After four years of re-creating Shakespeare's staging conditions, in 1993 the American Shakespeare Center (known then as Shenandoah Shakespeare Express) began experimenting with re-creating some of Shakespeare's rehearsal techniques with an exercise called the “Renaissance Run.” Each year, actors are cast months before their contracts begin. For a rehearsal process beginning with a Ren Run, the actors receive scripts and are charged with learning their lines so that rehearsals begin “off-book.” At the start of rehearsals for the show,
actors are given eight hours to rehearse their scenes, to choose simple costumes/props, and to prep the play, all without a director. On the second day of the rehearsal block, they put on the entire play for the director. Directors are free to pick and choose what aspects of the Ren Run they would like to keep, change, or reject for the production. Getting to think about their characters so concretely that they can perform the shows without direction allows the actors to have a stronger influence and impact on the shape of the shows. ASC directors get a lot of ideas from these Ren Runs, and actors get a taste of what it was like when Shakespeare's company rehearsed with fewer group rehearsals and without directors. The overall goal of the Ren Runs is to put on the best show possible with very little rehearsal and no guidance from the director.
Associate Artistic Director Jay McClure, inspired by the success of the Ren Runs, as well as by his own experiences producing nine plays in nine weeks in summer stock theatre, had the idea to expand the ASC’s experimentation with Shakespeare’s rehearsal conditions to a full season of shows without directors or designers. Actors would, under these conditions, be responsible not only for blocking the show and working scenes on their own, but also for choosing costumes, arranging music, finding or creating props, choreographing fights and dances, and seeing to any other details of performance that could arise, all in a fraction of the rehearsal time granted to them in other seasons. In January 2005, the first Actors’ Renaissance Season opened with productions of The Taming of the Shrew, A Tamer Tamed, and A King and No King. Since then, the season has expanded to five shows running from January to March most years, and expanding to April in 2011.
The 2011 Actors’ Renaissance Season shows are: Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, John Marston’s The Malcontent, the anonymous Look About You, Thomas Middleton’s A Trick to Catch the Old One, and Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 3. We hope you’ll join us at the Blackfriars Playhouse this winter to share in the unique experience that the ARS offers.
Information compiled by Jim Warren, Jay McClure, and Cass Morris
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