Keynote: Ayanna Thompson

Hello everyone, and thank you for joining the OCS blog for today’s Keynote speaker today, Liz is here to blog this session from ten thirty in the morning until eleven thirty in the morning. Our Keynote speaker today is Ayanna Thompson of George Washington University. Today, she will be speaking on Reading Backwards from Morrison to Shakespeare: Desdemona/Othello. John Attig sponsors this session.

First, Sarah Enloe, OCS Director of Education, comes out and introduces our very first conference sponsor, John Attig. We thank him for all of the really cool new events. Enloe also encourages everyone to get to the Lunch and Learn at Masonic as soon as possible after the Keynote ends at eleven thirty today. She also encourages scholars to fill out some prompts from Antony and Cleopatra to help with the staging session tomorrow. Finally, she advises presenters to email their presentations to [email protected]

Next, Dr. Ralph Cohen introduces Thompson, a Professor of English at George Washington University and Trustee of the Shakespeare Association of America. He enumerates her published works, both as an author and editor, most of which focus on race and Shakespeare. These include Passing Strange: Shakespeare, Race, and Contemporary America, and Colorblind Shakespeare: New Perspectives on Race and Performance. Her current focus is on two in-progress books, one of which centers on Peter Seller’s form of directing. Dr. Cohen emphasizes that Thompson brings her research and scholarship puts her findings into practice in the real world. He ends his introduction and points out the largely white audience at the conference today and stresses the need for Thompson’s work today.

Thompson thanks Dr. Cohen for “possibly the best introduction she has ever had” (a rough paraphrase) and jumps right into her speech. Thompson points to Desdemona as an empowered and empowering female character, yet also disempowered and complicit to the Moor, Othello. Most performances choose to place Desdemona on one these two poles. Thompson mentions the misogynistic tendencies in both Iago and Othello throughout the play and shares an example of Iago’s flawed logic. She then states that scholars have grappled with how to portray these tendencies to modern audiences along with how to portray Desdemona.

This talk focuses on a specific form of adaptation of Othello, that of Toni Morrison’s Desdemona. Thompson clarifies that she believes that appropriation has a more direct and pointed purpose than adaptation. She then explains that she believes that re-vision takes appropriation a step further by breaking new ground. Thompson follows this up with an introduction to several late twentieth century adaptations and re-visions of Othello, including Goodnight, Juliet, Good Morning, Desdemona and Desdemona: A Play about a Handkerchief.

Morrison and Sellars collaborated to give Desdemona a full voice in the actress Rokia Traoré, who plays Barbary. Desdemona, in this production, is enigmatic, but also beautiful. Here, Desdemona’s voice dominates the play. The original intent for this production was for Morrison and Sellars to create a companion piece to Othello to show at secondary schools.

Thompson shares a story where she talked with Sellars’ The assistant told Thompson that the production team asked her to come in based on her research and work on casting. Thompson jokingly states that when she saw what was happening, she said, “Oh shit!”

Thompson explains that Morrison wanted to create a Desdemona that was different from any Shakespearean production with a great emphasis on music because “if Othello is about vision, Desdemona is about sound.” The goal was to unbind the story from time. The play takes place after death, in a “timeless” world. Desdemona knows more after death than she did during her life. Morrison’s response in this re-vision helps the audience reconcile with the tragedy of Othello that Iago brings to the life of Desdemona and the other characters.

Thompson explains that she offers a less optimistic view on the Othello/Desdemona binary. She believes that the lack of dialogue with other feminist writings has stunted development of new re-visions of Othello. She states that she sees the play as more of an event than a play, which impacts the play’s reproducibility. In addition, Thompson questions the ultimate utility of revisiting Othello.

As a performance product, Desdemona is a great experience. She describes the mostly-bare set, with the actress Traoré playing her guitar with teenage backup singers. Thompson describes these backup singers as upbeat and “in their own… play.” The stage is black with white costumes for the performers made of Malian linen. Projections on the background translate the text into the language of the location of the play, such as French. The actress playing Desdemona plays all of the other characters, with the exceptions of Cassio, who appears as a projected voice and Barbary – whose name is revealed to be Sa’aran [sic] – played by another actress. Thompson then plays a short clip of the performance with a song by Traoré for the audience.

In Desdemona, Desdemona and Othello’s mothers speak to each other. While the two women come to no clear resolution, but do come to an understanding about the different worlds from which they come. However, they cannot connect through religion. Desdemona’s mother wants to kneel and pray for her daughter, while Othello’s mother desires to make sacrifices for her son’s death. This found understanding comes through dialogue and appears again and again.

Thompson further talks about the character of Desdemona in the production Desdemona. Desdemona is the focus of the performance. Her parents named her “misery,” but she will not be passive to the misogynistic society which she was born into. Her character is “inquisitive, forceful, and direct.” Her insights alone are more hollow and shallow than in her conversations with other characters. These engagements with other characters allow her to explore herself and others. Here, Desdemona and Emilia gain a greater understanding with each other and Desdemona moves from judgment to understanding with Emilia. Time also allows Desdemona and Othello to gain a greater understanding of each other. Othello, in Desdemona’s afterlife timeline, tells his wife of his days in the army on the field. Othello describes to Desdemona how he and Iago raped a woman with a young boy viewer. He reveals their shame from this act, but also states that the memory will live in another: that of the young viewer. While Desdemona does not forgive him, but states that she will remain committed to him.

Here, in Desdemona, “we are not simply left with tragedy.” Thompson stresses that we get the apologies we have waited years for in this production. This re-vision allows for a resolution and the concrete possibility for another world. Desdemona’s interactions with other women creates a “queer space,” particularly with Barbary. Desdemona attempts to connect with Barbary; however, Barbary does not reveal an interest in further engagement with Desdemona. Desdemona includes her own suffering with Barbary’s suffering, which invites several interpretations of the connection of the suffering between these two women, including cultural appropriation.

Thompson states that the performance mode of Desdemona does not bridge the gap between sound and vision. Here, the potentials for the play contract, rather than expand, due to this limited scope. In addition, Thompson describes Traoré as the cornerstone of this production, and points out that currently the play does not have a run outside of her. In contrast, the production changed the actress for Desdemona at one point. This text, like many other re-visions, remains insulated and does not connect with other re-visions of Othello.

Thompson further stresses that Desdemona attempts to give a voice to the absent black woman in Othello through Traoré’s portrayal of Barbary.

Thompson, in quoting a woman who did not want her husband to play Othello in a performance, states that “This play is a struggle.” She then reflects that perhaps that should be the tagline for Othello, garnering a huge laugh from the audience.

Most revisionists have turned a blind eye to the breadth of Othello re-visions, particularly female-written re-visions, who seem to resist reading other re-visions of the play. Thompson notes that there is less of an intertextual dialogue between multiple present texts and a greater focus on the past original text, the Shakespearean text, and the present text in creation by the re-visionist.

Thompson notes that Traoré often talks about her travels between Mali and France and the greater death in childbirth among her friends in Mali. She has several concerns about death, a topic which she sings about a great deal in Desdemona. Thompson wonders if the play is the proper venue for these concerns that Traoré portrays within the contexts of Shakespeare’s story. She concludes by suggesting the possibility that Othello must stay on the shelf for this purpose, in order to fully explore this voice.

Blackfriars Conference 2015 — Plenary Session 4

Welcome to the fourth plenary session, and the first of day two of the conference! I am Mary Finch and I will be live blogging this session that runs from 9:00 – 10:15 am. Thanks for joining us!

Hsian-Chun Chu, National Changhua University of Education
Performing Magic on StageL Conventions, Strategies, and Audience Participation

Chu began by defining magic in order to understand the term correctly: “the art of producing illusion as entertainment by use of sleight of hand, deceptive devices, and so on.” Using magic in plays can both intrigue and horrify audiences, and often contributed to the success of a play on the Elizabethan stage.

Sorcerer Plays, or magus plays, were a popular genre that featured a powerful magician at the center of events. The events normal included a search for power, a rivalry, a quest for advantage, and success (or failure) or the quest. In these plays, there were two kinds of magic: spiritual magic (which was more benign and used nature as a source of power) and demonic magic (which involved the invocation of otherworldy creatures). So the plays used literary and folklore traditions surrounding magic.

Chu then discussed the strategies for performing this magic on stage. The fantastical spectacles often use equipment, such as we see in The Tempest (a staff) and Doctor Faustus (books). Chu then analyzed an image from a title page of Doctor Faustus and images surrounding the magician: robes, books, a staff, and so forth.

Using Prospero as an example, Chu looked at the text to look at the appearance of a great magician. When Prospero removes his magic clothes he changes from being a magician to being a man. The robes were a means of transformation, and reflected the Elizabethan tradition of connecting clothes to status. Prospero also uses books, another sign of status and magic. The staff, which is only mentioned at the end of the text, is also used in The Tempest. Like a king’s scepter, it is a symbol of power and authority.

Jumping to the conclusion, Chu was interrupted by the bear.

Lauren Shepherd, University of Toronto
“Supposed to be distracted”: Performing the simple, mad, distracted lunatic

Shepherd went to England to examines the language of court records of institutions housing mental patients during the Early Modern period. These records allow actors and directors to make a connection between real life and the text of plays.

Starting with the word “lunatic,” Shepherd read several accounts of individuals being described as such and sent to Bethlehem. The origins of the word attributes the madness to the moon. Although not limited to women, the word was more commonly used to describe women. Looking at Twelfth Night, Shepherd asked actors to stage Malvolio’s diagnosis of being lunatic (Patrick Harris as Malvolio, Ian Charles as Feste).

Shepherd then turned to the term distracted, a word more commonly used to describe men than women. Hamlet’s madness frequently is described as such. Again, actors staged the moment when Hamlet considers murder (Patrick Harris as Claudius, Ian Charles as Hamlet). Distracted generally communicates not knowing how to behave, rather than a loss of control.

Finally, Shepherd discussed simple and ignorant, which are permanent rather than temporary (as lunatic and distracted were understood to be). Simple was often paired with distracted for female patients and alleviated some of the blame for their behavior. Again though, Shakespeare attributes these phrases to men more than women, in contrast of the common tradition. Shepherd staged the final monologue of Richard II (Marshall Garrett) as an example.

Temporary instances of madness are described as lunacy and distraction, while simple and ignorant indicate a permanent condition that is outside the control of the individual.

Sara B. T. Thiel, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
“Cushion come forth”: Materializing Pregnancy on the Stuart Stage

Thiel described the “chaste nymphs” of The Golden Age by Heywood which documents pregnancy, as being hidden and then discovered. In a dumb show, the characters undress and pregnancy is seen by all on stage and, maybe, the audience. The convention of an all male audience raises questions about what exactly everyone saw. This paper looks at the intersection between the boy actor and the pregnant character.

Pregnancy was a highly visible stage convention, and Thiel plans to look at possible ways of staging the pregnant body. In some cases, as in The Heir, costumes are removed to deconstruct gender and reveal a fake pregnancy or a disguise. Actors Marshall Garrett, Patrick Harris, and Ian Charles staged the moment of discovery with the stage direction “He flings the cushion at him” giving us a clue as to how they staged the pregnancy. The OED has a separate definition for this use of cushion, specifically known as “Mary’s Cushion” after Tudor Mary who was frequently mistakenly thought to be pregnant.

Shakespeare’s Henry IV part 2 also has a moment of claimed pregnancy when Doll Tearsheet is arrested for murder and the officer refers to a cushion.

In The Golden Age, the text draws attention to the pregnant body; actors again stage the moment, but this time the actor’s belly is upstage and therefore out of sight and the actors’ reactions tells the audience what has happened. In a second staging the actors faced forward allowing the audience to see the prosthetic belly. In other plays, the birth of a child reveals the pregnancy, but in this play it is the physical swelling that signals pregnancy.

Looking at this moment from The Golden Age illustrates how pregnancy can both create and dismantle the costume of the boy actor on the stage.

Claire Bourne, Virginia Commonwealth University
Turn It Up (Or Down): Dramatic Action and Typographic Experiment in Early Modern Playbooks

Bourne begins by challenging the assumption that 17th century printers were unconcerned with the typographic design of printing their plays. The awkwardness of the page shows “active experimentation” rather than indifference.

The turn up/over method showed that printers considered the relationship between dialogue and stage directions, and the nature of verse. Printers attempted to account for action on stage and make it legible to readers. In the earliest examples, the occasional brief stage direction was simply set to the edge of the page. As time goes on, stage directions become more detailed and more carefully situated on the page and varied in font, corresponding with the dialogue that should accompany action. Combing lines was also an economical decision; less lines meant less pages which meant a cheaper printing.

Bourne showed several examples of printers using parenthesis to indicate how the stage direction relates to lines other than the ones with which it shares space. In some cases, there are multiple of these where the stage direction spans several lines.

The printers used these cues to show the integral relationship between the interlexical business and the dialogue. The use of different alignment, font, and conventions were not meant to create division between the words and the directions, but meant to be legible and easy to understand.

Claire Kimball, independent scholar
Important Silence: Dumb Shows in Dekker and Middleton’s The Bloody Banquet

Kimball opened by announcing that The Bloody Banquet was staged for the first time in four hundred years this summer in Washington DC. As the title suggests, the play was served with lots of gore to a positive acceptance. Within this play, are two dumb shows which has caused scholars to question how they came to be in the play. Kimball asserts that these dumb shows are not textually inferior, but a moment for actors to take creative liberty.

The first dumb show gives exposition, and the second gives important plot and reviews major events; both are [paired with lines from the Chorus. Based on stagings and readings that remove dumb shows, it seems that many think these are antiquated and redundant.

“We don’t always trust them” — scholars and directors are unwilling to fully trust the text (and the dumb shows).

In staging the dumb shows, Kimball recounts how actors must give it an honest chance without making fun of it, even when the events are seemingly absurd. Kimball used actors to contrast the use of a chorus and the use of a dumb show (actors Ian Charles, Merlyn Snell, Meredith Johnson).

One audience member from the performance in Washington DC listed the dumb show as one of the most branding images of the play, equal to the gruesome cannibalistic violence.

Kimball closes by insisting that dumb shows are in the text for a reason, and that directors have a responsibility to stage the silent moments seriously, in order to see if they are worth performing.

“Pantomime performances are thorny, but inventive spaces,” and should not be lightly cast aside.

— Mary Finch
MLitt Student at MBC Shakespeare and Performance

Blackfriars Conference 2015 – Wake-Up Workshop: ROADS to Rhetoric

Morning!  Whitney Egbert here to live blog the start of our second full day here at the Blackfriars Conference.  Our session is being run by Cass Morris, the OCS Academic Resources Manager.  The session runs from 8:00 to 8:45 on the stage in the theatre.

Cass will be introducing us to the way that the OCS teaches rhetoric.  She starts by giving us her background on rhetoric, coming from her background in Latin and then learning in college that we do it in English too.  She points out the need to start this much early to help students see the pattern of what is going on and how we can use language.

ROADS is the OCS’s methods stands for:

Repetition – it is built into our brains, we cling to it as it feels natural to us.  The most basic repetition is that of sound.  She gives us an example from Midsummer with the repetition of the “b” sound that sounds like a baby or a brooke or a sheep.  The actor can then make a decision of what it means – nerves or brilliance in this example – to color the character.  The next type of repetition is the repetition of a set of words – the first time we hear it, we don’t know; the second one we recognize it and anticipate the third (which is our natural preference as well).  Again actor choice of where the repetition comes from motivating the choice.  A third kind of repetition is structural – using a piece from Julius Caesar, Morris identifies how we start to see a character that understands and uses rhetoric on both other characters and the audience.

Omission – Morris points out first that this can sometimes be the hardest to wrap your hands around.  Omission is the idea where a word is left out but your brain fills in the gap.  Or, as in an example from Othello, where antecedents are left out by one character (Iago in this example) to get another character (Othello) to fill in something on their own.  The advanced version of this is paralipsis where a layer of meaning is left out.  The final version of omission is figurative where Morris uses an example from Romeo and Juliet when Mercutio dies and speaks of the stab wound as “a scratch.”

Addition – The first kind Morris speaks about is the descriptive addition, where a character adds in an abundance of words instead of the simplest version.  Morris uses an example from Macbeth where the horses break out but the description tell us more and more about the horses themselves as well as the situation at hand.  Unnecessary but descriptive.  The second kind of addition is the corrective – “ladies, or fair ladies” from Midsummer.  Really allows for character choice with the actor.

Direction – Morris starts by saying that this is what trips students up the most about Shakespeare.  By direction she means the syntax of Shakespeare, the ways in which the words are put together.  Using an example from Henry V where Henry saves his verb until the end.  Morris mentions that Dr. Cohen has a theory that many of the upper class characters might do this because they would have spoken Latin as well and fall into the habit of that syntax.  Or in this example, how Henry might be doing it on purpose to mess with the French ambassador.  Morris moves on to mention that direction is not just accidental disorder but can also be purposeful – Claudius’ open speech is potentially not meant to be understood.  Direction can also be purposeful to build emotion for the audience.  Morris uses the opening prologue from Henry V to show how a build up or a build down can change the emotion that the actor gives to the audience. Another kind of direction is contrast – the two choices that an actor poses.

Substitution – The first kind of substitution is figurative – the most common form is the metaphor: “share the crown,” “oh this accursed hand that did this deed,” etc.  Often it creates a removal of agency from the character.  The next kind of substitution is one kind of grammar for another – a noun for a verb or vie versa.  This is a natural phenomenon that is prevalent in our language today – I’m going to text someone, I’m going to google something, etc.  In Shakespeare, often the characters that do this are verbally intelligent – Cleopatra for example.  The next kind of substitution is a form of sentence for another – a statement becomes a question for example.  Questions are used to engage characters and the audience.  Malapropism is the final form of substitution – where a word that sounds like the correct word is said instead.

We wrap up with a handout describing all the things Morris spoke about and giving resources for furthering what you know about rhetoric.  Or you can buy the flashcards that Morris developed and are sold in the gift shop or online from the OCS.

And we are off to the rest of the day!

Blackfriars Conference 2015 — Plenary Session 3

Welcome to the third plenary session, and the final session for day one of the conference! I am Mary Finch and I will be live blogging this session that runs from 4:15-5:30 pm. Thanks for joining us!

Jeanne McCarthy, Georgia Gwinnett College
The “Studious” Actor in Sixteenth-Century Popular Theatre; Or, Reconsidering the Influence of the Grammar School on Popular Culture

McCarthy begins by observing how several of Shakespeare’s scenes discuss literacy and study, most notably the mechanicals in A Midsummer’s Nights Dream. While most players could read, not all of them could and certainly not their entire audience. Progress towards literacy throughout Elizabethan England was inconsistent. Players attracted those who followed the tradition of an oral culture with its pageantry in costumes and plot.

Turning towards the school drama, McCarthy discusses the influences of the philosopher Quintilian. McCarthy explains that the works of the schools were, like Shakespeare’s plays, deeply literary and performative due to the influence of Quintilian, which raised the bar for performance of adult actors as well. The textual study that grew out of Quintilian’s philosophy focused on feeling, not just displaying. The pedagogy of Quintilian also focused on empathy, encouraging students to imagine what their characters were feeling or thinking.

McCarthy then highlighted how Hamlet’s disdain for indicative acting follows along with the acting philosophy of Quintilian. The similarities between Quintilian and the methods Stanislavsky and A. C. Bradley challenge how we view acting from the Elizabethan time.

Ann Thompson, King’s College London
Chests and Trunks on the Early Modern Stage

Thompson begins by discussing the most notable, and dramatic, use of a chest in Cymbeline. Thoughout Elizabethan plays, trunks and chests are used for numerous reasons, benign and malevolent, for purposes ranging from hiding identity to storing gods to a discreet location for illicit sex. Today, trunks most often contain a body. Interestingly, both trunk and chest are terms for the human body.

Thompson elaborates on the use of the words in the context of plays. The trunks can also refer to parts of trees as well as places to store things, according to OED which lists storage as one of the final uses of the word. The term only refers to furniture six times in Shakespeare’s work. It is far more likely to refer to a human body. In many cases, he puns with the word invoking both meanings.

In contrast, chest more commonly refers to the non-corporeal meaning, but still appears as a referent for the body occasionally, in Shakespeare’s texts. The variety of meanings and contexts for trunks and chests provide a wealth of interpretive decisions, either referenced or brought on stage.

Thompson concluded by observing that a trunk on stage would be an ideal hiding place from the Bear.

Kerry Cooke, James Madison University
Address for Success: Epistolary Theory in Twelfth Night

Cooke plans to argue that Shakespeare did use letters for dramatic effects, not just to convey meaning or act as a messenger. She neatly broke her lecture into three parts:

Part 1: “Theoretically Speaking”

To begin, Cooke highlighted the ways that letters reflected the social hierarchy of Early Modern England. In letter writing, status of the writer and receiver governed the features and style of the writing. Letters contained a number of formalities, one of them being the use of a secretary hand or italic hand. Everything from status, content, and gender determined what handwriting was most appropriate. Cooke further explained the content and recipients of the letter even determined the alignment of the words on the page.

“Letter writing was a goal orientated activity” where conventions were a means to success.

Part 2: The Twelfth Time You’ve Seen this Scene

Cooke draws upon the moment when Malvolio examines the letter he assumes is from Olivia, using actor Marshall Garrett to read the famous lines. Commenting as Garret reads, Cooke shows how Malvolio’s description of the letter draws in the audience. A “lady’s hand” means the letter is written in italics, not just that it appears feminine. Malvolio then acknowledges the other formalities such as the waxen seal,  which indicates privacy along with authorship.The interspersion of prose and verse fills the page, and the salutation, signature, and post-script complete the physical image of the letter, along with the written message.

Part 3: All Dressed Up

Looking at the effect of the letter on Malvolio, Cooke shows how successfully Maria considered her audience, the haughty Malvolio. Maria used the italic hand of an upper class woman, framed her letter appropriately on the page, and created a signature that allures to Malvolio. According to Cook, Malvolio did not misread the letter because he was proud or lustful, but he read it exactly as Maria intended it, making it successful letter.

Shannon Kelley, Fairfield University
Crooked Trees and Mistresses: Staging the Contreblason in Lyly’s Endymion

Kelley begins by asking as to imagine the pillar on the stage as a tree, which actor Marshall Garrett will fall in love with during the course of the lecture. (His moving performance caused interspersed laughter throughout.)

Kelley establishes that while stage trees are not rare, no playwright uses them as frequently with as much specificity as Lyly. The trees are not just a prop, but also a symbol invoking romance and the ideas of Ovid. They can even suffer violence. Some trees even speak in the plays.

In Endymion, Sir Tophas genuinely renounces young women in favor of older women, which prepares audiences for his romantic interest in the stage tree later on since he already resists societal expectations of love and romance. The use of Aspen specifically, a smooth yet loud tree, reflects women full of talk and noise, just the sort of older women Tellus prefers. Kelley shares a myth about the devil giving women the gift (or curse) of speech through an Aspen leaf strengthening the connection between the tree and Tophas for Elizabethan audiences.

However, Kelley goes on, Tophas’ love towards the tree becomes too much. Dipsas’ transformation back into a person is met with disdain from Tophas rather than adoration. This disappointment comes not only from the loss of the tree, but also that she is no longer “crone,” who he prefers to the Petrarchan ideal of beauty.

Sarah Neville, Ohio State University
Death Properties in Renaissance Drama: Coffins

Neville opens her speech by challenging the long hold assumption that there are numerous skulls on stage during the gravedigger scene–looking at stage directions, there is only a requirement for a shovel. Comparing the stage directions in the quarto and folio publications, Neville points out the differences in how Ophelia’s body is brought on stage. There is a long standing tradition assuming that the coffin of Ophelia must be open. Yet, Hamlet cannot see her and does not realize that it is Ophelia until Laertes identifies her. This examples embodies the problems of dealing with corpses and coffins on stage.

First, in order to have a corpse, someone had to bring it on stage, and then off again. Neville mused that the use of severed heads alleviated the weight of transporting bodies around the stage, and perhaps is why Shakespeare (and other authors) used them frequently.

This paper addressed the death problem and the way that Elizabethan play makers learned to solve the issue. The prevalent use of coffins in histories also brought them into comedies, romances, and tragicomedies.

Death properties allowed playwrights to explore the differences between “bodies within boxes, and those without.” Even today, as demonstrated by the process to stage today’s demonstration, dead bodies still present a problem for companies today.

Coffins appear at the start of Henry VI part 1 and Richard II, and Henslowe’s diary shows that they had two coffins in possession. In some cases, the body is left exposed with the more ambiguous stage directions “enter corpse” or the dialogue of the surrounding characters which remarks on the corpse. The most striking entrances of a corpse might be Lear’s carrying of his daughter Cordelia. This contrasts to the bringing of the treacherous daughters that are simply brought in. Several actors demonstrated the different effects of bring a corpse in a container, as opposed to carrying one on.

As Neville described it, “Coffins are a portable discovery space” that can contain doom, revival, and even transformation.

Neville has found that these uses are not only the result of an interest in death, but also a practical use. The increase use of death properties addresses with the problem of corpses, but also contributes to the ambiguity of tragicomedies, bringing death close to the living.

Paige Reynolds, University of Central Arkansas
Performing the Female Body in Macbeth

Reynolds started with anecdote about ways to avoid the “Curse”–one production blessed the shoes the actors wore to ward off ill will. A lesser known curse, but one as serious, surrounds the challenge of staging and dealing with the body of Lady Macbeth.

Reading Lady Macbeth as the embodiment of sexuality and moral depravity makes playing her deeply difficult, since the body of Lady Macbeth should both attract and repulse. The first mention of this curse of this comes from Malcolm’s descriptions of her as beast-like and sexually depraved.

Lady Macbeth’s famous “Unsex me here” speech achieves the opposite when staged; it clearly sexes her with its focus on the body and the repetition of the “come” (which has a disputed erotic history). The erotic performance contradicts the purpose of achieving a cool and detached commitment to ambition. Because of this contradiction, Lady Macbeth’s language and performance frequently registers as a “male fantasy.”

In contrast, Reynolds stresses that Lady Macbeth’s sexuality does not reflect a mental illness, nor can it be a characterization, just like “be seduced” could hardly function as characterization for Macbeth. Emphasizing the powers of seduction reduces Lady Macbeth to the insults of Malcolm.

Finally, the sleep walking scene forecasts Lady Macbeth’s death and exposes her internal struggle, while Macbeth’s struggle becomes more hidden from the audience. The observing doctor and waiting lady act as an audience, scrutinizing the night gown clad female body, and her exposed mind. The curse of figuring out the staging of Lady Macbeth’s sexual body offers as much potential for destruction as the other “Curse.”

— Mary Finch
MLitt student at MBC Shakespeare & Performance

Paper Session II

Hello everyone – this is Liz once again to blog for Paper Session II at the Blackfriars Playhouse. This session is full of great presentations, moderated by Mary Hill Cole of Mary Baldwin College. The presenters, in order, are Stephen Purcell of the University of Warwick with Just Who Do We Think We Are?: Some Models for Practice-as-Research in Shakespeare Studies, Nick Hutchison, a freelance director, with Is This Winning? Thoughts on The Two Noble Kinsmen in Performance, Jess Hamlet of Mary Baldwin College with Q2 Hamlet and its Neighbors, Sid Ray of Pace University with Staging Epilepsy in Othelloand Catherine Loomis of the University of New Orleans with “Sore hurt and bruised”: Visual Damage on the Early Modern Stage. Live-blogging of this session will run from two forty-five to four in the afternoon.

Mary Hill Cole introduces the panel, but it seems that one presenter is missing… She passes the question to Dr. Cohen, and the decision is made to have Stephen Purcell start off the session.

Stephen Purcell: Just Who Do We Think We Are?: Some Models for Practice-as-Research in Shakespeare Studies

Purcell begins with examples of practice as research, such as Mark Rylance’s work of performing Romeo and Juliet lines in monotone and inviting the audience to give an emotional cast upon the performance. He asserts that there seems to be a divide between the practitioner and researcher. Purcell gives the Globe recreation as a case where both practice and research can merge, particularly in how the remodel allows for an investigation of original staging practices. 

Purcell gives three different models for collaboration between the actor and researcher and suggests a fourth model. The first model is the expert and the craftsperson. This model lets the researcher overlook the research and theory, however, this method also sees the actor primarily as a skilled craftsperson. He points out that, in this model, “one of them makes through thinking and the other thinks through making.” The practitioner is the source and the researcher is the witness, in his second model. In a way, he clarifies, his second proposed method is almost the reverse of the first model. Here, theory translates to practice, rather than the other way around. He speaks about anthropological research, collaborative research together, which segues into the third method: co-examiners. In this method, the practitioner and researcher work together to explore. This method allows for an open-ended method. He then suggests a fourth method, that of an academic practitioner that is a never-ending cycle of questioning and searching for answers. Here, the practitioner and researcher are one, simultaneously practicing and researching to ask and answer questions.

Nick Hutchison: Is This Winning? Thoughts on The Two Noble Kinsmen in Performance

Hutchinson talks about working on The Two Noble Kinsmen at a university, during a season when he had the ability to do productions he normally would not be able to do. Previously, he states, much scholarship focused on who wrote which parts of this collaborative play between John Fletcher and William Shakespeare. In his production, Hutchinson wanted to focus on one authorial voice and theorized that Shakespeare relished working with Fletcher. 

Hutchinson brings out OCS actresses Allison Glenzer and Sarah Fallon to perform some segments from The Two Noble Kinsmen, in cross-gendered roles. He argues that the inconsistencies in the authorial voice are inherent in the characters, rather than “dramatically inconsistent.” He believes that these inconsistencies make the characters more human, rather than unbelievable and poorly written. 

Hutchinson then states that the women in The Two Noble Kinsmen are at the heart of the play and the two authors’ intentions. Glenzer and Fallon join Hutchinson again to perform more segments from the play, now as female characters. He speaks about the sexuality of the female characters, particularly Emilia and the Jailer’s Daughter. He speaks of the inherent sexual implications between these two women. To illustrate, Hutchinson has Glenzee and Fallon perform a scene and highlights the inherent sexuality in the dialogue. 

In contrast, he speaks of the boys’ adoration toward these women. He states that, in the end, no one is ultimately happy with their fate. Hutchinson points to the mixture of moods, comedic and tragic, in the play that reinforce the whole of the play. He expresses his hatred for the Morris dance, but then speaks of the courting dance and the “bouncing” in the woods that this portrays. This leads to the dark ending of the play. Hutchinson states that this dark ending illustrates the price of chivalry, because the characters will soon be dead. Hutchinson states when he focused on one voice in the play, rather than the inconsistencies, the true heart of the play became clear.

Jess Hamlet: Q2 Hamlet and its Neighbors

Hamlet starts with reminders that the print and book trade fell, ultimately, into the hands of the publishers. In the early 1600s, publishers judged which plays and texts appealed to patrons more. The second quarto of Hamlet, Hamlet states, appeared on the shelves of Nicholas Ling’s bookshop on Fleet Street. 

The second quarto appears in a short-title catalog on the shelf of this bookshop that worked with about six printers, two in particular more often than the rest. The short-title catalog names other Shakespearean titles surrounding the Q2 Hamlet. These were The First Part of the Contention betwixt the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster, Titus Andronicus,  the first quarto of Hamlet from 1603, and Henry IV. 

Hamlet suggests that, despite the similarity in authorship of Hamlet to the other Shakespearean plays, Gowrie was actually the more interesting of the surrounding books. Many similarities in the revenge plots and strong family ties solidify this assertion. She suggests that the similarities between Hamlet and Gowrie inspired reader to read both books: one as a dramatic text and another as a sort of sensational political writing. 

The first quarto of Hamlet also shared the shelf with the second quarto. This presented, in Hamlet’s words, a “unique marketing challenge.” A bookseller could market the second quarto as an elaboration of the original text. In addition, Q2 also emphasized the original authorship of the second quarto, rather than the performance nature of the first. Hamlet concludes that, without time-travel, we will never know the true story, however, we may speculate.

Sid Ray: Staging Epilepsy in Othello

Ray talks about Act IV, scene i as a sort of epilepsy. She states that Othello takes the position of the starer in this scene and wonders how this moment could bring up questions of perception for the audience, who are the “starers”of the play. 

Ray references the depiction of a falling sickness narrated in Julius Caesar. In Julius Caesar, Cassius narrates Caesar’s falling sickness and uses the narration to feminine Caesar. She states that in contrast, Othello demonstrates this epilepsy onstage. 

Here, Iago works Othello into an epileptic state. She looks at the stage directions, where the folio states that Othello “falls in a trance” versus other editions that state that he simply “falls down.” She talks about the impact of the staging of this scene where a black man writhes on the ground while a white man stands above. Ray acknowledges diagnosis studies and states that many psychologists and other professionals give their ideas on Othello’s condition, all differing in their conclusions. She points out that none of the professionals revert to the beliefs of Shakespeare’s day, which took into account cosmic goings-on and excesses of phlegm. She also talks about Iago’s medical views, through which the audience hears of Othello’s epilepsy, which she sees as dubious. Ray further explains that audiences in Shakespeare’s day believed that the mere sight of a disease passed on the disease. 

Ray then has Rene Thornton Jr. (Othello), Allison Glenzer (Iago), and Sarah Fallon (Cassio) perform this scene from Othello. Ray states that what the audience feels now, involving our history, experiences, and biases, is what the theatre of this scene is all about.

Catherine Loomis:“Sore hurt and bruised”: Visual Damage on the Early Modern Stage.

Loomis talks about visible and physical evidences of violence on the stage. She focuses on Othello, in the scene where Othello strikes his wife. 

Loomis brings Fallon (Lodovico), Glenzer (Emilia), and Thornton (Othello) to stage this scene from Othello. She talks about the use of the word “strike,” which normally shows status and authority. The character striking often has status over the stricken character. She wonders about the effect that a colored mark on Desdemona’s cheek has on an audience. 

The actors, Fallon, Glenzer, and Thornton, stage the scene again, this time with Desdemona applying makeup to indicate a mark from the strike. Loomis then previews of the next scene, where Desdemona can bear the black and blue marks of a bruise through more makeup application. She also states that a bruised Desdemona brings to mind a woman beaten to death. 

The actors then stage this next scene and Loomis points out the language that actively references the bruise from the previous strike. Glenzer and Fallon then stage a scene between Emilia and Desdemona. She asks the audience to focus on how these moments work both dramatically and thematically and the different perceptions audience members gain or lose with the visibility or invisibility of the bruise.

Questions and Answers

A scholar asks the actors what they think about staging the Othello scenes. Fallon states that a physical bruise makes it more apparent that Othello has hurt Desdemona. Thornton states that the use of makeup gave him a physical reaction. Due to another question from a scholar, Fallon reveals that she palmed a tube of makeup in her hand which she squeezed onto her face when she dropped to the ground. She reveals that with talking between scenes, she was able to apply more bruise makeup to make the bruise look darker and different.

A scholar asks a question about outsiders and disabilities in Shakespeare’s plays and if a more accepting society changes the influence of these characters. Ray states that Shakespeare’s audiences most likely saw seizures, which may affect their perception of epilepsy onstage.

A scholar asks how Hutchinson staged the relationship between Emilia and the Woman, or Jailer’s Daughter. He states that he believes that productions often neglect Emilia, and that he wanted to foreground Emilia to bring light to her in the production.

Blackfriars Conference 2015 — Plenary Session 1

Welcome to the first plenary session of the 8th Blackfriars Conference! I’m Cass Morris, and I’ll be live-blogging this session from 1pm-2:15pm. OCS Board Chair Mary McDermott is moderating.

Lars Engle, University of Tulsa
Performing Shameless Performativity in Antony and Cleopatra

Engle opens by stating that “Cleopatra is performative”, and then moves to unpacking what, exactly, that means. He questions the definition of performative and performativity, wondering how nearly it means “theatrical”, and connects it to theorists (Butler and Sedgwick) whose work examines the performing of gender and sexuality. He then discusses how performativity connects to ideas of shame, and posits that it is possible that society has now transferred shame from queer sexuality to those who would shame queer sexuality.

Engle moves to discussing how Cleopatra foregrounds the very idea of performing: “Cleopatra, catching but the least noise of this, dies instantly: I have seen her die twenty times upon far poorer moment.” In 3.2 (selections presented by James Keegan and Sarah Fallon), Cleopatra prepares a performance meant for Antony, instructing Charmian in a story to carry to Antony. She adjusts her performance in 1.3 based on her audience — on how Charmian finds Antony and on his entrance. In doing so, she throws off his pre-planned farewell speech.

Engle marks Cleoaptra’s shift from shameless performativity to an apparently genuine moment of self-searching at “Sir, you and I must part, but that’s not it.” Following, she calls attention to the dangers both of performing and of believing in performativity. “This scene, then, both enacts performativity and anatomizes it.” Engle sees a philosophical warning in Cleopatra’s speech.

Alice Dailey, Villanova University
“I See Dead People”: 2 Henry IV and the Corpse of History

Dailey opens by discussing Nashe’s defense of theatre within Piers Penniless, calling upon the dramatic vitality of Shakespeare’s English history plays. Nashe argues that drama is a medium that can grant the figures of the past immortality, and Dailey notes that scholars have pointed to this passage as proof of Shakespeare’s ability to “make the past present.” She wants to look closer at what is made present and how. On stage, the Talbot Nashe describes in 1 Henry VI is “the walking dead”,

Dailey argues that theatrical revivification restores the dead hero as the subject of the dramatic present, but the subject remains bound to the object of his corpse. History plays stage a representational overlap of anterior and imminent death which argues against claims that theatre can create immortality. Dailey then considers the scene in 2 Henry IV where Morton relates the death of Hotspur to his father Northumberland. In doing so, he “constructs a temporal space in which Percy is both perpetually alive and perpetually dead”, never defeated and never undefeated. The text places the corpse prominently in the speech, with a dual meaning of both Hotspur’s body and the defeated body of the whole army. His metaphors of frozen fish and other motionless objects present a “compressed illustration of how the present of historical theatre unfolds” as a reminder of both deaths that have been and deaths that will be.

Dailey then presents a photo of Lewis Payne shortly before his 1865 execution, noting that, as we see the picture, he is both dead and going to die, and she connects this with the image Morton paints of Hotspur alive and a Hotspur who will die. “The heroes of the past do not transcend the corpse of history but are continually scripted to it.” Theatrical space then represents the “is”, the “was”, and the “will be” of the corpse all at once. Contextualizing Shakespeare’s play alongside photography highlights this temporal merging.

(Moderator notes that it’s always a relief to her when, at the end of history plays, everyone stands back up again).

Richard Preiss, University of Utah
The Alchemical Lavatory

“If you like reckless anachronism, I’ve got more for you. … In the first scene of Pulp Fiction…” Preiss describes a brief shot of a main character at the start of the movie, only revealed at the end of the movie when it becomes clear that the first scene is actually the last. The shot can only be caught, however, on repeat watching. Preiss notes that movies are now designed for “infinite instant replay”. He suggests that early modern theatre’s similar design was not in print, but in performance.

Preiss notes that the “notion of repertory as inventory is an abstraction”, considering the company in aggregate but not the individual plays. While a play may initially have occurred in repertory, we consider it a single thing. But — what if the form of the repertory permeated their content? He clarifies that he means the very fact of multiple performances, in that every play preceded and followed itself, whether or not immediately. Preiss then shares data about multiple performances in the early modern period, with some plays enjoying multiple-day runs and others running multiple times within a given period, though not consecutively.

“Does a play mean the same the second time it’s watched? How about the tenth?” Preiss suggests we experience plays as textual and singular, and that key moments are always described as though for the first time. Plays are considered self-contained and proceed without reference to earlier performances; “what we know by act five is all there is to know”. Early modern theatre, however, had to expect audiences for whom act one was also act six, as many may have seen the same production of the same show more than once, possibly within just a few days. Preiss suggests that playwrights may have written with this expectation in mind, and uses a scene from The Alchemist (performed by MBC students Joshua Williams, Aubrey Whitlock, and Shane Sczepankowski) to demonstrate. Immediate repetition seems to augment the humor for the audience in the theatre.

Theatre “feeds us ourselves” and “does so brazenly…. not made, but merely recycled.” Preiss employs many metaphors of ingesting, defecating, and sewage to underscore his point.

Amy W. Grubbs, Father Ryan High School
Rogues, Vagabonds, and Common Players: Late Elizabethan Playing Companies as a Stabilizing Force in Suburban London

Grubbs begins with a picture of early modern London as a desperate and impoverished place and foregrounds her intention to discuss the playhouses and their companies as a stabilizing force in an era when downward social mobility was high. She discusses three ways parishes might respond to the unsettled: charity, employment, and punishment. The general idea was that those who could work should do so, those who could not should be cared for, and those who could but did not should be whipped and marked out as “not part of a community, and therefore dangerous”.

At the turn of the 17th century, London’s theatrical suburbs were full of people who “did not belong”. Grubbs then shares early modern testimony suggesting that theatre companies, far from contributing to vagrancy, were known to be charitable and encouraged the employment of the unsettled. She cites the apprenticing program of bringing young boys into the companies, which could become a familial and therefore stabilizing dynamic. Grubbs also notes the relationship of the theatres to the watermen of the Thames, helping to create other economic opportunities in their neighborhoods.

To the third response, punishment, Grubbs notes that pickpockets in the theatre were treated similarly to adulterous women, forced to acknowledge their faults and ask forgiveness, positing the theatre as a community similar to that of a parish church. Grubbs suggests that, while these communities may have been temporary, citizens sought them out. The cheap price of entry encouraged this, as even the unsettled and poor could afford to attend as groundlings. “Something about the Globe was, evidently, important enough to the King’s Men” that they rebuilt even at cost, thus enabling them to continue offering cheap entertainment, even though by that time they had a more lucrative operation at the Blackfriars. “Their actions… show that the playing companies did engage in a stabilizing relationship with London’s unsettled.”

Grubbs finished by stating her hope that this research might inform the performance of plays with unsettled characters as well as the production of plays in our own unsettled and poor neighborhoods.

Tiffany Stern, Oxford University
Dumbshows, Revision, and Authorship

Stern opens by noting that she’s been thinking about stage directions and dumbshows: “Dumbshows: Why are they so weird?” She puts the 1604 version of the Hamlet dumbshow on the projector, followed by the 1623 Folio version, noting that the dumbshow is verbally different, but describes the same actions, in both dumbshows. She wonders, then, why did the dumbshow get changed? Where did the new words come from? “Why rewrite words that will never be spoken?” She then presents the two overlaid with each other, to illustrate some “pointless revisions”.

Next, Stern shares a segment from John Lyly’s 1591 Endimion, followed by the same play printed in 1632. By 1632, a dumbshow has been added to the selection, though the text of the plays are entirely the same. The songs and dumbshows added, she suggests, traveled differently from the rest of the text — but why? Stern shares examples of texts where both songs and dumbshows appear collected together at the start or end of a play. For songs, this is easily explained, but she questions why the same thing would be true for an unspoken dumbshow.

“This might help us think about it,” she notes, showing the frontispiece of Locrine, with a note on it illustrating that dumbshows were not necessarily written by the same person who wrote the play. Like songs, Stern suggests that many dumbshows may have been lost or moved due to the simple fact that they were on different paper, which might fall out or get reassembled. She also suggests that they may have had separate rehearsals.

Stern finishes by stating that this was a way of helping her explore stage directions, of which dumbshows are one kind, and she notes that the term “stage direction” does not occur until the 18th century. As such, when we think of stage directions, we may be imposing something onto the term which does not necessarily exist. The first use occurs in Lewis Theobald’s 1733 version of The Works of Shakespeare, and Theobald uses it to say “this is a really rubbish thing” regarding the dumbshow in Hamlet.

James Keegan, OCS & University of Delaware
Macbeth and PTSD: Combat Trauma and the (Un)Doing of a Character

Keegan speaks of his own creation of Macbeth, for whom “doing and undoing” is central. The title of the piece, and a key component of his character work, stems from Shay’s work on soldiers with PTSD after combat. He notes that Shay used Lady Percy’s description of Hotspur from 1 Henry IV as a diagnosis of combat trauma; Sarah Fallon presents the speech with Keegan interjecting the symptoms Shay identified. He notes that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth suffer many of the same symptoms – insomnia, traumatic dreams, hallucination, a sense of the dead being more present than the living, social withdrawal, isolation, lack of capacity for intimacy, depression, loss of ability to experience pleasure – and Keegan and Fallon enact examples from Macbeth.

Keegan notes that while it might not be unusual for a man who murders a houseguest king to suffer PTSD over the act, he is arguing that Macbeth was actually suffering PTSD before the murder, which in fact made him more susceptible to committing it. He aligns the early description of Macbeth in combat as a “berserk combatant”, and notes that Macbeth suffered two of the triggers Shay identifies for causing a soldier to enter such a state. Drawing from this, Keegan states that it made it easier for him to consider the witches as a sort of hallucination; he admits that the matter is complicated by the fact that Banquo sees them too, but he notes that Banquo has come from a similar berserker state. The 2014 casting of three muscular men in the roles of the witches “had a martial aspect that resonated” with the described scenes of battle. Patrick Midgley, in fact, doubled as the bloody captain and quick-changed into a witch.

Macbeth, fresh from the brutality of war and the predictions of the witches, can be seen as similar to Achilles in the Iliad, though Keegan notes that Macbeth has less reason to believe himself betrayed than Achilles. Keegan describes the scene where Duncan names his successor — not the warrior he has admitted deserves the honor, but his son, who had to be protected in battle. Keegan argues that Macbeth might see this as a betrayal of what is right, even though it was not a betrayal of anything promised.

Keegan notes that his examination of the character in this light is not to excuse his actions, but to explore where his decisions to act came from. Lady Macbeth attacks the essential component of his martial aspect, his courage. Killing Duncan brings those martial aspects into the domestic sphere, ultimately upending the rest of Macbeth’s life. Keegan notes the use of this concept in other productions, quoting Michael Fassbender about his role preparation and speaking of a production which tried to add in battle scenes to assist the audience in their understanding.

–Cass Morris
Academic Resources Manager

Blackfriars Conference 2015 – Colloquy Session II: History Plays

Hello!  Whitney Egbert here, blogging about Colloquy 2 in the first slot of Blackfriars Conference 2015.  The session took place in RR Smith Center Lecture Hall from 9:00 to 10:15 this morning.  Due to internet issues, this is being posted after the fact.  The session was moderated by Megan Lloyd (who also wrote a paper) and included papers from Iska Alter and William Long, Robin Bates, Marisa Cull, Kathy Hardman, and Tara Lyons.

This morning’s session hosted papers on a variety of historical plays – Henry the Fifth, Tamerburlaine, Henry IV Part 2Edward 2, and two paper on The Valiant Welshman.  Lloyd asked everyone to give a brief description of the larger picture that the paper came from before opening up to the others for questions and discussion.

First up was the paper on Henry V by Alter and Long.  They are interested in the ways in which the quarto texts differ not just as merely one actor’s remembrance but as potentially differing staging.  Alter highlighted that the context in which Henry V is performed changes with the time it is performed in – “the notion of performance is a complicated business saved by many different moments of history,” the actual battle of Agincourt, Shakespeare writing about the battle of Agincourt, and the performance or conversation happening in the moment.  Bates commented how much she appreciated the thought that in the F1, there is a subversive tone to the kingship and how that might reflect a moment in time, what it might say about leadership, nationalism, and patriotism.  A conversation ensued about the moments – are they different or was the intention as a play for it to always change.  Alter noted that they try not to argue which version came first as “there is no way of knowing” and instead attempts to give preference to one over the other.  Long added “we don’t know, we think but we can’t prove with data.”

The second paper discussed was on Henry IV, Part 2 by Bates, where she focused on the disputes over land like the Forest of Gaultree.  It is part of her larger examination of how land and land use play into controversies in the plays.  Alter quickly added that that is also tied to the dual systems of law at the time – “one form of law counter[ed] another form of law” – so that an argument over land was often an argument about law.  Long pointed out that it wasn’t even just two types of law but two courts.  And that those could be worked counter to each other – if sued in one court, you could counter-sue in the other.  As a fellow auditor whispered to me “and some operated in old French,” making it all that much harder.

Next up was Cull’s paper on The Valiant Welshman.  The paper was part of a larger project in which she is editing the play for a project at Ohio State.  Cull noted that she wishes everyone could edit a version of the play they are writing about as it adds great illumination.  She is really interested in looking at this play less as a bad relic of the early modern stage and more at how our predispositions and assumptions keep us away from plays like it.  As an editor, she is really interested in how every edited text has a section of sources but how in so doing, we then approach the sources with an already loaded opinion.  The discussion ensuing focused on the idea of the two printed versions of the play as well as a German translation and the idea of playwrights who were creating the “greatest hits” or just plain old showing off.

With Hardman’s paper on Edward 2, the discussion centered around her examination of the homoerotic versus the queer (or non-normal as she specified) and how that is entirely left out of other versions of the recounting of Edward’s story.  Several of the participants found the distinction interesting as many others, such as Holinshed, shy away from the relationships in this story but not in others.  Why?  What’s there?  That transitioned into a broader discussion of futurity and the cyclical relationship between the current and the future.  I’m still not sure how it happened but it was lively and lovely to watch and listen.

Next up was Lyons paper on Tamburlaine.  She is interested in two main things – the dichotomy between the print archive and the performance archive and then the relationship between plays in a series.  She is posing the question of “what brings the text together and what does it mean to ask an audience to relate shows to one another?”  Hardman asked if there was a gap in the writing to the two parts, was there any bit of “the audience made them do it” to adding an additional part.  Long adds the element of Edward Allen, the actor who played Tamburlaine and his celebrity.  Lyons circles back to Long’s earlier point that we think but we don’t really know.  There is some thought that part 2 was being written as part 1 was being rehearsed but the closest we get to evidence that part 2 was performed at the same time is an audience member who was shot during a show that scholars propose was Tamburlaine, Part 2.  Lyons then posed the question she has of were they using serials to train the audience to continue to return to the theatre.  Alter pointed out that we must remember it was a business so getting people to return was crucial.  Bates added that there were so many new people in London every year that there were, in fact, always people to be trained.

Our final paper was Lloyd’s, also on The Valiant Welshman, but focusing on its place in her larger work on the Welsh language on the early modern stage.  She points out that “the Celtic other” was often used to say something about early modern Britain as the larger entity and not just England.  As she and Cull continued to discuss, Britain (aka England) is marginalized in this play and needs to be saved.  Lloyd pointed out that the show was written when James was trying to get Parliament to bring Scotland into the union like they had previously done with Wales.  Alter pointed out that this wasn’t a new idea, as the union had “existed in someone’s imagination” even back in Henry V with the captains of each nationality.  Alter went on to ponder if the emergence of The Valiant Welshman now at all related to the current state of the British union.

Many different ideas and matters to cover but a lovely conversation to listen in on and a great way to start the conference.

Blackfriars Conference 2015: Welcome address and Keynote: Paul Prescott

This is Merlyn Q. Sell live blogging from the Blackfriars Playhouse.  Today’s Keynote Address is The Life, Adventures, and Opinions of Sam Wanamaker presented by Paul Prescott from 11am to 12pm.  First, however, Dr. Ralph Cohen delivers a heartfelt welcome.

Cohen begins by remembering the late Tom Berger.  He recalls a time when Berger stuck his head into a firehouse and shouted “Theatre!”. The audience greatly appreciates the joke.   Cohen mentions that the best and worst part of the Blackfriars Conference is that there is too much to do.  He blames Sarah Enloe.  He introduces OCS resident actor, Allison Glenzer, who reads an email from Jim Warren.  Warren is currently on the OCS’s audition tour, seeking actors for upcoming seasons.  Warren points out the conference’s special focus on the intersection between academics and performance.  Mary McDermott, chair of the OCS board, also welcomes conference attendees.  The Blackfriars is a particularly fitting venue for such a conference in this legacy year.  McDermott makes a point of welcoming home students and alumni of Mary Baldwin’s graduate program.  The OCS staff introduces themselves from the balcony to the much-deserved appreciation of the audience.  Mary Baldwin College president, Pamela Fox, takes a moment to celebrate the fifteen year partnership between Mary Baldwin College’s Shakespeare and Performance graduate program and the OCS.

Cohen throws down his gauntlet in welcoming attendees to the only recreation of Shakespeare’s indoor playhouse and reminding us that the Sam Wanamaker is not a recreation.  Cohen introduces Steve Owen, Staunton city manager.  Owen lives up to his self-proclaimed role as a “ham sandwich”. After recounting some of Staunton’s claims to fame, Owen praises the OCS for the magic it has brought to the community.

Sarah Enloe takes the stage to accept a bouquet of roses and the gratitude of the audience. For the remainder of the conference attendees can look forward to hearing her before every keynote for changes to the conference schedule. With the help of Mary McDermott, Enloe retires the 2013 conference bear and introduces the 2015 bear and her signature pearls. After a few housekeeping items from Enloe, Cohen introduces Dr. Paul Menzer.

After a quippy rumination on time, Menzer welcomes attendees on behalf of the current MBC Shakespeare and Performance students. Menzeer warmly introduces today’s keynote speaker Paul Prescott.

Prescott provides an overview of the keynote’s main concerns at the outset. The address encompasses creation myths, ancestor worship, the stories we tell, the keeping of annals, the conditions under which theatres get built, and global mobility. Prescott believes that Charles Marowitz’ biography of Sam Wanamaker in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is the best biography we currently have for Wanamaker. Prescott’s investigation of Wanamaker’s archives finds that that biography has one glaring error. Its assertion of Wanamaker’s lifelong devotion to Shakespeare is inaccurate. Prescott is interested in the background that led to Wanamaker’s eventual devotion to Shakespeare and the foundation of the Globe Trust.

Prescott provides a snapshot of Wanamaker’s background, including his childhood and teenage years. In 1943 Wanamaker visited the Chicago World’s Fair with his father and experienced a version of the Globe in the “Merry Olde England” section of the fair. In the Wanamaker archives a program from this event includes a post-it note on which an older Wanamaker had written “The beginning”. Later on Wanamaker acted on a Globe stage in Cleveland. Wanamaker was performing “tabloid” versions of Shakespeare, fifty minute populist reductions of the original texts in rep.

Wanamaker began spending time in London in response to his uncertain position in America as a communist. In preparing an affidavit for McCarthy, Wanamaker blamed his preparation to play the role of a young Russian soldier for his joining the communist party. Under these circumstances, Wanamaker moved to London. Because of his position in the United States, Mi-5 eventually placed Wanamaker under surveillance and even recommended his imprisonment in the event of emergency. In surveillance records Wanamaker’s interest in Stanislavsky’s methods was noted. Eventually the United Kingdom grants Wanamaker permanent residence.

In 1957, Wanamaker took over Shakespeare Theatre Liverpool. When the public was solicited to suggest new names for the theatre the winning title was The New Shakespeare Theatre. Wanamaker’s programming for the New Shakespeare Theatre focused on the antithetical combination of banned plays and popular family fare. Wanamaker had hopes that the theatre could become a “cultural community center”. Unfortunately after twenty months the New Shakespeare Theatre ran out of money and the venture ended. Wanamaker found a home at the New Shakespeare Theatre and even slept at the theatre. Wanamaker said of his work in Liverpool that it was particularly meaningful because it merged his selfish desires with a higher purpose.

Wanamaker’s Method style notes for his performance of Iago in 1959 are in his archives. He created detailed backstory for Iago including syphilis, possible bastardy, the loss of children, and marital infidelity.  His Macbeth was seen through the lens of the Cold War and was based primarily on a pervasive feeling of fear.

In the 1960s Wanamaker turned towards opera with mixed results. He also worked with Bertolt Brecht at this time. Looking at retirement and wishing to finally anchor himself in London, Wanamaker turned to the idea of the Globe. In a 1972 interview Wanamaker pointed out his desire to become a permanent fixture of a community. From 1972 to 1975, three seasons of performances were done under tents on the Globe site. During this time Wanamaker was curating a rough and tumble, populist approach to performance. Wanamaker’s expectations for the Globe did not include early modern performance traditions in any major way. He hoped for work that blended Brecht and Stanislavsky.

Inspired by someone’s rock opera idea for Macbeth, Wanamaker brainstormed couplings of Shakespeare plays and popular rockers. The audience responded with great enthusiasm to his combination of David Bowie with Hamlet. Wanamaker’s association of Sting with King Lear does not go over as well.

Prescott concludes, reminding the audience that the line from Sam Wanamaker to London’s Globe theatre is not a simple straight line but a collage of influences.

Blackfriars Conference 2015: Colloquy Session I: Audience and the Actor

Good morning, this is Merlyn Q. Sell live blogging from the Tyson Center.  This is Colloquy Session I: Audience and the Actor, running from 9:00am to 10:15am.  This session is chaired by Ralph Alan Cohen and the presenters are Heidi Cephus, Greg Fiebig, Amanda L. Hughes, Henry D. McHenry, Julia Nelson, Brittany Renard, Lisa S. Starks-Estes, and Natalia Razak Wallace.

The session begins with the presenters singing a tribute to Dr. Cohen’s pre-party and requesting audience interaction to complete the final verse.  The audience largely fails to pick up on the rhyme scheme but is engaged none-the-less.

Cohen advises us that the audience is the “third leg” of performance and the importance of thinking about the audience in the theatre and in the classroom.  The presenters have prepared responses to a set of questions regarding the audience and the actor and we’ll begin by hearing those.

Wallace is the first to speak.  Wallace’s interest is focused on the effects of eye-contact between audience and actor.  In researching this topic, Wallace has started looking at neuro-science to discover more about the biology of that contact.  Wallace points out that the current theatrical practice of putting the audience in the dark changes their role from participant to observer, which impacts how their memory of the event is created and stored.

Renard’s work investigates the staging of dismemberment and how that impacts the relationship of the audience to the actor.  She is looking at examples from ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore and The Changeling.  A realistic staging of these moments would have disrupted the audience’s understanding of an actor versus the thing their body parts become.

After working on a book regarding Shakespereare’s use of Ovid, Starks-Estes believes that early modern performance was heavily influenced by Ovidian metamorphosis.  Starks-Estes feels that early modern audience’s knew this and expected this in the theatre.

Nelson is interested in the use of vice in early modern domestic dramas.  The villain can be an avatar for the audience at the beginning as they share in the villain’s plotting.  As the plays continue, through audience interaction with soliloquies, the audience also influences the restoration of moral order.

Cephus speaks about the fleshy impact of performance.  Richard II allows the audience to experience the communion of actor body with historical figures.  As an audience’s loyalty transfers from Richard to Bolingbroke they are physically transformed.  Science backs up the idea that there is a biological impact linked to the act of forgiveness.

McHenry is interested in the audience as commonwealth.  Henry VIII is theatre within theatre as the theatrical audience views the characters perform for each other.  Woolsey’s behavior specifically is observed and commented on by other characters.   The audience is implicated as a commonwealth by joining these characters in observation.

Hughes’ company, Rocket City Shakespeare, is a “resource-driven” company that goes into the audience and requests direct audience interaction within performance.  She links this work to Wallace’s statement regarding leaving the audience in the dark.  Breaking with that tradition has a profound and exciting impact on the audience.

Fiebig is particularly interested in how audience’s construct meaning.  He feels the most important part of performance is that audiences comprehend what is being performed.  Based on a theory by Bernard Pierce, Fiebig finds that within the conversation between actor and audience the audience creates the performance reality.  Considering this, a dialogue between the audience and actor is preferable to the monologue encouraged by proscenium staging.  Fiebig introduces the idea of a “performance afterlife” or the discussions, responses, and impact of a performance after the curtain comes down.

Moving into discussion, Cohen asks the audience to respond to the posters lining the walls and points out that while eye-contact seems to be an integral part of the images, the audience is not included in the images. The presenters then move into a conversation regarding how an audience is taught new play-going conventions. The presenters mostly admit that a curtain speech is the most inefficient, but also an unsatisfactory, solutions.

Cohen brings the discussion back to the ideas of communion and dismemberment brought up by Cephus and Renard respectively. Nelson points out that beautiful theatres often inspire the same awe as a church building. Cohen notes that church-goers understand the expected behavior at churches throughout the world and theatre-goers understand the same thing. Cohen is interested in “the inconvenienced audience” as they experience disruption through dismemberment. Renard responds bringing up Fiebig’s earlier idea of a performance’s “after-life” and how live-tweeting and other technological engagement might influence that. Starks-Estes troubles the consensus that the movie theatre doesn’t allow for audience engagement and points out that the “after-life” may be more extensive for movies. Going back to Cohen’s comment regarding dismemberment, Starks-Estes believes the audience has a pleasurable response to dismemberment because it is so jarring.

Cohen wants to put some pressure on the “afterlife” concept. Wallace’s research has found that eye-contact is one of the most memorable aspects of performance for an OCS audience member. Cohen addresses the idea of muscle memory as audience’s learn and relearn how to experience theatre. Linking to McHenry’s discussion of the audience’s implication in the events of Henry VIII, Cohen points out that the real divorce trial between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon occurred at the Blackfriars, the same space where the play of those events premiered. The audience had to have known that and responded to it accordingly.

Cohen steers the discussion back to Nelson’s idea of vice characters as audience avatar. Cohen wonders how the audience’s alliance with the villain might link to the ideas of metamorphosis and transubstantiation. Nelson believes that through these vice characters the audience is able to experience taboo acts with the safety blanket of knowing that within five acts the moral order will be re-established.

Fiebig asks about Shenandoah Shakespeare Express’ experience in teaching audiences their style of performance. Cohen points out that repetition is key to managing audience expectations. At this point if the OCS turned the lights out it would be just as disruptive as it was to turn the lights on in the first place. Fiebig goes back to the curtain speech and how from a semiotic perspective relying on the curtain speech to guide audience behavior is a crutch. Fiebig mentions Christopher Sly from Taming of the Shrew and Hughes mentions Henry V’s chorus as characters that can be integrated into the audience to assist in directing audience behavior.

Cohen asks for final comments before opening the discussion to the audience. Cephus suggests that the influence of audience’s experiences of prior performances on future performances may be a part of performance afterlife. Fiebig is concerned about the introverts in the audience and admits to his own discomfort as an audience member. The actor has a responsibility to read the audience and respond accordingly. Nelson wonders if the audience self-selects by choosing their seats.

McHenry turns to the audience but is met with discontent by an audience member responding to the fact that the audience has been literally seated outside the discussion. She also echoes the idea that the audience exercises a choice in choosing particular seats, theatrical companies, and their own engagement with the performance.

Cohen throws it back to Wallace for the final word as promised. Wallace reiterates her ideas that eye-contact biologically impacts the audience’s recognition that they are human, just like the actor speaking to them.

Blackfriars Conference 2015 – Colloquy Session #3

Molly Beth Seremet here, reporting from Colloquy Session #3 at 9am on Thursday morning! The topic is Cultural Appropriation and the session is chaired by Monica Cross with presenters Scott Campbell, Raven Claflin, Angelina LaBarre, Louis Martin, and Richard Schumaker.

Louis Martin’s paper deals with Hero’s silence in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, focusing on the ways film adaptations manifest her silence. This paper focuses predominately on the Burgess, Brannagh and Whedon films. Martin first asks us to look at a clip from Burgess’ film, in which many of Hero’s lines are retained. Martin also points out that physically, Hero stands to deliver these lines and speaks quite clearly, exercising her own agency. By contrast, in Brannagh’s film, some of Hero’s lines are cut and the film depicts her physically on the ground with others towering over her. Martin then moves into exploring the Whedon film, in which Whedon depicts a Hero who is in fact not a virgin, having been in a previous relationship with the film’s Don John character. Martin describes a scene in the Whedon film in which Hero dons a Marilyn Monroe-style gown to wear for the party scene and further details a scene Whedon invents in which Hero pointedly refuses any further advances from Don John, using her own voice. In doing so, Whedon stages Hero’s agency and allows her to speak for herself.

Scott Campbell’s paper deals with original practices because, in his words, “it is the things we are most passionate about that deserve the most pressure.” Campbell interest lies in the cross-generational cultural appropriation that occurs when modern-day practitioners borrow historical practices in modern-day performance. Campbell terms this generative work, which results in the creation of something new, not a reconstruction of a historical mode. In his work, Campbell also posits that over time, modern-day companies that use original practice methodologies become facile in those practices as time passes, taking out the ‘danger’ elements that modern companies sometimes associate with original practice conventions.

Raven Claflin’s work delves into multi-modal poetics and Shakespeare. As Claflin posits, multi-modal poetics is a cross-genre theoretical approach and methodology that combines studies on Shakespeare with pop culture adaptations including comic books and graphic novels. Claflin’s paper focuses on a comic version of Macbeth, titled Macbeth the Graphic Novel and the supernatural soliciting therein. Claflin asks us to consider the placement of the Witches and ghosts across these comic book adaptations in connection with the ambiguities contained in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Angelina LaBarre’s work examines hip-hop adaptations of Shakespeare. LaBarre explains that these adaptations are often considered ‘bastard children,’ criticized by both Shakespeare purists and and hip-hop theatremakers alike. LaBarre reminds us, however, that audiences love these cross-genre performances. LaBarre posits that both Shakespearean drama and hip-hop are linguistic and poetic art forms and that some hip-hop practitioners including KRS-1 approach iambic pentameter in their work. LaBarre focuses in on the production Othello Remix, part of the 2012 World Language Festival at Shakespeare’s Globe. This performance was the only offering in the festival to sell out regularly. LaBarre points out that this production served as the United States’ offering in this festival, representing hip-hop as a distinct cultural language.

Monica Cross’s work focuses on Shakespeare’s language. She proposes that Shakespeare’s text melds with current-day language in modern adaptations of Shakespeare, looking closely at12 Ophelias by Caridad Svich. Cross states that Shakespeare’s language melds seamlessly in adaptation which, as Cross indicates, is a very timely concern given Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s upcoming translation initiative. According to Cross, Svich interpolates her own language into 12 Ophelias along with quotations from the past to weave Shakespeare into the present tense. In the act of remembering Hamlet. For Cross, this appropriative methodology brings Shakespeare into the present while still also staging elements of Shakespeare’s language.

The panelists now move into discussion surrounding their papers. LaBarre asks if using appropriative methodologies on Shakespearean texts serves our own ends only, or if in fact this approach can push our understanding of Shakespeare’s texts as well. Campbell wonders how much of this appropriative practice delves into the realm of translation. Claflin clarifies his belief that any transformation of Shakespeare becomes adaptive while appropriation involves a reframing of the source material into a specific cultural frame, drawing on Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood as an example. In a pedagogical sense, Martin urges us to work with multiple adaptations of a single Shakespearean source text, such as several films of Much Ado About Nothing,  to allow students the opportunity to see diverse possibilities to draw their own conclusions.

The discussion now turns to ideas of ‘original’ or ‘real’ versions of Shakespeare, with Campbell flagging the common tactic of holding up some artistic Shakespearean adaptations as ‘the real Shakespeare.’ As the panelists discuss, this emerges particularly in teaching applications, in which film versions of Shakespearean plays provides an easy way in for modern students. Claflin urges us to remember that while adaptations may be harnessed in this way, this pedagogical aim may not necessarily be the adaptor’s impetus for creating the work in the first place.

Cross then leads the panelists towards us an engagement with an audience’s knowledge of the source texts in adaptive practice. Cross refers us to Svich’s introductory materials in 12 Ophelias, in which Svich details that an audience that is familiar with Hamlet may see her play as a furtherance or extension of Shakespeare’s narrative, while an audience that has not yet contacted Shakespeare will see 12 Ophelias as the story of a stranded woman making her way in an unfamiliar world. The play therefore tells a cohesive and rich story for any audience, no matter how familiar that audience is (or is not) with Shakespeare’s Hamlet. LaBarre then turns us to an investigation of poetic structure in hip-hop and Shakespeare.  She introduces the notion of call-backs, such as rhythms, lyrics, melodies that harken back to earlier songs and artists. As LaBarre points out, this self-referentiality appears in early modern drama as well. Interestingly, LaBarre also points out that misogyny becomes a thru-line in both hip-hop and early modern drama.

The discussion now moves to a discussion of Shakespeare as cultural capital, examining the function and responsibility of using adaptations of Shakespeare as first points of contact for an audience. This brings the conversation into focus on issues of an original or authoritative text. Campbell recalls a childhood memory of an adaptation of Macbeth in the cartoon Duck Tales. LaBarre springs off of this to discuss the ways that she troubles the ideas of authoritative texts for her students, asking them to study both Shakespeare’s Othello and Othello Remix.  In doing so, LaBarre holds up both texts as possibilities, allowing students to form their own conclusions.

The discussion turns now to adaptations of Hamlet. Participant and American Shakespeare Center understudy Symmonie Preston asks us consider the ways that 17th and 18th century theories and preconceptions inform our readings of Shakespeare’s drama. She calls Ophelia into focus as an example, pointing to the ways that modern productions often strip away Ophelia’s agency as influenced by a 17th and 18th century lens that dictates what less-enfranchised characters should be. Preston argues that applying an adaptive hand to these plays can re-establish these characters’ agencies by removing the 17th and 18th century referential frame. Panelists Campbell and Claflin push this argument further asking us to consider the ways that even in authorial texts are adaptations mediated through the apparatus of textual culture.

The conversation now circles back to pedagogy, thinking through the ways that we can teach appropriation productively to instill agency in our students. A participant mentions using lines from Shakespeare as tool to allow students to ‘re-write’ them in their own words, expressing Shakespeare in their own vernacular. Claflin then points out that anytime we teach Shakespeare, we are in fact teaching our own adaptation of the play and in using strategies of appropriation, we might open channels for students to do the same for themselves.

An audience member asks the panelists to consider the ways that in other cultures, adaptations of Shakespearean drama often use elements other than the English language to form their adaptations. How do non-language-based adaptations factor into this conversation? LaBarre points out that hip-hop adaptations use a verse structure of their own to tell their stories. As in Shakespearean drama, the verse structures in hip-hop dramas change to indicate changes in mood, characters, etc. with the incorporation of beats that work for and sometimes against the verse language. Campbell draws on this idea of time signatures, reminding us of Spanish Golden Age drama, in which meter equates to emotion. Campbell then calls on notions of ‘disowning’ when considering foreign language adaptation of Shakespeare, asking if it is possible to write ‘against’ Shakespeare using Shakespearean language or conventions.

Now, the discussion turns to adaptations of Shakespeare into gendered languages. When language is gendered, what is gained or lost by making decisions surrounding these ambiguities? Claflin and Campbell hone in on the ways that ambiguity factors into Shakespearean drama. This opens a broader conversation in the room

Cross brings us back, reminding us that everything we have access to in the Shakespearean sphere can become part of adaptation. Our cultural moment allows us to make meaning out of all possible options that we have as theatremakers, adapters, scholars, and teachers. Cross urges us to remember that we always see Shakespeare through our lens.

And that’s a wrap for Colloquy #3. Thanks for a riveting conversation.

-Molly (@moxymolly)