In the 1984, John Barton got together with the actors of the Royal Shakespeare company and put together a series for the BBC called Playing Shakespeare on how to interpret Shakespeare for contemporary audiences while remaining faithful to the text. That may sound esoteric but what the series shows is some of the top actors in the English-speaking world working to find the meaning, intention and subtext of a script.
Here’s an excerpt from the first episode:
A book was created from the transcript, but the videos are far more powerful. The series comes up for sale on DVD at incredible prices from time to time (I bought it a few years back) and in the US, it is available on Netflix streaming. If you’re very lucky your local library might have a copy, too.
If you’ve ever thought about acting lessons as a way to expand your screenwriting, you should love this. And if you struggle with dialogue and subtext, you may find this series helpful, too. Plus the cast includes Judi Dench, Ben Kingsley, Peggy Ashcroft, Ian McKellen, David Suchet, and Patrick Stewart, and the production is a joy to watch. It’s like having the RSC pop over for tea and a chat in your living room.
I read the book accompanying the series back when I was planning to go into theatre, and thought it was fantastic. Tremendous insight into how actors work with a text; and of course, useful for a writer to reverse-engineer your work so the things an actor will be looking for will be in there in the first place.
Hmmm, I wonder how much the DVD is at the moment…?