A team approach
With only three weeks rehearsal to put on two plays, there is no time to waste. It helps that actors come along having worked things out already. Often they come with the same ideas. Sometimes things clearly don’t work.
Actors don’t have to be told by a director what to do, they have an instinct for these things, they welcome a good idea and recognize when something needs to be done differently.
Two very simple examples show it in action. One of the cast suggested the sailors scrub the decks in The Tempest and the others decided to try it and that became the opening of the show. For Love’s Labour’s Lost, two of the Princess’s ladies came in with straw hats and the third thought, what a good idea. If an actor has a strong feeling about doing something in a certain way he tries it.
Some things prove more difficult—a violent sword fight for instance. For Romeo and Juliet it was fortunate that two of the actors were trained in stage combat and were able to sort that out. The company does draw on particular skills from within the ensemble, and occasionally outside help—there is a Royal Ballet dancer who will sometimes come in to help with a particular bit of choreography or movement.
In fact with the Masque scene in The Tempest, there was a consensus about how to do it but it was clear it didn’t entirely work and a number of changes made through the run, but that’s not the fault of the method; plenty of directors keep on making changes without solving their problem.
It is true to that sometimes a particular sequence is “overseen” by an outsider, but in the Grassroots process all those not in a scene are there as “outside” eyes—but it is a collaborative process, not just one person imposing their ideas.
The company’s shorter rehearsal period places less financial strain upon the performers and doing more than one play helps to keep performances fresh. Siobhan suggests that the experience it gives the actors is not only similar to that of Shakespeare’s time but offers some of the diversity and pressures that an older generation got in rep.
It seems clear that the people she recruits thoroughly enjoy the experience and the energy and enthusiasm they bring to their work is reflected in the warm response they get from their delighted audiences. Grassroots Shakespeare may not have a director in the conventional way but it certainly does not lack direction.