A Few Words About Our Practices
Elizabethan theaters performed without elaborate sets. Our purpose is to stage our plays in a simple style, not unlike what is believed to be the actual practice of Shakespeare’s time. Simple sets, including movable set pieces, such as thrones, benches, and chairs, allow our productions to emphasize the players and the text. Our simple sets offer an open approach by inviting our patrons to suspend their disbelief and build the world of the play with their imaginations.
Shakespeare’s plays utilized dozens of characters. Early modern playing companies often had casts between 12 and 15, with apprentices and journeymen occasionally joining. With a small group of players and many characters, it was common for performers to play more than one role. By practicing doubling, not only are we able to showcase the creativity and skill of our directors, performers, and technicians, but our patrons can enjoy their favorite performers play several parts throughout the evening. This casting style also allows our performers to simultaneously hone their craft across multiple character types.
Shakespeare’s theaters employed all-male casts. That practice seems absurd to us today, as audiences have grown accustomed to seeing representation across race, gender identity, and neuro- or physical diversity in art and media. At the Tennessee Stage Company, our primary focus is to cast the best performer for the job– but that goes beyond “blind” casting. We strive to practice conscious casting, engaging performers and technicians of all identities to ‘storm the castle’. We recognize the need to grow the diversity of our casts and company, and strive to do so.
Shakespeare’s plays included concerts. In addition to the multitude of music and dance within the plays themselves, musical and other entertainments often preceded the plays. When Shakespeare’s company moved to the Blackfriars in 1608, plays began to include musical interludes, sometimes plucked off the streets and inserted into performances connecting the timeless texts with accessible, modern music. For our 17 years in Knoxville’s Market Square, our songs let the audiences know to pay their tabs and join us at the stage. Today, we continue the tradition to bring a bit of the Blackfriars with us.
Actors ran Shakespeare’s theaters. Shakespeare’s own company, first called the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men ” and later “The Kingsmen,” was owned by around eight actors, each with a share in the company and most of whom played specialized roles on stage. We do our best to perpetuate a standing company of performers and backstage staff who have proven their skills and with whom we have built trust and a sense of communal view of the work we have set out to do. Our casts are a deliberate mix of company members of our community of performers.
*While putting our practices to paper, we found Sweet Tea Shakespeare’s wording of their practices an invaluable resource. We want to express our gratitude to Sweet Tea Shakespeare for so eloquently putting into words some of the practices we have held dear for many years.