A Remembrance: Russ McDonald

Shakespeare lost one of his most eloquent teachers and writers when Russ McDonald died unexpectedly in London last week, and our lights at the OCS are a little dimmer as we’ve lost one of our finest friends.

A Professor of English at Goldsmith’s College in London, Russ McDonald was one of the most pre-eminent Shakespeare scholars whose written work appeals equally to the beginner and the expert. For the beginner, his writings give a solid understanding of what makes the work of Shakespeare and his contemporaries so admirable and important. For scholars, his books help us organize the work we do and remind us of the ways in which our Shakespeare enterprises are interconnected, serving as models for both clarity and prose.

But, like the great Early Modern authors he celebrated, he had a remarkable range of interests, as reflected in a bibliography of his works: Russ’s The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare is, in my view, the most lucid introduction to the writer and his works; Shakespeare and the Arts of Language is a comprehensive look at Shakespeare’s literary tools; Shakespeare’s Late Style makes clear both the manner and the meaning of the challenging language in the later plays; Look to the Lady is a study of Sarah Siddons, Ellen Terry, and Judi Dench, each the great actress of her century; and his first book Shakespeare and Jonson, Jonson and Shakespeare is a comprehensive comparison of the yin and yang of early modern playwrights.

His work as an editor includes a handy edition of the most-read plays (The Bedford Shakespeare, with co-editor Lena Orlin) as well as two of the most helpful collections of essays. Shakespeare: An Anthology of Criticism 1945-2000 provides not only the most seminal essays in that volcanic period of Shakespeare studies but also the most helpful explanation of each approach.  His most recent book Shakespeare up Close contains dozens of short pieces that model the kind of close reading championed by his friend (and ours) Stephen Booth.

Alongside the extensive list of his works (which he wrote and researched with such apparent ease) Russ made room in his life for other interests and hobbies: from serving as president of the Shakespeare Association of America to working as the opera critic for Opera Magazine, a job in which he took childlike delight (“I get the best seats at the Royal Opera, and I get paid for it!”).  Music, architecture, plays, Duke basketball, food – Russ knew and savored them all.

Russ was an early fan of the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express, bringing our troupe to UNC Greensboro in the early 1990’s before he moved on to teach at Goldsmith’s College in London.  He was one of the first keynote speakers for our Blackfriars Conference, reprising his role in 2013 when we honored his professor George Walton Williams.  The last time he spoke on the Blackfriars stage was in March at the celebration of the life of founding OCS Board member Tom Berger, one of Russ’s dearest friends.  Together Russ and Tom provided a latter-day version of the apocryphal “wit combats” of Shakespeare and Jonson, demonstrating more of a clever ballet of words than an aggressive fight. It was my great fortune to have heard them so many times at play.

Now, so unexpectedly to lose Russ in the same year as Tom is a great sadness for me; but, beyond my personal loss, his going has dimmed a joyous and generous light in the world of Shakespeare. He’s left behind a certain and twinkling sense of how lucky we are to have such a beautiful and, as Russ would say, delicious thing as his words.  Russ’s great talent was sharing that delight with us all.
We send our condolences to his wife and colleague Gail and to their son Jack.  

 

–Ralph Alan Cohen

 

Mlitt Thesis Festival 2016 – Session 3

Hi All, Sarah Enloe here, looking forward to the last session of the 2016 Mlitt presentations here at the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, Virginia.  The room is filling up as students and faculty return from a break.  Looking around the room, the final five presenters prepare for one of the most nerve-wracking moments in their graduate school career with equal parts smiles, nervous pacing, with a mixture expressions on their faces. Paul Menzer welcomes all back to the playhouse and the “analog” portion of the evening (this session apparently will not use projection).

Sarah Wykowski, “Painted full of Tongues”: Embodying Liminality in in Shakespeare’s Prologue Figures

Sarah begins by explaining the style of realism that she has been trained and worked in.  She suggests that realism can work for some characters in Shakespeare’s plays, but that others, such as prologues, function in a more liminal space.

The figures, such as Chorus, do not exist in the play or the audience. Instead it is a threshold or bridge. It embodies the transition an audience undergoes, as the audience is transported into the world of the play, particularly in a world of theatre which engages in audience contact or direct address.

She introduces the ideas of Turner and his phases of rite of passage: separation, transition, and reincorporation. Liminality is likened to death, being in the wombd, to bisexulaity. The subject exists betwixt and between audience and play. The outward depiction of the liminal state varies from cultures, but share some qualities–a sexless white cloth in swaddling of babies and the dress of tribal leaders as they rise.

In early examples of a prologue, one uses a metaphor of a ship and a sea voyage, speaking of his femininity, and could relate to the transitional role of a boy actor moving beyond playing female roles. In Noh, the actor portraying women are both women/young girls, but with a mask covering only part of the face and a heightened physicality, he is both a woman and not a woman. The ideologies of Animus and Anima represent polar complements employed by the actor. At the pre-expressive level, there is an erasing of gender.

Sarah has worked with Doreen Bechtol, Thadd MacQuade, and Sarah Fallon to compose gesture for the Rumour speech from Henry IV, Part 1 to emphasize the liminality. (She performs.) Her first attempt used “jazz hands” that fought with the liminality, at this point Thadd and Doreen gave her some advice before she took it to an audition, the direction was to feel as if horses were pulling her arms in different directions, which changed the delivery in satisfactory changes, with realizations in breath that created a different story.

Brewster and Wiman discuss the early modern Prologue as an usher with amounts of authority and servitude.  Bestows, on the audience, and boasts, of himself, of authority in the speech.  In another recent role, the Bellhop in Eurydice, she found more “extra-daily” opportunities. She describes a moment in the play in which she carried the title character.  The choice, which a focus on extra-daily movement, she supported the theft of authority from the character (by way of the fates).

She suggests that finding a range of ways to play the characters who exists in the space is worthy of further study as she hopes to continue to push and pull both herself and others to think about different ways of portraying liminal characters.

Q: Menzer: Is there a way that this applies to characters who become liminal? A: Absolutely

Q: Mackey: In your first exploration, you discussed Caliban, is that still part of teh thesis? A: no, moved onto choral.

Q: Harris: Can you reflect on the character you played in Clymon and Clymenedes? A: The theme of comedy in that show creates a different circumstance, but it would be interesting to explore.

Q: Seremet: With your concept of the art body, what do you do with characters who are more divided liminal characters? A: would want to explore each individually.

Q: Thompson: does your thesis address why these characters are essential to the plays? A: not yet, but it probably should receive some attention.

Q: Cohen: I think your character in C&C was in fact liminal, with your vocal choices. Could be an early realization.

Q: Bechtol: You talked about the directional quality, I wonder if your performance changed with an audience and the thought of being a bridge.  A: It did, some audience members tried to talk and others were put off. Once you are comfortable, you can align with them in a different way from other characters.

Mark Pajor, A Tale of Two Endings: Early Modern Aglaura as a Modern Multi-Linear Narrative

Aglaura by John Suckling has been ignored by early modern scholars, remarkable since this one play has two endings. This thesis looks at a  multi-lineal narrative. It was first mounted in 1638 at the Blackfriars, and at court. Three months later, the King;s Men presented it and it changed from a bloody revenge tragedy to a bloodless comi-tragedy. In its first printing, the reader would find both endings with prologues and epilogues.

Critics, such as Squire, have dismissed the play because of its disturbing “dual” ending. Rather than a problem, Mark sees this multi-linear narrative as a positive in opposition to its most prominent critic. He lists Choose Your Own Adventure and Clue as examples of a hunger for this style of storytelling.  He suggests that the aim of rehearsal is to tell a consistent story, but that many modern day theatrical productions have followed the pattern, demonstrating that it is clearly applicable to the medium.

To illustrate the efficacy of the form, his actors will stage both ending. Mark begins with a plot summary.  The actors, at hand, begin with the original bloody version, followed by the second less violent ending. He restates the differences between them, namely that prisoners are taken rather than deaths committed.  The important item to note is the point of divergence, the cue word of “revenge stays the same, but rather than instigating a killing, it is an entrance cue for the servant character. The counterpoint, the point of convergence, are important to multi-lineal narratives for practical reasons such as managing the number of choices available, for memory reasons for the actors and playwright. It also increases thematic unity. Making their differences stand out more clearly, and remain a continuation of the same story rather than becoming two different stories entirely.  Both versions must have dramatically logical outcomes or consequences.

Aglaura succeeds with pen and paper what video games do with screens and joy sticks, with Suckling anticipating the need for logical consequences. The multi-linear narrative goes beyond traditional narrative, and opens the possibility of many more by not presenting just one.  This work could apply to King Lear’s two texts and the Shrew stories, as explored in November, and suggested possibilities for other staging possibilities.  Each adaptation acknowledges multiplicity, and creates a range of choices.

Q: Thompson: Having worked on the Shrew adaptation, I wonder in this case, how does the idea change when the audience input is not an aspect? A: Many theorists have explored this, and some consider the audience engagement question, and others do not. Could do Aglaura with audience choosing.

Q: Hamlet: How many characters die in the tragic version? A: 7

Q: Garrett: How do you put the plays in conversation with one another, all begin with one starting place and different endings, but what about with plays like the Contention, where the ending is the same but the beginning is different? A: An important quesiton, ot yet investigated.

Q: Cohen: Did you think about how Knight of the Burning Pestle fits into this idea? A: THat inspired my interest.

Clarence Finn, “These Rowsy, Ragged, Rabblement of Rakehells”: A Discourse on Several Poverty-Stricken Vagabond Characters from Early Modern Drama and Their Struggle to Survive

The vagabond characters were poor people who struggled to survive and were ostracized, Finn relates to the feelings of these characters due to circumstances in his youth. This presentation contextualizes impoverished characters and the reasons for their circumstances and how to relate it to performance today.  These characters are more than comic relief. They are historical artifacts from which audiences can learn about the impact on poverty.

Finn begins with a historical portrait, explaining that during the early modern period, the poor were mistreated by higher status individuals. Population growth and enclosure caused poverty in the period, and early modern historian William Harris describes the problem. Officials failed the poor by not providing employment and from the damage of population growth. Enclosures further hampered the well-being of the vulnerable.

Vagabonds were imprisoned, whipped, dragged behind carts; literature describes them and society’s feelings towards them (see title). Likewise, characters like Autolycus (Winter’s Tale), Moll Cutpurse (The Roaring Girl), and Skink (Look About You) demonstrate their place in the culture’s imagination.  Ryan Odenbrett portrays Autolycus with a depth of feeling, rather than comedically, to demonstrate the impact that homing in on a single line (about lack of employment leading to unjust actions) can have on the portrayal.  Kim Greenawalt and Chad Marriott play a scene from The Roaring Girl to show Moll’s place as a warrior vagabond. They show the defiant Moll who does not hesitate to resort to violence and playing dirty. Skink, a very dangerous vagabond leads him to commit murder. Gaskill discusses the meaning of murder in his book on early modern crime.  Stephan Petrowski and Glenn Thompson work with Tyler Dale to show Skink in action. Disguise heightens the danger, as Skink not only takes clothes, he takes on identity and commits crime at will.

He concludes with the thought that the possibility that careful attention to the situation of the vagabond can inform performance.

Q: Finch: Did you look at the displaced royals who become vagabonds? Q: Have not, need to manage the numbers.

Q: Grace: How do you reconcile the clear comedy in the scenes with this approach? A: the humor should happen by happenstance, rather than by forcing it.

Q: Davies: Funny can happen in discomfort, and it is interesting to think about the cruelty actors demonstrate when playing actors and how they may relate to this work? A: Will explore.

Q: Harris: Can you discuss more of what you think that society should have done to help the poor? A: the acts and laws in the period forced the poor to suffer and the longer work explores it.

Q: Johnson: The natural comedy can heighten the deeper, tragic moments.

Zac Harned, The Words Words Words Show

Begins with an apology for the lack of sex, violence, foul language, alcohol or tobacco in his work.  Describes a favorite teacher who tells the story of students exploring a poem, they are introduced, find they like it and then take it home and scream in its face to try to get at what it means. This is a metaphor for how Zac used to feel about rhetoric.  As an actor, when asked by a director what he thought a moment of anaphora might mean, he realized that he didn’t know and didn’t care, but then realized that Shakespeare’s schools and that of his actors would help a modern actor.

Through exploration of 3 devices,  the first: Catachresis. Example: “John foolishly bought a cd with out seeing the music first. ” The word hearing would logically replace seeing, its effect is to disrupt the listener. FIrst an actor must question the figure: Does the character know they did it, realize it, choose it? For the performative quality changes when one notices it, and emphasizes it. The figure does not tell an actor to perform, but gives him or her something to perform.

A classic example of repeated catechresis appears in the character of Dogberry.  The actor must choose how to play it, for instance with confidence (by dropping or raising the voice, by over enunciating, or by raising pitch) or without confidence (by questioning, searching, giving up).

Not all figures are performable, and in the case of multiple figures means the actor must choose which to play.

The other consideration is how the character hearing the catechresis responds to it. Brooke Spatel and Maddie Buttitta perform a scene from Two Gentlemen of Verona several times by way of example. Some can understand it as a pun (or paranomasia), or choose to react to it as if it is a wrong use of words.

Moving onto metaphor, by way of definition, Harned cites a tweet which he paraphrases “We get it, poets, things are like other things”.  Using the familiar text of “To be or not to be, that is the question/Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes/Or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing, end them, Harned points out the possible play of catechresis in the word “sea”. Maddie Buttitta shows several different ways to emphasize the (or de-emphasize) the word and thus the rhetorical figure.

In conclusion, terminology is important, adding to the vocabulary actors, directors, and dramaturgs own means they will more easily see the figure and deploy methods to play it; the figures are a part of the plays.  Rhetorical figures often occupy spaces of significance, and actors should have them as a tool–not to ask “what does rhetoric mean?” but “what can it mean? ”

Q: Scott: Have you looked at original pronunciation and its impact? A: yes, paranomasia can be impacted and I will be investigating.

Q: Garrett: Catechresis may be a subtextual clue? A: Yes, with reservation.

Shane Sczepankowski, Do You Bite Your Cue at Me?

Shane begins by playing some calming music, acknowledging his place as the last in a “long two days”.  He offers to take the audience on a journey through the forest of cue scripts, and raises the question why don’t we use them? Cue scripts are documents which contain the exits and entrances, the actors’ lines, and 3-4 words they must listen for in order to speak at the proper time.  He mentions that that there are times when cues are repeated and that actors, Shanes insists, must embrace.

IC (interrupting cues) are on the table for exploration. Shortly, a scene from a cut version of Romeo and Juliet’s tomb scene, which Shane explains they developed using a rehearsal process that included approximately 2/3 to 1/3 rehearsal time directorial vs collaborative, and in which the actors engaged in personal study to learn their lines.  After the scene, Shane explains the impact of overlapping dialogue which results from IC, and suggests that the work even in this late scene of the play, could be used to explore character relationships in the very first one.

As the presentation moves on, the actors present the banishment scene which takes place earlier in the play. Then, he moves onto a set of questions for his actors. He establishes a convention of “actor brain” and “character brain”, in which the actors will move from one stool to the next to answer the questions.  Beginning with the Nurse, he asks about how the cue work informed her character development, and she answered that it helped her with the age of the nurse. Moving onto brain, she reveals that the learning of the lines was challenging, and that she kept the information learned from working in that way. Moving on the the character of the Friar, the actor answered that the rhythm of the cues was helpful in character development. And that the repeating cue for the friar reinforced the moment of urgency in both scenes. Finally, Romeo.  As an actor, he answers the question “What did you learn not to do?” He states that the hot-headed perception of Romeo is not necessarily present in the text, and the process allowed him to discover. Moving into the character chair, he discusses that the journey moving from Act III to Act V shows more of an arc with this tool.

Shane concludes by saying that early modern theatre practitioners can benefit by focusing on the repeated cues in rehearsals.

Q: Jones: Will work on repeated cues impact other repetitions? A: The aim of this work is to create a tighter ensemble and that examination may do that.

Q: Davies: would it be possible to explore repeated cues without cue scripts? A: yes, it is helpful to have the actor discover it themselves.

 

And thus concludes another Thesis festival with Paul Menzer noting the 25 presentations heard in just over 24 hours and naming every student (and pronouncing each one correctly).

“What were’t worth to know the secret of your conference?” – Henry VIII

1476674_10151906090108347_892834423_nTomorrow is the deadline for would-be presenters to submit abstracts for our biennial Blackfriars Conference. Predictably, the flood gates have opened in the last week, and my inbox has brimmed with innovative and exciting suggestions for possible explorations. I continue to be amazed at the community of people (myself included) who work for Mr. William Shakespeare, nearly 400 years after the guy died. But more than that, I am delighted by how these abstracts shape my thinking and appreciation not just for the man (the guy I often refer to as my boss) but also for the community members who I am pleased to call colleagues.

What follows is a brief glimpse of just some of the papers you may* hear if you come to Staunton the last week of October 2015:
  • Romeo’s and Juliet’s relationship to the “Sun Economy”
  • Connecting The Merchant of Venice and The Jew of Malta
  • Feminism and Consent in Taming of the Shrew
  • Rhetoric and Stanislavsky in Shakespeare Performance
  • Conversion and Repentance in Winter’s Tale
  • Shakespeare and the Civil War
  • Chests and Trunks
  • Entreating in Taming of the Shrew
  • Drinking in Hamlet
  • Fletcher’s School Room: Dance and Performance in Two Noble Kinsmen
  • Coffins
  • Parenting Skills (this conference really does have something for everyone!)
  • Act 3 scene 2 (of every play)
  • Bad teachers and bad students in Love’s Labour’s Lost
  • Shakespeare performances at sea
  • Violence on Stage, Poison vs Blood: Women vs Men
  • 2  Gents: The Musical
  • Syphilis
  • Pregnancy on the early modern stage (unrelated to the above)
  • Madness
  • Quartos
  • Perkin Warbeck
  • The performance of Hero
  • Shakespeare and Chinese
  • Eye Contact
  • Shakespeare and American Sign Language
  • Kings on the eve of battle
  • Satire
  • Shakespeare and Lincoln
  • Shrew and 50 Shades of Grey
  • Geography
  • Psychology
  • Gender-cross casting
  • Art
  • Eavesdropping
  • Corpses

…and more.  We will announce the results of the selection process in May; til then, keep your eyes peeled — and see how many things you can find in your life that relate to Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

–Sarah Enloe
OCS Director of Education

*I will send these abstracts to a set of “blind” readers on April 15.  The readers will see neither the name of the person who submitted, nor that person’s affiliation–whether it is collegiate or independent, graduate student or emeritus professor.  The readers will mark each abstract with a letter grade based on a set of criteria we provide, and we will collate the grades and select the top 66 for plenary presentation.  

MLitt Thesis Festival 2015: Session 3

Good evening, Sarah Enloe here, taking over for Cass for the final session of the 2015 Thesis Festival. So far, the scholarship and presentations have been excellent. Looking forward to the final five. A little description of the room for those who have not attended a festival before: Down stage right, the MBC seal graces a podium made of stained oak, an extension cord runs from the discovery space to the “media cart upstage left–indicating readiness for tech support for any upcoming presentation. The house features the student body of the three class years of the MBC program, their faculty, and loved ones (as well as OCS education staff). Paul Menzer walks to the front to introduce the session: “Like an episode of COPS: Starts with nudity, ends with cursing,”

Adrienne Johnson “Leave Them ‘Naked as the Vulgar Air’: A Study of the Effects of Nudity in Performance.”

Actor: Josh Williams

In a break from the previous presentations, students occupy the gallant stools stage right and left. The full paper covers the history of censorship in early modern England and concludes with the ending of the position of the Master of Revels in the 1960s, which saw the advent of nudity onstage. The nudity was not limited to London, but expanded to NYC, as well. Appreciation of the human form its most vulnerable state. Nudity can connect the actor and character. When Ms Johnson started to study this, she encountered many who wanted to share their personal experience of seeing nudity onstage, professors, actors, and audiences. The list of actors and theatres who employ the practice is long. But why bother? Why has the London stage become a “wang-addicted world”? The presentation of the actor body as a focal point directly effect the audience experience. The tradition of pageantry By showing the naked body, the production can show that the actors are more than just icons: they are human.

There is no evidence of nudity on the early modern stage. The early modern theatre practitioners were concerned with nudity, though they did not show it. The censors never legally prohibited nudity, but it was not accepted. Could Shakespeare have had nude actors on stage? “I like to think so.” In the early modern period, the Privy Council was continually called on to censor action on the stage, while the Master of Revels was in charge of censoring the text. THe establishment’s need to control content created the Patronage system, in 1572, the Privy Councils’ vagabond act created the profession of actor. The privy council’s rulings in the restoration (after 1672 Drury Lane patent) focussed less on offensive language (even considering witty language necessary). In this period,the appearance of women on stage led some to comment on the states of undress among one particular actor–Nell Gwyn–which could have been merely a pants role or could have been light, revealing clothing. The examples of ROMEO AND JULIET and ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA provide scenes that were ripe for thoughts about nakedness. Iago in OTHELLO, tempts his superior to think about the lewdness of nakedness, while in KING LEAR nudity plays a role for Poor Tom. Similarly, in TIMON OF ATHENS, nudity is a driving force in Timon’s exit from Athens.

In the scene presentation, Josh WIlliams plays a scene that suggests a choice for a production, the first time through, Josh removes his suit jacket and throws it against the wall. Ms. Johnson points out that the lines indicate that. the character wants to leave Athens his clothes, this time Josh removed his clothes gradually throughout until he is left nude at the end of the speech. Ms Johnson calls the actor back to stage so that he can participate in a discussion with the audience. After asking the audience to express their feelings, Ms Johnson is, at first, met with silence, then:

–I expected to giggle but became engrossed

–I was waiting for him to get naked

–Where in the text did you find to justify each removal? (Josh explicates that he chose shoe removal on the word cripple because he saw it as related to walking)
Q: Women’s nudity?
–More prominent
Q: Differences between stripping between and immediate clothing
–Ms Johnson wanted the suit
Q: Does pre-warning in marketing have an effect
–only one that she has looked at gives pre-warning. (One did warn about poop.) The Vollage in the 60s ran kind of nudity and theatre
Q: In the last 10 years there has been more male nudity than female, have you noticed a trend?
–not specifically

Jordan Zwick “Cardenio: A Case Study in Textual Reconstruction.”
Actors: Josh Williams, Zac Harned, Mark Pajor
This presentation will not be nearly as naked. Who here has read or seen Double Falsehood? Who here thinks it could use a little work. Greg Doran started a 12 year journey that culminated in a 2011 production. This production will use the Cardenio names, and will focus on one relationship and the actors learnings from them. The play exceeded expectations for a reconstructed text. Through interviews with cast members and the record in Doran’s book, Ms. Zwick pieced together a picture of the rehearsal room. When rehearsals began it was “complete” but Doran had a hard time seeing Stanley Well’s claim that Shakespeare’s hand was in it. Nevertheless, the room was one that welcomed editing and addition. As actors dug in, they found holes in the script, particularly in the Cardenio/Fernando relationship. In DOUBLE FALSEHOOD, the two characters do not meet until late in the text, despite textual evidence of a deep friendship before Fernando dishonors Cardenio by usurping his love, Lucinda. (actors illuminate the relationship with readings from the text). During rehearsals for the early scene in which Fernando and Cardenio discuss the loss of Lucinda, the actors decided it was falling flat and they concluded the need for a scene (one absent from both Theobald and Cervantes), Doran created one in which he tried not to sound like “early modern pastiche.” The framework he created by consulting other early modern plays was fleshed out during rehearsals. With the actors’ help, Doran was able to create a dynamic piece of theatre and gave the process and the actors credit on his title page.

Q&A
Q: In some ways a much darker TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA?
A: Closer to TWO NOBLE KINSMEN, but Doran poached from everywhere
Q: What Genre? and How much blood?
A: Romance, keeping honor in the production was important to the Spanish dramaturg kept the aim on that.
Q: Familiar with Chuck Mee/Greenblatt? Know of any process overlap?
A: Biggest difference would be the length of time, some cast members from 2003 staged reading were with it til 2011.
Q: Gary Taylor’s CARDENIO?
A: Biggest difference (wasn’t able to consult with all of the versions) is that Gary Taylor stuck with the text
Q: Spectrum between careful reconstruction to adaptations:
A: Gary Taylor, Doran, Mee
Q: Why?
A: Appeals to me as a scholar and an artist, because I appreciate the idea of the actor being a text consultant. Across the board the actors said it was most gratifying and they were proud of the production.

Aubrey Whitlock “Shakespeare of the Oppressed”

Actors: Merlyn Q. Sell, Molly Seremet
Begins with a parody of “This too too solid flesh…” You are about to witness a a transculturation (transcend a foreign tradition and create something new from a indigenous tradition). Today the presentation will be playing with Boal’s methods to question thesis presentations. Next vignette: “Speak not the speech”, an oath to trust the text. A scene by the actors debating text and playing it. One folio nut chases the other less adherent off.  Next scene: Political theatre in the form of an infomercial.  “The joker system” will allow you to take your political theatre explorations to the next level, Aubrey explains the joker is a wild card who can interact with the audience or play any character in the play. Boal argued that it could be used in any play. What do you get when you order” this system? All actors can play all characters and comes with a set of instructions:

–The protagonist can only be played by one actor and must be naturalistic and maintains the reality. The character for whom the audience feels the most empathy

–The Joker is the opposite of the protagonist, he can explain anything, speak for the playwright, and company

— chorus, and music.

Actors ask: What if the theatre company is small?

–Can still work

–Each scene can have its own style, linked by commentaries by the joker, episodes end with an exclamation, also can feature the inside story of a character and an exaltation, Boal says it can be adjusted for any need.

Next scene introduced by a poem delivered by Ms. Whitlock.

–narration summarizing Hamlet (DANES OF OUR LIVES)

–Gravedigger scene, Hamlet is accused of breaking the fourth wall, and asked what he knows about Shakespeare of the Oppressed in a good cop/bad cop routine. When asked she says she’d like to apply the Theatre of the Oppressed to Shakespeare and argues for the play to be HAMLET because Boal was “obsessed” with it. It is riddled with the meta awareness in the joker system. THe actor playing the inspector asks: Who is the presenter right now? Hamlet, the joker, Aubrey? All three.

This is an example of the melding of the indigenous to transculturation and surpassed all three forms–Boal, HAMLET, and thesis presentation. This is not acculturation, every transculturation adjusts to the needs of its audience. It belongs among the theatre world and education.

Go, make you ready.

Q&A:

Q: In applying Boal to HAMLET, you are designating roles to different characters.

A: Primary question that drove presenter to HAMLET, see it in performance would answer could involve altering text, costume designation, Hamlet seems most joker like when he speaks prose.

Q: How much can be applied to devised theatre more generally, in terms of the MFA year, will it reach beyond?

A: I do, Boal says it can be applied to any play, and you don’t have to follow all of it and his system (games, etc) can be applied broadly.

Q: Besides protagonist and joker, how are other characters designated–one protagonist? one joker? more of both?

A: Yes, any of that is possible. In the strictest, one actor playing protagonist and any actor can play any other character with the assistance of a physical mask. It is malleable, and I continue to look at it.

Q: Hoping to create a new genre of Shakespeare and the Oppressed, what is the difference between the Theatre of the Oppressed doing HAMLET and Shakespeare of the Oppressed?

A: not a new genre, but more about the transculturation (the indigenous and transculturation)

Q: Would the play follow the same text each night?

A: Up to the audience. Part of what the joker does is bringing in both questions and guidance from the audience.


Danielle Guy “Performing Bedlam: The Performance of Madness in Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi

Actors: Megan Clauhs and Ian Charles

Actors perform a scene from Slings and Arrows re: playing madness. Guidance from Stanislavsky, Mizener, Adler indicate that the Method may not have much to offer the person who needs to play insanity. And particularly not early modern insanity. In the 16th and 17th c, a doctor Napier made case studies of madness and even explained how one might play madness. He separated into temporary and long term disjointed mental states. Giving an actor Napier’s records may assist them in the presentation of madness. With readings from the Napier studies, the actor plays a scene two times, showing the difference the information can make. The steps are: character profiling, diagnosing, actor application.

The malady noted in The Duchess of Malfi, that of werewolfism, is not described in Napier’s notes. But, as it is a madness of physical change and predatory state, revealed by the transformation into his beastly state throughout the play. Presenter suggests that the actor consider the malady described as melancholy because its description well fits the character descriptions in the text, and that they play it throughout the play. Because the descriptions are helpful. Using this method helps tear down the bars of bedlam and gives access to sound comprehension and solidarity.

Q: Were the milch bats part of the raving, or were they milking bats?

A: Yep, it happened.

Q: In depth diagnosis, is there a theatre that could have done this? Contacted Farah Karim-Cooper? Interesting to find out, use that connection.

A: Yes, that would be awesome.

Q: Ethics of playing madness?

A: Need to know the rules before you break them. Maybe in tablework.

Q: Since any play performed today by actors will be for an audience with modern understandings, recommend modern techniques as well?

A: I believe that the audience will go along, this is more for the actor.

Q: Richard Napier is wrong about everything, using his diagnosis might be insensitive?

A: In the world of the play, it should be a consideration for understanding the social roles?

Q: What is the external expression of this?

A: The chart features some physical descriptions and are linked in my thesis, connections to the humors but didn’t have time.

Q: You referenced some characters that are not mad but performing mad, wonder if there is a different methodology or symptomatology. It sounds like your concern is that playing mad will make the actor mad, and that sounds like antitheatricalism discourse. Might want to think about the conversation to be had between those two.

Molly Harper “Stick it in your Et Cetera

Actors: Zac Harned, Ryan Odenbrett

Thanks everyone for staying through to the last one. If you are offended by dirty words, you may want to leave. Flashes O’Keefe images on screen, to begin discussion of euphemisms for “vagina” and lists some including “et cetera”, Scenes from Henry V, 12th Night, Hamlet.

Laurie Maguire’s work on the term “et cetera” discusses its substituting for a woman’s vagina.  A completely spelled out word, in the noun position. In the verb position it refers to defecating. This research agrees with Maguire and asked: What could have happened between the early modern page and stage. Shakespeare uses it two times, in Mercutio’s and Pistol’s lines. Editors believe that et cetera was a censoring mark, but Ms Harper’s research indicates no such thing. When talking about controlling obscenity, a pamphlet from 1579, inspired the reaction against theatrical obscenity.  Actors demonstrate differences between Q and F editions of two Falstaff’s lines indicating this change. Modern editors have been replacing Mercutio’s et cetera with arse to remove their view of “censorship” though the use of et cetera would be more in line if they understood it.

Performance choices (tried with Romeo and Mercutio scene)

Leave it in–say it

self-censoring-skip over it

Embedded stage directions-hand over mouth

Main concern of this presentation is with what happens to the text (with Pistol scene):

This section is titled: Why does the prose character get to keep his et cetera when Mercutio doesn’t?

Pistol’s line is repetitive in its use of euphemisms for the vagina.

Amusingly, different editions footnote the Pistol et cetera with references to Mercutio’s.

Editors are perpetuating the effect that verse can not support the bawdy use of et cetera in prose.  Examples of 20th century bawdy use appear in Ogden Nash and Edward Albee, so why are editors removing the use from verse and not prose? Theatre practitioners make decisions about character portrayal from the text, by not editing the text to fit an iambic pentameter line the editor limits potential.

 

Q&A:

Q: When did it die out as a euphemism?

A: The OED lists it as the 5th definition, it hasn’t actually gone out. But popular language? No idea. Great if rappers started to pick it up.

Q: Euphemism vs Vulgarity?

A: It would have been socially acceptable, because of its latinate origin, but it doesn’t actually work for Pistol because it would have been so well alone. Pie corner/Saddle of Beef=Prostitute. But it would have well known.

Q: What do you make of the double euphemism of et cetera and nothings with Pistol?

A: Trying to find a clever way of insinuating Doll is nothing, not useful, practical, etc. Because it may be diseased.

Q: Nothing tells you that it tells you that it belongs to a woman with comparison to a man?

A: It can serve as a continuance, a shortening, or (as with Nothing) the absence of something.

Q: Why can’t it be an appositive for two words? could be a definition?

A: Used the 2012 2HIV in which the et cetera becomes the final straw before he is kicked out (thrust down)

Thanks to all for a stimulating day.

–This session live-blogged by Sarah Enloe, OCS Director of Education

Pirates and Pentameter

Recently, as I prepared to write my paper for the upcoming SAA seminar Playhouses and Other Early Modern Venues, I pulled out the binder of material I collected at one of my first Shakespeare-specific ventures, The Rose Playhouse Institute at Shakespeare and Company. When, as a second year teacher, I won the NEH award to study for the summer with the team of Educators in Lenox, Massachusetts, my most vivid Shakespeare experiences were all from high school, community theatre, and my own attempt to direct A Midsummer Night’s Dream with my high school students in Texas (let’s just say the special effects were brilliant–trees flew!).  At that time and until I started graduate school, this binder was my biggest link to Shakespeare; in it, I placed everything I thought I needed to direct and to teach Shakespeare. Opening it yesterday took me on a journey back to a time when teaching Shakespeare was harder than it needed to be and I felt like I was winging it constantly.  Don’t get me wrong; the folks at Shakespeare & Company gave us a lot of good information. I learned so much about voice, a lot about taking the text out of context (to help dissolve some fear — my feelings about that I will get to shortly), Elizabethan dance steps, and lessons on tying today’s theatrical practices to Shakespeare (given circumstances, motivation, all the Stanislavsky and Method stuff).  What I didn’t find is anything that cracked the plays, and Shakespeare’s genius, open for me.

Like most high school teachers, I began teaching Shakespeare after experiencing it only in high school classrooms in which we sat and read every. single. word. of the play aloud. Now, I loved that. But I know now that that method of teaching will not work for every student and does a disservice to the author and to the rich material these works contain. Material to mine, figure, construe, and, eventually, apply.  Methods that we want students using when they graduate and pursue further study, careers, and life in general. By the time I reached the status of classroom teacher, however, I had never been introduced to them. Not in high school, not in college, not in community theatre, and not, sadly, at my Institute. I found the tools that help to expand the text in the professional practice at the American Shakespeare Center and in the Mary Baldwin College Shakespeare and Performance Program, both places where we work hard to introduce them to every student and every teacher who crosses our threshold.

My time at the Rose Playhouse Institute was valuable in many ways. It helped shape me as a person; it gave me confidence at a time when I sorely needed it; it supplied me with life-long friendships that I treasure. What it did not teach me how to do is to plumb Shakespeare for meaning.  Instead, sort of like with the recent TEDed video, Why Shakespeare loved Iambic Pentameter, I got a false sense that I knew stuff that mattered. My kids could do text lay-ups, create a sculpture garden of Shakespeare moments, but they couldn’t dig down into a passage, they couldn’t wrestle with the ins and outs of why it mattered. It’s not that the stuff that matters is so difficult, or so hard to teach; it’s that we don’t give it to our future (and present) teachers so that their students can experience the joy of discovering Shakespeare themselves.

In most “on your feet” or “performance-based classroom activities,” the material dodges the matter. It steers clear of looking at too much text (might scare the kids), at text in context (we don’t perform like that anymore), at using the tools Shakespeare’s actors used (they are dead, so they must not be very good).  When, however, we have the ability to study plays across the canon with techniques that take very little time to grasp but that astronomically expand the possibilities for students’ ownership of the text, we are opening the world — and not just the world of just of Shakespeare and literature — to them.  Through this, we say to them: you are good enough, smart enough, and talented enough to get and play with this revered text.

As an example, we worked on The Taming of the Shrew the last weekend in January with teachers from several states and disciplines. Cass looked at rhetoric (I know, surprise!) and early modern courtship as it relates to the play; I, ostensibly, looked at textual transmission (how the play changes from edition to edition) and acting in the play within the play. I say “ostensibly” because I ended up looking at scansion, rhetoric, second person pronouns, and stage directions. Why? Because once you see those things, you can’t un-see them.  Or, to say it another way, once you know their value, scenes and entire plays take on a depth of possibility that students who don’t know them can’t see.  It doesn’t take long to say de-DUM 5 times, or to walk around like a pirate (why a pirate? are we really encountering that many pirates that we use that as our “easy way” into Iambic Pentameter? I digress) but it can make a world of difference in looking at a scene if students know that actors use it as a clue to character and understanding.  Cass has already shared a textual variants activity with you from our study guide, but I would like to dig into that beast a little deeper and show you the things we couldn’t help but talk about last weekend.

TamingSnippetAt right is the page showing different versions editors made of the same passage in 2.1 (by the way, I pulled 9 editions to consider the stage directions in 4.1 and found that every single one constructed them differently — thus painting a different Petruchio). Look at the first 14 lines Petruchio speaks in this passage — ha! another thought, this is 14 lines, the length of a sonnet, but, I digress (again).

Marry so I mean sweet Katherine in thy bed:

And therefore setting all this chat aside

then in plain terms: your father hath consented

that you shall be my wife: your dowry greed on,

And will you, nill you, I will marry you.

Now Kate, I am a husband for your turn,

For by this light, whereby I see thy beauty,

Thy beauty that doth make me like thee well,

Thou will be married to no man but me.

Enter Baptista, Gremio, Tranio

For I am he am born to tame you Kate

And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate

Conformable as other household Kates:

Here comes your father, Never make denial

I must and will have Katharina to my wife.

As we discovered in last Friday’s teacher seminar session, this passage’s stress patterns and use of the informal second person pronoun lends some weight to the argument for the stage direction remaining where the folio places it, and thus, not moving it as later editions do (though, I am pleased to acknowledge that the Arden 3, edited by Barbara Hodgdon, leaves it and other important stage directions from the Folio, in 4.1 for instance, in tact).  It is somewhat unusual, and always revealing for an actor/student, when a pronoun falls in a stressed place. Here, we see four to six pronouns in the stressed position in just 14 lines. Moreover, the nature of the pronouns changes from the informal to the formal to the informal and, finally, back again (the second return to formal coming when the Folio signals the return of Kate’s father).  After we noted all of these things in the group (and pulled our collective hair out with the scansion of the first line–trochee, iamb, iamb, trochee (elision), weird feminine ending? or, entirely trochaic with a catalectic final foot?), we played with it. We made some big choices with the pronoun shifts, trying distance in the formal uses and closer proximity in the informal. We tried being really formal, with Petruchio kneeling the first time he uses the formal pronouns and then transitioning into a more intimate exchange in the informal.

In short, we looked at the text for what clues it could provide. We considered easily identifiable traits like beat and pronouns to create playing choices. We didn’t give just one line; we didn’t gloss over the challenges of the scene. We talked about playing possibilities. We gave the text back to the students (teachers in this case) to make of it what they wanted to. Returning the authority to tackle text is how we roll, and we do it by showing all of the details that are too often not taught but make the text accessible.

Sarah Enloe
Director of Education

PS: For an in-depth guide to exploring those possibilities in the classroom, join us on August 7th for the Summer Teacher Seminar: Shakespeare’s Toolbox.

You, O the dearest of creatures, would even renew me/with your eyes.

Snapshot of the October 12-October 17, 2014

 

Sunday: Filmed pre-show lecture and staged reading of the Menaechmi

Monday:  Shakespeare Theatre Association Executive Board Conference Call to finalize January Conference plans (secretary), finalize grant application for First Folio

Tuesday: All day retreat with Education Team, MFA production of Twelfth Night

Wednesday: Scholar interview with 9 OCS actors, host lecture, welcome visiting University group

Thursday: Comment on MFA workshop presentations, meet with British Education scholar, Marketing meeting for artistic season, train box office staff to use LCD projector,  host lecture, welcome visiting University group

Friday:​L​ed workshop with 3 OCS actors for University group, met with Globe Education Head of Learning, training on new software for Education Programs to implement this month

Saturday:Meet with ASL interpreters for upcoming show, welcome 3rd visiting University

Sunday:​Begin again

It​’​s been 5 years since I stepped into the role of Director of Education at the American Shakespeare Center.

​Each year has presented a variety of challenges and successes.  I am so proud of the work that the Education team has taken on​,​ and I am amazed by the output of such a small group of people. At our retreat this week, the reason we are able to do so much was once again made clear to me. We all believe strongly in the mission of this little company that can.

“The American Shakespeare Center recovers the joy and accessibility of Shakespeare’s theatre, language, and humanity by exploring the English Renaissance stage and its practices through performance and education.”

My first task when I took this position was to write the language for the annual brochure for Education.  I went straight to our mission and used the words there to describe each of our programs. That attention to the mission continues to be a focus of our work, so much so that our recent visitors from Shakespeare on the Road commented that we all, every department, each individual, knows what is at the heart of the work here and speaks about it in uncannily similar ways. So we know why we do this work. I think the question that tickles Education right now is how.

In my first couple of years in the job, changes in the company kept the work in Education fresh and new. Whether itwas the staffing changes brought about by the economic downturn forcing us to think in new, efficient, and creative ways, or the addition of a Managing Director with an actual ​arts management degree, who could encourage and allow growth, or the new staff in Education that growth supported, we seemed to have something new to celebrate every few months–publishing our study guides, putting out our own magazine, moving our camp to the college, adding college credit, adding a new camp for Adults, adding a summer teacher seminar, re-vamping our staged readings. Each change, and the success we experienced brought us joy and a sense of renewal.  But, each also brought more work to an already taxed team. How can we maintain our quality of programming and our commitment to the mission?

We made some inroads this week in answering that question.  We are going to be looking hard at the work we do and how we do it for the next little while.  Just because we can keep so many balls up in the air doesn’t necessarily mean we should.  As we move forward, I ask you for your help.  Tell us what comes to mind when YOU think about OCS education. It can be just one word, or it can be a paragraph.  With your help, we will continue to build on our programming and create new opportunities for many others to experience the joy that Shakespeare’s plays can bring to anyone.

“My life and education both do learn me how to respect you”: Teaching and the Art of Collaboration

Projects have a funny way of infiltrating one’s thoughts and setting up their own domain in  the mind.  I think this may be why research institutions want  their faculty showing the product of their labors (read: publication).  By encouraging faculty to invest time in  something–research, an experiment, a paper– they facilitate new solutions, innovations, connections. The project on my mind this summer is our No Kidding Shakespeare Camp, for which Cass and I (collaboratively) selected the theme of collaboration.  As I’ve been planning for it,  it has tickled my brain about all of the work we do and how it connects (or, sometimes, doesn’t) to that one word.  

 I was lucky enough to meet a scholar who is new to town for coffee yesterday to discuss some upcoming projects and to see if we could work together.  I’d been giving a lot of thought to our work in the Education Department even before this meeting, in which, as we were trading tales and getting to know one another, my colleague asked “What do you do at OCS?”

Most of the time, when I answer that question, I tend to start with our divisions — College Prep, Educator Resources, Research and Scholarship, Life-Long Learning.  I talk about the programs in each, what they mean to me.  Depending on the day, one or the other may be my favorite.

But the programs we run are not, really, what we do.  We bridge a lot of territory here in our little world — or, as we often say, we wear a lot of different hats. Kim and I are administrators, wrestling with budgets, staffing, communications.  Cass and I are curriculum developers: we worry with Common Core, clear instructions, and quelling ShakesFear. All of us write and market and edit and network and schedule and (some days it feels like more than anything else) answer emails.  Each of us have been performers at various point in our lives, and we still enjoy the aspects of our jobs that entail performing and putting together scenes and plays. We don’t get to act so much at the office or day-to-day like our colleagues a block away at the Playhouse, but we do get to teach — and in a way, that is the most collaborative and rewarding kind of performing.

We talk a lot about collaboration in theatre, but  not so much in the classroom.  It is a buzzword in one part of my job because the folks in the arts need to be collaborators in the most essential sense of the word: from the OED (you know it is a good day when I get to open that baby up) col- together + labōrāre – to work.

The word seems to be so essential in theatre that I am a little surprised (okay, disappointed) that the OED doesn’t credit Shakespeare with being the first to record it.  Instead, it first appears in print a good two and a half centuries after his death,

To work in conjunction with another or others, to co-operate; esp. in a literary or artistic production, or the like.

Shakespeare does record the concept in some of his plays. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Puck describes the how the Mechanicals “were met together to rehearse a play” and we see their first production meeting as they discuss the ins and outs of staging Pyramus and Thisbe. But one doesn’t find the same acknowledgement of learning, teaching, or educating together. In Shakespeare, those activities generally occur with singular pronouns — “I” or “you” or “she” or sometimes the royal “we/our.”

On the best days, the Education team gets out from behind our desks and go into a room full of people and we teach. We teach Shakespeare, history, acting, teaching.  We do it in a particular way that we learned from watching our boss, Ralph Alan Cohen, when he teaches, and from watching other teachers, who include both faculty in the Mary Baldwin Shakespeare and Performance program and the actors who work on the stage at the Blackfriars.  We teach students who are with us for one hour or one week or one semester.

We learn something every time we stand up in front of a group of people. We are lucky that the people in our classrooms, unlike those, say, in a typical public school English/Literature arts class, have chosen to be there. They want to hear what we have to say. We are doubly lucky in that our classrooms have resources that win interest instantly — actors and the stage. We are triply lucky that in our classrooms we have the opportunity to take a collaborative approach to learning.  We are not lecturers or authority figures so much as facilitators. We take pride in showing our students paths and helping their navigation and exploration. In raising genuine questions and discussing them. In exploring options and working together to achieve the best result for that moment, that group, that classroom. Knowing full well that the next moment, group, and class may resolve the exploration in a completely different (and exciting) way. That collaborative journey and its different landing points is part of why Shakespeare stays fresh on stage and in the hands of students invited to think like (and given the tools to work like) performers.

Little Academe

 

Over at the Playhouse, the artistic staff and actors spend time in a room together from the beginning of rehearsals until the closing night. Whether they are closely studying the text in table work, getting up on their feet and blocking it, or taking their curtain call, they are giving space and sharing credit with one another. They discuss the colors of the costumes and the period of the props, the movements and gestures that will unify or create the feel they are looking for from a particular moment. They will try things in different ways and work through challenges and disagreements with conversation.  They will, essentially, model an ideal environment for learning and creating: an environment that the best teachers and businesses are interested in making the norm.

In the quote from Othello that forms the title of this post, I see the three essential pieces at the heart of any genuine collaboration: life (experience), education, and respect. I think it is the last one that causes the most problems for teachers and others looking to work in a collaborative way.  For some reason, respect is a feeling that is hard to conjure up for some people with a lot of life experience and education. In the recent past I’ve noticed that the ability to collaborate with our students or with our co-workers is inversely related to how much more life experience or education we think we possess relative to theirs–or, in short, to how much we respect what they bring to the effort.  Sometimes, those in  a collaborative may need to ask: how much effort we are willing to give to showing respect? What will make this collaboration a success?

Collaboration is not easy in the best of situations — as I think the OCS has learned in the act of putting up plays since 1988. At various times, whether while running productions by two to three troupes simultaneously, or because we added new initiatives like our College Prep camp (1997) and the Actors’ Renaissance Season (2005), we have discovered that it takes time and energy to establish the system that will make the collaboration fly. And, it hasn’t always worked right off the bat. Within a system, collaborators have to be willing to acknowledge when something is broken and to work together to fix it. Otherwise they risk, in the words of one of our recent Leadership participants, that “a problem for some can quickly devolve into a problem for none.” If one person alone is not forced to deal with an issue, then it never gets addressed at all, as everyone it bothers will assume someone else will handle it.  The challenge for groups working in a truly collaborative way is to show respect for one another by recognizing an issue and bringing it to the group, working on a plan to solve it, and taking steps to do so.  Once is not enough, though; newly rising issues require the same approach whether they occur once a month or once a day.

As I watch our partner program experiment with this notion with their new MFA third year, I am learning just how important both the systems and the dogged determination to deal with situations as they arise is to the healthy functioning of a group.  And how difficult it is to build truly collaborative work into the day to day tasks we do to DO our work.  Our new third year demands collaboration of 11-12 souls for a year of their lives, and has set up some guidelines and tools to make that possible. It is the ultimate melding of pedagogy and art–a model of how to teach collaboration through process.  It has taught me that Collaboration needs not just invitation, but also stakes–something that we MUST accomplish together.  Something that gets us out from behind the devices and into one another’s space, something that has a deadline and an audience, something that we can feel pride in together.

At No Kidding Shakespeare Camp this year, our study will focus on the collaboration we find evidence of in Shakespeare’s company, the collaboration we engage in daily at the OCS, and the discoveries about collaboration we are making in the MFA third year company. We will experiment with models of collaboration drawn from what we know of Shakespeare’s rehearsal process, explore musical collaboration to see if we can compose something together, and discuss the implications of Shakespeare’s collaboration with other artists. I hope we will find new ways to engage and “work together” that feed our campers when they leave and our organization as we continue to mount productions and learn about the world of  early modern theatre. Won’t you join us?

“…mark me for his friend”

I met someone.

It came about, like these things often do, through a friend connecting us.  Soon, we were sending letters — the good, old-fashioned, hand-written kind. Then we started talking on the phone, and. he sent me photos, and a book of poetry.  And, on a fateful day in November, eight banker’s boxes arrived from California.

Six of the eight boxes we received in November.

Six of the eight boxes we received in November.

My penpal was William A. Riley, who sent his beloved late wife’s world of research on Timon of Athens to the American Shakespeare Center archives. I was delighted, and I found the timing of this gift almost magical. Lois Folger Riley* wrote her dissertation on the play that would complete the OCS’s first go at Shakespeare’s canon.  Her lifework, our company work, intersected.  One, perhaps, feeding the other.

We often receive gifts from supporters who contact us to find out if we can use the items. Last week, I took in a collection of books on 18th Century acting in England.  Earlier this year, we received costumes — party frocks and army gear (from two different donors), but this is the first time we had made a friend and been the recipient of a collection of research materials that, as best I could tell, had never been published anywhere else.

After their arrival, we let the boxes sit next to Kimberly Newton’s desk for a long while, contemplating what we could do with them.  Should they go into our archives at Washington & Lee?  That would mean cataloguing every piece of paper, or, at a minimum, each file folder.

One of the eight boxes of research that arrived in Novenmber

One box of files

Our archival area at the OCS administrative office is just big enough to hold the five years of materials we keep on site, so we couldn’t really keep all of Riley’s materials here.  Finally, I stopped letting the boxes haunt me each time I walked by Kimberly’s desk and decided that if I tackled a box or two a week, clearing away anything that was clearly detritus — boxes of carbon copy paper, stacks of typing paper, devoid of type — we would get somewhere. While I did that task, I also noted how the boxes were organized.  Some were the neat files pictured above, usually divided into research on chapters.  Others contained amazingly detailed pieces relating to research — down to the requests Ms. Riley sent to the librarians at the British Library for books she wanted to study.  There was a list of good places to eat in Louisiana, used went she went to visit her dissertation adviser.  There were also envelopes full of what we, at the office, have come to call “early modern word processing,” duplicates of sentences that she would tape into paragraphs in varying arrangements as she organized her thoughts.  A week or so ago, having done an initial assessment and seeing what we had to work with, I began the process of examination in earnest and developed a rough plan for moving forward.

This is the collection of each chapter we will be working with.

Each of the items in this stack is one chapter

Over the next few months, I will share that plan with you and will show you what we come up with.  We don’t know yet if we will be able to preserve this work for future generations.  We’ve yet to dive into the prose, or grapple with the premise, but we look forward to finding out what is there when we take that next step. We want to evaluate this research and see how it relates to what we do, possibly open up discussions — between students, teachers, professors, scholars, actors — and ask what they see, at long last, in Ms. Lois Riley’s The Meaning of Timon.

As we undertake this journey, I expect we will find out things about women writing their dissertations in the mid-20th Century, about the process of getting words to paper and research in that period vs today (see the “word-processing” example above), and, most of all, about Timon.  As for Bill’s wishes, when he sent the materials, he asked that we use them as we are able.  He shared many things with me about the woman he clearly loved, telling me things like “I used to say ‘she is the smartest woman I know,’ but now I say ‘she was the smartest person.'”  He told me, too, about her family — she is related to both the founder of the Folger Shakespeare Library and Starbucks coffee. I can’t think of a better pairing–if anyone could use some coffee, it is the people working hard at that regal institution.  He’s filled me in on their travels and has sent some photos with extensive captions written in his hand.

A collection of photos of Bill and Lois Riley, 1975-79. Bill's daughter stands next to him in the photo on the upper right.

A collection of photos of Bill and Lois Riley, 1975-79. Bill’s daughter stands next to him in the photo on the upper right.

I am looking forward to discovering more about this rarely staged play and about the scholar who created enough material to fill eight banker’s boxes with it.  I hope you will join me on this journey.

The journey begins.

The journey begins.

*She wrote under the names Lois Starbuck (a collection of poems called Journey Through Sun and Shadow) and Lois D. Pizer (dissertation).