – technical development:

There’s another strand to our Modern First Folio Edition, and that is that we’re making use of modern technology. First of all, the edition is available on major e-reader platforms as well as paper. It will be some time yet before we convince most players to move away from paper scripts to electronic, but with each step we take we become more convinced that that day is not far away.

We also use softwareto assist in the creation of the MFFE. We’re developing software to produce the edition which should reduce editorial timescales considerably. We’re expanding our use of software and beginning to get excited about the results:

  • Already, we’re using software to create the  Parts and Cues css files from our spreadsheet analysis of speeches by part and scene.

  • We’re expanding our current software which converts a play to electronic format to support MFFE Version 5.

  • We’re producing a configuration app to let you create the different versions of the play for a play-reading or a production.

  • We’re planning an online MFFE V5 play reader which lets you configure the play to suit your needs inter-actively, and then read the play.

  • We’re using Calibre, the free e-book library management tool to distribute plays to players in the format they use.

As the software starts to become available to us internally, we’re getting more excited. It feels as if this is something that just might work, both at the play-reading level, and technically. We’re particularly pleased with the way we’re structuring the play technically, and with the incorporation of different castings into the play.

Parts and Cues – the release plan:

Well all this sounds exciting, but when will you be able to use it? We’re working on the following plan:

  • Release three plays (The Tempest; Othello; and Romeo and Juliet) in 4Q15.

  • MFFE Version 5.00 software available for internal use in 4Q15. Convert at least 1 play per month from MFFE Version 1.00 format to MFFE Version 5.00 format

  • Plays available for play-reading / productions commencing in 4Q15.

  • Interactive configuration and play-reading app available by 1Q16.

To us, all this sounds very exciting, but of course, it’s a plan dependent on IT development. We’re getting very excited, and we think you you will be soon too, so keep a watching brief or if this is of interest, get in contact – we need people to test early releases of the plays in MFFE Version 5.00 format.

Best wishes,

 The Director,

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