The Paper Stage, Romeo, Juliet and ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (Aren Goetcherian)

In Romeo and Juliet you would expect Romeo and Juliet to be together a lot of the time, right? I mean, the play is called Romeo and Juliet, not Romeo or Juliet. I don’t think I ever really realised just how much of the play the two eponymous characters spend apart until the recent Paper Stage reading of the play. Even having read and seen the play performed numerous times before, it never occurred to me that Romeo and Juliet only actually spend five scenes together in a 26-scene play, and in the final one of those (spoiler alert) they’re not actually alive at the same time, so I’m not sure it entirely counts. Maybe it was just to do with the fact that I was reading as Romeo (humble brag alert), or maybe it’s more to do with the format of the Paper Stage.

Focusing more on voicing than movement, the Paper Stage forced us collectively to imagine the performance space in our own ways. When the space is abstract, in our heads, rather than laid out and forced upon you on a stage, it opens itself up to many more possibilities. As such, the settings in our ‘production’ could be much more varied. I think this allowed us to differently visualise the relationship between character and space; in particular, it helped me realise that Romeo and Juliet as characters tend to occupy very different spaces in the play, something very pertinent to the play’s events.

As well as this, I think the interactive aspect of the Paper Stage was revealing. I noticed the lack of combined screen time for Romeo and Juliet mostly because I was sitting right next to my Juliet in the Gulbenkian café, but didn’t actually get to read with her very much (so close, yet so far). In fact, it’s likely that everyone noticed something nuanced about their own characters. There are probably lots of reasons why the Paper Stage’s style of reading made me come to this realisation as opposed to other readings and performances, but I think it’s an interesting one.

Also, make sure to follow #paperstage during the next one: my tweets were hilarious.

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Romeo and Juliet (Maria Hamilton)

Just wanted to give some feedback on Monday’s night’s Romeo and Juliet read through. Firstly, to say thanks to Harry and Clare for organising this, as it was a memorable way to spend an evening. I reflected afterwards with Cath that, despite my enjoyment of Shakespeare’s plays, I would never in a million years have sat down to read an entire play in one sitting on my own! (Thanks to digital technology, among other things, there’s always so much to fill up one’s ever shorter and shorter attention span.) And yet surprisingly, my focus was unwavering, maintained fairly easily throughout…

It did seem a bit of marathon to get through the whole of it though and as a consequence left insufficient time for much social interaction and/or reflection upon the experience with others present. Perhaps this isn’t necessary for research and doesn’t matter that much in particular, but if people are going to go along month on month, it would be nice to learn their names, at least. (Or perhaps we are meant to be identifying each person with the characters they played? “I wonder where Benvolio is from?”, “I just saw Juliet in the loo”.)

Romeo and Juliet and “Doubling” (Jordan Cook and Hannah McIntosh)

In our introductory blog post, Hannah and I wanted, first of all, to talk about the general ‘Paper Stage’ experience, and afterwards go on to discuss the early modern theatrical practice of “doubling”, which we as readers experienced first hand during the event.

On the 19th May, we attended the first public Paper Stage play reading of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. There’s something about the “read-aloud” experience of the Paper Stage  that is both insightful and refreshing, no doubt due to the attention that is brought to the words on the page, whilst still being able to incorporate the inherent performative aspects of the play. This reading and listening experience arguably gives one taking part more time to process the play in detail, rather than glossing over moments that could potentially be missed whilst watching a fast-paced performance. The process of reading out loud for each other’s benefit rather for that of an audience arguably allows one to sit on the fence between being a “player” and an “observer”.

Both Hannah and I only read a few minor roles, which we believe gave us the opportunity to listen more intently to the other speaking roles in the play rather than immersing ourselves in action; the experience therefore provided us with the opportunity to fully realise the value of these minor characters that may be otherwise overlooked. For instance, Hannah read for Friar John, whom, she notes, whilst only appearing in one short scene, nevertheless delivers news which impacts the entirety of the play: that Romeo has not been informed of Juliet’s “demise”. Equally, the Apothecary is present for one brief fraction of a scene, and quickly disappears, but yet he provides Romeo with the very prop that aids the play’s tragic ending. As such, minor characters (often overlooked in character studies and literary criticism) may be viewed as fully integral and necessary cogs in the play’s machinery.

For our reading of Romeo and Juliet some of the minor (and major) roles were doubled, including our own; this form of multi-roling is not only accurate to Shakespeare’s time period, but also allows us to understand the way in which performers would have been utilised on-stage. Doubling was a practice exhibited by Shakespeare’s company of players and their contemporaries, as plays would need to utilise a limited number of actors, for instance 10-15 individuals, to portray up to 40 roles. An interesting example of doubling in our rendition of the play had the same individual reading for the two major roles of Capulet and Benvolio, as well as the minor part of Gregory. Whilst doubling major roles was not as common, this did illustrate to us the difficulties of one actor playing two characters. For instance the possible overlap between roles, where at the start of the play we encountered a speaker conversing with himself. Or, how an actor can potentially be more suited for a certain role than another (Shakespeare would have had specific actors in mind when writing certain roles after all, e.g. Richard Burbage). I personally found that the speaker, whilst having read equally well for Benvolio, suited the role of Capulet more so, and due to this, as a listener I felt much more attentive listening to Capulet’s lines, and the part certainly earnt a few laughs.

It was a refreshing reading of a play that we, and no doubt a lot of others, assumed to already know quite well, thus showing that every reading and performance is unique, and  the Paper Stage reading of Romeo and Juliet brought to light aspects of the play we had never really considered before, and certainly made us contemplate early modern theatre practices from a different perspective.

The Paper Stage: Romeo and Juliet (Stuart Morrison)

The first public edition of The Paper Stage was also my first experience of a staged reading of a play in its entirety and it was a valuable experience for thinking about the relations between text and performance. I will discuss, briefly, a couple of what I consider to be the most interesting aspects of this first reading.

Firstly was that the reading was held in a very public place and that our readers had to do battle with the background noise of the Gulbenkian café and especially the hiss of the coffee machines. The ambient noise of commerce was a fitting reminder that the original performers of these plays would have had to contend with the noise of London’s street sellers and associated traffic. It also felt rather fitting that these noises dissipated as the evening went on, and after sunset the grim denouement of the play was read out into an eerily quiet room.

Secondly, that everyone – myself included – paid close attention to the text of the play, even those not reading a part. This created an interesting dynamic where if one were to look up from the text one would see a circle of bowed heads, listening and reading. The combination of the oral and the literal in this way was fascinating and it caused our cast to create characters using only their voice, which was done exceptionally well. The close following of the printed text also threw up some interesting issues surrounding authority and editorial practices, the most obvious being repositioned lines that caused confusion among the cast. The variety of editions that were on display each represent a version of the play that yearns to be seen as stable, and yet this reading proved how unstable the performance of texts can be.

Finally, engaging with Romeo and Juliet in this way enabled me to focus more on the language of the play and it struck me that it can be seen as an experiment with the sonnet form. Lines are shared and rhymes are completed between characters so frequently and there is a sense that most relationships in the play are created through this sharing, whether it is best friends sharing jokes, lovers meeting for the first time, parents speaking with their children, or sworn enemies arguing in the street. Furthermore the overall linguistic structure of the play mimicked certain aspects of sonnets, first with an anatomisation of the body (focusing particularly on the eyes), second with a transition to the language of banishment and solitude, and finally with an emphasis on the language of disease, decrepitude, and death. The presence of these repeated groupings of words added to the intensity of the reading and this linguistic intensity was much more noticeable than in productions I have seen.

My experience of this first public Paper Stage reading was truly rewarding and I am looking forward to next month’s play already.