Playing in Rep
2020 Shakespeare Association of America Annual Meeting
Early English professional players relied on the repertory system—performing a different play every day of the week rather than runs of a single play—for financial success. This seminar invites archival, practitioner, and theoretical explorations of the ways in which performing "in rep" conditioned the early modern performance event. How did the rep system influence enskillment in players? The playgoer experience? What is its role in Shakespeare festivals today? Or in video-on-demand services?
Unlike the contemporary film and theatre industries, early English professional players relied on the repertory system—performing a different play every day of the week rather than in long runs of a single play—for financial success. This seminar invites archival, practitioner, and theoretical explorations of the ways in which performing “in rep” conditioned the early modern performance event. Participants might consider how the repertory system influenced skill development in players or the theatrical experience for playgoers. How might it influence the experience or labor structure for Shakespeare festivals today? In what ways could serial television and video-on-demand services be capitalizing on unexpected affordances of this system?
The field of repertory studies has seen a boom in scholarship over the past two decades namely in the form of the company biography. Following the groundbreaking models of Roslyn Knutson (1991), Sally-Beth MacLean and the late Scott McMillin (1998), there has been a flurry of similar assessments, such as Queer Virgins and Virgin Queans on the Early Modern Stage (Bly 2000), Shakespeare, The Queen’s Men, and the Elizabethan Performance of History (Walsh 2009), Owning William Shakespeare: The King’s Men and Their Intellectual Property (Marino 2011), among others. The Henslowe-Alleyn Digitisation Project and Records of Early English Drama have ballooned interest in repertory studies, yet little systemic work has been done on the economic, literary, or performative opportunities made available by the repertory system itself or by comparison across companies.
This seminar raises theatre-historical questions evaluating repertory as a system, enlivening conversations about hitherto scarcely considered companies (more than fifty of which were active in this period). By focusing on the system for playing rather than the plays themselves, participants can pursue lines of inquiry outside the usual parameters of a single playtext, single playwright, company biography, or topical thematic concern, as well as explore the delta of shared interests across the scholar-practitioner divide—paying “attention to the full choir” (Munro 2003).
Curious about participating in the seminar? Just want to follow along? Join the Zotero group, where will we include an open-access annotated bibliography of the key scholarship in repertory studies.