Staging Session 1 Wednesday 10/23/2013

Good afternoon everyone.

This is Molly Zeigler, MBC MLitt/MFA student, here to live-blog Staging Session 1 (10/23/2013) at the 2013 Blackfriars Conference.  This Staging Session is being presented at the Blackfriars playhouse.

Session Moderator: Doreen Bechtol, Mary Baldwin College

Presenters: 

Douglas King, Gannon University

Brett Gamboa, Dartmouth College: Dramas of Disclosing: Some Intrusions of Actor and Stage

James Loehlin, The University of Texas at Austin: Comic and Tragic Eavesdropping Scenes in Shakespeare 

Performers:

Ben Curns, Lee Fitzpatrick, Josh Innerst, Gregory Phelps, and Rene Thornton, Jr.

These Staging Sessions are an opportunity to explore how staging, architecture, and physicality impact interpretation and performance. Today’s scenes are being presented ‘on the fly,’ with little preparation (a fact infusing the session with a certain energy and a sense of immediacy). There are future Staging Sessions scheduled.

Presenting first is James Loehlin from the University of Texas at Austin. Loehlin’s work is focused on eavesdropping scenes in the plays. Loehlin suggests viewing the representation of eavesdropping in Early Modern drama as “concentric rings” of communication – consider eavesdropping in Troilus and Cressida and in Love’s Labour’s Lost (namely the four young men and their sonnets).  Of special interest are the examples of eavesdropping where one character believes himself to be hiding and listening effectively, but in reality his location and activity are well known to other characters in the scene and this fact is exploited for maximum impact.

First, the comic eavesdropping: Act 2, scene 3 of Much Ado About Nothing, the garden of eavesdropping (Benedict hides, he thinks, unbeknownst to others).  The scene is played beautifully by Ben Curns, Josh Innerst, Gregory Phelps, and Rene Thornton, Jr.  By exploring different versions of the same scenario (with Benedict being the focus, with the others being the focus, with Benedict hiding in plain sight, etc) we can begin to see how the act of eavesdropping impacts the performativity of the piece.

Eavesdropping and its representation pose intriguing questions: Who benefits from hearing certain things here?; Who needs to hear what at this moment?; Why does this character hide at this moment?; What does this ‘hidden’ activity mean to the overall story?

Second, the tragic eavesdropping: Act 4, scene 1 of Othello, Iago and Cassio talking about Bianca while Othello eavesdrops (and mistakes the conversation for being about Desdemona). The scene is explored by Ben Curns, Josh Innerst, and Rene Thornton, Jr. In this examination close attention is paid to proxemics (spatial relationships between actors, between actors and audience) and to auditory concerns – how much does Othello hear, how much does he need to hear?

It is interesting to see how the staging of eavesdropping, and the considerations and choices that may be made, can alter and direct perception of character, plot, story, tragedy, and comedy. (And how much freedom there may be in a given text to represent eavesdropping.)

Presenting second is Brett Gamboa from Dartmouth College. Gamboa is presenting his work: Dramas of Disclosing: Some Intrusions of Actor and Stage.  Gamboa is exploring the line between actor and character and how they are both represented on stage.

Assisted by Ben Curns, Lee Fitzpatrick, Josh Innerst, Gregory Phelps, and Rene Thornton, Jr. several scenes from several works (including Othello and Hamlet) are explored.

We are looking, here, for the interesting and obvious mix of the actor and the character being performed.  At times, and supported by production histories and texts, a character may present aspects of the performer while the inverse remains true for the majority of the time.  Consider when characters ‘forget’ lines (Hotspur, Polonius), it is an act that many actors encounter and in its performance the line between expression of action and action itself is blurred.  Consider, as well, when characters suffer falls or other injury within the play and the concern expressed by other characters may represent concern between actors. It is also interesting to consider the impact of the playing space. In King Lear when a blind Gloucester is being led up a ‘hill,’ he his not being led up a hill, rather the ‘ground’ is as flat as a stage.

Conventions can limit and shape a performance – these conventions are used by Shakespeare and by actors in production after production. Consider the feather in front of a dead Cordelia’s face – it will stir.  Stage and character conventions help continue and shape a character’s body of representation.

The mingling of reality and the reality of the play and the ‘reality’ sought by the characters as played by the actors makes for an interesting blending of representation and meaning.

Presenting third is Douglas King from Gannon University.  Starting off with a performance of the wonderful back and forth between Katherine and Petruchio in Act 2, scene 1 of The Taming of the Shrew (delivered with great enthusiasm by Lee Fitzpatrick and Gregory Phelps), King’s work explores the relationship between speech, language, and physical representation.  The scene was performed several times paying attention to the relationship created between Katherine and Petruchio as expressed by words and by physicality.

Is there value in refraining from physicality, even when the text seeks to create it? Is there value in creating an enhanced sense and use of physicality?

The scene from The Taming of the Shrew was performed with a pronounced distance between Petruchio and Kate and with an undeniable closeness (resulting in a playful dance between Fitzpatrick and Phelps that ended with them swooning together over a fallen stool – quite to the delight of the audience).  Merit and meaning were found in both versions.  A distance between the leads creates a tension while the closeness exploits any tension allowing it to overcome the characters (and the actors) in an expression of intensity.  It’s interesting to consider how choices regarding physicality and the demands of the text can come together to shape meaning.

We had fun this afternoon.  The audience perched about the Blackfriars hung easily, almost wantonly, off the snippets of performance and text which were mingled just so on the golden stage. The Staging Sessions’ use of the Blackfriars Stage and actors makes for some fOCSinating and fleshed out scholarship. See you at the next one.

Blackfriars Conference 2013–Colloquy Session #3: The Feminine in Early Modern Plays

Hi Everyone! Sarah Martin here at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel Skyline Room to liveblog Colloquy Session III: The Feminine in Early Modern Plays at 2:30pm on Wednesday, October 23. The chair for this Colloquy is Christopher Clary from Emory and Henry College and features presenters Sonia Desai from University of California Irvine, Amber Karlins from Hillsborough Community College, Paris Shun-Hsiang-Shih from National Chengchi University, and Karoline Szatek from Curry College.

Professor Clary opened this Colloquy Session with the announcement that Amber Karlins will not be presenting, but has still submitted her paper for discussion. Amber Karlins’ paper deals with models of femininity that are both within and outside of the law. Professor Clary then asked each presenter to say a bit about their specific paper topics. Professor Karoline Szatek’s  paper deals with how Shakespeare’s birds represent both women and men. PhD candidate Sonia Desai’s paper is about moments when Shakespeare references the boy actor under a woman’s costume. Paris Shun-Hsiang-Shih is presenting a paper about the role of the eunuch in Twelfth Night and Professor Christopher Clary’s paper is about the anatomy of Moll in Middleton and Dekker’s The Roaring Girl.

Professor Clary began discussion with a question about the role of gender in boy actors and eunuchs: are they gendered or non-gendered? Desai and Shun-Hsiang-Shih discussed how eunuchs employ a liminal space in terms of gender as Shun-Hsiang-Shih argued that Viola uses the role of eunuch to her advantage. He explained that in ancient Chinese folklore, the eunuch is always underestimated and then becomes successful because no one views the eunuch as a threat. Desai brought up The Country Wife as an example of another character who uses the guise of eunuch-hood in order to get what he wants–in this case, the other women in the play. As the discussion of power and the role of the eunuch continued, Clary pointed out that Caesario’s state as a eunuch is usually de-emphasized in performance, but it greatly affects the relationship between the characters. For example, a potential marriage between Caesario and Olivia would be childless and Clary asked if Olivia desires Caesario because of the power that she would hold over him.

Desai discussed the theatrical practice of “double vision” where an audience sees both the “mechanics of theatre” and the imagined characters and story itself–in this case, that an early modern audience both follows the narrative of the play while constantly aware that the characters they are watching are being played by boys.

Clary then turned over the discussion to Professor Szatek’s paper on ecofeminism with a question about how Shakespeare’s female characters relate to nature. Professor Szatek argued that Shakespeare contrasts women and men through how each group treats nature. Szatek explains that males in Shakespeare’s plays are, “often equated with hunting” and that, “women are treated as prey”. Szatek argued that in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeare reverses that practice. Clary and Szatek discussed the role of pollution and how pollution, essentialism, and nature interconnect.

Clary continued the Colloquy with a discussion of the role of what Desai calls, “true femininity” in the early modern period. Desai explored how “true” can mean both honest and legitimate and how that would be performed on an early modern stage. This, Clary pointed out, is something that would change over time just as the plays themselves do.

The Colloquy concluded with a brief discussion of Clary’s paper in which he explores the anxiety over the possibility that Moll could become male through her use of male clothing and how gender that is performed reflects or subverts the biological anatomy of the actors portraying the characters– a shared interest among the presenters at this afternoon’s  informative and fOCSinating Colloquy.

Blackfriars Conference 2013 — Colloquy Session I: Staging Choices

Greetings: Charlene V. Smith here, live blogging  from the Tyson Center, Colloquy Session I: Staging Choices, which runs from 2:30pm to 3:45pm. Jemma Levy is the chair for this session and the presenters are Matthew Carter, Annette Drew-Bear, Andrew Harvey, Donald Hedrick, Claire Huber, Claire Kimball, and Angelina LaBarre.

This colloquy is about staging choices; Levy points out that the papers are eclectic, dealing with choices from a number of different angles.

Carter’s paper is about the use of weapons as indicators of characters in Romeo and Juliet, specifically looking at outsiderness and ethnicity. His argument is that since modern audience will no longer recognize the ethnicity attached to stage combat and weaponry, we need to identify these differences in other ways, possibly through costume. Levy asks how using costume to indicate ethnicity is different from what already happens through costume design. Carter suggests that costume designers may need to look more into combat and weapon based visual signifiers. Spanish style fighting was cut-centric instead of stab-centric, for example. Another example: Capulet calls for his long sword, implying an older style of fighting, which an early modern audience would have recognized as inappropriate for the fight. The participants discuss what information an audience may or may not recognize through modern or early modern weapons. Carter says he is convinced that a modern audience is more finely tuned to costume design than weaponry technology.

LaBarre’s paper explores the question of stage management in the early modern theatre through her experience as a member of MBC’s MFA in Shakespeare and Performance 2012-2013 company, Roving Shakespeare. She investigates different terms that were present during the early modern era that may have been equivalent to a modern day stage manager and the responsibilities of these positions. For example, medieval prompters would be placed in the center-front of the stage and would prompt not only lines, but also movements with the use of a guiding stick. Later the stage manager domain shifts to backstage due to greater spectacle and increased technology. Levy points out even today a stage manager’s duties can vary greatly from production to production and director to director, musing that the shifts in terms and definitions historically continue for that position to this day. Hedrick asks about how the hierarchy of these positions have shifted over time. LaBarre points out that the high status of the book keeper in the early modern theatre stems partially from the fact that the book keeper had access to the play’s full text.

Drew-Bear wrote on the staging of evil in Lust’s Dominion (possibly written by Thomas Dekker). Drew-Bear refers to the character of the machiavellian Moor (Eleazar) as a playwright, and LaBarre, connecting to her paper, suggests that he might actually be more of a book keeper. Drew-Bear’s paper explores the metatheatricality of Eleazar and his text. Lust’s Dominion has a play-within in which Eleazar sets up the staging and tells the actors what to do in a pseudo-rehearsal. Drew-Bear points out that Eleazar is quite self-conscious in his use of theatrical terms. Levy asks whether there is an implication that Eleazar is performing the role of villain, as opposed to actually being a villain. Drew-Bear thinks it is more accurate that Eleazar is revealing in the role of villain as opposed to suggesting that he is, at heart, someone else.

Kimball’s paper argues that we should re-embrace The Bloody Banquet as a prime example of Jacobean revenge drama and identifies elements in the play that would be appealing to a modern audience. Kimball is fOCSinated by the fact that this play contains so many theatrical elements and yet modern companies are unfamiliar or uninterested in this play. She loves both the gore and violence, but also the number of staging repetitions that are set up in the play. For example, the play contains a pre-banquet in addition to the titular banquet. Kimball says part of the viability of the play can be found in the title. An audience is expecting to see a bloody banquet, an expectation which is frustrated by the inclusion of a first banquet that isn’t the bloody one. Carter asks how Kimball would recommend situating this play to make it marketable. Kimball suggests linking it with other violent or Jacobean pieces such as Titus Andronicus or The Duchess of Malfi. (As possibly the only person in this room other than Kimball to have read this play, I heartily support her recommendation to stage it!)

Harvey’s paper is on Julius Caesar, arguing that Brutus exemplifies Aristotle’s definition of the Noble Man and is the moral center of the play. With that line of thought, Caesar’s ghost cannot be a manifestation of Brutus’ guilty conscience. Levy asks what journey this leaves the actor playing Brutus and Harvey says he sees the character as static and as one that doesn’t have a journey. As a staging choice, Harvey suggests having Caesar’s ghost come from the trap, indicating to an audience that he is a malevolent spirit.

Hedrick’s paper looks at Henry V’s wooing scene with Katherine as part of a larger work on the arousal of monarchs in history plays. Hendrick questions how arousal might be played. He provides a scale of options: 1. Do nothing physically, using only the language of love. 2. A la Laurence Olivier, saddle up close to your acting partner. 3. Monty Python approach, with a wink wink, nudge nudge to the audience or let the other actors react to or point out the arousal. 4. the Lysistrata method. Hendrick points out that James was against the use of codpieces in costumes. He asks how we point out the possible subversiveness / comic effect of an aroused monarch for a modern audience? LaBarre suggests that both comedy and violence lives in all these choices. Levy asks at what point would an audience member be removed from the play and miss moments as they process a large prosthetic or a naked appendage. Carter points out that the Princess in Henry V is body-centric while learning English, which might suggest something about how she would react to a possible erection.

Blackfriars Conference 2013 — Paper Session #1

Hello!  Whitney Egbert here, liveblogging our first paper session of the 2013 Blackfriars Conference from 1:00pm to 2:15pm.  The session is being moderated by Herb Weil from the University of Manitoba, with help from OCS actors John Harrell, Chris Johnston, and Tim Sailer.

Kara Northway, Kansas State University
“[M]y spirit is moved, the fire is kindled, and I must speake”: Nathan Field’s Epistolary Defense of the Vocation of Player

Northway will be discussing Field’s life off the stage and his letter known as The Remonsterance, and his argument with Sutton.

In this epistolary defense, Field refers to his profession as an actor as “my poor talent,” acting as “harmless matters of delight,” and rebuts the arguments from clergyman Sutton against the deeds of actors in that what they do is from their god given talent.

A fun quote from Field –  “you waited very low in your hatred of us.”

Field asserted that a sermon was meant to be the winning of souls not demoralizing as Sutton was doing – Field then said that his point was that there are “faults in all professions.” Oh isn’t that the truth!

Northway closes with points about the fact that letters could get similar publicity to poetry through manuscript circles, which seems an interesting point to me and one that might be interesting to learn more about.

Lindsey Snyder, Gallaudet University
Speak Hands for Me: Why Shakespeare Scholars, Educators, and Performers Need American Sign Language

Snyder’s work at Gallaudet, a school for the deaf, and her paper is about the work and how teaching Shakespeare to deaf students is different from teaching hearing students.  Snyder talks about how all the work starts with translation as everything has to be translated into American Sign Language (ASL).  Snyder talks about the difference in her classes – starting with a voice class won’t work; tension is held in her students around making sound so getting them to even make a sigh can be difficult.  The idea of the gallop can be hard for students to understand – their rhythm is different than ours.  But ASL brings in the idea of hold and release – two sit (one tap of fingers on the other hand) in a chair (two taps) always has a hold between.

Snyder talks about some productions – a production of Richard 3 where Richard was deaf and Anne was hearing which created a beautiful landscape of hold and release; a Hamlet production directed by deaf students where the ghost was a projection on the back wall of just hands (AMAZING!!)

UH OH … THE THUNDER!!  Snyder is going to skip ahead for times sake …

Snyder is directing an upcoming production of Richard 3; from that she and John Harrell perform one of the monologues, Snyder using the ASL translation she has created.  The visuals are beautiful.

Snyder wants to encourage future research into how the relationship with ASL can further the rest of our work.  I am particularly intrigued by the difference in tension and the idea of hold and release.

ADDENDUM: A question was asked after all the papers had been presented about how breathe plays into Snyder’s work – she spoke to her own work in translating during a performance.  Snyder’s relationship with the OCS has allowed her to get to know many of the actors so that she can fall into their breathing rhythm, use some of their gestures, etc.  Working elsewhere can be harder as the breath does matter to allowing her to live in the same space and time as the actors.


Ben Curns, American Shakespeare Center

Richard: Portrait of a Serial Killer

Curns is going to discuss his research as he prepared to play Richard in Richard 3, specifically the characteristics that have been connected to serial killers.

The first characteristic Curns discusses is fetal brain injury which Curns believes that Shakespeare establishes through the Duchess of York as she describes his birth.

Second characteristic – the upbringing with his parents – York loves to tell everyone that they are the rightful bloodline to the monarchy and when Richard kills, he gets his fathers praise and love.  Richard also learns from his father that women (like Joan de Pucel who York kills) are not to be trusted.  And then there is the isolation – many serial killers (and their mothers) have talked about how they were set apart from the start from other children or siblings.

Third characteristic – fantasy – as Richard watches Edward marry Elizabeth Woodville, he then turns to imagining winning the crown.

Curns believes that Richard does not kill Anne or the princes in the tower to secure his crown but rather because he is addicted to killing.

The final characteristic is fetishes – Curns believes (but does not want to spend much time elaborating on) that Richard exhibits signs of fetishes with both stabbing and necrosatism.

ADDENDUM – A question was asked of Curns after all the papers were through about how some of these factors played out in performance for him.  Curns spoke about how in the scene with Lady Anne, Richard is, as many serial killers do, returning to his greatest crime, the killing of Henry VI, and so feels, in that scene, more mOCSuline, more sexually aroused than any other time in the play. It certainly creates a stronger reason for Richard to approach Anne then than at any other time.

Darlene Farabee, University of South Dakota
My Kingdom for a Boat

Farabee is discussing “The Poor Man’s Comfort” (by Robert Daborne) and how the nautical language used in so many of the plays at the time changes the meaning and setting.  It would, as Farabee points out, require actors and an audience that are knowledgable about the nautical terms and their multiple meanings

Harrell, Johnston and Sailer join us for a scene – made all the better by Johnston’s donning of a skirt and a lady’s demeanor. At least for a moment.

I missed who said it but Farabee quotes that audience members come to the theatre ready for a voyage – I really love that thought.


Sarah Werner, Folger Shakespeare Library

Fragmentation

Werner will be discussing how fragments of performances are now being used to teach and discuss productions and what we might be losing from that usage.

Going from reading to performance can be hard enough – from your own imagining to someone else’s vision of it – but to then take a performance and chop it up, you lose so much more – “it leaves the text whole” but it simplifies the presentation.  Werner also makes the point that the more we allow this, the more we will lose the productions that are possible; the more we ignore the problem, the more we miss the patterns that are visible only through the whole production. “What damage are we doing breaking the whole into fragments?”

“Why do we prioritize the convenience of clips over the messiness of art?” – a poignant question by Werner.

Werner’s use of Harrell was delightful – he delivered a speech, and then, throughout the remainder of her presentation, he would suddenly arise and deliver a few lines of that speech or other well known speeches.  A truly wonderful example of her point.

Matt Kozusko, Ursinus College
Why Are Shakespeare’s Characters so Relatable?

 Kozusko is discussing how characters are both relatable AND “relatable.”

Since, as we all know, the language is the first hurdle – how can we say they are actually relatable?  We are seeking to understand the words, the many meanings, the deep thoughts but “we know we can all misunderstand him as well.”

In speaking about a Punchdrunk performance of Macbeth, Kozusko says that Lady Macbeth becomes “not so much relatable but related” – the performers use well known physical actions to create Lady M so what exactly are we relating to in those moments: a character? A stereotype?  Is that really relating?

Kozusco asserts that student relations with Shakespeare’s characters often times need “chaperoning” – not only because there are many selling an easy way to understand but because if we are preemptive, then bad relationships don’t get in their first.

Kozusko’s closing was a great, striking theme for us all and how I will close my blog for today: “getting Shakespeare right matters to all of us” – we might not always get it right but we sure can try.

Blackfriars Conference 2013–Keynote: Peter Holland’s A Critic and a Gentleman: Publishing Performance

Hi again! Sarah Martin here to liveblog the first Keynote Address of the Seventh Blackfriars Conference: Peter Holland’s A Critic and a Gentleman: Publishing Performance.

Peter Holland, Associate Dean for the Arts and McMeel Family Professor in Shakespeare Studies at the University of Notre Dame is, as Dr. Cohen said in his introduction, “a great get” in terms of a Keynote speaker. Professor Holland began his presentation with the images of the title pages of two different editions of Hamlet: one the early modern title page with a record of the first performance and the second, an edition inspired by the Michael Grandage production of Hamlet at the Donmar Warehouse which starred actor Jude Law. Professor Holland explained that the reader of the 1676 edition thought he was getting “all of Hamlet“–the play as written and the play as performed, but the edition neglects to state that it is also heavily revised while the Grandage edition has been significantly shortened.

Professor Holland pointed out that, for the type of souvenir playtext exemplified by Grandage’s edition to be published in time for audience members to buy it, the text must be fixed in print well before the production actually begins performances. While an audience may believe that they are buying a true “performance text”, there is inevitable variation between the text in codex and the words spoken onstage.

Professor Holland discussed the role of what he called, “the theatrical edition” and asked what the intended use of such an edition is.  He explained that theatres always produce several editions–rehearsals scripts and so on that are not necessarily intended for publication, but are the material products of the theatre itself.

Professor Holland the discussed the role of the actor as critic and the censor as author. The “gentleman” in Professor Holland’s address is Francis Gentleman, who chose which moments of Shakespeare’s plays he thought ought to be included in editions and which should be omitted. Gentleman, Professor Holland argues, provides the “first performance commentary” on Shakespeare’s plays.  Professor Holland argues that such performance commentary is a “companion to the theatre” and no more. The Bell’s Editions (influenced by Gentleman and actor David Garrick) sold better than other scholarly editions in the eighteenth century. This, Professor Holland, argues has set the precedent for subsequent editions which include illustrations of performance and other theatrical or actor-centric images.  These images, however, are not necessarily representative of the plays in performance, but are of actors placed in suggested settings (such as an actress portrayed standing in the countryside) that are the product of editors rather than the actual performance history of the plays.

Professor Holland  argues that extensive performance commentary can actually be a hindrance to performance as it, “implies a right way of performing the play, not a range of possibilities”. Professor Holland argues that, while such extensive performance commentary shows impressive scholarship, it does not provide meaning. Professor Holland’s discussion of the Samuel French Acting Editions was particularly interesting and amusing to the audience as he compared the staging diagrams present in the editions to “IKEA self-assembly”. Such editions, Professor Holland argued, make the play no longer Shakespeare’s, but rather the product of the publishing house. Professor Holland’s Keynote Address, which explored the relationship between performance and the printed text, presented in a theatre that seeks to do just that, was the perfect start to the Blackfriars Conference.

Blackfriars Conference 2013–Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen’s Welcome to the Seventh Blackfriars Conference

Hi Everyone! Sarah Martin here to liveblog Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen’s Welcome to the Seventh Blackfriars Conference.

Dr. Cohen took to the stage in a packed Blackfriars Playhouse to welcome everyone to the Seventh Blackfriars Conference and began this celebration of early modern drama with, as he said, “the only somber moment” of the conference when he took a moment to recognize the memory Blackfriars Playhouse architect: Tom McLaughlin who died in 2012. Dr. Cohen then recognized several people who made this conference possible including the team who read through over three-hundred abstracts before introducing OCS Artistic Director Jim Warren who gave a brief history of the OCS and Blackfriars Playhouse. After Mr. Warren thanked the attendees for their contribution to Shakespeare scholarship, Dr. Cohen introduced OCS Managing Director Amy Wratchford and incoming OCS Board President Mary McDermott. Dr. Cohen also introduced Staunton’s mayor, Lacy B. King. Mayor King gave a brief history of how the OCS has impacted and enlivened our small, picturesque city.  Dr. Cohen also recognized this Conference’s patron, George Walton Williams IV and introduced the Director of  Mary Baldwin College’s Shakespeare & Performance M.Litt/MFA program, Dr. Paul Menzer.

The focus of Dr. Cohen’s Welcome was on community, both the local community of Staunton and the community of OCS employees and volunteers who are responsible for the success of the OCS and this week’s Conference. Dr. Cohen welcomed all of the OCS employees to the Blackfriars stage for a special moment during which each employee introduced him or herself to the Conference attendees. OCS Director of Education Sarah Enloe  then took the stage to explain some of the Conference logistics before introducing the hallmark of the Blackfriars Conference: the bear. Bears (or grad students dressed as bears) will come onstage to stop any presentation that goes over time. This fun practice is, of course, inspired by the famous stage direction in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, “Exit, pursued by a bear”.  Ms. Enloe, apparently, went over her allotted time because one of the bears entered and grabbed her paper before exiting. And so it begins…

Wake-up Workshop: “A Certain Text”

Good morning and welcome to the first session of the 2013 Blackfriars Conference. My name is Ashley Pierce, and I will be live blogging the first session, a Wake-up Workshop “A certain text” with Natalia Razak that took place Tuesday October 23rd 8:00 to 8:45 AM. This is the first ever Wake-up Workshop with the American Shakespeare Center and Blackfriars Conference, as part of the education program within the OCS, dealing this morning with scansion. This is a means to showcase what the education program brings to schools.

Razak invited 11 of this morning’s gathering to join her on stage, asking them to sit upon the gallant stools located on the stage. She had the volunteers each take a syllable from Shakespeare’s line “To be or not to be; that is the question…” from Hamlet. Coupling up the volunteers into pairs, she had the person to the right of each pair sit down while the second person stood, to emphasis the iambic pentameter. She then had the group go through the line, saying their syllable to show the stressed and unstressed syllables. Then moving the topic onto the feminine endings, she asked the group what this could infer on the line. Some answers were, disoriented, questioning, hesitation, weak, etc, with Razak adding that she did not think she “has cracked the feminine ending.” The next step was to do this same exercise, with the quarto version of this same text, “To be or not to be; ay there’s the point…” Going through the same process, this time highlighting the trochaic stresses, Razak noted that this makes it a discovery. She then asked the group to try this again without stressing the “ay” to see if it is more an internal shift, making Hamlet more of a thinker, showing how this experiment/exercise can teach as well as play with Shakespeare’s text. The workshop then moved into a speech of Biron’s from Love’s Labour’s Lost. Razak gave the attendees a copy of this speech and had them each read a line, in a “read around.”

Razak then talked about how the OCS actors will scan and paraphrase their lines before the first rehearsal to help put everyone on the same page, so the director knows what the actors think and can see if it is what they are thinking as well. This is to ensure that the actors know exactly what they are saying and to make sure the audience knows as well. Razak then asked the attendees to locate a pen, asking them to take a couple of moments and paraphrase the line they had previously read. Due to time constraints, she then asked if anyone had a paraphrase they were proud of or had a difficult time with that the group could explore; unfortunately not everyone could read what they discovered. One attendee mentioned that “time” was a hard word to paraphrase, saying that she came up with chronology, Cronus, hours. Showing that some words were difficult to find a new word for since it was so tied into our common language. Razak then moved forward to look at mid-line breaks, caesuras, with the group, to trouble why a character would pause in the middle of a line. She asked how this feels when reading and hearing this harsh break in the line, as well as talked about how this effects the breath control of the actor speaking the line.

As an attendee said when you have to take a breath it takes the person out of a thinking place and moving them into a feeling place. Attendees left this workshop with this thought to ponder as they moved on to the next session of the day.

Introducing the BFC13 Blogging Team

As we did in 2011, OCS Education will be live-blogging the Blackfriars Conference in its entirety. Every Plenary, Staging, and Colloquy Session, as well as lunch meet-ups and assorted other events, will have a devoted post here on the blog, updated in real-time, so that those of you who can’t join us in Staunton next week will still be able to follow along with the proceedings. I am pleased and proud to introduce the following individuals who will be helping me to document the 7th Blackfriars Conference in all its glory:

Whitney Egbert
Whitney has been a theatre actor for 20 years.  She has been based in NYC for 4 years, adding work in the midwest and east coast to her west coast beginnings.  She has been the Managing Director for The Shakespeare Forum in NYC for the past year. She has been a teaching artist with Shakesperience Productions, Inc., Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, The Shakespeare Forum, South Dakota Shakespeare Festival, and LaGuardia Community College.  Theatre credits include: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Love’s Labour’s Lost (The Shakespeare Forum); As You Like It (South Dakota Shakespeare Festival); Platonov (Columbia Stages); Romeo and Juliet (Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival); Much Ado About NothingOthello (Hip to Hip Theatre); Romeo and JulietJulius Caesar (Shakesperience Productions); Fat Pig, It’s A Wonderful Life: A Radio Play (Salem Repertory). B.A.: University of Portland. www.whitneyjegbert.com

Nora Manca
Nora Manca is a 2nd year MLitt student working on her thesis on Shakespeare as an Other. She was the founding artistic director of Storefront Shakespeare in Chicago.  After graduating Nora plans to establish a new professional Shakespeare theater company, probably in New Orleans.  

Sarah Martin
Sarah Martin is a second year M.Litt student at Mary Baldwin College. She is originally from Florida and holds a BA in Theatre from Florida State University.

Ashley Pierce
Ashley Pierce is a current student in her second year at Mary Baldwin Colleges Shakespeare and Performance program. Holding a B.A. from Florida Southern College and a A.A. from Northampton Community College both in Theatre Arts Performance, her background is primarily in performance. As an actor, direction, costume designer, stage manager and much more, she had a firm understanding of play performance from original concept to opening nights. 

Charlene Smith
Charlene V. Smith is an actor and director from Washington, DC and co-founder of Brave Spirits Theatre. She has a BA in English and theatre from the College of William and Mary and studied at the London Dramatic Academy. She is currently in her final year of the MLitt/MFA program in Shakespeare and Performance at Mary Baldwin College.

Clare Von Rueden
Clare Von Rueden graduated from Ave Maria University with a degree in literature.  The majority of her stage work has been centered in violin performance, but she has been helping with plays since high school. Her love of Shakespeare began with a love of literature, and some of her first Shakespeare memories come from reading Shakespeare out loud with a group of friends in high school, and having lengthy conversations about Shakespeare with her sister. She is currently a second year in the Shakespeare and Performance program at Mary Baldwin College.

Molly Zeigler
Molly Zeigler is a post-bac student with the Shakespeare and Performance program. Her major areas of focus include Shakespearean dramaturgy, directing, and theatre history. Molly received her MA in Shakespearean Studies from the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon. From Buffalo, New York, she is happy to be back this side of the pond and she’s excited about studying with another world-class institution. Molly is the proud Mom of eight year old Isabel and she looks forward to sharing her passion with family, friends, and future students.

Those of us on Twitter will also be making quick updates there, so follow #BFC13 for those tidbits. Check out the schedule of events on the OCS website, and come back here starting at 8am, Wednesday, October 23rd for all of our real-time updates.

Teaching Shakespeare on the Road: OCS Education Residency at Roanoke College

The American Shakespeare Center has a unique Educational Residency program that brings our education artists and workshops to high school and college campuses. In the last two years, we have completed weeklong residencies at high schools in Kansas and Ohio. Last week, we were at Roanoke College in Salem, VA for our first-ever college residency.

After a whirlwind summer of directing the 2013 sessions of the OCS Theatre Camp, I was curious about what it would be like to spend a week working with older, college-aged students, guiding them through nearly half a semester’s worth of workshop materials. Daniel Kennedy and Andrew Goldwasser, two OCS actors, made up the rest of our residency team. Daniel is a long-time OCS actor and is a former director for the OCS Theatre Camp. Andrew is a veteran of our touring troupe, and he will return to the Blackfriars Playhouse for our upcoming holiday season.

In the weeks leading up to the residency, I worked with our contact at the college to arrange our trip; we distributed fliers to promote the residency during the touring troupe’s production of Othello at Roanoke College, and our campus coordinator scheduled us to visit 3 classes throughout the week. In total, I planned 13 workshops, and Sarah and Cass taught 6 additional workshops for a weekend teacher seminar. In addition to the workshops, we scheduled multiple rehearsals for the students to have individual coaching on selected scenes and monologues from Shakespeare’s plays.

We arrived in Salem just past noon on Monday, in time to take a brief tour of the performing arts building and other campus facilities. The campus reminded me of Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, but without the hills. Roanoke College is small, with only 2,000 undergraduate students. 10 students are enrolled as theatre majors, but several students from other departments take acting classes to fulfill their elective requirements. We visited the acting class first, and I led an introductory workshop on the basic building blocks of Shakespeare’s text: iambic pentameter, scansion, verse, and prose. None of the students in the acting class that we visited had ever performed in a Shakespeare play, and the material was completely new to them.

As the week passed, I noticed our students engaging with their texts in the cafeteria before workshops, diligently and carefully marking the stressed and unstressed beats in their scripts. One student that I worked with found paraphrasing in the OCS style to be especially helpful as she prepared to play Imogen, a character in Cymbeline.

Daniel and Andrew led workshops in rhetoric, clowning, stage combat, music, and acting choices. During one of the acting classes, the students had the opportunity to direct us as we played the first scene of Richard III . Using their newly-learned skills for identifying embedded stage directions, character and relationship clues, and the various forms of asides, the students directed us through the opening scene. Twice during the week, we met with an English class and explored embedded stage directions in the party scene (1.5) of Romeo and Juliet, and I led them in a discussion about the textual variants in the play and their effect on character development, staging, and other production choices.

On the final Friday in-class performance, there was excitement in the air. The students were nervous, even in our informal setting; we spent the week in a small black-box studio with warm honey-toned wood floors, soft lighting, and mix-matched chairs and small sofas collected through the years and re-purposed from old set pieces. We created a makeshift Elizabethan stage with the chairs surrounding the playing space on three sides.

Their performances began. We saw the brash and rude struggle between Katherina and Bianca in the Taming of the Shrew, followed by the frightful and foreshadowing scene between COCSa and Cassius on the stormy evening before Caesar’s murder; Imogen scorned Iachimo after his vile attempt to plant seeds of jealousy in her heart; Ophelia’s haunting songs gave way to the street brawl between Mercutio and Tybalt; Antony mourned over Caesar’s body; Viola evaded pursuit by Olivia in the garden while attempting to maintain her composure, even as Olivia exposed her heart to a servant who could never requite her love. The students’ scene showcase was a testament to the work that can be accomplished with only a few hours’ rehearsal and a careful analysis of the performance clues that Shakespeare provides in the text of his plays.

In our final wrap-up session following their scene showcase, I asked the students for their feedback and to help us brainstorm ways of making the residency program better. If we came back to Roanoke College, what would they like to do differently or the same? The program technical director suggested that we come back for several weeks or even a whole semester to direct a play rehearsal process from start to finish. The students enthusiastically agreed. I noted that this model was certainly something we could consider doing for them in the future. Our residency program is flexible, and currently our longest program offering is three weeks. Other students said that they would love to plan a trip to the Blackfriars Playhouse, and they all arrived at the consensus that they would commit to participating in another residency if given the opportunity. I was touched and warmed by their responses. Just as much as we would love to go back to Roanoke, we also wanted to provide advice to help them beyond the classroom. We encouraged the students to keep in touch with us throughout the year, and I encouraged several of them to inquire about our year-round internship opportunities.

Neither we nor our campus host and coordinator anticipated just how enthusiastically the students would respond to our presence and to the work we accomplished together in just a few days. The students were eager to absorb all they could from our workshops, and many of them stayed for several hours late into the evenings to work with us individually. Students re-arranged other commitments to attend our classes, and others came even when they probably needed that free time to study for other exams and tests; but Shakespeare is fun, and Shakespeare brings people together.

I’ve been fortunate to see other young students bond and create lasting friendships through collaboration and their collective pursuit to learn more about Shakespeare and the theatre of his time. This experience showed me that even in a small theatre program struggling with low enrollment, Shakespeare empowers students by giving them all the tools they need to create theatre that is engaging, inspiring, and community-building. I look forward to sharing similar experiences at other schools and campuses.

Kim Newton
Director of College Prep Programs