No Kidding Shakespeare Camp (for Adults)–What a week….

It’s only been a couple of days since we wrapped up our inaugural No Kidding Shakespeare Camp but I already miss our “campers” and the time we spent together studying Shakespeare’s plays and the clues for reading the stage that they, and the historical culture surrounding their composition, contain. We had a FANTASTIC group of 19 fans, teachers, professors, and friends who listened to lectures, participated in workshops, dances, acted, clowned, played, and, ultimately performed–if I could spend every week this way, I absolutely would.

This one week is the result of many requests (from our other camper’s parents, and from teachers) and previous successes with other programs. For instance, we were sad to hear, last year, that UVA would be changing up its Summer on the Lawn program, a program OCS had been delighted to partner with UVA on for several years. We were grateful to Jim Baker and UVA, though, for giving us permission to offer a program in their “slot.” The UVA program was a well-oiled and well-run machine which offered participants the unique opportunity to lodge in the Lawn rooms at UVA–talk about history! Our architectural offering of the Blackfriars Playhouse sans Lawn Rooms was enough to attract some return campers from UVA–and they seemed to enjoy the options we provided at both Mary Baldwin College and local hotels, all walking distance from the playhouse. Other campers included teachers and parents who’d heard about OCS programming via our website and emails and teacher seminar weekends. The resulting group was a wonderful combination of people with a wide variety of interests and experiences. Couldn’t have gotten a better group if we’d paid them to come (not that we wouldn’t like to try that method of recruiting!).

The week was about much more than the right combination of architecture and people–although some might argue that Shakespeare’s company, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men and later the King’s Men, was JUST THAT, a great combination of sharers, theatres, and (yes, it must be said) playwrights. What we were doing was investigating the clues provided in Shakespeare’s plays and his playhouses to gain insights into appreciating them on the page and the stage. With our Director of Mission and the Gonder Professor of Renaissance Studies, Ralph Alan Cohen, we studied Rhetoric, Meter (see notes below from super intern David Techman on those topics), the history of directing and actor agency, and Audiences. With Bob Jones, OCS actor and Richmond Shakes director, we heard and saw the effect that simply acknowledging and engaging with Shakespeare’s embedded stage directions can have on performance. Our own Associate Artistic Director, Jay McClure, shared his insights on casting, doubling, and every thing that goes into script and pre-production preparation (in the words of one participant “The Best”). We heard lectures from prominent scholars Carole Levin from the University of Nebraska and Paul Menzer from Mary Baldwin College on Backgrounds and Echoes in Othello and Taming of the Shrew and on textual variants, respectively. And then we observed rehearsals of OCS’s next show to open in the Summer season (On Friday July 23) Wild Oats, played with cue scripts, entrances and exits, staging conditions, Elizabethan dance (Doreen Bechtol rocked), costume (the amazing Erin West), combat (thanks to Colleen Kelley), the history of Shakespeare’s theatres, and too much more to mention–all in the span of 5 days. And I didn’t even talk about the plays (participants, however, couldn’t stop talking about the artistic quality–one said it was the best Othello she’d ever seen). The actors were so generous with their time at both the talkbacks and the cast party, and Sarah Fallon’s and Ben Curn’s visit to our last session on Friday was just inspiring.

I am out of time, but next time I will dwell on our field trips (to a vineyard) and social activities…all in all, a wonderful week that I can hardly wait to repeat. Hope you will agree and join us–if you will, what else would you like for us to cover?

A peek into a few of our classes, as observed by David Techman:
In the first afternoon lecture, Dr. Cohen discussed figures of speech. Every boy who went to grammar school (as Shakespeare did) would know rhetoric, including many figures of speech. The schools forced them to repeat the figures of speech until they were deeply engrained in the boys’ brains. The figures of speech that a character uses provides information about that character and even the surrounding action. That gave original actors, who only had sides, hints of how to portray them.
Dr. Cohen then gave a slideshow on Elizabethan and contemporary audiences. The anti-essentialists argue that we can’t know and can’t replicate the experience of original Globe, and even if we could, today’s audience would have a completely different reaction. Cohen doesn’t agree, and points out that lines intended to be funny then are still intended to be funny today. He cites Ben Johnson and the ancient Greeks as evidence that in some ways humanity essentially doesn’t change. Modern audiences figure out the conventions and how to react to audience interaction just like the original audiences did; some incidents when the Globe opened parallel anecdotes we have from Shakespeare’s day. A convention, such as asides not being heard by other characters, can be learned instantly and automatically. Audiences may be moved to interact by four factors: text, space, actors, and directors. Even if the anti-essentialists are right, it is still work to attempt to make an authentic atmosphere by interacting with the audience because it leads to wonderful theatrical moments and tells us things about present audiences regardless of whether or not that mirrors past ones.

The group sat in on a rehearsal of Wild Oats this morning, so Dr. Cohen discussed the rehearsal process. A director is there to “keep a lid on things.” If the director has an idea and an actor does something different that still works, the director usually shouldn’t take up rehearsal time to make the actor explore his idea too, for time is very valuable. In this company, most of the actors are veterans whom the director can trust. Actors should very seldom show any resistance to what a director says—it shouldn’t happen more than once a rehearsal. Being nice and collaborative is more important than acting skill and proves invaluable to actors finding work. Directors also shouldn’t micromanage actors’ readings of specific lines. Sarah revealed that, after we left, Mr. Warren started to give the actors more notes that he didn’t want the viewers to overhear. That rather surprised me and seems it could be a problem for the open rehearsal process. Next, Dr. Cohen and Sarah led a workshop on casting the audience. Sarah and Cass began by playing the scene listing the suitors in Merchant of Venice twice, once in a proscenium staging and once as a thrust staging indicating a viewer as each suitor. Needless to say, the second time was better. For most of the time, we focused on the St. Crispian’s Day speech from Henry V. It starts out talking to Westmoreland, but to be effective and rousing, parts of it must be delivered to the audience. We went through it line by line, deciding which ones should be said to onstage characters and which to audience members, then exploring how to best deliver the audience-directed ones. We don’t have historical anecdotes saying that actors addressed the audience like that, but Dr. Cohen provided enough textual examples to convince anyone. I didn’t know that actors could gauge whether or not to select a given person for contact, and this was the first time I learned the actual definition of an aside: an aside is heard by the audience and not the other characters, whereas most lines said to the audience are heard by both.

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