We’re back from holiday studying the Roman Empire and are straight back into Shakespeare play-readings with The Tempest, using our new, beta-test MFFEV5 Cloud Reader, developed whilst we were on holiday.
We’ve made a couple of changes to our play-readings for this year:
The group is growing, so at the moment we’re running two play-readings a month. What we’re aiming to do is to make sure that each reader has at least one ‘principal’ part to read, as well as a number of smaller parts. Our software lets us allocate roles like that, share the parts out as equitably as possible, and minimise the number of times any reader has to speak to themselves in different roles. For this reading of The Tempest, we had seven readers, and the reading seemed more focused.
The MFFE V5 Cloud Reader helps with this by supporting play-reading castings for 5 to 10 readers (for The Tempest). It can display the text for an individual part (e.g. Prospero, Miranda, or for me – Stephano), or for each play-reader in a group. It can show this in one of two ways:
as “Highlit Text”, where the whole script is displayed, but the lines for each character for a particular reader are shown in a character-specific colour; or
as “Parts and Cues”, where only the lines for a particular reader are shown, with the cue for each speech.
The easiest way to understand this, is to see it, so the following links show the different formats for A1S1 for reader 3 of 7, who is playing Alonso, Mariner, and Caliban.
Highlit Text: (https://players-shakespeare.com/reader/The%20Tempest/A1S1.html#hd,pr_3_7)
If you open this page, and scroll down, you’ll see that Alonso’s line is in yellow, and the Mariner’s line is in a pinky-brown colour. If you scroll right to the end of the scene you’ll see a list of Acts and Scenes. If you click on the button A2S2, and scroll through the scene, you’ll see Caliban’s lines are in green.
Parts and Cues: (https://players-shakespeare.com/reader/The%20Tempest/A1S1.html#pd,pr_3_7)
In this format, the reader only gets shown the lines he is to speak, with the cues for each speech (shown in red, right-aligned). If you click on the link at the beginning of this paragraph, you’ll get shown the same scene (A1S1) for reader 3 of 7). This time you’ll only see the lines for Alonso, and Mariner, with the cues for their speech. Again, if you click on the button A2S2, you’ll see all Caliban’s speeches in that scene with the cues for each speech. Parts and Cues encourages readers to listen to the rest of the play, because they need to listen out for the cues. (You do need to have one reader who has the whole script in Highlit Text format, in case readers miss their cues, and the play-reading falls apart).
You can, of course, click on other A?S? buttons and you’ll see all those scenes for reader 3 of 7. If you find the menu and play with it, you’ll discover a lot of other things you can do as well. Not everything works yet, so you may get some surprises, but it’s fairly stable. If you find any problems, or things you don’t like, (or things you do like), let us know by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So what did our play-readers think of the Cloud Reader? Everyone thought it was a significant improvement on how we read the plays previously (using castcards and a standard, electronic format of the script). Opinion was divided on which format ‘(Highlit Text’ or ‘Parts and Cues’) readers preferred. Our group consists mostly of actors and ‘English Literature Shakespeare’ lovers. My guess is that the actors tended to prefer ‘Parts and Cues’ and the English Literature lovers preferred ‘Highlit Text’ – “I want to see the whole play”.
But apart from making readers more attentive, does this new format make any difference to our understanding of the play? I think it makes a huge difference, and can point to one practical example. After the play-reading we had quite a discussion about Miranda, covering two main issues: Is she the goody-two-shoes she is usually portrayed as? and Why does Prospero keep asking her if she’s paying attention in A1S2?
The actress reading Miranda came to the conclusion that she wasn’t the sweet innocent thing she plays, but rather a nasty bit of work. We didn’t have time to explore this, but some of the other readers were rather surprised, nay shocked, at this idea.
The more interesting issue was why Prospero keeps asking whether she’s attending to his long story. Some readers thought it was such an interesting story that Miranda was bound to be interested. Others thought that the playwright introduced these questions to break up a very long story which might not bore Miranda, but was very likely to bore the audience. But what I thought was the interesting question was “How should Miranda play this scene?” Is she interested in Prospero’s story or not?
Now imagine you’re the Jacobean actor playing Miranda for the very first time ever, and you’ve just been given your Parts and Cues scroll for the part. All you’ve got is your lines, and the cues for those lines. You’ve never seen the play, you’ve got a vague inkling about the plot. You open your scroll and start reading (you can read along by clicking on: Miranda’s part in A1S2). You read your part and it’s soon pretty clear that your father is talking to you about your past. And then you come across three consecutive cues: “thou attend me?”; “Thou attendest not?”; “Dost thou hear?”. Thinking about how you’re going to play this part of the play I think you’ll come to the conclusion that you have to play at being inattentive. The cues give you the clue. (And so very often, do the lines).
The play-reading was one of the most exciting play-readings we’ve run so far, and we’re going to explore using the ‘Cloud Reader’ for the rest of the year. But one of my thoughts after the play-reading was how one can use it for other things apart from play-readings:
You can prepare one role in a play by choosing that character, and looking at it in “Parts and Cues” mode. You can explore a Shakespeare character in the same way that a member of The Lord Chancellor’s Men would. (We’re reading Othello next, and I’m exploring Desdemona in this way at the moment – more on that next week).
You can explore a scene in a Shakespeare play with 2 or 3 students, getting them to play specific scenes in “Parts and Cues” mode. (My partner and I will be exploring some of the key Iago / Othello scenes in this way soon.)
One of the members of our group directs Shakespeare plays, and is convinced that playing the play in Parts and Cues mode will be a key part of the introduction to the play for the cast, and for later rehearsals too.
We’re pretty excited by MFFEV5. At the moment we have a beta-test Cloud Reader, which will read MFFEV5 plays, and five plays (The Tempest, Othello, King Lear, Twelfth Night, Henry IV Part I) in MFFE V5 format. We’ll be publishing The Tempest online for download soon. We’re working to convert the rest of the plays into MFFEV5 format. We also plan to develop a Windows / Apple IoS app. which allows you to configure an MFFE V5 epub in the same way as the Cloud Reader, so you can read the configured play in iBooks, or other epub readers, without needing access to the Internet.
If this is beginning to interest you, then let us know by emailing us at email@example.com.
See more about Parts and Cues on our Playreading Page.