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  • Writer's pictureViolet Mackintosh

The Shakespeare Deck: Interview with Rob Myles

Want to get more out of Shakespeare? Read on.

"A utility belt for classical actors that hacks the codes contained on the page to make your performances more powerful and effective on the stage."

The Shakespeare Deck is a set of cards designed to help you make the most out of a Shakespearean text. With definitions, prompts and exercises this little kit can be used to tackle a monologue, explore a scene or an entire play. The Deck can be used for in-depth analysis or just for the fun of playing with Shakespearean text. It is accessible for anyone with an interest in Shakespeare and can help actors, directors and all creatives to crack the code.

The Shakespeare Deck was devised by actor, Rob Myles. He is also the creator of The Show Must Go Online and below you can find an interview with Rob about The Deck and everything you can do with it. Read on to find out more.

Interview with Rob Myles

In one sentence – how would you describe The Shakespeare Deck?

A utility belt for classical actors that hacks the codes contained on the page to make your performances more powerful and effective on the stage.

Why ‘The Shakespeare Deck?’ What made you think of it and how did you create it ? Was it a solution to a problem you encountered?

Very much so. As an actor, I’d spent ten years performing in Shakespeare and reading every book I could find on the subject. What I came to understand as a culmination of this process was that there’s too much to possibly remember. We don’t have the same education in linguistic and rhetorical techniques as Shakespeare’s actors would have shared.

In a perfect world you’d be able to jack this into your brain like in the Matrix, but short of that, I realised that carrying around a huge pile of books to refer back to was an untenable solution. I wanted something that could jump-start my working memory, that I could use on the move, in a rehearsal room, and that condensed down sometimes complicated ideas into their simplest form.

"I wanted something that could jump-start my working memory, that I could use on the move, in a rehearsal room, and that condensed down sometimes complicated ideas into their simplest form."

Who is The Shakespeare Deck designed for?

It was initially designed for actors who want to get the most out of Shakespeare’s text. When he was writing, there were no directors as we understand the role today, and he was a busy man. As such, he encoded as much information as possible into the structure of the text, which is a goldmine for actors to explore and unlock, if you know how to identify these clues.

What I’ve been surprised by is how many directors, dramaturgs, practitioners and teachers have also been purchasing the deck to use as a tool and a resource in their own work. I believe a lot of that has to do with the format.

Why did you decide to use the form of a deck of cards?

It’s superior to a book in that it’s small, lightweight, portable, hardwearing and infinitely remixable. You can select small slivers of information from the stack and extract them easily. Then, because the cards are numbered, you can easily restore the cards back to the deck when you’re done.

You can pick the cards that are relevant to your current exploration session and side-line the ones that are not. Similarly, you can pick cards from the different areas of the deck to do a form of circuit training – mine the text for four different things, and you’re going to make a discovery you otherwise might not have done.

There are four categories:

· Forensic Linguistics

· Working the text

· Rhetoric

· Engaging audiences

Why these four?

The four categories help to establish a journey from preparation to performance – first understanding what the opportunities are in the text, then how to seize them, before finally focusing on how you convey them in a compelling way to the audience. Shakespeare was a literary master, without a doubt, but his work is supposed to be seen and heard, not read.

Forensic Linguistics starts with the bare bones of the words, while Rhetoric advances this to more complex structures and forms of argument. Working the Text is all about sweating the “why” behind what you’re saying, and Engaging The Audience is about externalising all this work so it becomes a portal for the audience into the world of the play, rather than a theoretical exercise.

What was your favourite part about writing the cards?

The most interesting and challenging part was categorising and ordering all the information after the initial gathering phase. This was done with the help of my producing partner Sarah Peachey, and then further stretched and tested with an initial group of actors and theatremakers. We had walls covered in post-it notes that summarised all the different concepts, and we spent hours and hours gathering them into related areas before then codifying the themes, then finally figuring out the linear order. It was painstaking but genuinely delightful to see order coming out of chaos.

"It was painstaking but genuinely delightful to see order coming out of chaos."

What was the most challenging part?

The research phase, definitely. I spent ten years both reading books about and then practicing the Shakespeare techniques I came across. That said, I’m still learning every day, and in another ten years there may be a Second Edition with totally novel approaches I’ve yet to encounter. But right now, the Deck gives you a comprehensive and varied array of “ways in” to accessing Shakespeare’s text.

There are clearly many ways to use the deck, it comes with a recommendation of circuit training – taking one card from each section to tackle a piece of text. Are there any other recommendations you have for using it?

Looking at a different card or set of four cards per day in the run up to an audition is a great way to keep making discoveries and stay flexible and responsible to different things a director may wish to pull out of the text. Similarly, the exercises can be really useful warm-ups and break-out exercises during rehearsals.

Have you used them yourself while rehearsing for ‘The Show Must Go Online’?

All the time! The Show Must Go Online doesn’t give us much time at all to really interrogate the text at a forensic level like I’d ordinarily love to, but because I have mine with me at all times it often comes into play in rehearsals, and by creating it I’ve been primed to see a lot of the codes in the text, which really helps when directing actors to strive to make sense of what they’re saying in the early stages.

There is so much information on the cards, it must have been hard deciding what to leave out? Is there anything that almost made it? Are there any plans for a second deck?

There are definitely plans for an expansion pack. I wanted to make sure the deck was usable for people at all levels, without overwhelming people with advanced details – things like stress patterns and simultaneousness – which once you’re familiar with the existing Deck you might be interested to discover. I also have a lot more exercises up my sleeve.

"There are definitely plans for an expansion pack."

The big thing missing from the Deck as it stands is an exploration of Prose. Prose is often described as low-status and verse as high-status, but in my exploration of the chronology that’s simply not supported, or certainly is far from a robust explanation. A much more compelling idea is that verse is the Heart voice and prose is the Head voice – people use prose when they’re denying their emotions or dealing with practical problems (the Mechanicals, for instance, are practical people solving creative problems).

It’s also far more varied in rhythm and so much better for comedy – you can surprise people with the elasticity of prose, which is what you need for jokes. That lack of structure, however, can make it much more challenging for an actor to find their way through the sense of the passage and convey that sense effectively to an audience, as so much more is left to them. That said, the prose still uses the verbs, the assonance and dissonance, and so many of the rhetorical devices, that the tools in the existing Deck will stand users in good stead when tackling prose.


Rob Myles

I'd like to thank Rob for answering my questions about The Shakespeare Deck - see links below for more:

How to use The Deck - Instruction Video:

Photos and Video:


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