It was years ago now when this guy Jared McDaris showed up to The Alchemist Theater. I was attempting to put together a sort-of education branch there at the time, and Jared came up to do a workshop on something called "Unrehearsed Shakespeare Technique." I had never heard of the theory, but I took the workshop and my mindgrapes were blown.
My very first memories of Shakespeare are lodged quite comfortably at First Stage Theater Academy, when one of my earliest teachers put me and the shortest boy in class together for a scene out of A Midsummer Night's Dream. I might have been 7 or so and all I remember is that when it came time to do our class presentation for our parents, we got a lot of laughs. That audience reaction got me hooked. (Well, that and the fact that nobody tried to tell me that Shakespeare was "too hard" for kids to do.) Since then, I've learned that Shakespeare is taught in English classes all over the country as mandatory reading, and people's first experiences with this text vary from magical to repulsive. I've recently been making my own attempts to bring "magical" closer to reality for a lot of students - I'm passionate about the stuff and there are a lot of young people interested in it, too.
Taking the Unrehearsed workshop was like learning the text as if it were new, which is saying something considering the history I've had with it. Here's the basics, as lifted off of the events page for tonight's production of Midsummer:
Armed with a set of guidelines and an in-depth discussion with the managing director, each actor uses a cue script and clues that Shakespeare wrote in to his lines to create a dynamic performance on the spot. Performers are given only their lines and learn to rely on that most important of acting techniques: listening.
The main criticisms of this technique come out when a band of merry players attempts a whole production using the theory. I tend to agree that the product can look or feel a little sloppy, (and hella long - these plays uncut can drag if the players don't pick it up!) and often Unrehearsed shows are thrown together unprepared - the actors haven't looked at their lines or figured out their words, they haven't practiced the technique before, they didn't have a text session with their managing director. These productions can be painful. Oh, and too often the pre-show curtain speech is laden with ideas like "This ain'tcher intellectual, BORING Shakespeare, this is the Real Thing!" which tend to get a little heavy handed and pretentious, even borderline bashing other shakespeare companies in town. Someone recently told me that she felt Unrehearsed was "anti-intellectual", and I have to agree that it does give off that vibe. Funny thing is, the people who do it are some of the smartest, most dorky intellectuals I know.
So what does it really mean to be anti-intellectual, or use some anti-intellectual techniques? When you've expatiated all you can on a play for years, it feels really good to throw around the text like it's a game out at recess. That aforementioned "magic" can really strike when the people involved are smart, witty, and PREPARED. And... It's also a great tool to use in the classroom. It's the most direct and efficient way I've ever put the text on it's feet, which is really helpful for new students and highly intellectual students alike. Unrehearsed DOES "get you out of your head" much like doing an improv scene, but it gives you this glorious safety net of poetry you can rely on to be there for you - all your acting choices are right there on the page you're holding.
So... do I think this is the Right way to do Shakespeare? Nah, I don't think there IS a Right way to do Shakespeare. As an audience member, I generally walk away from Unrehearsed shows with the feeling that I just saw a really wonderful first rehearsal. (Except for one time - Two Gentlemen of Verona happened in a bar with some of my favorite actors in town, and that was quite memorable.) As a performer, actively listening to my partners on stage (and the audience react!) is the best exercise an actor can hope for, and I love bringing that to my students.