ABSTRACT

This statement from the preface to McMillin and MacLean’s book was the inspiration for the Shakespeare and the Queen’s Men project, a research/creation experiment that produced three Queen’s Men plays in repertoire and performed them on a short tour of venues in Hamilton and Toronto, Canada in October 2006.2 The Queen’s Men and their Plays cautiously develops convincing arguments about the theatrical past through assiduous application to historical records. Our project was also guided by a desire to reach back and understand the past. We engaged in further research on the company and its working practices but instead of writing a book, we hired designers, appointed a company of actors, rehearsed the plays, and performed them within parameters set by the evidence of our research. Our insistence on a relationship between our productions and historical evidence places our work within what is often categorized as ‘original practice’ production but it was extremely important to our research team that we separate ourselves from the essentialism associated with other work in this area – much to the dismay of our publicity team, the words ‘recreation’, ‘reconstruction’, and ‘authentic’ were banned from all material related to the project. At the same time, we chose not to perform the plays in modern dress and using modern rehearsal techniques since

such a choice might lead to an equally problematic implication that the Queen’s Men were in some way our contemporaries. Our project was a research-creation exercise in theatrical history and it was important for us to maintain a sense of historical distance. In keeping with McMillin and MacLean’s book, we wanted to see the Queen’s Men as ‘strangers from the past’.3 Since the nature of that past is a matter of debate, we approached the work in the spirit of experimentation and created a production process that explored a variety of hypotheses about the company and its performance practice. These hypotheses based on relevant evidence quickly became subject to the contingencies of theatrical production and at times the pressures of production threatened to overwhelm our research agenda, but looking back on the process our inventive responses to the problems that arose teach their own lessons in theatre history, and our combination of modern and early modern theatre practice allows for an assessment of the relationship between the two. This paper will describe and analyze our process in relation to two topics: the make-up of the company and the doubling of the plays as presented in McMillin and MacLean’s book and as practiced in our project, and the effect of the rehearsal and performance process on the ideology of the plays.