The End of Shakespeare’s Verse?: Blackfriars Playhouse, Sunday 10/27/2013 Blackfriars Conference

Good morning everyone –

This is Molly Zeigler, I’m live-blogging this morning the first hour of the final presentation of the 2013 Blackfriars Conference.

Today’s presentation is “The End of Shakespeare’s Verse” at the Blackfriars Playhouse on Sunday 10/27/2013.  The presentation is being introduced by Patrick Spottiswoode, Director of Education for Shakespeare’s Globe with presenters: Abigail Rokison and Giles Block.

Participating Actors: Ben Curns, Allison Glenzer, John Harrell, and Rene Thornton, Jr.

Patrick Spottiswoode took the stage to introduce the symposium and today’s presenters.  Today’s symposium is part 3 of 5 of the program “The End of Shakespeare’s Verse” being presented in cooperation by the American Shakespeare Center and Shakespeare’s Globe (and co-sponsored by the University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon).

The idea of the presentation is to explore verse and its role in performance and Shakespearean studies.  This symposium is not intended to present a unified front, but rather it is intended to explore a variety of angles regarding this topic.

When, for two examples, script writer Julian Fellowes says he had to cut the verse in Romeo and Juliet to accommodate modern audiences and when major theatrical enterprises spend time organizing  prose editions of the plays – the role of verse needs to be addressed.

Abigail Rokison presented first.  She is exploring some contemporary and popular assertions regarding particular approaches to verse.  These attitudes, approaches, and assertions are expressed  in the  work of Cicely Berry, Patsy Rodenburg, Peter Hall, and John Barton (to name a few). Such assertions can be traced to the work of, among others, William Poel.  Poel’s attempts to incorporate Early Modern theatrical and textual elements into active artistic expression have influenced enterprises for decades.

Poel’s work has been taken and expanded upon by the contemporary scholars and practitioners mentioned.  However, it is not easy to draw direct correlations between Poel and modern efforts.

Shared lines, short lines, ambiguous presentation, and punctuation are of concern.  Furthermore, the canon can be divided in time periods which helps locate trends and issues.

 Shared lines are seen in three major configurations:

1) Linking short lines

2) Linking a shorter and longer line

3) Linking two longer lines

With shared lines we can see a variety of performative options.

In Macbeth there is a considerate number of shared lines.  It is with these shared lines that a sense of heightened emotions and shared intensity can be seen,

Short unconnected verse lines are prominent in the middle tragedies.

In the later (post 1600) works, the number of scenes ending in short lines increases.  To end a scene with a short verse line, rather than with a rhymed couplet, provides a sense of speed, urgency, and suddenness.  It is often seen that the final short line follows a  rhymed couplet, perhaps offering a demand to continue or move on after the satisfying couplet.

Shared lines: There is a marked increase in the number of shared lines in later plays such as The Winter’s Tale.

Of course, there are elements of subjectivity here, and considerations (regarding pauses and actions) depend on theatrical intent, purpose, and choices.  There is no hard and fast rule, but the breaks in lines and the use of shorter and shared lines is a physical fact within the text and should be given attention.  Pauses and breaks and the manipulation of lines are representative of rhetorical structures such as aposiopesis (Greek for’becoming silent’).  Aposiopesis is the deliberate breaking off of a sentence and leaving it unfinished.  The ending of the sentence, of the thought, is meant to be supplied by the imagination.  Aposiopesis can give an impression of unwillingness or of the inability of a character to continue.

Lineation & Punctuation:  There are a number of theories about the role of lineation and punctuation in the deliverance of verse lines.

Peter Hall (and others) insists that each distinct line of verse is a single entity and breath comes only at the end of the line.

In contrast, the likes of Berry, Rodenburg and Donnellan suggest that the meaning take precedence over the line structure and that an actor should follow punctuation in relation to breath (but, whose punctuation?).

Stops in punctuation traditionally include the comma, the colon, and the period with the related pause increasing with each stop.

To avoid ambiguity different delivery methods can be explored.

Rokison suggests that a strict adherence to any one method of delivery is reductive.

It is necessary to explore the role of verse in performance.  These works were constructed purposefully, after all.

Abigail Rokison and the actors presented moments from the canon, primarily from MacbethGlobe symposium – Macbeth – handout

The presentation today is set to continue with Giles Block.

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It has been my pleasure to blog portions of this wonderful conference,  I hope one and all have enjoyed these last few days as much as I have.  It has been a truly wonderful experience.

Colloquy Session XIII: History and Culture: 2013 Blackfriars Conference (10/25/2013)

Good Afternoon Everyone,

This is Molly Zeigler live-blogging Colloquy Session XIII: History and Culture for the 2013 Blackfriars Conference on Thursday 10/25 at 2:30 pm. Today’s colloquy is being held at the Staunton Performing Arts Center’s (S.P.A.C.E.) location at 107 West Beverley here in Staunton. Thank you to the Staunton Performing Arts Center for hosting today’s event.

This Colloquy is exploring representations of and the impact of  history and culture in and on performance and interpretation of Early Modern dramatic works.

Chair: James Byers

Presenters: Michelle Blas; Elizabeth Kelley Bowman; Elizabeth Floyd; Louise Geddes; Stephanie Howieson; Matthew Kendrick; Marie Knowlton-Davis; Megan Lloyd

This colloquy took on an informal conversational style from the beginning.  Each presenter introduced their work and invited questions and feedback from the audience and from their fellow panel members (the following paragraphs represent initial introductions and feedback).  Each panel member came prepared, having already read each other’s work.

Michelle Blas and Elizabeth Kelley Bowman are both from the University of Guam. They spoke about a recent production of The Tempest that they mounted in Guam.  Shakespearean productions are rare in Guam.  What was of interest was how the audience engaged with the colonial themes and representations in the text and performance.  The audience was made up of individuals both native and non-native to Guam.  The Caliban and Ariel in this production were represented as avatars of native people and “native spirits.”  This production explored tensions between ‘conquered and conquerors.’  Guam, as a setting, provoked its own conception as an island that has been under the rule of a variety of colonizing entities (currently an American territory).  In this production Ariel is native to the island, a “true native,” and she (a female here) remains at the end of the story.

Stephanie Howieson is a member of the Rogue Shakespeare MBC MFA Company.  She portrayed Duncan and the porter in the Rogues’ recent production of Macbeth. Her paper Demons of Faustus and the Witches of Macbeth” seeks to explore the representations of the demons and witches in these plays and their interaction with the respective lead characters.  It is oft put forth by critics that Macbeth begins his play already overly ambitious.  Ms. Howieson’s work seeks to trouble this assumption about Macbeth’s characterization: There is no textual support for the idea.  What role did these figures – witches and demons – play in these works?  How much do such figures engage with and influence the non-spiritual/non-ethereal characters?  One way into these works is to consider how demons and witches and how ambition and drive were perceived in the Early Modern period.

Elizabeth Floyd’s work is focused on the Henriad (RII-H5) and specifically on how the character of Henry V has been portrayed at different times throughout history.  At different points in English history, Henry V has been presented as a hero, as a bit of a rake, as an ambivalent character, and as a consummate performer (among other representations).  Ms. Floyd’s work examines the production history of Henry V from 1723-2012.  At times of war and peace throughout this time period the representation of Henry V as changed in relation to respective social agendas and expectations.

The work, presented here, of Matthew Kendrick, out of New Jersey, is focused on The Knight of the Burning Pestle.  Beaumont’s play was first performed in 1607.  The work is a parody of chivalric romances and a satire of contemporaneous works such as Dekker’s Shoemaker’s Holiday. There is a sense of the ‘everyday’ and of the working classes in England. Mr. Kendrick’s work seeks to explore the relationship between the laboring community and the theatre.

James Byers’ work examines the representations of the Irish nationality in Early Modern drama. There is only a handful of characters in Early Modern English drama represented as Irish.  Byers’ work seeks to trouble the limited representations of the Irish by exploring how they were possibly received by audiences (then and now) and if said representations (often negative) are shaped by performance or cultural perception.

Louise Geddes is out of Adelphi University.  Her work examines the relationship between city drama and the figure of Margaret Thatcher in the zeitgeist. Thatcher located a sensibility to the working classes as a weakness.  Thatcher was certainly “no friend of the arts.” City dramas seek to explore “damage” at a local and personal level.  Jacobean drama appears classical so its performance may well seem to fit within a traditional paradigm, but it is because of this perception that such plays can operate within the culturally hegemonic sphere as burrs or rebellious entities and cultural critiques.

Marie Knowlton-Davis’ work is focused on Friar Laurence (R&J, of course).  She views the character as a “duplicitous antagonist” and a “lapsed Catholic” representing the tensions between Catholicism and Protestantism.  Friar Laurence’s representation also exceeds this religious characterization because of his use of natural/spiritual elements. His complicated nature provokes study and attention.  Marie Knowlton-Davis runs a summer youth theatre program and is interested in mounting a production of Romeo and Juliet in the near future wherein the character of Friar Laurence will be explored and developed in depth.

Megan Lloyd’s work is focused on the Lord Chamberlain’s Men and their delivery of the ‘St. Crispin’s Day’ speech from Henry V.  Of particular interest is how Kempe’s leaving the Chamberlain’s Men may have impacted the meaning and reception.  Her work examines the idea that Early Modern troupes are or are not ‘bands of brothers’ – how close are they?  The possible relationships can be examined by looking at the works and their portrayals and receptions, and by looking at the actual make-ups and changes within the structure of the companies.

It was a pleasant afternoon and discussion.

Colloquy Session VI: Methods II: Pedagogy and Staging: 2013 Blackfriars Conference (10/24/13)

Good afternoon everyone –

This is Molly Zeigler, back again, to live-blog Colloquy Session VI: Methods II: Pedagogy and Staging for the 2013 Blackfriars Conference.  This colloquy session is being held at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel in Salon A on Thursday 10/24/13 at 3:30 on a sunny, if chilly, afternoon.

This is my first time inside the Stonewall Jackson Hotel; it’s a lovely venue.  The Stonewall Jackson Hotel and the Blackfriars Theatre, of course, have something of a close relationship, coming up together as financial successes here in historic Staunton.

Colloquy Session VI:

Chair and Presenter: Rhonda Knight 

Presenters: Christopher Fettes; Bryan Herek; Alan Hickerson; Garry Walton; Jane Wells  (Please note that, unfortunately, Meg Powers Livingston was unable to attend today’s colloquy.)

The session began with introductions and statements regarding panel members’ work and interests:

Bryan Herek is aligned with Chowan University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  His experience and interest is in working with Shakespearean works and materials with minority students.  It has been his experience that working with minority students requires a wide range of approaches and pushes the search for innovation forward.

Alan Hickerson is a school teacher. For 20 years he taught in Charlottesville and now he is out of Athens, Georgia (where he has switched from public education to private).  He has worked with entities in England including the University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (both in Stratford-upon-Avon).  In Mr. Hickerson’s class the students are responsible for shaping much of the performance based portion of the curriculum.  His students work with plays and sonnets in performance and presentation.

Rhonda Knight is out of Coker College in Harstville, South Carolina.  She is interested in exploring how to incorporate modern students familiarity and love of the Harry Potter texts with their study and comprehension of Early Modern works, namely Doctor Faustus.  Many students today are so enamored of the Harry Potter stories – quoting it incessantly, referring back to it constantly – that they view other literature through the lens of the love they have for these modern works.  The Harry Potter works may be seen as representative of any current popular trends in literature that may shape today’s students’ views of Early Modern texts.

Jane Wells is aligned with Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio.  She is exploring the tension between modern staging practices, Early Modern practices and conventions, and modern expectations of theatre and performance.  There is a tension between the desire to be original while adhering to perceived expectations of ‘Early Modern’ stagecraft.  Ms. Wells is interested in several questions: What does it mean to view these texts as having multiple meanings and what meaning do we – as readers and audience members and theatre practitioners – impose upon the text?  Does meaning get ‘closed off’ as choices are made – have to be made – in the course of performance?

Christopher Fettes is a graduate student at the University of Central Arkansas (he comes from a strong English literature background).  As a busy dramaturgical intern with the theatre on campus at the University of Central Arkansas, Mr. Fettes was surprised to find that he was expected to perform in a variety of fashions outside of his literary/English-based ‘comfort zone.’  He has been involved with the theatre at the University of Central Arkansas writing program notes, working on lobby displays, and other activities.  He is interested in how the dramaturg is viewed and how the dramaturg’s role is expressed.

Garry Walton is with Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina.  Meredith College is a women’s liberal arts school.  He teaches Shakespeare every semester and it is ‘never boring.’  Part of his teaching is sharing information about productions he has seen with his students.  Sharing production information opens up the body of relate-able information for students (especially students who may not have ever seen a production of a Shakespearean work).

The floor was open to questions to welcome all into the colloquy (the following material is paraphrased – first person will be used when possible):

Please keep in mind that this colloquy (as dictated by the sometime discursive structure of colloquy panels) was fast and loose.  We had excellent conversations and the passion and fervor of today’s educator was evident. I have tried to capture some of that spirit (as best I can). 

Question for the panel from an audience member: What are your experiences teaching Shakespeare to and working with Shakespeare with minority students?

Herek: It is really true that minority students approach this material from a unique vantage.  Many students will immediately go to the well of ‘other.’  They will explore these texts through their own experiences and through the construct of the ‘other.’  I have explored other ways into the texts.  I strongly recommend getting the material on its feet and allowing students to physically engage.  The comedies are best suited for such physical exploration and engagement.

Audience member observation:  Working with a group of students that represents a broad cross-section of society makes for challenges just as it allows for a deeper exploration of possible double or alternative meanings an interpretations of the texts.

Question from the audience: How does space impact the teaching process and the ease of getting these works on their feet (and how does it impact interpretation)?

Knight:  I use both the classroom and theatre spaces with my students.  Using the theatre space allows for a ‘hands-on lab’ experience where different options can be explored.  I often assign a paper wherein students are expected to engage with a possible (and specific) staging issue or difficulty.

Question from the audience: What are some proactive methods for encouraging exploration and engagement?

Walton: Some success is seen with film.  Students often respond positively to working with and writing about film.  Film is a medium that students are comfortable with and it is an easy ‘launching pad’ for discussions of acting, acting choices, characterization, and performance.

Hickerson: I often have my students keep an acting and writing journal.  A journal allows students to keep a record of their process and discoveries while personalizing the experience for them.

Audience member observation: I work with ninth graders and I have found that play is a great way to get these students to a place where they feel comfortable to really explore the material.  Students who are comfortable often find meaning for themselves.

Wells: I love play. It is a great way into this material.  Consider when I learn a piece of Beethoven or Mozart – that work becomes a part of me.  I am then free to play with it (play has served to bring me closer to a piece initially, and it then continues to offer insight).  We are looking for that sort of familiarity and approach-ability.  Once we have that sense of connection, we can continue to easily play and engage with a piece.

Topic suggestion (suggested by audience and direction of conversation): Purpose of teaching these materials; and the language as obstacle.

Fettes:  As an English major I do not come to these materials from a performance perspective.  When I go to the theatre I do not have issues or difficulties with the language.  Dramaturgs engage with many different aspects of text and performance – not all of which are clearly demonstrated in a specific production.

Knight:  Teaching these materials engages students’ critical thinking skills.  Teaching this material can create strong critical thinkers and interested individuals.  Part of this process is to teach students how to be good audience members (as they are expected to be good students or ‘audience members’ in the classroom).  If we want good audiences, we need to explore what it means to in fact be a good audience member.

Question from the audience:  Thanks to the OCS, I teach my students rhetoric. I see it as a way for students to engage mentally and physically with the material.  Do you do much with rhetoric?

Knight: No, I do not do much with rhetoric.  However, I do much with physicality and movement.

Audience member (to Knight): Your work predates our obsession with rhetoric.  (Appreciative laughter.)

Herek:  I do use hip-hop as a way into examining constructed language.

Wells:  Slang can offer a method of approach allowing students to access a small way into the material.

In the interest of time, Rhonda Knight, here, used her ‘chair prerogative’ to re-direct the conversation to Alan Hickerson’s sonnet assignment:

Hickerson:  Students are expected to select one sonnet and memorize it.  It is worked on in depth and paraphrased and explored slowly so that students can see progress.  The sonnet is viewed as a small, complete play – a play that can be handled.  Students engage physically with the sonnet.  Students treat the sonnet as a performance piece and bring it alive.  There are true a-ha moments available within such work and engagement as students begin to understand and see the process from a broader vantage point.

Audience member observation: More a-ha moments are to be found by engaging with the text in small chunks and through a smaller, tighter focus.  Rhetoric can be approached easily and simply by first looking at single words.  Starting small and focused engages students’ critical thinking skills.

Rhonda Knight thanked everyone for their participation and we broke into small groups to touch base before dispersing. 

It was an intriguing discussion.  The educators present were all ‘alive’ with their passions and focus.  It was an interesting afternoon.

 

Staging Session 1 Wednesday 10/23/2013

Good afternoon everyone.

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

Session Moderator: Doreen Bechtol, Mary Baldwin College

Presenters: 

Douglas King, Gannon University

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

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

Performers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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