This page was written by Bill Rossen.
This web site describes how you can host informal dramatic readings of all of Shakespeare's plays, as well as several others, for groups of from six to twelve participants. This system was devised by the late beloved scholar and amateur thespian Dr. Gareth Morgan of the Classics Department at The University of Texas at Austin. For close to twenty years, Dr. Gareth Morgan, with his wife Joan, was the guiding spirit and enthusiastic host of a weekly gathering of readers who love Shakespeare's plays and read them together. The genius and flexibility of Gareth's system has allowed this group to thrive over many years, meeting nearly every week, with anywhere from five to fifteen participants on any given occasion.
This site contains directions for hosting your own reading as well as outlines that will allow you to allocate among participants (“cast”) parts from all of Shakespeare's plays as well as several others. Usually each participant takes several parts, but in Gareth’s castings one almost never finds oneself taking both parts in any given conversation. A reading takes from about 3 to 4 1/2 hours, depending on play length and on how much time you spend socializing between sections. To host a reading, (1) review the directions, (2) download the casting of the play of choice, (3) prepare goodies and invite the guests. Then, once the guests arrive and start schmoozing, and you know how many are present, (4) allocate the parts for the first portion of the play, and (5) go to it! After the first section, take a break for socializing and refreshment, allocate the parts for the second part of the play, and continue the reading. We hope you will enjoy Gareth's system as much as we have!
The members of
the "Sunday Shakespeare" group of
Austin, Texas, dedicate
this site to the memory of Gareth Morgan and with continuing affection and
appreciation for his wife Joan.
Dr. Gareth Morgan
• Some Hints on Reading
• Castings of Shakespeare plays
• Castings of other plays
Each play is broken into 3 sections, with the exception of some short plays that are broken into 2 sections. The characters in each part are divided among 6 or 7 readers. The casting is intended to prevent any reader from taking both sides of any conversation at any point in that section of the play. If there are more readers present, the number of readers can be expanded to 12 or 13; one subtracts the parts with the appropriate notation from the first 7 readers as indicated. For instance, in The Winter's Tale, if there is an eighth reader (*), he or she reads Jailer instead of the first reader, and 2nd Servant instead of the sixth reader. If there are more than 12 (or 13) readers, you can split out additional parts as needed. If there are fewer than 7 readers, it gets more tricky, since one is likely to end up reading both sides of a conversation; but we have gotten along with as few as five readers on occasion. Some of the plays are already cast for as few as six readers.
In our group, participants take turns volunteering to host the weekly readings. The host or hostess decides which reader actually gets each numbered part for each section (usually changing numbers from section to section; note the lower-numbered parts usually have the juicier parts, and we spread these around among participants from section to section of the play). At the start of each section, the host or hostess tells each person which parts to read. It's essential at this point that each reader write down the list of parts to read on a slip of paper - memory just can't be trusted when your parts are, say (as in Richard III): Catesby, Prince, 3rd citizen, messenger in Act II Scene 4, Ely, Scrivener, Rivers, and Vaughan. The host or hostess also announces how far the given section goes; for instance, in The Winter's Tale, the first section goes through Act II.
The host or hostess then provides food, slips of paper and pencils for readers to write down their parts, and a few extra Complete Works in case anyone comes without a text. (One can get a Complete Works for about $10 in used bookstores.) The whole process, reading plus socializing, takes from 3 (for the shortest plays) to 4 1/2 hours. For the long plays, the host or hostess may want to keep the social breaks a little shorter to keep things moving.
There's occasional confusion in parts listed, though we're trying to weed these out. An "=" in the text means that two names appear for the same part in different versions of the text. In A Midsummer Night's Dream, for instance, in some text the fairies are called 1st Fairy, etc., where in other texts they're named Mustardseed, etc. One catches these as one goes along.
The printed versions of the text may stretch over a page or get muddled alignment if the margins, font, etc. get mixed up during downloading and printing.
This system is due to an exceptional scholar and good friend to many here at The University of Texas at Austin, Dr. Gareth Morgan of the Classics Department; he created the system and shepherded our little group through about two decades. Sadly, Dr. Morgan died in the summer of 1996. We have certainly enjoyed the fruits of his labors and his and his wife's enthusiastic participation over the years. We hope you will enjoy them as well.
Some Hints on Reading
Some unwritten, informal rules we follow:
No one criticizes or comments on anyone's reading! This goes double for "encouraging" anyone who's having trouble. For the most part, we don't even compliment anyone's reading, since an absence of compliments can then seem like criticism. We pretty much insist that everyone present must read at least one part. We do the readings in the spirit of amateur enjoyment, and if anyone is too self-conscious to participate, it can make everyone self-conscious. (We've had visitors from other countries who have at least read the part of "2nd gentleman," etc.) For the gathering, we spread a table with goodies and eat, drink and talk before beginning to read and between the sections of the play.
A couple of hints I have found useful. At the start of each scene, or anywhere you have a break in your speaking parts, scan ahead to see when one of your assigned characters next appears. That way you’re ready when you’re next “on.” This is especially important when there are a lot of characters to keep track of.
The language is unfamiliar. When I started I felt as though I was on a train racing out of control through unfamiliar language (though perhaps a better analogy would have the language flying past me, strapped into my chair), trying desperately to keep up, speak it correctly and with some appropriate emotion. One trick to slow this down is to pause slightly at each appropriate punctuation mark (comma, colon, hyphen, etc.) in the text. This allows one to keep up and keep track of the meaning. This is no mean feat in some of Shakespeare’s 10- or 20-line (or do they just seem that long?) sentences.
Again, one should emphasize that the readings are not expected to be "good." We get hung up occasionally over confusion as to who is to read the next part, or someone stumbles badly and gets befuddled, etc. The point, we find, is to enjoy them without getting self-conscious. Occasionally we do reach a new level of performance, and that is great, but it's not the point.
If you have used these castings and enjoyed them (or have suggestions), please and let us know. We'd like to know how and where people have enjoyed using Dr. Morgan's castings.
Castings of Shakespeare Plays
All’s Well That Ends Well
Antony and Cleopatra
As You Like It
The Comedy of Errors
Henry IV, Part 1
Henry IV, Part 2
Henry VI, Part 1
Henry VI, Part 2
Henry VI, Part 3
Love’s Labors Lost
Measure for Measure
The Merchant of Venice
The Merry Wives of Windsor
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Much Ado About Nothing
Romeo and Juliet
The Taming of the Shrew
Timon of Athens
Troilus and Cressida
Two Gentlemen of Verona
Two Noble Kinsmen
The Winter’s Tale
Castings of Other Plays
Androcles and the Lion
The Duchess of Malfi
She Stoops to Conquer
The Way of the World