Director Sean Graney has streamlined Marlowe's script, leaving it terse, fast and violent. While still early in the development of the design and staging of Edward II, Graney has decided to present the play in promenade staging, with the audience standing and sharing the playing space with the actors on the main floor of the Upstairs Theater. There will also be a balcony with seats to view the action from above while seated throughout the performance.
There has been in theater a renewed interest in interactive and site-specific work in recent years. The "fourth wall," referring to the imaginary boundary between the audience and the actors performing behind a proscenium frame (as though the fourth wall of the room had been removed), is a relatively recent convention in the development of Western theater, codified in the nineteenth century. Since then, alternative staging practices have been explored to find stronger, more visceral connections between the spectators and performers.
Certainly Shakespearean asides, soliloquies, prologues and epilogues all violate the rules of the realism. Elizabethan playhouses were communal spaces, with the "groundlings" standing—and free to move—on three sides of the stage. So while promenade staging is at least as old as the medieval Mystery and Miracle plays, as New York Times theater critic Charles Isherwood recently noted, "Theater that invites the audience to get in on the act may be poised to become a more prominent component of the theatrical scene."
Edward II will be the fourth production Graney has directed using similar staging techniques. He has used an open central area, where the audience could reposition themselves for various scenes, and a stage with four different openings, where the audience moved from one area to the next. As the designs for Edward II take shape over the next few months, Graney and his design team will create an environment that keeps the audience literally in the middle of the action, sword fights, murders and all.