Tiffany Stern argues that "partial rehearsals of group 'moments'--songs, dances, sword-fights, and slapstick--were all that it was absolutely necessary to rehearse before a production." (12) Dumb shows are not mentioned; but none of the "moments" listed involves a group of players performing one-off scripted actions.
Such very basic matters are simply not indicated." (19) More particularly, neither part gives any indication of extended silent action, so neither tells us anything about how a player incorporated dumb shows into his preparation process.
(20) But only three of the plots include dumb shows and, not surprisingly, studies of the makeup and function of these documents do not consider how the shows were staged.
The plots themselves provide no evidence that either those who prepared them or the bookkeepers whose performance annotations are present in some manuscript and printed playtexts paid special (or any) attention to dumb shows.
The two dumb shows in the Seven Deadly Sins plot are more complex, and provide descriptions of what the players are to do once on stage; but these directions too resemble those for a dumb show in the text of a play--again with the addition of players names:
Again, though, the evidence is sparse because only four manuscripts with bookkeeper annotations include dumb shows, all fairly basic: Edmond Ironside, The Two Noble Ladies, The Second Maiden's Tragedy, and The Launching of the Mary.
986-92) The dumb show in The Two Noble Ladies manuscript is more complex, but only the music receives attention from the bookkeeper, who added the signal for cornet music at the start and deleted the scribe's "Hoboys" (l.
According to Stem, there was "a prompter whose main duty in performance was to 'prompt' the actors, for which reason he was constantly occupied, during a performance, with the book he held in his hand." (36) She is referring to "a complete copy of the play"--or the manuscript "book" (37)--but the dumb shows in the three manuscript playbooks that include them are (like dumb show descriptions in playtexts) dense paragraphs describing entrances and onstage actions by several or more players.
The directions for dumb shows in printed texts are much more plentiful than those in the plots and bookkeeper-annotated manuscripts, but they give no more indication of how the staging was organized and managed.
Entrances receive special attention in dumb show directions; indeed virtually all such directions begin with "enter." Entrances can of course be controlled from the tiring house; indeed, since the entrances of dumb show figures are never cued by dialogue, they must be managed by the bookkeeper.
(D4v) (41) In both these examples, and in dumb shows generally, the sequence of events is partly what creates the meaning; indeed, one action is often caused by or dependent on a previous one, so even more than with dialogue, timing mattered.
Each player in a dumb show would have entered wearing a certain costume and often carrying a particular property, which would have served as cues or mnemonics for the player wearing and carrying them.
The Silver Age dumb show also illustrates another element that would have helped manage onstage action--the centrality of one figure.