Community-making on The Paper Stage (Rosemary Walters)

Over the past two terms the Paper Stage readings have seemed to me to have a growing sense of community, a sort of company of players. “Titus Andronicus” was the only one which I had already seen on stage, and it was fascinating to re-enact this. The pie scenario was just as PS photo - communityrepulsive! although obviously the obscenity of the mutilation didn’t have the same impact – someone near me fainted when I saw it on stage. But it’s always exhilarating to come to a piece of drama for the first time whether on the stage or on paper. In the Paper Stage, without any movement or props the text has to speak for itself even more strongly, which is quite difficult when reading an unseen script for the first time, often without any idea of plot or the complicated relationships existing between the characters before the plot begins. Would some kind of resume of the storyline at the beginning help or detract from the excitement of the reading? Would actors of this time know the stories before they saw the script for the first time?

As someone who knows nothing about the scholarship of early modern drama what fascinates me is the place of the conscious and sub-conscious in all this. To what extent did Webster, Lyly and Co “know” what was going on in their own and their characters’ minds amongst all the violence and often frenzied activity?  Did they have any concept of the sub-conscious? How far can you assume hidden motivation and/or “modern” political or moral significances? Are these stupid questions? I’m sure studying the drama of this period would answer this for me but I’ve come to the plays without this background and still enjoyed them immensely.

In the discussion afterwards I do ask myself if we should be shocked at some of the assumptions, for example about the treatment of women, into which we read our own contemporary concerns or just accept that we’ve been in another place at another time. Is this a cop-out? I enjoy going to the Globe and now the Wanamaker Playhouse and have this vision of contemporary audiences for these plays being there for a good evening out, not sitting respectfully in rapt attention through the whole play, dwelling solemnly on ethical and moral considerations.  And somehow, for me, the Paper Stage evenings get near to what I imagine (perhaps wrongly!) this atmosphere to be. What is so refreshing about the Paper Stage is the informality of the reading, being part of the story over a glass of wine, not worrying about in depth analysis or forgetting words and being able to enjoy the plays as vivid stories of people getting into sometimes impossibly complicated and crisis situations and trying to get themselves out of them! I’ve felt that the growing sense of community has enabled us to take more risks with getting into role as we’ve travelled through war, murder, adultery, witchcraft and various other combinations of tortured characters and their social and domestic power struggles and look forward to more of these to come.

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