How did they (keep track back stage) in Cymbeline?

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If you have ever been lucky enough to go back stage at any large commercial theatre, during a production you will find a whole team of people dedicated to the smooth running of the play. There will be people working on sound and lighting, there may be screens showing the production back stage (even in the toilets!) so that actors can keep track of the performance and not miss their cue. You will also often find props and make up for special effects in what looks like chaos but is in fact very ordered ready to be used as required as the production progresses.

 

Behind the scenes at the Globe (minus the clutter) by Ian Dickinson

Shakespeare may well have recognised the ordered chaos but the whole team of people with full scripts of the play not to mention the TV screens would have been very unlike what he knew. So how did the crew keep track of the play and make sure that there was (in Cymbeline) for instance a chest on stage when the script called for one?

 

The answer would have been hung up above the manager’s desk back stage. It was called a ‘Platt’ (or plot) because basically it simply was the plot of the play compacted into a single close written sheet of paper with instructions like “Enter the Queen, Posthumus and Imogen with ring” so a simple reminder of the props which needed to be brought on stage at each scene. But it may also have contained details of the characters emotional reactions e.g. “menacing each other exit”. These documents would seem woefully inadequate to today’s stage managers, though they would provide valuable insight into the theatre practice and original performances of Shakespeare’s plays. Sadly very few survive and those I have seen in exhibitions etc do not relate to Shakespeare’s plays but to those written by his contemporaries. We can assume though that theatre practice was similar whoever the playwright was.

 

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Author:Liz Dollimore

Someone who loves listening to people talk about Shakespeare Liz tweets at @shakespeareBT

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