Shakes Scripts

Every Improbable Fictions production goes through the same dramaturgical and rehearsal process. First, the play’s director, often with the help of a dramaturge, cuts the original script down to performance length. Since we primarily perform for undergraduates, we often aim for final runtimes under 90 minutes. Second, we cast these cut scripts using theatre enthusiasts of all backgrounds, from graduate students in the University of Alabama’s acting program to community theatre members to students and teachers who have never before set foot onstage. Third, we put scripts in the hands of our actors and rehearse for about ten to twelve hours total over the course of four weeknights. Ideally, we read through the entire script ‘cold’ on the first night, work on individual scenes for the next two nights, and stumble through the full play again on the fourth night. In rehearsals we try to wed careful, emotionally motivated readings of the lines with some basic physical blocking about the stage. Finally, we perform the show before a University and community audience of about 70 to 80 people.

My own work with cutting Shakespeare’s plays is inspired by Henri Matisse’s practice of scraping away paint in the final stages of his compositions. You can see this practice quite clearly in his portrait of Yvonne Landsberg: Matisse flipped over his paintbrush and used the wooden tip to scrape away lines of paint, leaving arcs of white space that evoke the presence of Landsberg.


Henri Matisse’s 1914 “Mademoiselle Yvonne Landsberg”; © Succession H. Matisse, Paris

There is art in subtraction, in the white spaces between brushstrokes, between paragraphs, between words. Script cutting, especially when applied to a traditional idol of the Western literary canon, can be viewed as sacrilege, a removal of art. I would much prefer to see cutting as an art in itself, a concentration rather than a reduction of the existing script. Jen Bervin’s Nets is another splendid example of the art of selection: Bervin treats Shakespeare’s Sonnets as the grayed out backdrops for her own found poetry.

In that spirit, I present here a gallery of Improbable Fictions’ cuts of Shakespeare.


All’s Well that Ends Well, MIT’s The Complete Works of Shakespeare, adapted by Nic Helms, Spring 2012

Antony and Cleopatra, Folger Digital Texts, adapted by Nic Helms and Steve Burch, Spring 2017

As You Like It, Folger, adapted by Deborah Parker, Fall 2014

The Comedy of Errors, Folger, adapted by Nic Helms, Spring 2014

Coriolanus, MIT, adapted by Joey Gamble, Spring 2013

Hamlet, MIT, adapted by Nic Helms, Spring 2011

Henry IV Part II, Folger, adapted by Richard LeComte, Spring 2018

Julius Caesar, MIT, adapted by David Ainsworth, Fall 2012

King Lear, MIT, adapted by Nic Helms and Steve Burch, Fall 2010

Love’s Labour’s Lost, MIT, adapted by Scott Free, Spring 2011

Measure for Measure, MIT, adapted by Mark Hulse, Spring 2018

Midsummer Night’s Dream, MIT, adapted by Mark Hughes Cobb and Alaina Jobe Pangburn, Fall 2011

Much Ado About Nothing, MIT, adapted by Nic Helms and Alaina Jobe Pangburn, Fall 2010

Richard III, Folger, adapted by Nic Helms and Jacob Crawford, Fall 2014

Richard III, Norton, adapted by Angeline Morris, Spring 2020

Romeo and Juliet, MIT, adapted by Nic Helms and Natalie Hopper Wagner, Fall 2013

Timon of Athens, MIT, adapted by Nic Helms and Austin Whitver, Fall 2011

The Tempest, Folger, adapted by Steve Burch and Emily Pitts Donahoe, Spring 2015

Twelfth Night, MIT, adapted by Alaina Jobe Pangburn and Nic Helms, Spring 2010


These scripts were adapted from the editions of Shakespeare available at MIT’s The Complete Works of Shakespeare and at Folger Digital Texts, the latter of which is is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported license.

Creative Commons License
This work, too, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License. You’re free to adapt this work for your own noncommercial purposes, but please remember to give credit to the appropriate adapters and to MIT or the Folger for their Shakespeare editions.