We’ve upgraded Romeo and Juliet with lots of new goodies to help you explore the play. At the top-level, with this new release, you can:
- Use “Let’s Explore” to explore the characters of Romeo, Juliet, and the Nurse (or any other character in the play)
- Use “Let’s Play” with a few friends to play: The Balcony scene; The lovers’ parting; The death of Mercutio and Tybalt; Juliet’s family discover the ‘death’ of Juliet
- Play-read the whole play with 6 to 9 play-readers (we recommend 8)
- Explore the original, Elizabethan, casting of the play for 20 players
- Find out how our (Edinburgh Shakespeare play-reading group) play-reading went in December ’15. We’ll be reading the play again in February ’17 and will publish another report on how it went.
- Watch 4 productions of the play (the Zefferelli film; the Baz Luhmann film; The Globe production; the BBC Shakespeare Collection production).
Click on the links in the index to the right of this post to actually do this. The focus, as always, is on enjoying and exploring the play.
This is the fourth play that we’ve published which provides this level of support. The others are: All’s Well That Ends Well; Hamlet; and The Merry Wives of Windsor. We plan to publish at least one a month from now on in this format, so there’ll be plenty to keep a monthly play-reading group busy.
Let’s go down a level and explore each of these areas in more detail.
This is the latest feature we’ve introduced. It allows you to explore any character in a Shakespeare play by reading (out loud preferred) the character’s lines in Parts and Cues format (where only that character’s lines are shown), or in Highlight Text format (where the whole script is shown, with the character’s lines highlit in colour).
Many people find it strange to only see one character’s lines, but for an actor, it is what they are going to end up doing on stage, and it is how scripts were given to actors in Shakespeare’s day. It helps the reader to focus on the lines of his character without the ‘noise’ of other roles’ lines. It is particularly useful where a character has large speeches in a scene.
In ‘highlight text’ mode the text of the whole scene is shown, with the character’s lines highlit. This gives context to a scene which has already been read in ‘Parts and Cues’ mode, and is really useful when there’s lots of dialogue with short speeches.
Is this way of looking at a character’s part on its own, and in the context of the whole scene useful? Let me speak from my own experience. Until recently, I didn’t really know Romeo and Juliet very well. I had never acted in it and I had never directed it. Of course I knew the story, but that’s not the same as the richness of understanding one get’s through detailed playing as an actor or director.
When I came to create the “Let’s Explore” items for this edition of Romeo and Juliet, I found myself looking at each character through Parts and Cues, and Highlight Text. What I found most useful was to be able to switch quickly from one to another. I found I could quickly get a feel for the role’s character and their key scenes. When there were long speeches (e.g. Juliet in A3S2) I’d read those speeches slowly in Parts and Cues. Where short dialogue was important (e.g Romeo and Juliet dialogue in A1S5 at the ball) I found Highlight Text more useful. But both helped me build up a much deeper view of the play and the characters than I had before I started.
You don’t believe me? Then try it – I think you’ll be surprised.
This lets you play scenes, or extracts of scenes, with a small number of players. In feel, it’s not unlike a rehearsal of a scene from a play, with the difference that you can swap characters and run it again and again.
For Romeo and Juliet, we’ve taken four scenes and cast them for as few players as is practical and they can be used to let a few people explore scenes. It lets people explore their acting abilities in a fairly non-threatening environment, and perhaps best of all, the casting can be gender-blind. The players can get a good understanding of the scene and the character of the roles. The scenes we’ve provided for Romeo and Juliet are:
- A2S2: The Balcony Scene (3 players)
- A3S1: The deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt (4 players)
- A3S5: Lovers parting (3 players)
- A4S5: Juliet’s family dicover her ‘death (6 players)
Of course, you’re not constrained to play only these scenes, you can play any scene, but you have to set up the casting yourself, using the Script Setup gearwheel on the script window.
Also, you may spend an evening with some friends ‘playing scenes from Shakespeare’. The number of players is likely to be fixed, but you don’t have to limit yourself to one play. Our Let’s Play menu allows you to see all the scenes we’ve put into “Let’s Play” format for 1, 2, 3, or 4 players, or even more).
Play-readings of a complete play:
Of course, what we really want you to do is get a group of friends together for a few hours (Sunday afternoons are good) to read a whole play together, and that is why we we provide castings which let a small number of people play the play. For Romeo and Juliet we provide castings for 6 – 16 players, plus the original Elizabethan casting of 20.
What we have found in Edinburgh is that there are two forms of play-reading that work for us:
- In the first you have enough players to give each player one principal role. This is usually somewhere between 10 and 12 players, but varies of course by play.
- The second approach, which is what we do now, is to have somewhere between 6 and 8 players. This means that each player is kept much busier in the play-reading, which most players like, but may have to speak to themselves (in different roles) occasionally).
Play-reading is perhaps one of the most under-rated ways of experiencing Shakespeare. I’d like to try and explain those delights from a recent experience we had with music.
We are occasionally invited to a run-through of a concert by an Edinburgh Chamber Music group that specialises in Modern music. The most recent event was a run-through of a concert of Peter Maxwell Davies’ music. The run-through was not a concert. It was preparation for a recording (later the same day) of the same set of music. The group invite a small number of friends to hear the run-through. We, maybe 20 or so guests, sat in Greyfriar’s Church and listened to the music.
It has a completely different feel from a concert. There is a certain formality to a concert: the players tend to be dressed up; there is a separation between the audience and the players; there may be special lighting. Instead, the run-through feels as if a few friends are playing music to other friends. When players weren’t needed for a piece, they sat with the other friends, listening to the music.
A play-reading is rather similar. It does not have the formality of a performance, with stage curtains; lights; darkness in the auditorium. Instead, a few friends get together and read a Shakespeare play. They perform their parts as well as they can, but they are also the audience, listening to the play. We play the play for each other. When it goes well, it’s magic.
You don’t believe me? Then try it – I think you’ll be surprised.
Of course, the way most people experience Shakespeare is by watching a performance: in the theatre; at the cinema; or more and more frequently on your television at home.
There can be little doubt that the most emotionally powerful way of experiencing a play is to see a great performance live, in the theatre. If the performance goes well, the audience are moved, and that stimulates the actors to give even more, and we all have a wonderful experience. Cinema too, can provide powerful emotional experiences.
And so we provide links to performances of Shakespeare’s plays that we think are interesting and that you can watch at home. For Romeo and Juliet, we provide four:
- Zefferelli’s 1968 film. (I saw this as a young man, with my mother, in Glasgow in a huge cinema. When Romeo started to kill himself in the crypt, all the female members of the audience, in broad Glasgow accents, called out; “Oh, no! Oh, no! Don’t do it, don’t do it!”)
- Baz Luzmann’s film, set in nearly modern-day Verona Beach, Florida. A modern classic!
- The Globe’s recent production, recorded in The Globe, giving that Shakespearean-era feel.
- Thee BBC’s Shakespeare collection production. A bit dated now, but always interesting for the serious follower of Shakespeare.
These films can give you powerful emotional responses to the play. However, they don’t let you explore the depths of the play, primarily because you are a fairly passive participant, they happen in real time, and everything happens so fast that you miss a lot.
This new version of Romeo and Juliet (and the other plays we’ve already published and will publish soon) allows you to explore the play in ways that are not easily achieved with standard versions of the play.
There’s a lot of different things you can do, but they are all aimed at the same thing – experiencing the play emotionally. It is by experiencing the emotions generated by the plays that we grow to love Shakespeare.