The Performance: Preparing and Reflecting


Much more than with film, theater requires the audience to imagine a great deal of the play’s world. A theater performance is done in one take, without location changes, moving cameras and close-ups. Theater artists (directors, actors, designers) create a canvas for the world, but it’s not until each audience member is involved that the play comes to life. In preparation for seeing Chicago Shakespeare’s production, watch scene 6 of the film (beginning at approximately 21:08). As Will chases Viola, the scene moves quickly through backstage, London streets, on the dock and finally by boat until they reach her home. The audience is transported to each location as the camera shots change; however, a live performance may limit the capability of so many scene changes in real time. In small groups, re-read scene 6 of the play, and discuss how the playwrights adapted the scene in order to tackle the challenge of scene changes:

  • How does the story in the play differ from the film setting up Will’s impulse to follow Viola?
  • How does the proximity of Will and Viola on stage affect their relationship and this scene between them?

Consider now how you would stage this scene for the theater, determining your solutions to the following questions:

  • Will yours include a chase? And, if so, how will you stage the chase?
  • What elements of the film might you consider adding to the play without changing the text?
  • How might you utilize other areas of the theater in addition to the stage during the scene?
  • What role will other cast members play in the scene?
  • How might you conceptualize a set design that would allow the story to transition from the playhouse to Viola's home? [To the teacher: you may want to consider making half the groups “Broadway productions,” with unlimited space and budgets, and half the groups “storefront productions,” where the audience’s imagination will do a great deal of the work, prompted by a creative solution in the design.]
  • How are music and lighting used to create a sense of inspiration, intimacy, or urgency?  

After the performance discuss the director’s choices. What choices aligned with your imagined interpretation of this scene?  Were there elements from the film that you missed and would have added to the performance?




The experience of theater is one of community. Shakespeare in Love is performed in Chicago Shakespeare’s Courtyard Theater which has a “thrust stage” just like the stages in Shakespeare’s time. A “thrust” is a stage that extends into the audience who, sitting on three sides of the stage, are “up close and personal” with the action and the actors. This creates a special relationship between you and the performers and between you and your neighbors. During the play, what were the specific moments when you became aware of other audience members? What was it that drew your attention?How does this affect your experi­ence and inform your behavior? Discuss what the role an audience actually plays in a theater performance like this one.




Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Casting Director, Bob Mason, is responsible for finding the right person for every character you see on our stage—no small task! After you’ve read the play, return to the text and look for clues for each character to answer these questions: how do they look? sound? move? behave? Think of television and film celebrities who fit your image of the character and, in groups, discuss who your “Dream Team” would be for your version of Shakespeare in Love. Print or post on your class blog images to create “headshots” for your perfect cast. Then present your cast to your classmates, explaining why you made each decision, and compare your ideas with those of your classmates, using specific textual evidence whenever possible. After you see the play, contrast your vision to that of Director Rachel Rockwell and the actors whom she and Chicago Shakespeare’s casting director have assembled.



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