King John Preparation: Intro by (support my work)
Published: Wed, Sep 10, 2014; Updated: Sun, Mar 13, 2022
Reading time: 4 minute(s) (700 words)

Prepping for King John, September 2014

On September 22nd, I’ll be playing the Bastard in the ShakesBEERience reading of King John.

Dan Beaulieu’s directing, and he’s decided to do a little experiment: the actors for this first show of the third ShakesBEERience season will be working from “cue scripts” – and nothing more.

A cue script is just your own lines and cues – just your own lines and the lines that provoke them. Here’s a page from mine:

my cue script

Cues on the right in bold, my lines on the left.

Actually, I think this can also be called a “side”. When you’re given your sides nowadays, at an audition, for instance, you receive a full (possibly redacted) copy of the scene you’ll be reading from. But the original meaning refers to a cue script: it’s just your side of the conversation.

I’ve decided to do something fun with this. The truth is, King John is not one of Shakespeare’s better known plays. It’s a testament to the fantastic work Seven Stages have done to build the following of their ShakesBEERience events over the past two years that they can use such an obscure peace to kick off their 3rd season – and have people clamoring to come see it! I’ve no doubt the entire second floor of the Press Room will be packed.

Anyway, King John is out-of-the-way enough that I’ve never actually read it. I’ve acted in or directed half of Shakespeare’s thirty-six plays, and read most of them – but never King John.

When I received my casting and my cue script, I was halfway through the first sentence of the Wikipedia article on the play when I realized what a unique situation I was in and abruptly closed the browser window.

I’m acting in a play I’ve never read before – and because of Dan’s choice to use cue scripts, there’s actually no need for me to read it at all. If I choose, I could arrive at the first of (only) two rehearsals with only the most basic idea what this play is about, and absolutely no idea who I’m talking to.

Why, oh why, would I want to do this to myself? Imagine for a moment that you are an Elizabethan playwright – overworked, paid little or nothing, and certainly not much respected. Because playwrighting is just a regrettable necessity of producting a play – not considered a profession save for the most illustrious university wits – you probably serve some other function in the theatre company as well; perhaps you’re an actor. In short, you don’t have time or energy to make a full handwritten copy of each of your new scripts for each of the actors (after all, you might prepare twenty-odd new scripts in each season). So what do you do?

Just copy out the cues and the lines for each actor. You give them their sides.

These actors wouldn’t get a chance to read the entire play before rehearsals started. Some might not even read it whole before performance day. They’d just have their own lines in hand, feverishly waiting for their cue – they know it’s coming, but they don’t know when.

I find myself, by the curious grace of never having read this play and my director’s decision to use an obscure preparation technique, in a position very similar to that of the Elizabethan actor.

In such a situation – which seems unlikely to come along again – I really have only one response to make:

March on, join bravely, let us to't pell-mell If not to heaven, then hand in hand to hell!*

* Hell, of course, being where I fall boldly on my face during first rehearsal because I’ve no idea what’s going on, who I am, or what century I live in.

Here follows a record of my experience preparing for this role, from my first read of the cue script, through rehearsals, to the performance.