Blackfriars Conference 2015 – Keynote #3: Gina Bloom

Hello, everyone! I’m Cass Morris, back on the blog for our third keynote session from 10:30am-11:30am on this sunny Friday morning.

Gina Bloom, University of California – Davis
Every Body Can Act: Reclaiming Histrionic Gesture through the Digital Theatre Game Play the Knave

Sarah Enloe introduces our next keynote speaker, Gina Bloom. She begins by noting that facility of language is common in this room, yet many of us still have some trouble with technological terms. She then rattles off a list of jargon far too quickly for this humble blogger to keep up with. “We need some help with all of that. Fortunately for us, there are people like Gina Bloom” who can connect the world of early modern drama with the world of modern technology, as well as connecting theatrical and academic organizations.

Bloom has been at UC-Davis since 2007, focusing not only on technology but on gender studies and sound studies, among other topics. Enloe shares a list of Bloom’s august publications, as well as noting that she is responsible for “expanding the digital canon” through the Luminary project. “Bringing worlds together in promising and thrilling ways.”

Enloe then passes off to Bloom.

Bloom begins by thanking Enloe and Cohen for bringing her to the OCS and to the whole technology team for helping her to get her “post-late-modern technology to work in this early modern theatre”. She cautions us all that if the technology is testy today, it’s because “it’s unhappy. Computers have emotions,” and this program has been moved around and demonstrated at many different locations, and is expressing displeasure at its tumultuous life.

Bloom is here to discuss and demonstrate a video game called “Play the Knave” being developed at UC-Davis: a Shakespeare simulator game, where the player is performing in a Shakepseare game. She describes it as a mixture of “karaoke and machinima”. Players can choose their characters, plays, the theatre they want to perform in (early modern and modern). When all of the components are set up, they perform their scene karaoke style. But there’s a twist — it’s not just karaoke, but motion-capture karaoke. The player’s own gestures inform how the avatar moves.

Bloom notes that the experiment is interesting because the avatars are always inhabiting a model of a theatrical space and because the game is generally played with an audience (similar to Guitar Hero or other musical performance games). “When people play, they tend to gather a crowd around them” — and that crowd watches both the digital and the analog performances. The motion-capture technology and the code written for it rewards players who use large “histrionic” gestures. “Although not all players think about gesturing… the ones who are ready to gesture, they inevitably end up using these exaggerated, big motions, that interestingly recall the declamatory style developed by ancient rhetoricians.” She notes that this happens regardless of the player’s experience with acting — both novices and professionals — so it’s less the player’s training that produces this style of acting, but rather the digital machine. As such, players feel like they’re puppeteering the avatar, but the digital machine is also puppeteering the player, getting a certain kind of performance out of them.

Bloom introduces actors who will play the game for us — but will first perform as they would in any theatre, to get a sense of the difference between the acting style that is more natural and the acting style that the game produces. OCS Dangerous Dreams actors Zoe Speas and Josh Innerst perform a scene from Hamlet, wherein Hamlet speaks to his father’s ghost.

Before having the actors do the scene a second time, through the game, she notes that while they have not done this scene before, they have played the game to get a sense of its operation — but that in doing so, they proved her point! Bloom also notes that they are adding new theatrical spaces from participating organizations, such that actors at the Stratford Festival were able to play the game with their own spaces.

(Encountering some difficulties with the program running in Windows 8, Bloom jokes that, “The real problem here is that all of us are Mac users”)

Prepping us for the scene, Bloom states that “Coarse exhibitionism gets a better response from the game.” She wants to examine what is digital about that declamatory acting style and what might be significant for theatre history in exploring that inherent digitality of bodily motion. Declamatory acting has gotten “a bad rap” — and Bloom relates this to the derogatory comments made in modern society about emoticons and emoji. (We’re unable to get the tech to cooperate, but Speas and Innerst testify to what Bloom says regarding the necessity of large gestures to get a good response from the avatar.) She presents a picture of a 1644 gestural language next to a field of emoji — and the two are remarkably similar.

Bloom moves to discussing how the system actually works: the Kinect sends out infrared dots, which the player’s body interrupts. The software then translates this information into “discrete and stable datapoints”, reconstructing what the camera thinks is the skeleton of the player’s body. The skeleton then drives the movement of the avatar. “Precision is largely a function of the granularity of the data”. She notes that the Kinect works well for the public playing aspect of the game. The information is not quite as precise when it comes to nuances of gesture, but does not require multiple cameras or for the player to put on a suit of reflective markers in order to play — a trade-off they considered worth it. To get the full-body capture, they have to forego smaller elements like the hands and the face.

Bloom notes that this challenges an assumption of modern acting regarding the importance of the face as a locus for emotions. She relates her discoveries via the game to other early modern and modern theories of movement and action in acting. She comments on Hamlet’s advice to the players — and Innerst provides a humorous moment in making the same gesture for “saw the air thus” as he had attempted when trying to get the game to pick up his form for the screen. Bloom points out that Hamlet’s advice advocates subtlety over declamatory style. The latter, connected to the rhetoric that might have been learned in the classroom, might have been more accessible and efficient for the younger boy actors — thus connecting it with an amateurism. Bloom suggests that Hamlet’s comments might have been calling upon common criticisms of that style, particularly in light of a professional company looking down its nose at less experienced players.

Bloom connects this to the modern idea that while singing and dancing are social activities, acting is still considered something best left to the professionals. Few people put on Shakespeare in their living rooms — though she jokes that this might not be true in this room. There are no theatrical motion-capture games the way there are games for singing, dancing, and playing instruments. She suggests this is because we now consider acting as something that can’t be done without refinement through training.

The game, she notes, often makes tragedy funny — emotions tend to slip into a comedic mode. She thinks this is because calling attention to the emotions as codified feels like an ironic move. Bloom posits the question: if “we should be encouraging everyone to perform Shakespeare if the result is countless bad productions?” She comments on the phenomenon of YouTube Shakespeare, which may corroborate those fears. Digitality has the potential to democratize acting, but it can also threaten to reinforce a generalzed view of acting and emotions. She hopes that Play the Knave might mitigate that by adding context to the digital-visual elements. Players’ gestures are digital artifacts, but not only digital — spectators get a unique experience of the declamatory style because they watch both the digital and analog performances. Bloom thinks this may help participants understand the historical importance of gestural acting even while they are laughing at what they produce through the game.

She returns to Hamlet’s critique of the declamatory style: “Such a snob, that Hamlet.” Bloom thinks his comments indicate that “naturalistic” acting, requiring training, reduces the diversity of bodies on stage. Play the Knave’s digital components may distill and even erase differences between playing bodies, but the analog components can remain diverse.

Bloom concludes by stating, “Perhaps there is something to be gained if we sometimes take Shakespeare performance a little less seriously.”

Blackfriars Conference 2015 – Colloquy Session XIII: Magic in the Early Modern Stage

Merlyn Q. Sell here, blogging Colloquy Session XIII: Magic in the Early Modern Stage from the fourth floor of Staunton’s Masonic Building.  This session runs from 9:00am to 10:15am.   The session is chaired by Annalisa Castaldo and the presenters are Jim Casey, Michelle Danner, Brittany Proudfoot-Ginder, Patrick Harris, and Stephanie Howieson.

The session starts with a recap of the presenters work.  Castaldo is interested in the intersection of magic and gender, specifically in Macbeth.  Castaldo has identified some links between the presenters works, focusing on how magic may destabilize or disrupt gender, how magic might be staged, both in early modern playhouses and today, the importance of the magic book on stage, and finally how magic and the magical differ onstage.  Proudfoot-Ginder is joining us via Skype.  Her work is also concerned with magic and gender, specifically how magic performed by women is viewed as black magic as opposed to the beneficent magic of men.  Harris’ work is focused on the role of literacy and education is perceived as a stepping stone to magic in early modern works.  Howieson is interested in the impact of religion on an early modern audience’s perception and fear of stage magic and how modern productions can stage magic in ways that inspire a similar fear in their audience.  Danner’s paper is focused on Cassius in Julius Caesar and the possibility of Cassius as a Sybil character.  Casey is looking at the doubling of fairies and mechanicals in Midsummer Night’s Dream and how playing the supernatural and transformative nature of the fairies can set off the mechanicals inability to transform as actors.

The conversation begins with Danner and Proudfoot-Ginder discussing the disruption of gender through magic.  Proudfoot-Ginder points out that the typical staging of the witches in Macbeth and Prospero in The Tempest provide a visual example of the gender divide.  While the witches are usually embodied with a hunched posture seeming to pull their power from primal, natural forces, Prospero is frequently seen standing quite erect with his power coming from his education and magic books.  Danner has been looking at the possibilities of Cassius in Julius Caesar as having shifting gender throughout the play.  Danner notes how this staging choice can complement the two extremes of femininity that exist in Portia and Calpurnia.  Castaldo troubles the idea of Prospero as a mOCSuline beneficent magician and points out that the text does frequently feminize Prospero via his relationship to Miranda and the background of his power being not only his magic book but also his female precursor.

Castaldo invites Howieson to speak to the idea of how gender might influence her investigation of how modern productions can stage the terror of magic.  Howieson points out that at the time Macbeth was written views towards magic were shifting from one of good and bad magic as opposing forces to one where all magic was black magic.  Harris adds that Dr. Faustus and The Tempest can function as a late morality play with the moral being “don’t practice magic”.  Casey wonders if early modern audiences would have shared that view as Prospero gains from his magic.  Harris points out that Prospero has to abjure his magic in order to resume his place in the world outside of the island and that it is through his obsession with magic that Prospero is initially banished.  Harris believes that perceived magicians had a very precarious position within early modern society as it was a slippery slope to damnation.

Castaldo points out that the conversation began with gender and magic and that the conversation becomes complicated by the introduction of a third concept, morality.  How might morality intersect with gender and magic?  Proudfoot-Ginder believes morality is an important element in the relationship between gender and magic as early modern women were considered closer to sin.  However, Proudfoot-Ginder admits this connection is disrupted, or at least complicated, by characters such as Puck and Ariel that are gender-fluid.  Casey points out that in the text and in early modern performance these characters were not gender-fluid, they were specifically mOCSuline.  Castaldo wonders if the casting of a boy actor in these roles wouldn’t have made these characters gender-fluid for the original audience.  Harris troubles the idea of assigning gender at all to some characters, specifically Ariel and the Weird Sisters.  Harris adds that in the case of the Weird Sisters the text links the characters to the Fates, who are female, but at the same time the text assigns them beards and Macbeth himself has difficulty parsing gender.  Howieson also points out that some of these elements may have been coincidental when the texts were written.  Shakespeare wrote to a specific company of actors and had to deal with the actor bodies they presented on stage.

Moving towards a discussion of the magical versus actual magic, Danner points out that in plays such as Julius Caesar, magic exists in the world of the play and it influences that world and characters even if nothing we identify as magical occurs on stage.  Casey asks if the supernatural and magic are the same.  Harris says no, but that they are a part of the same occult world.  An audience member further troubles the boundary between the supernatural and the unnatural.  Definition of these terms seem to be key to understanding these concepts.  Howieson points out that for the early modern population there was no supernatural.  The magical and the occult were considered a part of the natural world.

Castaldo brings up Hermione’s waking in the end of The Winter’s Tale.  The moment is always magical but staging choices can make it a product of actual magic or not.  Howieson also points out the stage direction requiring music at that moment and that there is a precedent in Shakespeare’s work for music to invoke magic.  Harris and Castillo discuss the possible intersections but also disagreements between Hermione’s supposed death and the potion that puts Juliet in a state that appears as death.  From the audience, Terry Southerington points out that this differentiation between magic and the magical was unlikely to be perceived by an early modern audience that accepted magic as science.  Howieson ties this idea back to the gender question earlier, by pointing out that male magicians are typically seen as in control of their magic while it would have been believed that female magicians can’t hold magical power themselves but must be under the sway of Satan.

The panel turns their attention to Prospero specifically and how murky his power really is.  How much power does he wield and how much is due solely to Ariel and the other magical inhabitants of the island?  Castaldo points out that the text is not clear about the nature of the island and its inhabitants in the first place.  Are the island’s inhabitants naturally magical?  Or is it Prospero’s (and previously, one assumes, Sycorax’s) power that imbues the inhabitants with magic?  As the panel continues to unpack all the possible sources of Prospero’s magic, Harris points out that while Prospero’s magic books are discussed the text does not require they be seen onstage.  This, plus our understanding of early modern views on magic, make it seem to Harris that magic can be learned and once learned practiced at will.  The magic books provide the knowledge but are not in and of themselves magical.  This view ties magic indelibly to literacy.  This view is troubled further by Rafe and Robin who are able to summon Mephistopheles without being able to accurately read and interpret Faustus’ magic book.  Harris points out a distinction between magicians who obtain their power via learning whereas witches receive their power through a pact with Satan.  Faustus is a problem then in how he crosses those boundaries.

Closing with a discussion of examples of effective magic onstage, there’s a great deal of debate as to what constitutes magic for each person as an audience member.  The panel does seem to agree that the one required element is the actors’ investment in the belief of the magic.  Audience member Renee Thornton Jr. hints that audiences may see the fruits of this panel onstage this coming actor’s renaissance season at the American Shakespeare Center.

Blackfriars Conference 2015 – Colloquy Session XIV

Morning! Whitney Egbert again live blogging from Colloquy Session XIV on Political Wisdom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Antony and Cleopatra, The Winter’s Tale, and 1 Henry VI. The session is running from 9:00 to 10:15 in the Augusta Room at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel.

A small change to the schedule with one presenter being absent – this morning we will hear from Bernard Dobski, John Presnall, Dustin Gish, with additional thoughts from William “Reg” Rampone.  Gish will also be our chair.

Dobski starts us out with 1H6 and the presentation of Joan of Arc.  He is interested in the claims that she can produce the results she does on politics and military without any previous involvement.  He asks “What is the proper or legitimate claim to rule?  Or is there no legitimate rule and is just whoever can win?  Or is the only legitimate rule the one where the people put them there?”  He explores this in three steps: 1) the bodily needs – our own and those of others; 2) Joan has a relationship between body and soul that allows her to manipulate/dominate over the men; and 3) as good as her understanding is, it is incomplete, especially in her understanding of how her sexual politics might effect her results.

Presnall discusses Antony and Cleopatra, the sunset of our last true republic.  He explores the role of speech and the sense of common good and points out that a lot of the text for the leaders of the world at that point seem to have set aside the concept of common good.  Presnall points out that no one seems to want to talk about killing others and ignore the need for advancement – there is a divergence between what they speak about and what needs to be done and so we turn to a love story instead.  That leads to a diminishment of the life politic in lieu of the life erotic in, if none others, Antony’s world.  He ponders, as a note, if this play shows the early sense of the new world to emerge into Christianity as the next thing to emerge after all of what is now, in the play, finishes its sunset.

Gish dives into The Winters Tale and the idea of tyranny, mentioned more in this play than any other excepting Macbeth, the sense of justice that comes up, especially in the second half, and finally the Oracle, again mentioned more here than in other shows.  He also points out the connection between this and other great works – the sense of Eros as in The Symposium and Plato’s The Republic; likewise the Oracle’s most famous advice of “know thyself,” with Leontes does not do but Socrates did abide by.  Gish, going back to his points of tyranny and justice, says that Leontes is not really driven by the jealousy he feels but the anger that jealousy creates.  Camillo and Paulina both site changes in the king in their text that indicate changes in his true person.  He is changed by the calming of his soul as his faith is reawakened.  Gish proposes that Leontes is, across the play, a passionate man who never goes from that but that it changes – anger at the first, despair and grief, and finally passion and joy and that it is Paulina who helps him transition through them, moderating his Eros.

We return to Dobski and Joan – he clarifies that Joan’s manipulation might come from her understanding and awareness of men’s pride and sense of wanting to excel but that she seems to give too much too quickly so she loses everything.  He sites the taking and losing of both Rohen and Orleans.  Rampone jumps in and points out that the men are also using Joan.  Dobski agrees but says that he doesn’t think, in this play, that Joan thinks she is divinely inspired but that instead she is smarter than the men and she knows she needs something to get the power. That plays into the English opinion of the French at the time the play was written (a woman is smarter than your king!) and she is portrayed as complicated rather than just a fop as the French are portrayed in Henry V.  Her real counter in the play is Talbot and that ends in a draw.  She is not the typical portrayal of a French person nor of a woman, even a strong woman, in Shakespeare.

Gish asks Dobski and Presnall to define what they mean by Eros in each of the plays so that we ensure that everyone in the room is on the same page.  An interesting discussion between the three about the dichotomy between love and politics in each of these three plays ensues – drawing the similarities but also how love is different in each, how each play highlights a different type of the Eros.

Rampone asks Gish about the psychology behind the jealousy of Leontes in The Winters Tale.  Gish responds that he hasn’t really looked at it in the modern sense of things but used Aristotle’s sense around the time, which is how he got to anger.  There is not, then, a sense of love in marriages as we currently define it, so when it comes up, it gets turned to anger and therefore, as Presnall adds, to the treason that Hermione is actually accused of in the court.

The discussion continues, jumping from a sense of male/female, god/goddess to a longer conversation about whether the final moment in The Winters Tale and whether it is a miracle or theatrical.  It got lively and passionate!  A great discussion over how could Paulina know that her name is Perdita and could she have orchestrated it all.  Paulina is a great point of interest in the group.

Dobski then swings the conversation to Antony and Cleopatra before we see the show this evening, asking Presnall about the suicide.  There is a break in the room between those who think Cleopatra is egocentric and those who think she is attempting to preserve her empire, whether for herself and her memory or for her son.

An auditor draws a connection between all three plays, saying they are all about “what’s worth living for” and then “what makes a good ruler.”  The ideas that what do the characters in each of these plays fight for and what are the characteristics that work and fail in the leadership.  And what is honor and virtue.

This was a truly lovely discussion.

-Whitney Egbert

The Shakespeare Forum

Colloquy XV: Mediating Music in Middleton’s The Witch

Hello everyone – Liz here again to blog for Colloquy XV: Mediating Music in Middleton’s The Witch in Masonic Muilding – Blue Room. This live blogging session runs from nine to ten fifteen in the morning.The chair for this session is Linda Austen from Northwestern University. The presenters are Katherine Brokaw from the University of California, MercedScott A.  Trudell of the University of Maryland, College ParkSarah Williams of the University of South CarolinaAmanda Winkler of Syracuse University, and Jennifer Wood of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Austen thanks the attendees for their presence and turns the floor over to Trudell.

Trudell explains that this session focuses on the mediation of a song in performance within the text. He also explains his fOCSination with media transformations that adapt and re-imagine that bring us closer to the original performance of the song. Trudell is part of a project to create an open-source internet media to interface with to hear early modern songs. This project hopes to give archival and historical contexts for lyrics. Trudell and his team want to avoid giving the impression of original musical representations. Trudell explains that songs existed in variants, rather than one authorial version. Through this project, Trudell hopes that teachers and theatre practitioners can find, hear, and download songs for research and performance.

Trudell then gives an example of lyrics in Middleton’s work and explains different ways to view the lyrics. First, one may look at the meter of the song. One may also choose to speak the lyrics. Then, he brings the lyrics into the context of a larger song within the scene with Hecate and her followers singing. Trudell shows some early prints of the play, including a 1778 edition that has the voices “in the air.” He explains that the song itself was first printed in 1774 which numbers the voices, rather than assigning the lyric lines to characters. Middleton’s song appears, in part, in print, in Shakespeare’s Macbeth in 1623. In 1625, the song also appears in print from scribe Richard Cane, which is attributed to Robert Jonson from the 1620s. Trudell hopes that his interface will allow users access to more modern versions of the musical score and to link to other sites that would elaborate on the performance and images of early modern witches. He states that many current links online to recordings of early modern music is of poor quality. His project hopes to work with collaborators to provide cleaner recordings. He hopes practitioners will be able to use this interface to include early modern music in their performances.

Austen then takes the stage to talk about reproduction of early modern music in today’s theatre. Music, in early modern drama, acted on the body it found to change its emotions. Austen shows an image of a recreation of the Blackfriars Theater with a third floor known as the music house. She then shows a photo of our own Blackfriars Theater. She points out a version of The Witch with the stage direction [Music] to indicate music would start before the lyrics to the song begin. She then shows a photo of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in London to illustrate another location where performance of music can occur.

Austen moves on to a photo of musical notation in a songbook for the song from The Witch. She explains that this print would be for home usage and allows little room for harmony and chords. She shows a modern notation of the song and explains that modern musicians have to fill in the gaps left by early modern song books. She gives a list of all musical instruments called for by name in the second Blackfriars Playhouse. She divides these into loud and soft instruments, and explains that only the loud band instruments would be used for this scene. The introduces the violin family, associated with May Pole dances and disreputable spaces and performers. She likens violins to saxophones today. She explains that images of cats playing the fiddle abounded, rather than witches playing the fiddle. Then, she shows pictures cornettis and sackbuts with their brass and woodwind-esque sound and explains that they would be versatile. There is debate as to which voices would accompany these instruments.

Williams then takes the floor to speak on witches on the stage. England in the early modern period was less concerned with demonic possession and more concerned with misdemeanors and disruptive behavior. Middleton based his portrayal of witches heavily on The Discovery of Witchcraft. The broadside ballad trade assisted in the spread of stories of witches in a performative manner. Witches were described as hybrid creatures, half-man and half-beast, which Williams illustrates with a woodcut. Boys would play the attendants of witches and men would play the grotesque witches. She points to several textual examples of the grotesque features of witches in literature. Several Jacobean witches sing and dance, as expressed in several texts and illustrated in several woodcuts. The witches’ world was see as similar to our own, but backwards, which Williams illustrates with textual examples.

The seventeenth century illustrated hags onstage through song and dance within the bounds of the century’s language. The dance music would be rustic and abound with language reminding the audience of the bad intentions of the witches. She then introduces the first performance, informed by these evidences. The actors, including Trudell, Austen, and Josh Williams – a Mary Baldwin graduate student -, Wood, and Brokaw perform the scene, accompanied by Williams on the piano.

Brokaw explains her experience as a professor and a theatre practitioner. She talks about directing The Winter’s Tale at Merced last February. She decided to set the first three acts in the 1950s. Then, she had acts four and five take place in the 1970s. She explains her options for the music composition with the possibility of collaborating with a composer to create the music for the show. The Royal Shakespeare Company in 2013 commissioned an indie songwriter to compose music for their performance. Brokaw soon realized that she did not have all of the RSC’s resources at her disposal and could not compose new works. She explains that she finally decided to incorporate modern songs into the play. She also decided to add more music where the text does not indicate music. For example, she had Hermoine and Perdita sing Blackbird at the end of the play as the reunited family looked on at a 1950s portrait of Mamilius. She states that this began a conversation within the community on music on the early modern stage. She shares that this experience allowed non-academic theatre-goers to ask about her scholarship and research. Brokaw explains that she could also have placed Shakespeare’s lyrics into a 1950s and 1970s musical score.

She then introduces the next performance, where this final option is utilized. The performance will use the original lyrics, but will incorporate the tune of a Frank Sinatra song, performed by Wood and Winkler.

Winkler takes the stage to say that working on the edge of scholarship and practice has allowed her to research in a very different way. She states that performing Hecate allows her to experiment with different versions of Hecate, including an option that allows her to emphasize Hecate’s incestuous qualities. She explains that the original text allows for the actor to infuse the song with dramatic choices that can alter the audience’s views on Hecate. She points out that everyone has an imagined version of the song from reading the text. But these imagined versions cannot all appear on the stage at once.

Winkler speaks that the witches in Middleton’s play sip on blood before singing and that by placing the lyrics within the tune of Sinatra’s song gives a shadow of Sinatra’s presence over the witches’ grotesque presence. She states that she hopes to start a dialogue on whether theatre practitioners should adhere to early modern lyrics and music or experiment with contemporary music.

A scholar asks if many audience members were upset by the use of modern songs in The Winter’s Tale, citing that many of her students were curious about the OCS’s use of modern music in the performance. Brokaw questions if we are excising anything by incorporating contemporary songs, but she also states that she feels that lyrics are easier to alter or switch out than the words themselves. Austen mentions that many times she experienced shocked theatre practitioners who did not realize that there were early modern versions of songs within the texts. Trudell speaks that the OCS’s Winter’s Tale did not use any early modern music. He acknowledges this worked very well, but he also calls for greater experimentation with early modern music and ballads.

Blackfriars Conference 2015 — Colloquy VIII: Practical Rhetoric

How can rhetoric help students?  How can actors use it?  Colloquy Chair Cass Morris, Academic Resources Manager with the American Shakespeare Center introduced the session’s format as a conversation, as she put it, rather than that of a lecture, and she then had the presenters seated around the meeting room table introduce themselves and state exactly what it is that they do with rhetoric.  Tom Delise with the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory teaches his students fifteen rhetorical devices to help them in their acting.  Marshall Garrett, Mary Baldwin College Shakespeare & Performance MFA candidate mentioned how his thesis on “Measure for Measure” focused on rhetoric, and stated that he is interested in helping actors who are not familiar with rhetoric to be aware of it and be able to work with it.  Sign language interpreter Lindsey D. Snyder of Gallaudet University said she is interested in making rhetoric understandable for the hearing-impaired.  Annette Drew-Bear teaches Shakespeare courses at Washington and Jefferson College, and she said she wants to discover more effective teaching techniques, including ways to improve her students’ assignments.  The other presenters included Collin Bjork with Indiana University, Scott Crider with the University of Dallas, and Kathleen Quinlan, English Teacher with Stonewall Jackson High School.  

The Chair then talked of methodology and strategies in rehearsal and in the classroom.  Delise distributed around the room his “Rhetorical Devices Worksheet,” explaining that he gives this to his students/actors to help them prepare for a role.  The worksheet calls upon the student to name the rhetorical device, give an example of it from the text, and then asks the question, “How Can It Inform an Acting Choice?  What Questions Does It Raise?”  Garrett discussed his work on “Measure for Measure.”  He said he discovered that the flow of rhetoric in Shakespeare’s play reveals that the prison characters use almost no rhetorical devices at all, while by contrast, the character of Isabella uses rhetoric to render her antagonist Angelo speechless.

The Chair next proceeded to the topic of Dramatization of Rhetoric, mentioning that Crider’s paper in particular explored the “performativity” (performance conventions and audience perceptions) of rhetorical devices.  Some of these, such as “epizeuxis,” or the immediate repetition of a word, are definite cues for the actor.  Snyder demonstrated through signing how different words and expressions utilize different hand signs.  She also discussed how the meaning and the meter of the verse are affected by the actor’s breathing.  Crider asked the sign-language interpreter if she had worked in gesture and if so, how it relates to Early Modern acting.  Gesture, Snyder replied, didn’t appear in print until sometime in the mid-1600’s.  There is some documentation which still exists today, she added, but there is not much writing on how it was used on the stage.  She suggested that some actors were not as declarative as we now believe they were, and that the practice of using gesture became more established over time.  Snyder continued on a related subject, stating that physical training and classroom training should not be separate and distinct from one another.  Instead, rhetorical instruction should synthesize both of these approaches.

Garrett discussed Shakespeare’s use in “Measure for Measure” of the rhetorical device known as “anadiplosis,” which is the repetition of a clause or sentence’s last word or phrase at the beginning of the next line, clause or sentence.   “Do we stop Angelo’s action to try to get a word in,” Garrett asked, “or do we just let him keep on going in the scene?”  Rhetorical devices can be translated into actors’ actions as well as into words and emotions, he explained, as when one character in a scene mirrors the posture of another, indicating to the audience love and attraction between two characters.  “Souls and hearts start beating together; characters start to move in tandem,” he noted.

Quinlan shared her insights as an English Teacher on the performativity of rhetoric as well.  The character of Iago in Shakespeare’s “Othello” uses a device known as “aposiopesis,” or a sudden breaking off in mid-speech, as a kind of innuendo, she explained, to imply to Othello his wife Desdemona’s fabricated infidelity.  Quinlan also discussed another kind of omission, “ellipsis,” in storytelling.  Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Tell Tale Heart,” she illustrated for her listeners, intentionally leaves out the names of the characters.  Her students comment on this omission in her class, remarking that the narrator refers to his antagonist/victim simply as, “The Old Man.”  The reader is left to fill in the blanks by using his or her imagination.

Garrett in addition discussed his staging for “Measure for Measure,” particularly in ways to communicate to the audience a sense of balance and also the sense of miscommunication.  Bjork then shared an anecdote from his days as an actor.  He was rehearsing a scene in which his character uses alliteration, in this case it was a repetition of ‘f” sounds.  His director explained to him that the rhetorical device informs the actor’s face in performance.  The director told the actor, “You are making a kissy-face!”  Bjork said the repeated ‘f’ sounds in his character’s language was his cue to pucker up to his lady scene partner.

The Chair then asked her presenters the question, How does rhetoric figure in writing and composition?  Crider mentioned that rhetoric helps his students in their composition, and that learning rhetoric develops them into better readers of Shakespeare and in general.  Morris next asked, “Students may learn the correct term, but how can an actor use it onstage?”  The Chair proceeded to describe as an example of practical rhetoric, how emphasis on rhetorical usage in OCS’s leadership workshop helps workshop participants, who have included leaders in the business community as well as in politics, become more persuasive leaders through its use.

The Chair opened up the floor to “gallery” questions shortly before the session concluded.  Lia Wallace, OCS Educator, talked of how she taught rhetorical devices to younger kids, such as “anthimeria,” or nouns as verbs.  Wallace remarked how younger children are able to learn rhetorical devices and their names with great facility because they haven’t yet learned from cultural bias that it is supposed to be so “hard.”

Morris admitted to the colloquy’s attendees that what it is she needs to know now is what is the “next step” in the practice of rhetoric as she brought the session to its conclusion.

–Bill Leavy

Blackfriars Conference 2015 — Wake-Up Workshop: Textual Variants

This morning’s Wake-up Workshop covered the topic, Textual Variants, and attendees included professional actors, teachers and professors..  Kayla Blue is an as an Education Artist with the OCS .  She began the workshop by explaining how Early Modern texts are “alive and constantly changing.”  Printers, editors and even booksellers and academics manipulate the plays into a version they prefer rather than attempt to present an authoritative copy for posterity.

Blue moved on to her first subtopic, From Shakespeare to the Printer: How did these texts come into print they way they have?  She then asked for six volunteers from her audience to join her on the Blackfriars stage to engage in an activity which would help illustrate the answer to that question.  She assigned the first volunteer to personify Shakespeare’s “Foul Papers.”  All of the foul papers, which may include plays in their original forms, she explained, were lost, as opposed to surviving extant “Fair Papers.” Blue assigned the second volunteer to personify Fair Papers, which may include cue scripts and recopied plays.  In the recopying process, ” ‘Sin’ can become ‘sign’,” Kayla explained to help her audience gain a deeper understanding of the origins of some variants in texts.

Blue explained that the terms, “role” and “part” came from the standard Early Modern practice of actors using cue scripts.  Actors were not presented with a complete copy of the play they were rehearsing, as printing a copy for each cast member was usually prohibitively expensive.  Instead, actors worked from a partial script which contained only the “part” he would play.  The actor’s script would contain the cue preceding his lines, and the script was transcribed onto a parchment roll, from which the word, “role” derived.

Fair copies, Blue continued, were copied into “presentation copies” which were kept for performance records.  These records were known as, “Book Copies” for bookkeeper use, she explained, and additional stage directions frequently were added in the process, including cues for “dumb shows.”  Shakespeare’s star clown from his stock company, Will Kemp is listed in one of these added stage directions in the place of the character’s name.  This may indicate that a bookkeeper added Kemp’s name to record his role in a specific production or performance.

One of Blue’s volunteers then asked her about published plays called, “Playbooks,” wanting to know if they were ever intended for private consumption.  She answered  the question in the affirmative, and she discussed the origins of the term, “quarto” as explanation.  Blue said that the term, “quarto” referred to the way the printed booklet was folded: where a folio is folded into two pages out of a single sheet, she demonstrated with a piece of paper, a quarto is folded into four pages.  The two-page per sheet folio cost one English Pound and was considered expensive in Shakespeare’s day.  The more paper used in printing, she explained, the more expensive the publication.  S&P student George Kendall added to this by informing the rest of the audience that a quarto originally cost only five- or sixpence.

Blue continued her discussion by asking the question, How did printers obtain play copies?  Copyright laws of the day were largely ineffectual at the time.  Most playwrights didn’t receive money for their printed plays.  One remedy, she suggested was the possibility of a “memorial reconstruction.”  This is a play published from a player’s or patron’s memory after a performance.  Printers may have added stage directions at this stage as well.  Some scholars allege that the practice may have been invented and never actually happened.

There are five “Romeo and Juliet” quartos, Blue continued.  She then distributed handouts, copies of “Romeo and Juliet” quarto covers, beginning with that of the First Quarto, or ‘Q1″ as it is now known.  The copies of the cover are available on the internet from the website, “Early English Books Online”: http://eebo.chadwyck.com/home  On the handout’s reverse side, Blue had transcribed a piece of the play’s text.  The First Quarto of “Romeo and Juliet” or Q1 was published in 1597, she explained, and it is 688 lines shorter than Q2, the Second Quarto.  She then asked volunteers to identify some textual variants between their copies of quarto covers.  Volunteers observed from the handouts that cover pages often included the name of the shop in which the quarto was sold.  Later quartos included such descriptions as, “newly corrected and augmented” on their covers.  This language biased scholars over the years that earlier copies were “bad quartos” and were less authoritative than “corrected and augmented” later quartos.  Scholars today challenge this presumption, however, as Blue informed her listeners.  One of her volunteers suggested that the “correction” terms publishers used were most likely a marketing ploy to sell new copies.

Blue next read the reverse side of her first handout, the “Romeo and Juliet” tomb scene from Q1 and compared that against a later quarto by reading aloud changes in the scene’s dialogue.  She finished her the workshop by displaying several various and different “authoritative” editions of “Romeo and Juliet,” reminding us that editors, and not Shakespeare, were responsible for most textual variants.

–Bill Leavy

Blackfriars Conference – Plenary Session VI

Hi there! Molly Beth Seremet again, reporting from the beautiful Blackfriars Playhouse. Plenary Session VI is underway, running from 2:30pm – 3:45pm. This plenary session is moderated by Barbara Bono.

Amanda Zoch (Indiana University)

Maternal Revision in Middleton’s More Dissemblers Besides Women

Zoch’s work will focus tightly on Middleton’s play, a play once called by a patron “the worst play I ever saw.” Zoch’s interest lies in the Page, a character who is actually a pregnant woman in disguise. The Page, a cross-dressed lover, eventually goes into labor during a dance lesson. Zoch point out that even in this moment, the dance-master considers the laboring page a miracle, a boy who is with child, failing to recognize maternity even in its most emergent (and obvious) moment.

Zoch now turns to a historical consideration of maternal legacy. She describes the manner in which expectant mothers materially prepare for childbirth during their pregnancies. Texts authored by mothers in later life, however, often do not refer to pregnancy at all. Zoch terms this phenomenon ‘maternal revision,’ in which the fears and dangers of pregnancy cause mothers to define themselves as maternal figures and not formerly pregnant women.

Zoch compares Middleton’s Page to Shakespeare’s Hermione, managing their self-presentation in the ways they revise themselves as maternal figures. The dramatic representation of the Page in Middleton’s work stages pregnancy by staging the Page’s body, troubling the other characters’ conceptions of the world. Zoch points out that frequently in Middleton’s text, other characters discuss the physical ambiguities of the Page’s body within the text. Zoch parallels this with societal discomfort with the ambiguities of the pregnancy body, suggesting that Middleton’s dramatic language stages a cultural concern with the maternal power of the female “troublesome body.”

Zoch describes an instant in the Middleton text in which the dance-master instructs the Page to dance faster and harder, spreading his (her) knees “Wider. Wider. Wider!” and exhorting “have you ever seen a boy dance this clenched-up.” Not surprisingly, the Page in trying to comply with the dance-master’s order goes into labor and calls for the midwife. Thus, the boy begins to give birth.

After this vivid imagery, Zoch moves into an exploration of the Page’s silence after the moment of the birth, a silent presence in the play’s final scene. Zoch contends that this moment would be highly noticeable in the world of the play, staging maternal silence after the rich of activity of birth.

Zoch’s paper ends on a cliffhanger, however, as the Bear chases the valiant Zoch offstage!

Bob Jones (University of Texas – Austin)

“Heave Up!”: The “wicked weight” of Shakespeare’s Antony and York’s Christ

This paper features American Shakespeare Center actors Gregory Jon Phelps, Alli Glenzer, and Chris Johnston.

Jones comes out of the gate with a raucous comparison of Shakespeare’s Antony with a crucified Christ.  Jones posits that the hoisting of Antony up over the balcony constitutes a “naughty challenge” in the theatrical world. Jones suggests that the Folio text of Antony and Cleopatra demands that Antony’s body must be ‘heaved’ into position, given the fact that no exit is specified for the character in this moment. Indeed, Jones urges us to remember that the word “heave” is a unique word with distinct physical behaviors required as a result.

Jones provides an example of this stage direction in practice, describing a Shakespeare in Winedale production in which Antony almost fell.  That Antony happens to be in the house for this plenary and corroborates Jones’ anecdote from the balcony, to cheers and grimaces from the gathered scholars.

Jones now turns us to a close look at the crucifixion scene in York, pointing up the challenges of depicting an onstage crucifixion without actually resorting to the action itself (more laughs from the audience). Jones suggests an inherent tension between theatrical display and oral discourse. The OCS actors and Jones now move to a presentation of the crucifixion scene. Glenzer, Johnston, Phelps, and Jones stage a moment in which they work together to lift the (imaginary) cross and bear it heavily on their shoulders, while grimacing their way through York’s text.  This staged teamwork reinforces Jones’ position that these dramatic moments stage both language and the effort embedded in the text.

The scene now shifts to the scene in Antony and Cleopatra in which Antony is lifted to Cleopatra’s monument. Johnston and Phelps support Jones, holding him up to the aloft Cleopatra, portrayed by Glenzer. Jones’ Antony cannot reach his Cleopatra and the audience enjoys this productive “failure” heartily.

Jones posits that these moments in early modern drama stage moments of ‘burlesque comedy of effort” allowing for instants of surprising success.  Jones suggests that these moments exist precisely to stage work, while also epitomizing sacred events.  Further, secondary characters bear the responsibility of the effort in these moments, staging the work they do and their comic struggles to fulfill their orders.  As Jones urges, these moments instill feelings of relief and pride in ‘jobs well done’ into the theatrical frame, foregrounding the physical labor that enables theatrical work with cognizance of its own fragility.

Dan Venning (CUNY Graduate Center)

Great Lengths? Shakespeare’s History Cycles on Stage

Venning begins his presentation with an anecdote from current Broadway show Something Rotten, saying “Why is he doing Richard II? He just did Richard III? Who goes backwards?!” Venning points out that while it is easy to imagine history plays as cycles, these plays were likely not written as marathon theatrical events. Venning notes that the first recorded instance of the history plays as a cycle appears in history in 1864 in Germany, helmed by Franz von Dingelstedt.

Venning postulates that history play cycles serve as an assertion of  virtuosity in Shakespearean performance. He refers first to a German staging of the history cycle by von Dinglestedt, influenced by Schiller. This cycle was presented right after a staging of Schiller’s history cycle, uniting English and German history in parallel dramatic history marathons.  Historically, this is a fOCSinating image of unification in a historical moment.  Venning then explains that von Dinglestedt’s cycle aimed to a site-specific endeavor which Venning compares to work made in the reconstructed Blackfriars Playhouse.

Venning now moves to an exploration of marathon plays at large, which he defines as plays extending for longer than five hours in length. He explains that these cyclical plays may be “necessarily boring,” requiring that audiences perform a feat of their own in endurance spectatorship. This brings up interesting intellectual and theoretical issues as these history cycles deal thematically with issues of war and human suffering, in which form seems to highlight content. Venning concludes that directors frequently invest audiences in a particularly clear version of today’s world through engagement with these historical cycles.

Melissa Aaron (Cal Poly Pomona)

The Bear Essentials: Cost-Effective Bears in Original Practice Productions of The Winter’s Tale

Aaron leads off by saying, “It all begins with a bear,” summoning up images of her own initial experience with Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. Aaron is particularly interested in non-textual Shakespeare and in reading Shakespeare through an economic lens, such as looking at the acquisition of props, costumes etc.

Aaron now moves to a historical look at early modern fOCSinations with white bears, such as those staged in Oberon and Mucedorus. As a result, Aaron posits that the King’s Men would have already owned a bear suit and suggests that having a bear suit on hand means the bear practically writes himself into The Winter’s Tale at all. In addition, Aaron points out that this repetition is a productive and common one in early modern original practices.

Aaron now dangles the provocative question, “what is the economic significance of original practices?” Aaron suggests while we must be careful to not become Doctors Frankenstein in our engagement with early practices, we must not ignore the benefits we might gain from echoing historical practices. Aaron then wonders what might be gained from borrowing historically informed theatrical economics. She suggests some possible examples in this model such as no more purpose-built theatres, actors providing their own costumes, and reusable props. She also suggests some shifts to the public funding paradigm, but due to time (and bear!) constraints, she asks that we chat about those aspects over a drink after her paper presentation.

Aaron now moves to a specific examination of the Blackfriars Bear. She reminds us that bear suits are expensive and not terribly cost-effective, unless reasons can be found for it to be staged frequently. Aaron then calls out the frequency with which companies like the American Shakespeare Center stage The Winter’s Tale and then employ the Bear to chase recalcitrant scholars off the stage during the Blackfriars Conference. Aaron asks “do we ever get tired of the bear?” earning a hug (and a curtain call) for our trusty bear.

In conclusion, Aaron urges us to consider the ways in which mirroring early modern business practices can enrich modern day theatre-making. The Bear cheers!

Patrick Midgley (American Shakespeare Center)

Echoes and Entreaties

This paper features American Shakespeare Center actors Chris Johnston, Alli Glenzer, and Gregory Jon Phelps.

American Shakespeare Center actor Patrick Midgley now takes the stage! He begins with a list of the questions he and the other actors answer over and over again. “How do you speak in old English? How do you learn your lines? Do you ever forget what play you’re in?” and so forth. Midgley tells us that this is paper written from the wings, as it were, focusing on theatrical echoes in the space of rehearsal and performance.

Midgley elucidates that for him, the word “rehearsal” is aurally evocative – ” re — hears — all.” He mentions, however, that during the OCS’s Actors Renaissance Season, the abbreviated rehearsal process and cue script practice is more like “first time ever, hears a little.”

Midgley now turns to an exploration of language in Webster’s The White Devil. Actor Chris Johnston performs some of Flamineo’s text, harkening up the animal imagery in Webster’s text, revealing a repeated motif of animalistic imagery such as “bitches, dos, curs, spaniels” etc. Midgley muses about the uses of researching this aural motif as an actor, and how to work with this repetition in performance practice. Midgley further details that this motif is well-researched, called up and glossed by many prior scholars.

Midgley then explains that he took an interest in looking for similar motifs in other plays in Actors Renaissance Season as well.  He points out the word “entreat” appears 14 times in The Taming of The Shrew, occasionally with an alternate spelling echoing after the normal spelling of “entreat.” Midgley jokes that “you can’t play an alternate spelling” and he is right, though actor James Keegan heckles him from the peanut gallery saying, “maybe you can’t!”  Midgley gathers us back into his argument, noting that unlike Webster’s animal imagery, the switches between “entreat” and “intreat” in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew are not often researched by scholars. He ponders this and asks us to imagine what performance might unlock about the significance of these switches. Midgley turns to an exploration of the way the words “entreat” and “intreat” function across The Taming of the Shrew, spelling variants notwithstanding. He terms this an echo and asks us to hear this echoes as “calling backs.”

Midgley now calls on fellow American Shakespeare Center actor Alli Glenzer to demonstrate the multiple uses of the word “entreat” in Kate’s monologue and the presentation closes out with those lovely words resonating through the Blackfriars.

Matt Kozusko (Ursinus College) 

Implied Stage Directions

Kozusko begins his paper by calling out a final moment of proto-feminism in the final scene of Measure for Measure. He asks the audience to locate the embedded stage direction in the text of this final scene. As Kozusko points out, there is a pause in the Duke’s proposal line in this scene which might open up a moment in which Isabella responds in some way to the situation. Kozusko’s work will explore embedded stage directions and implied embedded stage directions.

Kozusko now asks us to look at a moment from Romeo and Juliet, in which the Watchman introduces us to a Friar who “trembles, sighs, and weeps” and also bears a “mattock and this spade.” This moment is performed nicely by American Shakespeare Center actors Johnston and Glenzer. Kozusko points out that this moment stages several overt stage directions that govern both performative behavior and stage properties.

Now, Kozusko turns to a moment in Comedy of Errors, in which Egeon asks Antipholous of Ephesus, “Why look you strange on me?” which the actors again perform for us. Kozusko suggests that this might be an embedded stage direction dictating behavior, but also be a moment in which the text replaces a visible behavior.

We now return to the original Measure for Measure example, which Kozusko stages for us as well.  Here, Isabella (played by Glenzer) backs away from the Duke (Phelps) when asked for her hand. The Duke pauses and turns towards Claudio (Johnston) who smiles to the audience, perhaps in preparation to offer his own hand. The audience delights in this moment and laughter fills the playhouse. Kozusko notes that this staging may be an exaggerated bit of silliness, but also points out that the silence in the text at this moment might make us see something.

Now, Kozusko presses on this moment further, suggesting the potential this moment has to make us as an audience look (or perhaps not look) as Isabella. The notion that Isabella needs to respond non-verbally in this moment suggests a behavior of consequence. If Isabella were supposed to “look strange” upon the Duke, we might assume that the text would say so.  Kozusko then offers this Measure moment as a challenge to notions of embedded stage directions and the behaviors they dictate.  For Kozusko, this moment of silence creates discomfort which may perhaps represent authorial intention and may also show an audience something uncomfortable that we need to see.  He concludes his work be celebrating this uncertainty and the potentiality for reading and staging possibility.

Three cheers for a rousing and enlightening plenary session!

-Molly

Blackfriars Conference 2015 – Plenary Session 5″

Hey folks! It’s Mary Finch once again to live blog this plenary session running from 1:00-2:15 pm, moderated by Marina Favilia from James Madison University.

Elizabeth Sharrett, Shakespeare Institute
Bed Curtains and the Second Blackfriars

Sharrett opens with some numbers about beds and the Blackfriars; according the numbers, beds are most frequently used in the Blackfriars space, and only three of the plays with beds performed in that space explicitly mention bed curtains. Sharret will be looking at prop beds and the details of their construction, namely the use of curtains.

Most likely, prop beds at the Blackfriars were basic in order to be changed to match the requirements of a variety of plays. For all her research, Sharrett admits that the information on prop beds is sparse and inconclusive. Nevertheless, looking at the patterns from the information we do have is worth considering.

The ambiguity about curtains comes from the assumption that all beds had them, as stated by multiple scholars including Andrew Gurr. Sharrett showed several images of different Elizabethan beds from a range of institutions that did not have curtains. Audiences and playwrights would have known about the difference between a couch-bed or a half-headed bedstead, whether on stage or alluded to. The half-headed bedstead was easy to transport and served people of varying status, therefore making it a good candidate to function as a prop bed.

Sharrett shares several instances of beds and curtains in one scene, but highlights that the stage directions do not require that the curtains are on the bed itself. A research and action exercise allowed Sharrett to experiment with staging using beds with and without curtains. We should not assume that curtains and beds must be connected, and use that to evaluate how we see the Blackfriars space and use of large properties.

Jeremy Lopez, University of Toronto
Act three, scene one

“In any Shakespeare play there is no scene more important that act 3, scene 1.”

Lopez documented the major plot points that occurs in this scene across a huge range of scenes from Hamlet to Henry V to Twelfth Night and well beyond.

“It is the structural center of any play.”

Some of the less seemingly event scene are no less important, or interesting, such as in All’s Well That Ends Well, Antony and Cleopatra, and Cymbeline. These scenes rove into mundane life, clowns, or politics–they frequently feature characters that appear for the first and last time, transitioning the tone and, often, the location of the play. These plays give a glimpse of how the play world ought to be: a place of serious politics and delightful truth. 3.2 returns to real, imperfect, world of the play with vengeance.

In the more dramatic 3.1 scenes, 3.2 echoes the preceding scene by often containing things “unseen” and heightening the drama began.

Of course, act three scene one is an arbitrary and anachronistic structure that has been added after the plays were written and published. Therefore, the point of this paper might just be “this play has definite centers.” When 3.1 is a complex scene, it will be followed by a more complex scene that echoes it through juxtaposition. When 3.1 is less complex, it creates a longing for how the world might be.

However, Othello breaks all of these rules with a clown scene dealing with honesty. Then, 3.2 briefly allows us to see Othello be a general, the thing he is best at being.

So a revision: “In any Shakespeare play, there is no more important scene than act 3, scene 2.”

James Seth, Oklahoma State University
When Merchants Became Actors: Why the East India Company Performed Shakespeare in Sierra Leone

Seth opened with a passage from the journal of trader of the East India Company recounting royal meetings, a Hamlet performance, and an elephant hunt. It is very well likely might a forgery, but is cited as the first performance of Hamlet outside of Europe. The physical journal that recounts this has been lost, throwing the accounts of performance into doubt. Many scholars doubt that a traders could have staged such complex play.

Seth is less concerned with the veracity of these accounts than what these accounts tell us about the culture of performance on trade ships. These performances might have been signs of peace and means of earning favor, and were certainly not impossible for those used to performing for foreign powers.

There are other accounts of “very fine entertainment” from other, less contested, journalistic travel narratives. The EIC had their own script to follow when meeting foreign dignitaries in order to form trading relationships. English merchants played the roles of host and guest constantly, and their safety and success depended upon the skill in their performance. Giving kind entertainment allowed the traders to bring new products, and possibly Shakespeare, around the world.

Nell McKeown and Stephanie Donowho, The University of Texas at Austin
Foul Fiends of France: Staging Interpretations of Joan of Arc and Margaret of Anjou

NcKeown and Donowho presented a two women show consisting of the scenes with two of Shakespeare’s most tyrannical French women. They looked to make them sympathetic and morally justified.

In the text, Joan is wildly incoherent. To make her sympathetic, they believed what she said about herself. Although the men challenge her chastity, Joan only claims sexual behavior when threatened with death. One of the difficult scenes was Joan’s rejection of her father. Interestingly, Joan does not speak at all until her father threatens to die with her, making her renouncement an attempt to save her father’s life. The second difficult scene is the moment with the fiends; what if this is the first time Joan has reached out to the devil instead of to god? In a moment a doubt and desperation, she listens to the accusations of those around her of witchcraft and tries to invoke witch craft. She even says, “help me this once” helping the interpretation that she had not used demons before. OCS actor Abbi Hawk performed the roles with this lens of interpretation. The scholars admitted that this interpretation “fights the text.”

Margaret has strong similarities with Joan in their politics, war tactics, sexual aggression, and they are both French. Margaret even enters immediately after Joan exits to die. Where Joan is virtuous, Margaret decides to “earn her titles” that the men give them. “They have a shared experience of disempowerment and danger.” The only thing that makes Joan and Margaret monstrous is their gender.

The harshest scene for Margaret is when Margaret kills York. York does not have a good record: he killed Joan and did not care that she might have been pregnant. Margaret appeals to the audience to remember all of his wrongs. She is not a murderer, but giving justice.

Playing these women as evil is interesting, but not the only choice for interpretation.

William Proctor Williams, University of Akron
Cecily Neville’s Parenting Skills

Williams began by giving a brief history of the life of Cecily Neville, the mother of Richard III and his brothers. Although she is important, she seldom appears in historical plays, one of the few exceptions being Shakespeare’s Richard III.

One of her most famous scenes, in act four scene four, is when she curses Richard III on his way to Bosworth; however, this story has no basis in fact. Nevertheless, this moment is excellent theater even if it is political propaganda. OCS actors John Harrell and Abbi Hawk staged the moment. Although the cursing is not historical, the Duchess’ opposition to Edward’s marriage is historical. Again, the actors staged this moment from Haywood’s play.

Despite slight reconciliation, there was never a full forgiveness. Neither of her sons listened to her advice, despite her desperation. In both cases, her harsh mothering makes great theatre.

Peter Kanelos, Valparaiso University,
Hamlet and the Art of Memory

“Theater is the art of memory” where actors defy the gravitational pull of forgetting lines and cues. Like memory, theater is also transitory. Even our clearest memories are imperfect and fading.

Francis Yeats suggests that Elizabethan theaters might have been “memory palaces.” Memory was understood in spatial terms. For Cicero, the key to memory is sight.

Therefore, the art of memory is the striking arrangement of distinct images in a unique architecture. So Shakespeare arranged theater properties in such a manner. Hamlet is Shakespeare’s play most focused on memory, and indeed it was branded into the mind of Elizabethan audiences by previous versions of the story.

Shakespeare interrogates memory in Hamlet through a number of artful emblems scattered throughout the play. Memory is mentioned from Hamlet’s first scene to the final scene: “Heaven and earth, must I remember”… “Rights of memory in this kingdom.”

Memory itself instigates the action, since the ghost is a figure of memory. The ghost calls Hamlet to remember, not vengeance. After the ghostly encounter, Hamlet looks to write down all that has happened, rather than grasp his sword. Of course, memory is always contested, as we see when Ophelia attempts to return “remembrances.” A manner of madness was even called “forgetting oneself.” Most famously, the skull represents remembering death, or more specifically, remember Hamlet remembering death. Perhaps forgetting might have been better. Looking at death, Hamlet does not think of his father, but a fool.

Using the signet ring of his father to avoid death and return to Elsinore, Hamlet comes into his own title, but also forgets his mission; neither his father nor the mission are mentioned again in play.

(Kanelos barely finished his sentence as the bear stalked across the stage to pounce.)

— Mary Finch
MLitt Student at MBC Shakespeare and Performance

Blackfriars Conference 2015 — Lunch and Learn Session: Meet and Drink with MBC Shakespeare and Performance

Today’s Lunch and Learn session, Meet and Drink with Mary Baldwin College Shakespeare & Performance hosts, all of whom are S&P instructors: Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen, Dr. Paul Menzer, Professor Doreen Bechtol, Dr. Matt Davies, and Professor Janna Segal.  Dr. Menzer, director of the program, opened the session by mentioning the opportunity for prospective students to attend the MBC Shakespeare & Performance program.  He said the “&” denotes the new and original approach to learning Shakespeare in training students to be both practitioners ‘&’ scholars: “Above all, what we study here is in collaboration,” Dr. Menzer stated.  Several of the S&P program’s alumni next introduced themselves to the congregation, and this entry lists each one in the following paragraph.

Jemma Alix Levy, Assistant Professor with Washington and Lee University was the first alumna to speak to session attendees about MBC’s Shakespeare & Performance program.  She discussed how the program’s “marriage” between scholarship and practice attracted her to undertake it and earn both of its degrees, the M.Litt (Master of Letters) and the MFA (Master of Fine Arts).  She will present the devised show, “Believe None of Us”, which the conference’s program describes as, “An exploration of Shakespeare’s three Hamlets,”  late Friday night.  Casey Caldwell was the next alumnus to speak.  He is completing his PhD in English at Northwestern University.  He thanks the program for giving him the scholarly and intellectual foundation to speak to everyone he encounters in academia as well as to members of Chicago’s performing community.  He said The Blackfriars Playhouse gave him an awareness of the role that a performing space plays in helping to achieve a greater understanding of Shakespeare and Early Modern texts.  Alumnus Rick Blunt, the next to speak, now performs with OCS as one of its regular cast members.  He discussed the help MBC S&P program’s faculty gave him the help he needed to write his first thesis as well as train him to perform in an ensemble.  Alumna Katherine Mayberry, Class of ’07, is now the Executive Director of Pigeon Creek Shakespeare, Michigan.  She is an Adjunct Professor at her undergraduate alma mater, Grand Valley State University, and in addition she freelances as a dramaturg.  She expressed that the MBC S&P student community remains a vital part of her life and work.

Natalia Wallace, a current MFA candidate announced her upcoming performance in the original show, “One Woman Town” by her fellow “Sweet Wag” (fellow MFA candidate) Merlyn Q. Sell.  The show debuts tonight (Thursday) in the Blackfriars Playhouse at 11:30 pm.  Wallace talked about her experiences in her first two years with the program.  She wrote her M.Litt thesis on neuroscience, and she expressed her gratitude for the S&P faculty’s help and how she now incorporates what she learned in her first two years into her MFA year.  Patrick Aaron Harris, MFA candidate, also a “Sweet Wag” was the next to speak, and he shared with his listeners how another S&P alumnus he knew from the theatrical community of which Harris was a member suggested that he consider enrolling in MBC’s S&P program.   He mentioned how the S&P faculty supported him on his thesis idea about hipsters.

After the S&P alumni shared their stories, Dr. Menzer introduced the program’s founder, Dr. Cohen to discuss the creation of the Shakespeare & Performance program.  Professor Cohen wanted Mary Baldwin College to help with the Blackfriars Playhouse.  The college agreed to supporting the playhouse, and Dr. Cohen thanked his colleagues for sending him people who now constitute a “community of helpers.”  The ‘&’ of “S&P denotes the intersection of performance with metrical and textual work, he said.

Dr. Menzer then introduced Dr. Matt Davies to discuss the third year of the S&P program, the MFA year.  MFA training reinforces “disciplinarity” and “individuality,” Dr. Davies explained.  He stated what is the program’s major innovation in its training approach with the following analogy: actors preparing for a role ask of their characters whom they portray, “What do I want?”  Dr. Davies adapted that fundamental question into “What do we need?” to better help a producing theatrical company in facing what he sees as its essential challenge.   He then went on to describe the program’s training model as one consisting of three “pillars.”  The first pillar of the model is collaboration.  The second pillar is participation in the company’s ongoing discussion and then making decisions as an ensemble.  The final pillar is employabliity, which for the purposes of today’s globally competitive and ever-changing marketplace, Dr. Davies defines as “entrepreneurship.”  The MFA program, Dr. Davies concluded, is both a class and a professional training program.

Doreen Bechtol next spoke, discussing the S&P program’s operational perspective.  She discussed the May Term at the start of the MFA year in which her students put together their upcoming year’s season in just three weeks.  The S&P program, she informed her listeners, subsidizes several internships with other Shakespearean companies presenting students with additional training options before they return in August at the start of the MFA year.  The first production of the training year is the “devised show,” which Bechtol explained is concerned primarily in helping the new student company it to find its voice.  The goal of the MFA company’s next show of the season is to tour schools and show school students in their audience “how accessible Shakespeare can be.”  Next on the season’s program is a small-scale touring show in which the MFA troupe is divided into two companies who perform at community and arts centers.  Next, Bechtol informed her listeners, is the Renaissance Show whose goal is to stage a production under conditions which are as close to those with which the original Blackfriars actors worked in Shakespeare’s day.  This includes actors having to use cue scripts instead of providing each actor with a complete copy of the whole play as is standard practice today.  The MFA company proceeds from that staging challenge to performing in a guest-directed show.  The goal here is to develop professional ties with the theater community by working with one of that community’s veteran directors.  Ultimately, the MFA training year culminates in a final production as well as “final chapter,” which Professor Bechtol explained can either take the form of a thirteen-minute conference or as a publishable work for a book which the MFA students author.

Janna Segal who is with both the S&P and the MBC undergraduate Theater Department, teaches the May Term course, “Company Management and Company Dramaturgy.”  She discussed company partnerships, such as that of MBC’s with OCS.  She searched extensively to find other graduate training programs in Theater and found only six MFA programs with “mentored professional stage experience” through full-time, professionally-performing regional theaters, including the S&P program.  Only four of these programs, she discovered, have MFA’s available in Performance and Production, and she found that all of these programs include Shakespeare as part of their training.  Only the Shakespeare Theater Company, she found, also includes other Early Modern theater works in addition to Shakespeare as part of its training, but it is an acting-only MFA degree.  The MBC S&P MFA training program, Professor Segal went on to explain, is the only such program to combine dramaturgy, collaboration and company management into its MFA curriculum.

Dr. Menzer brought the session to a close by mentioning the Shakespeare Intensive which is held on the first weekend in June to give prospective students an idea of what the S&P training program does in this community.  He then opened the floor briefly to questions.

–Bill Leavy, S&P M.Litt Student, blogger.

A Special Note from Sarah Enloe

You know, I don’t have a lot of time to think about things during conference week.  Especially the first day, Cass, Kim, and I put out a lot of (minor) fires and get into a groove. Then, things ease up a little. But, as I sat down (computer open, head set on to catch emergencies and deal with all the things), in the room where we get to work, and as I listened to some of the top scholars in the field, surrounded by the other 250 people who will be participating as presenters and auditors of this beast that we call the Blackfriars Conference, I took the time to breathe. And see. And hear. And I am so grateful.

Don’t miss our live blogs or our live streaming (even if you catch them late), but know that there is nothing like being in that room, with actors and scholars conversing in the way that I think (or hope) we all wish happened much more often. The merging of pedagogy and practice creates brilliant presentations by thinkers selected only on the merits of their ability to compose a 300 word abstract which goes before a reading committee. We keep the name, institution, and, indeed, position of the author of the abstract a secret from the “blind” committee (as skeptical as some participants are that it it exists — and that it chose them!).  Based only on the merit of their ability to express concisely an idea that engages performance and early modern theatre, we offer them one of 66 plenary slots, each of 10-13 minutes, at the conference.  They can choose to employ actors in their paper to help show their thesis, and this is when things get really interesting.  Watching our acting colleagues (who are contracted for 48 hours a week–not including all of the lines they are memorizing for next season or the additional research and preparation they do) engage with scholars who have questions about process and choices is edifying in the highest degree. And the OCS actors, who engage with the scholars we are honored to have in attendance, even as presenters themselves, make this conference a unique and exceptional experience.

Yesterday was my 10 year anniversary with the American Shakespeare Center. It also marked the beginning of my sixth conference, and the fifth I am honored to manage.  It has been a wonderful ride and I am looking forward to the next few days, and, who knows? the next 10 years, too.  

–Sarah Enloe
OCS Director of Education