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Acting Shakespeare the easy way.

Updated: Feb 2

Actor and Berridge Shakespeare teacher Simon Purse re-kindles of love of acting Shakespeare with the Cue Script Technique.


Sometimes it can be hard just to let things be easy.


One of the challenges of teaching a Shakespeare on both gap year and summer acting programs is the enormous range of their experience. These are students choosing to study abroad in their precious spare time. And it seems that many have reacted to their English Literature classes, and the constant essay writing forced upon them, by developing antibodies to all things iambic.


And who can blame them for the way they feel? (in-joke for the observant…)


If you’d asked me to spend four weeks in a chateau in France studying Shakespeare after *my* experience in high school, I’d have run screaming, scrambling over my fears and preconceptions. Eighteen year old Simon. Did. Not. Like. Shakespeare.


Even my students who arrive with a professed ‘love of Shakespeare’ don’t necessarily have an advantage when we start to view things through the lens of: Original Practice.


For me, it took discovering this Original Practice work as a post-graduate acting student, and then going on to work with Patrick Tucker and his Original Shakespeare Company, to begin to lift the fog of my literature classes. And it has been sharing this work with international students for the last twenty five years that has instilled a love of language and performance that grows stronger every summer.


The nature of this unusual approach levels the playing field for all my students - the experts and the beginners. It creates an extraordinarily complicit company of young actors, who are ready to play and explore, and to discover what is really going on with these rich, rich texts.


The key is giving them the tools to unlock the language in Shakespeare’s plays. Language that many students find intimidating and off-putting at first.


Like many new arrivals at the chateau, my student Zach said: ‘I don’t think studying Shakespeare will be very much fun…’


We started by looking for the detailed clues for actors hidden in the text. These allowed him to gain insight into character and motivation, he started bringing speeches to life and then truly engaged with the words.


Why was his character choosing this particular way to express himself at this particular moment?


Then he just had to *act* that.


Not write an essay about it. Not defend it with intellectual argument in front of his class. But make a series of deliberate acting choices that his audience could respond to.


It’s in these moments that my students realise that these words were not meant to be read, or to be pored over in a classroom, but to be performed. On stage. In front of an audience.


At every moment the author is telling them how to act, where to move, what to feel. They just have to learn to trust the language, and do what Shakespeare is telling them do.


Once Zach knew how to spot the instructions, that he could just let go, relax, stop trying to make it clever, or worthy, or important, and let this brilliant playwright get on with the business of entertaining the audience.


“Sign me up,” said Zach, four weeks later, “Let’s do Shakespeare like that again…”


About Cue Script Shakespeare: Historical evidence shows that Shakespeare’s actors were given only their own parts: cue scripts that consist of their character’s lines, and the two or three words that cue each line. They never rehearsed and they never read the whole play. The first time they performed together was the first time the performed the play for a live audience. This class recreates these conditions and explores the original practice techniques championed by Patrick Tucker.


About Simon: Simon Purse is a London based actor and director who has been teaching our Shakespeare course at Berridge since 2013. He was a member of Patrick Tucker’s Original Shakespeare Company and runs workhops exploring original practice techniques all over the world, including Stanford University, Singapore Repertory Theatre, Oxford University, LAMDA, Lasalle School of the Arts, Loyola Marymount University, and NAFA