{Sun 13 September 2009}   Notes on reading Shakespeare aloud for fun
Notes on reading Shakespeare aloud for fun

It’s hard to believe two years have passed since we lasted hosted a play reading in London (Antony and Cleopatra). Now that my MA is finished, I can return to pleasant pastimes like this, so we’re looking forward to our next reading, of All’s Well That Ends Well, on 3rd October.

The Shakespeare-interpreting part of my brain was decidedly rusty when I first plunged into the text a couple of weeks ago, but the fantastic production we then saw at the National Theatre went a long way to lubricating it. If you can’t get to London, then check out NT Live, an initiative to broadcast the play to cinema screens around the world on 1st October 2009.

While preparing for the reading and allocating parts, I’ve made the following notes to encourage the readers, new and old:

  1. Adopt the attitude that this is a workshop rather than a performance. We’re figuring it out together as we go along. This is why we don’t allow spectators—we’re all in it together.
  2. Don’t hurry.
  3. Keep in mind your character’s basic motivations and role in the story. If you don’t have time to pre-read the whole play, or even your own part/s before the group reading, then make an effort to read at least a character summary. There are many resources online; one example is the Hudson Shakespeare Company which offers a good Character Directory.
  4. Remember the play is for the stage—much of the meaning should be conveyed visually, so use the stage directions to help you imagine the scenes, the actions and the tone of the exchanges… e.g. whether indoors or outdoors, who is present, how many are present and what they are doing—there are differences between the pomp and ceremony of a royal court and the intimacy of a private exchange in a parlour, between men’s voices in the rough and tumble of the battlefield and women’s voices in a safer setting in town, between an address to an equal and an address to a subordinate.
  5. Therefore, when reading Stage Directions, do so clearly, with appropriate emphases, to assist the group in imagining the scene. Note: Do not read the words [Aside], [Reads] or [Sings] – we leave it to the reader of the part to convey that they are speaking quietly to avoid being heard by someone in the scene, or that they are reading, or singing.
  6. Use the punctuation. Respond with appropriate emphases to exclamation and question marks. Pause with full stops, commas and em dashes—they give you and your hearers time to absorb what has just been said, and they help you make sense of the sentences. Don’t pause at the ends of lines unless punctuation says you should.
  7. If you realise by the end of a sentence, a paragraph or a poetic section that you have misunderstood it and placed emphasis incorrectly and you feel you could improve it with a second reading, by all means read it again. This is not required, but it’s perfectly acceptable in a workshop: you can re-read it yourself or invite someone else to have a go. Of course, we don’t have time to analyse every word or even to understand every sentence, but if you think the particular sentence you’re struggling with is important to understanding a conversation or a plot development, everyone else will welcome the repetition too.

et cetera