Western Illinois University: Macomb Campus
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Theatre and Dance
Bard in the Barn
Bard in the Barn is a festival that showcases “unrehearsed Shakespeare” performance techniques, based on the theories of Patrick Tucker as published in his Secrets of Acting Shakespeare and strongly influenced by the work of the New England Shakespeare Festival. Professor Bill Kincaid, the head of acting in the department, specializes in the technique.
The Bard in the Barn festival uses student and alumni actors from Western Illinois University, and is performed in conjunction with the Macomb Area Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Barnacopia usually in October.
About “Unrehearsed Shakespeare” Techniques:
Unrehearsed Shakespeare performance attempts to recreate what it may have been like for Elizabethan audiences and actors to experience the work of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. The experience relies on a new understanding of the relationship between actors and audience, and a deep appreciation of the clues hidden in an acting text, which allow the plays to be performed without rehearsal.
Looking at original performance schedules of theatres in Shakespeare’s day, there is no time set aside for rehearsal; shows simply begin appearing in the schedule. It is assumed that these shows were originally performed with little or no rehearsal. Out of concern for the actors’ safety, any stage violence or group movement (for example, the assassination of Julius Caesar, or the dance in Winter’s Tale) is rehearsed immediately before the performance.
The actors receive scrolls, with only their lines and their cues on them. The actors study their roles, from these “rolls”, or cue scripts, and use them in performance. The actors are asked not to read or study the rest of the play, but learn and study their own role. Because of this “double-blind” the audience and actors have the experience of discovering parts of the play for the first time – a unique opportunity with plays that are often considered familiar. Props and costumes are minimal, attempting to create the “roughness” of the original performances.
The actors are trained to carefully follow the scripts’ punctuation, spelling and (very few) stage directions, which are taken directly from the First Folio of Shakespeare’s work. Because punctuation in the 17th century indicated how words were spoken aloud, the actors are trained to recognize these and other clues to help them communicate with the audience.
Audience participation is encouraged, and the actors are encouraged to work with the audience as much as possible. In a theatre that originally held large crowds of unruly people, plays were designed to communicate with all elements of that audience. In our 21st century attempt to re-create that dynamic, actors are trained to be fearless and daring in their work—and they have to be. The plays are performed without intermission and the audience is encouraged to move around if they want a better view, bring food, talk if they want, and certainly interact with the actors (respecting the actor’s safety, of course).
In its inaugural year (2006), Bard in the Barn produced unrehearsed performances of The Winter’s Tale, The Comedy of Errors andJulius Caesar. A showcase performance ofJulius Caesar was also performed at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Region III festival in January of 2007.
Families, small children, anyone with an interest in the arts, and anyone who thinks they don’t care for Shakespeare is encouraged to attend; having a diverse and active audience is an essential part of the experience. The festival provides an experience unique to the Midwest community and is an important component of the training programs at WIU Department of Theatre and Dance.
To view the video podcast from the WIU production of "Bard in the Barn".