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We ran a play-reading of The Merchant of Venice on Sunday, 13th May. Eight of us sat in our sitting room and read the play, using our Cast list for 8 to allocate the characters in the play to different players. The reading was a delight! Because we cast the play by lot, there is no way to rehearse the roles, and so we use the rhythm of the verse to influence our reading.
Portia was read beautifully; people congratulated me on my Shylock (even though my Jewish accent came out rather Welsh – at least he was different, as Shylock should be); Bassanio was an effective romantic lead; and we were lucky that the Clown – that most difficult of parts – was allocated to a professional actor who did a good job!
The delights of play-reading are quite quiet, but when they are as good as they were on that Sunday, they are very satisfying, and I basked in the pleasure we all had in our group performance all evening. The next day, a glumness set in. We’ve been play-reading for five years now, and the skills of the group in reading Shakespeare cold have developed well. But how can we persuade others to join in the fun, when what we do is so different from the spirit of the age? I was thinking about this problem when I suddenly started thinking about morphic resonance.
I have an acquaintance, Rupert Sheldrake, an English author and biologist who has developed the theory of Morphic resonance (see his Introduction to Morphic Resonance and Morphic Fields)). Sheldrake proposes that ‘memory is inherent in nature.’ No, it’s not only in your brain, and it’s certainly not only in your genes – it’s out there in the real world. For example, if animals learn a new skill in one place, similar animals raised under similar conditions should subsequently tend to learn the same thing more readily, all over the world. As a scientist, he tests his hypothesis, and there’s a long case study of rats being given an electric shock as they escape from a bath (see An Experimental Test of the Hypothesis of Formative Causation).
There are a couple of more anecdotal examples which I find rather fun:
- Ranchers throughout the American West have found that they can save money on cattle grids by using fake grids instead, consisting of stripes painted across the road.
One possibility is that cattle do not inherit a disposition to avoid cattle grids; rather they acquire it individually through painful exposure to real grids, or else they somehow pick it up from more experienced members of the herd.This does not seem to be the case. Ranchers have told Sheldrake that herds not previously exposed to real cattle grids will avoid the fake ones. This has also been found by researchers in the departments of animal science at Colorado State University and Texas Agricultural and Mechanical University.
- Even more fun, and more anecdotal, in Indonesia / Malaysia, troops of monkeys eat tubers (like potatoes) that they dig out of the ground. It was noticed that one troop of monkeys, on one island, started washing the potatoes in the sea before eating them. In no time, monkeys on other islands also started washing the potatoes. The knowledge had transported itself across the sea, without monkeys making the journey. But of course, it’s obvious that raw potatoes, washed in sea water, will taste nicer than dirty potatoes straight from the earth!
We’ve gone quite a long way from play-reading – or have we? We’ve invented a way of play-reading which is far better than eating raw potatoes washed in sea-water. But it’s different to what you expect. But slowly people all round the world are starting to try it out: as well as our group in Edinburgh, there’s a university group in Brighton that have run a few play-readings; a group in Nashville, Tenessee has explored our One Hour Hamlet, as well as our Modern First Folio Hamlet; in Rudrapur, India, a group has spent quite some time also reading our One Hour Hamlet; and in the United Arab Republic, they’re exploring the Modern First Folio Edition of Romeo and Juliet; and so on, and so on.
As people around the world start using our Shakespeare plays for play-reading, the morphic resonance builds and it becomes easier and easier for others to use our plays and software.
But we’re not leaving it to morphic resonance. We’re giving it a helping hand. We’ve noticed that quite a few of you get stuck when you reach a page showing a script, or the index page for a particular play. Reading a play requires you to use three different pages: the script; the index to the play; and the cast lists. This makes it easier for people reading the play on smartphones which have relatively small screens, but it takes a little bit of getting used to:
- The script page lets you read the script of the play. The actual text is in the middle of the scrollable page, and you can change scene by clicking on the A?S? buttons above and below the text.
What you can’t do is easily change the format of the script.
- The cast list pages let you define how many of you are reading the play, which player no. you are, and the format of the text you want to see (cue script format; highlight text format; or standard black text on a white background)
- The index page lets you move from page to page: from script to cast list and back; and to explore other pages relating to the play (introduction; cast list; reviews; etc).
You can move between these three pages using the buttons in each post (script button; and index and help button), and the back button.
It’s a little bit difficult to get your head round to begin with, but it’s getting easier all the time, due to morphic resonance – and the help we provide. We’ve published more detailed help on each of these pages for One Hour Romeo and Juliet (https://players-shakespeare.com/one-hour-romeo-and-juliet-for-young-and-old-index/) in the “Help with using our script pages” section. You can give this a try at One Hour Hamlet – Index to see if you can get your head round our interface. We’ve kept the index really simple, and the script page and cast list pages, to make it easier for you. If it’s a success, we’ll roll it out to other plays.
If it doesn’t work for you, please let us know what doesn’t work, and why, and even better what would work for you. You can leave a comment after this post, or you can leave a post on our Support for Playreading and Production Facebook page. We really want to get this right!
Whilst you’re working out how our interface works, I’d like you to remember two things:
- First, play-reading like this is so much better than eating raw potatoes washed in sea water!
- Next, by working out how the interface works, you’re making it easier for everyone in the world to use the interface, through morphic resonance.
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