Twenty of Shakespeare’s thirty-seven plays currently appear in YSP’s regular repertoire; uncut scenes from these plus another ten are represented in the workshops. The following plays are performed full-length:
- As You Like It
- The Comedy of Errors
- Julius Caesar
- King Henry IV, Part 1
- King Henry IV, Part 2
- King Lear
- King Richard II
- King Richard III
- Measure for Measure
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream
- Much Ado About Nothing
- Romeo and Juliet
- The Tempest
- Twelfth Night
- The Merchant of Venice
- The Winter’s Tale
For its first 22 years, YSP produced only the works of William Shakespeare. Then, in the spring of 2002, YSP added George Bernard Shaw’s Nobel prize-winning masterpiece Saint Joan. Since then, YSP actors have performed many other works by Shaw. At present, fourteen Shaw plays (or portions of plays) appear in YSP’s regular repertoire.
The Shaw plays are limited to veterans of YSP who have played at least one Shakespeare role or combination of roles totaling 200 lines or more.
- Saint Joan
- Don Juan In Hell
- Androcles and the Lion
- The Dark Lady of the Sonnets
- Great Catherine
- Caesar and Cleopatra
- The Man of Destiny
- The Six of Calais
- The Glimpse of Reality
- How He Lied to Her Husband
- The Music Cure
- Augustus Does His Bit
- “An Idle Conversation”: Isaac Newton Hosts a Debate on Science, Art, and Religion, from In Good King Charles’s Golden Days
Dickens and Thurber
Ever since the winter of 2006–2007, when YSP launched a winter workshop of “Scenes from The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby,” YSP has been expanding its repertoire by including adaptations of some of the works of Charles Dickens.
Listed below are the Dickens plays that YSP has staged so far, but the list will certainly grow:
- The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby
(as adapted by David Edgar and The Royal Shakespeare Company)
- “Scenes from The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby”
(a workshop in character acting)
- Our Mutual Friend
(a YSP original production, adapted by Richard DiPrima)
The Dickens Dramatic reading society reads various works of Charles Dickens and James Thurber. (Limited to veterans of YSP who have been in at least two Shakespeare plays and one language-based Focused Workshop, and adults.)
Works by Dickens:
- A Christmas Carol
- A Tale of Two Cities
- Bleak House
- Great Expectations
- David Copperfield, Part 1
- David Copperfield, Part 2
Works by Thurber:
- The White Deer
- The Thirteen Clocks
Workshops and Focused Workshops
While most productions at YSP are full-length shows, some are workshops. Sometimes a Workshop focuses on a single play, but more often the scenes are selected according to a theme.
These Workshops allow for wonderful flexibility since actors and directors work together to choose the scenes best suited for the current group of participants. By working on a variety of roles and scenes in this format, the participant can experience some of the best possible training in acting.
YSP’s popular Focused Workshops are dedicated to basic aspects of Shakespeare’s craft, such as understanding, scanning, and using the rhythm of Shakespeare’s verse to let him “direct” us; how to conceive, phrase, and deliver his beautiful long speeches; how to work “with” him to understand and create his small characters, etc.
In the early 1980s, Richard DiPrima began to develop a special in-depth model to aid in understanding, reading, and acting Shakespeare. The model, RISARA, is an acronym made up of the first letters of six critical elements of Shakespeare’s great writing:
- the Rhythm, stress, and scansion of his verse
- his glorious Imagery
- his uses of Sound
- his use of Antithetical balanced figures
- his uses of Repetition in its many rhetorical forms
- the Architecture of the way he designed long (and short) passages
There is a Focused Workshop for each of these elements, plus an advanced workshop on scansion and one for conceiving and acting the wonderful “bit” parts in Shakespeare. See below for more information about the RISARA method. Even more information can be found in Richard DiPrima’s book, An Actor’s (and Intelligent Reader’s) Guide to the Language of Shakespeare, which details each of its elements.
1) Focused Workshops are scheduled as actors request them. A minimum of 3 actors are needed. YSP usually does 3-4 per year.
2) Each Focused Workshop will be limited to no more than eight participants.
3) Focused Workshop participants may be of any age (including adults), and should have participated in at least one YSP Shakespeare production (workshop or full play).
4) Format (unless otherwise noted): Four seminar-like meetings (usually once a week) from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm, and a fifth, final meeting for a rehearsal followed by a brief (about an hour) performance (memorization not required). The performance begins at 8 pm.
5) YSP encourages anyone who plans to do repeated productions at YSP to participate in as many of the Focused Workshops as possible (participation is required for anyone planning to apprentice or to intern).
The RISARA model
“RISARA” is an acronym for six major formal elements of Shakespeare’s language — six of the ways in which he shaped and varied the language of his plays:
= Rhythm and stress. Shakespeare wrote the great majority of the lines in his plays in verse — that is, language formed into expected rhythm patterns and specific line lengths. Then he regularly broke the rules of his own verse form. The “R” in RISARA leads the actor/reader to ask questions like these: In the passage you are reading, does the rhythm vary from his “regular” rhythm pattern? From “normal” line length? If so, why? And what can you as the actor/reader do to emphasize any special regularities or irregularities in the rhythm, to help make the meaning clearer?
= Imagery. Shakespeare and his fellow actors did not have movie cameras, stunt men, or special effects to help them. The “cameras” were the great poet’s words, spoken by the actors; and the “movie screens” were the ears and minds of the audience members who heard them. What visual pictures does Shakespeare give us to help us “see” the characters’ thoughts and ideas? Are the comparisons (often expressed in metaphors and similes) unusual? How do these images help the audience or reader to understand the passage?
= Sound. Language was heard long before it was seen. In Shakespeare’s time, language was still much more important for how it sounded than for how it looked on a page. Does the sound of Shakespeare’s words add to the feeling of the passage being read? Does it help us understand the meaning? How did Shakespeare vary the sounds? Are some passages dominated by soft or “big” vowels — by sharp or hard consonants? Do some words sound like what they mean, actually imitating meaning? How does the actor/reader use all this to enhance the many levels of meaning of the passage?
= Antitheses. Of the hundreds of figures of speech that Shakespeare regularly used, none was more important than the rhetorical device known as “antitheses.” These were the formal contrasts he set up to help sharpen and guide the thinking of character and audience alike. Shakespeare very often set one word or idea up against another to be compared and contrasted by the character who is speaking (e.g., “And this man is now become a god”). In the passage under study, does Shakespeare emphasize his meaning by comparing antithetical words or ideas? Do such comparisons need special emphasis by the actor or reader to bring out the meaning fully?
= Repetition. Schoolchildren in Shakespeare’s time were thoroughly trained in rhetoric, and drilled in many formal figures of repetition. Shakespeare used these to enormous effect in his plays — often strengthening the vividness and emotions of a passage by repeating certain sounds, or words, or whole phrases. And so, the actor/reader needs to ask: Did he use these kinds of repetition in the passage under study? If so, how does the repetition help tell the actor and the audience or reader about the mood or character or image? What extra feeling does it lend? Can the actor help heighten the meaning of the passage by strengthening the emphasis on the repeated phrases or words or sounds?
= Architecture. Shakespeare built a kind of architecture into his words in many other ways as well. These ranged from the form of his longer speeches (where and how he had the speaking character change ideas or “direction”); to individual lines (how he used the other RISARA elements, such as rhythm or antitheses, to instruct the actor/reader on the way a line should be phrased); to the use of special balanced “figures” in individual phrases or passages; to his shifts from prose to verse or verse to prose. The actor/reader should be able to spot the most important of these within a passage, and to feel comfortable in using them by asking: How do these “architectural” elements add to the meaning or feelings of the whole play, or scene, or speech, or passage? What can the actor/reader do to bring these “architectural features” out further, and help strengthen these meanings and feelings?