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Playreading Report: The Tempest MFFE Version 5.01, Edinburgh, 21st June

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Here in Edinburgh we celebrated Midsummer’s Day by reading The Tempest  in a new version of our MFFE edition. After that play-reading we’re beginning to wonder if we’ve come up with a pretty neat idea – almost as neat as digital watches.

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I thought it was our best play-reading yet. Players seemed more committed to the parts they were playing; they were listening to the other parts more intently; there was more acting going on; and as one player said, “Shakespeare seemed to be in the room.”  The humour in the play came alive and I noticed most of the players smiling and even laughing at the antics of Stephano and Trinculo; and the masque in A4S1 (usually so difficult) came alive with humour. I was not alone in thinking the reading went well – the feedback from the players was nearly all positive.

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Was this just luck, the magic of Midsummer’s Day, or had something changed?

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Quite a lot had changed. One of the reasons that you’re not hearing so much from us over the summer is that we’re busy implementing a new version of our Modern First Folio Edition – Version 5.00. This lets us do a lot of things we haven’t had before:

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  • Readers can now see their script in three different formats: “standard script” (like what you see when you buy a book); “Highlit Text”, where each player’s lines are highlit in a different colour from the rest of the script; and “Parts and Cues”, where each player only sees their lines – and the last three words of the previous speech to act as “the cue”. (You can learn more about these three formats below). We spent half the play reading in “Parts and Cues” and it was this that mainly made a difference to the play-reading. Not seeing other players’ lines, and listening out for a cue raises your attention level. A few players thought it also helped you to listen to the play “in character”. (Click on the link to see Prospero’s part in A1S2 of The Tempest in Parts and Cues). One of the players – a director – said that from now on she’d be using “Parts and Cues”  in rehearsals from now on.

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  • We have now incorporated different castings into the play. In the case of The Tempest, we have ten different castings embedded in the play: the original Jacobean casting; a modified version of the casting with doubling introduced; and eight different castings for play-reading for groups from five to twelve players. As well as helping to run play-readings, I’ve found it really interesting to understand the original castings. For example, in The Tempest, it’s clear that Prospero is the main character in the play, but less obvious that nearly all his lines are in three scenes, A1S2, A4S1, and A5S1. And who is the next most important character. My thought, before looking at the castings, was Caliban and Ariel, joint second. But the original Jacobean casting clearly identifies Gonzalo as the second most important character. (Click on the link to see the castings embedded in The Tempest.)

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  • As well as the changes to the format of the text, we adopted another practice from Early Modern English times. We had a conductor (rather like a music conductor), who made sure that everyone kept together. If all the readers only have their own parts, there’s a risk that if things go wrong, it will be difficult to put the reading back together again.  So ‘the conductor’, who still has a part to read, has a script in “Highlit Text” format. This has the whole script, with the conductor’s part in “Highlit Text” (click on the link to see the Highlit Text version on A1S2 of The Tempest).

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  • Another change we’ve introduced, mostly at the request of academics, is to incorporate line nos into our edition. It doesn’t really make sense to have line nos on e-readers like the iPad, or Kindle or Smartphone. The lines are different depending on the resolution of the screen, the font selected by the user, and the font size. However, we also provide a print version of the script, and in that version line nos are fixed, and the text is identical to that shown on e-readers using the same Version of the script. (So click on the link to see the line nos on A1S2 of The Tempest.)

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Perhaps that’s enough about  what the MFFE Version 5.00 contains for the moment. If you want to get a better idea of what we’ve done, click on the link to our Overview of MFFE Version 5.00 and our editing guidelines.

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So where do we go from here? We plan to launch MFFE Version 5.00 in the autumn with three Shakespeare plays: The Tempest, Othello, and Romeo and Juliet. We’re in the process of updating our software to convert plays already published in MFFE Version 1 to MFFE Version 5, and roll those out over 2015 – 2016. And we have another 14 or so First Folio plays to publish in MFFE Version 5.00

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But what’s the neat idea, nearly as good as digital watches? We think there’s two things we’re doing in MFFE Version 5.00 which are exciting, particularly for players reading or producing the play in schools, in universities, or play-reading groups and production companies

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  • Firstly, enhancing e-book definitions of plays to include castings as well as the script. A script on its own is literature. A script with castings is a piece of theatre we can all put on!.

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  • Secondly, allowing the user to change the way the script is shown: as a standard text; as “highlit text”, or as “parts and cues”, just as they can change fonts and font sizes, makes e-readers far more useful to players. And not only for Shakespeare, but for all plays.

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If you think there’s some neatness in these ideas, why don’t you contact us? We need help in many different ways.  We need people to beta-test our plays as they’re published; there’s software to write; there’s a whole host of non-Shakespeare plays to convert to MFFE format; there are schools and universities who might like to be early adopters of MFFE Version 5.00. Good grief there might even be people with money for this project.

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Click on the link to fill in our contact form telling us how you can help, and we’ll get back to you.

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Richard Forsyth
‘The Director’,
Players-Shakespeare.comin
admin@players-shakespeare.com

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