Tiffany Stern Keynote

Hi, I’m Julia, I’ll be liveblogging Tiffany Stern’s Keynote from 10:30-11:15 today.

Tiffany Stern – University College

Dr Stern gave a talk in three parts about fairs in England and their relationship to theater of the period. First, she discussed some of the differences and similarities between Early Modern theater and fairs. Fairs were highly sanctioned, approved by both the local government and the private aristocracy, and they had their own internal legal system including courts, and juries made up of booth-holders. Theaters of the time could only wish to be as legitimized as the fairs. On the other hand, both theaters and fairs were places of entertainment and commerce, and they tended to attract a certain low-life stratus in the form of pickpockets, and prostitutes. The second part of her talk covered several references to fairground activities within Early Modern plays, including trained monkeys who played dead and came back to life if certain names were evoked, (as Romeo is conjured by the name Rosaline), a performer called an “interpreter” who narrated puppet shows (Hamlet could interpret if he could see the puppets dallying), as well as several references to shadow puppets (“life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player..”). The third part of her talk went further into Early Modern puppetry, as puppetry was the one form of theater allowed to remain open during the Interregnum in England. Stern also showed how certain of Shakespeare’s characters developed a new life as puppets in future hodgepodge works.

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Plenary Session IX

The snow is falling, but the conference continues apace! Undaunted by the precipitation, we’re back for Plenary Session IX, moderated by Marc Connor from Washington and Lee University. I’m Cass, and I’ll be live-blogging from 9am to 10:15am.

Iska Alter, Hofstra University, and William B. Long, independent scholar: “Love’s Labour’s Lost Once, Love’s Labour’s Lost Once Again: What Happens When Plays Move House”

Alter opens by stating that they intend to demonstrate that, in addition to text, actors, costumes, sets, and the other typical components that contribute to a play’s meaning, the theatrical space also contributes to its effect. Long takes over, discussing a theory that Love’s Labour’s Lost is the precursor of the modern “college comedy”, characterizing the King of Navarre and his friends as “frat boys” in a recent Globe production. He notes that critics who saw the production at the Globe and those that saw the production on tour came to the same conclusion, but noticed other discrepancies. Long believes these differences were due to the difference in the space.

Long cites several contributory factors to the different effect in different spaces: the size of the performance space itself, the relationship of actors to audience, and the movement of actors in the space. Long details the space he and Alter saw on tour, a proscenium with a fully-seated audience. Though the stage provided opportunities for the actors to leave the stage and engage with the audience, Long believes that the effect fell flat. At the outdoor Globe, the “complex geometry” allowed for greater audience engagement, with the audience member “shifting and swerving” to keep up with the verbal sparring between characters. He also details the “almost physical equality” between actor and spectator when an actor changed levels, moving from a standing position to a crouching or recumbent position, which would place him on eye-level with the groundlings in the pit.

Alter takes over to discuss the differences created by light and sound, and how those factors contributed to the “raucous and bawdy” atmosphere. The indoor space attempted to emulate sunlight, but Alter felt that the conceit only “reinforced the artificial”. She discusses the difficulties presented by the ambient sounds at the Globe, but suggests that those were less distracting than the reverberations of actors’ voices in the indoor space. She concludes by saying that scholars ought to examine more frequently what happens when a play written for one space moves elsewhere.

Christine Parker, Victor Valley Community College: “Thomas Middleton’s Use of the Gallery Space”

Parker proposes that Middleton uses the gallery to highlight characters who act with moral depravity. She prefaces her consideration with reference to A Game at Chess, a black pawn (representing a corrupt Jesuit) spouts Latin from the upper space, “in an attempt to inflame anti-Catholic sentiment”. She concedes that Middleton does use the gallery for the usual conventional reasons, but that, more often than other early modern playwrights, he uses the space thematically. She cites The Changeling, where corrupt characters often occupy the space; also in The Witch, Women Beware Women. Parker connects this use with a reversal of expectations; corrupt rather than romantic, and elevating characters who would not typically be given status by rank.

She moves back to consideration of A Game at Chess, Middleton’s play which was banned for religious and political reasons, partially for fear it would lead to anti-Catholic riots. She describes several politically controversial scenes which place devious or low-ranked characters in the gallery space. She thinks that the black pawn’s position in the gallery was “an incendiary device”. MBC actors present a short portion of the scene, and Parker states her belief that the intimidating effect of the Latin preached “as though from a puplit” would have been inflammatory in the original performance.

Amy R. Cohen, Randolph College: “Grand Scope and Human Scale: How Size Matters”

Cohen begins by jocularly confessing that she “betrayed her father” by choosing classical studies over early modern, due to the fOCSinating considerations presented by Euripedes. She comments on Aristophanes’s opinion of Euripedes and Euripedes’s response to criticism, also comparing Euripedes’s use of low-status characters to the typically high-status concerns of Aeschylus and Sophocles. She then moves to the practical circumstances of performance space which contribute to a play’s success, comparing the large outdoor Theatre of Dionysos to the small indoor Blackfriars Playhouse. She shows a Greek-style mask, large and thus easily seen,. Cohen cautions that “our actors can look like children, or tadpoles, or bobble-heads”, especially if an outdoor performance moves into an indoor space. She thinks that, in an indoor space, it takes the audience twice as long to begin ignoring the masks in favor of the performance. The size, she thinks, reflects in the characters as well as in the masks, that plays written for an enormous space requires characters “of mythological proportion”, and that those large characters may feel awkward in a smaller indoor space. The smaller space “requires characters on a more human scale, however noble or royal they may be”.

The difference in the spaces leads to the differences in the plays written for them. Cohen also believes that this leads to Shakespeare’s success in mixing high and low characters, “where Euripedes sometimes fails”. The comic characters in Shakespeare “enhance, rather than diminish” the effect, even of deeply tragic plays. She anticipates that further exploration will reveal more about why Greek tragedies are the way they are, how that large scale affects the audience, and how it is successful in an appropriate space. In the “reach out and touch you” scale, she would like to speculate: Whether the size of the theatre is one of the circumstances of performance that allowed for the inclusion of low-status characters even in tragedy. She finishes by admonishing that early modern scholars remember, when discussing how their playwrights improved on the ancients, “that: we’re bigger than you.”

Jennifer Low, Florida Atlantic University: “Perspective and Painterly Technique in Jacobean Staging”

Low presents an aspect of art history relevant to early modern staging, first noting the visual parameters of an indoor space like the Blackfriars Playhouse. She posits that Dutch painting of the period was appropriate for use of the discovery space, as the techniques of Dutch painting used same frames, perspectives, and architectural settings which have a similar effect as that the audience experiences in an indoor early modern theatre. She speculates on the visual pictures created by scenes in The Changeling, discussing the delayed revelation of the visual, which augments both the audience’s anticipation and their shock. MBC actors present the crucial scene of Beatrice-Johanna’s mutiliation and death in two different ways: entering through the stage right door, or revealed through the discovery space.

Low argues that the tableau is more effective when using the discovery space. This would also provide opportunities for props and set pieces that could have “filled out” the image within the discovery space — such as a bed, or a medicine cabinet (to augment the medical and pseudo-medical themes in the play). She posits that Beatrice-Johanna’s revelation is then an invasion into other characters’ attempts to restore rationality and normalcy. Low suggests that the original production tied the emotional experience to the optical experience, which would be stronger with the discovery space staging. The discovery space also offers an opportunity to present different sights in foreground and background (relating again to the Dutch painters’ techniques).

Melissa Aaron, Cal Poly Pomona: “Play It Again, Hal: The 1605 Revival of Henry V

Aaron relates the story of the 1605 revival of Henry V, which had to compete with the spectacles of James’s court and the inventions of Inigo Jones. She positions the play in relationship to the company’s financial state at the time of the first performance and at the time of the revival, arguing that material concerns could very well affect play creation and selection. The turbulent financial state of England at the time encouraged dependence on royal patronage, which led to a different concern: “How do you avoid becoming a fully-owned subsidiary of King, Co.?” Aaron examines the repurposing of plays for both the new space of the Blackfriars Playhouse and for the expansion of royal patronage, using the example that, if you get your hands on a bear suit, you find an excuse to use it (and our in-house bear demonstrates). Playing companies were also affected by new outbreaks of plague from 1603-1609; playhouse closures also enhanced dependence on the king’s beneficence.

Aaron then traces the fortunes of the King’s Men from 1603 to 1605, both the closures of the theatre and the court performances and attentant payments given by the king. She notes that Othello and Macbeth were written in this period, and also that The Merry Wives of Windsor seemed to be a favorite for royal performances. She suggests that, by the Christmas season 1605, the King’s Men desperately needed a new play that Queen Anne had not yet seen. Henry V, with its dependence on imagination over theatrical spectacle, performed on January 7, follows a day after the performance of The Masque of Blackness, an elaborate spectacle. Aaron speculates that the King’s Men were reducing, reusing, and recycling, using plays that had originally been in the same seasons together, economizing even in the face of Jonesian competition. The acquisition of the Blackfriars Playhouse allowed the King’s Men to go back to a more independent company, less directly attached to royal patronage.

Peter Kanelos, Loyola University Chicago: “Ghost in the Machine?”

Kanelos interrogates why we, late-modern, have the originalist impulse to gather in an early modern space and re-create early modern productions. He wonders if it’s a romantic impulse, a nostalgic fit — then suggests the opposite, that “this enterprise, while it appears retrograde, is actually an intently post-modern one”. He traces the impulse back to William Pole in the late 19th-century, who aimed to correct misconceptions about Elizabethan stagecraft that had developed over the past centuries. Kanelos positions this idea in relationship to Stanislavski’s theories of acting, developing at the same time and, Kanelos argues, stemming from the same conditions and desires. He discusses the period’s concerns with authenticity and the inwardness of character. “For all three, language and action are opaque, in need of literary analysis.” It was the actor’s duty to probe beneath the language for the true meaning. The 20th century, he says, created a widening gulf between artistic performance and academic analysis.

Kanelos then discusses how the post-modern ideas relate more to what seems true of the early modern plays: that there is nothing beneat the surface of the text, that everything about the character is there, in the words. “Early modern theatre created the illusion of inwardness.” He says that we have reached an opposite of Stanislavski’s principles.

Kanelos is then cut off by the bear, complete with a bear cub.

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Plenary Session VIII

Hello, again. This is Christina Sayer Grey back for a second live-blogging session. This time, I’m covering Plenary Session VIII from 4:00-5:15pm on Thursday, October 28.

Moderator: Alice Dailey, Villanova University

Year of the Actor-Scholar: The Atlanta Shakespeare Company’s Canon Completion Project
Kristin Hall, Atlanta Shakespeare Company

2010/11 Season – performing the 4 remaining plays (Henry VIII, The Two Noble Kinsmen, Edward III, and Timon of Athens) attributed to Shakespeare that they had not yet performed. Performed as a long-term repertory ensemble, and included Edward III in the defining of the canon.

Started as a desire to document the process. Two points arose – Attribution of authorship and modern attempts to honor E.M. staging.

Outline of O.P. choices made by Atlanta Shakes – direct address and engagement with a visible audience. Shallow thrust stage that evokes rather than re-creates an E.M. stage. Costuming not intended as replicas, instead, intended to evoke. Actor created soundscapes. Apprentice/Journeyman system. Resistance to director-imposed readings.

Ensemble members – many of whom have worked together for up to 15 years. Actors relied on their experience to differentiate between Shakespeare’s words and the words of their collaborators. The actors themselves defined what they considered the “Shakespeareness.” Actors unanimous in attributing the plays based on the ease of line memorization – Shakespeare is, according to the actors, easier to memorize than other playwrights.

Timon of Athens stretched the company’s O.P. stance. The duplicitous characters all wore masks, in a piece that could be described as “concept” Shakespeare.

Double Falsehood performed in the style of a melodrama or telenovela. The actors determined that they didn’t think Shakespeare had a hand in Double Falsehood, based on their experience with Shakespeare’s concretely attributed plays.

Theatre of the Damned
Arlynda Boyer, Florida State University

Thomas Middleton’s morality in his plays – a rupture between his personal religion and the void of morality in his plays. “Agonizingly amibiguous.” Middleton was a Calvinist – Calvin does not tell his followers that they are members of the elect. A true, devout Calvinist could never be sure of salvation for themselves or others.

Middleton refuses to judge his characters because he does not believe in the certainty of salvation. Predestination – social standing has no standing with God. Calvin presents a belief system that ignores the strict social structure of the period, leading to the idea of amorality.

Moll Frith – the moral center of the play The Roaring Girl. A radical revision of the real-life Mary Frith. Middleton and Dekker suggest that this societal monster is a good person, perhaps better than the “normal” people who judged her. Their presentation of Moll challenge the assumptions of morality made by the audience.

Traveling on Prospero’s Island
Darlene Farabee, University of South Dakota

Characters’ relationship to the physical location. None of the characters’ say that they are lost and do not know where they are. The seem unconcerned with their survival now that they’ve arrived on the island.

Colonialist allegory – some characters have to be ignored to make this work. Ferdinand, for example, never interacts with Caliban. Stephano and Trinculo ignore Caliban’s position as a source of information about the island. They concern themselves with how they came to land, but not about what to do now that they’re there. (Natasha Solomon, Daniel Burrows, and Patrick Midgley perform the scene)

The audience travels through a narrative plotline that reverses at 3.1 (the betrothal between Ferdinand and Miranda). The appearances of characters mirror each other with 3.1 as the hinge point.

Exeunt in Place of Blackouts: Some problems staging 21st-century plays in a 16th-century playhouse
Katy Mulvaney, Mary Baldwin College

How would 21st playwrights treat their plays differently if constrained by the limitations and standards of E.M. playhouses. Different tactics are required when using universal lighting. Some playwrights follow the standards established by E.M. playwrights and some come up with new solutions.

In Extremis, was not written for the Globe, but did not require significant changes in order to be performed there. Actors Natasha Solomon, John Basiulis, and Daniel Burrows perform a scene intended to end with a slow fade blackout. In the Globe version, the scene ends with one character exiting prematurely and then added lines to get the other two characters offstage.

Anne Boleyn – the influence of theatrical reconstruction allowed the playwright to create new solutions to the problems that arise in universal lighting. Anne Boleyn remains onstage continuously as a fixed point around which characters revolve – entering and exiting around her.

Innovation in a reconstruction theatre. Could characters in E.M. plays have remained onstage during transitions from scene to scene?

Staging Amorphus’ Face-Painting Scene in Jonson’s Cynthia’s Revels
Annette Drew-Bear, Washington and Jefferson College

Cynthia’s Revels, a children’s company play. Described by critics as “impossible to stage” and “dull.” Is the face-painting scene in 5.2 stageable? The scene is part of a series wherein Jupiter challenges Amorphus’ to a series of court adornment challenges to mock the rituals. The scene asks onstage, in-play onlookers as well as audience members to judge the challenge. The scene incorporates actual cosmetic recipes in the description in the scene.

Actors Natasha Solomon, Daniel Burrows, John Basiulis, and Patrick Midgley perform a scene where characters get haircuts and make-up applied.

“Mocking Life”: Staging Monuments in The Winter’s Tale
Brian Chalk, Manhattan College

E.M. English had a tendency to build memorial monuments prior to the death of the person memorialized. What can E.M. monuments teach us about how Hermione might have looked in The Winter’s Tale and how did Shakespeare use the memorial monument tradition?

Shakespeare tells the audience that Leontes plans to build a monument and visit it daily. Their inscription is about Leontes’ mistake, not Hermione’s and Mamillus’s virtues. Paulina’s statue, however, does not memorialize Mamillius, too. Leontes memorializes his family in a way that reveals how he related to them, not how they were as individuals.

The purpose of Leontes’ tomb stands into direct contrast to the examples that E.M. Englishpeople would have seen in London. Those tombs often showed examples of the still-living anticipating their reunion with the person memorialized.

Shakespeare, in Othello and Cymbeline, compares a sleeping character with a recumbent memorial statue. Tombs almost always showed recumbent or kneeling figures, not full-standing figures. Leontes hopes to freeze time with his memorial, but that, of course, is impossible.

Blackfriars Conference 2011- Staging Session III

Hi, Deb Streusand here. This afternoon I’ll be liveblogging Staging Session III at the Blackfriars Playhouse from 2:30 pm to 3:45 pm.

Staging Banquo’s Ghost
Nicole Ricciardi, Monmouth University

Ricciardi describes the particular interest of Macbeth 3.4 and the question of “to see or not to see the ghost”–which is scarier for the modern audience? Also, how do we see this scene in terms of actor-audience relationship? She discusses modern productions that make use of stillness, contrasting them with those that use paranormal movement and activity. James Keegan, John Harrell, Gregory Phelps, Miriam Donald, and Chris Johnston perform the scene in stillness and with an invisible ghost. The audience finds a surprising amount of humor in this version of the scene. Ricciardi asks Keegan, who played Macbeth, for his reaction. He describes making the choices of how to imagine the ghost in terms of making choices for an actor who is not there. Ricciardi discusses the insights this version of the scene can provide about purpose of this scene in terms of the play’s structure, specifically as an echo of the dagger, which we also do not see. She considers that it does not take the story where it needs to go, however, and requests that Rene Thornton join the scene as the Ghost, first as a silent and unexpected visitor and then as summoned by Macbeth. Before the actors perform, Ricciardi asks, “why a ghost? Why Banquo? Why does he come back twice?” She describes the second visit as necessary to help the audience move through a progression in its relationship with the actors. After the actors perform the silent and unexpected visit, Ricciardi reminds us that we are looking for the answer to “why twice,” positing that in terms of the progression from the dagger, this experience spurs Macbeth on to the next murder. The actors discuss why Macbeth seems to see that the table is full but not to see Banquo at first, and ways of staging this phenomenon to make it believable. An audience member asks about Sarah Siddons’ innovation of having Lady Macbeth see the ghost as well, wondering if anyone else has done the same. Ricciardi does not believe so. She discusses having Macbeth appear to conjure and then dismiss the dead with the Ghost’s second visit, using the toast to Banquo as the summons. If Macbeth is showing this power of conjuration and dismissal off to the audience, he is working with them within the relationship that the dagger soliloquy establishes between actor and audience, and advances it to a necessary step for the progression of this relationship. An audience member brings up the implications of exactly when Banquo leaves the second time. The actors perform the conjuration version of the scene, wherein Macbeth summons the Ghost for his second visit. In closing, Ricciardi draws our attention once more to the crucial question of how this scene moves the story forward, and how we can stage its paranormal nature for the modern audience.

Rehearsal of Philaster 4.5
Lois Potter, University of Delaware

Potter describes seeing Actors’ Renaissance Season rehearsals this spring and wanting people at the Blackfriars Conference to be able to see the process. She decided to stage for the conference a rehearsal of one scene from the beginning using cue scripts, and chose Philaster, which the actors will perform as part of the Actors’ Renaissance Season this coming Spring, with Gregory Phelps in the title role. Potter briefly summarizes the plot and the present situation before the actors perform. The actors first read through the lines to see how they will fit together, pausing to make sure they understand what they are saying, and sometimes to enjoy the humor of the lines. They work on figuring out who is talking to whom and when. Next, they stage the scene. Miriam Donald, today playing Arethusa, discovers that she needs a stick to serve as a sword for Philaster, and finds a pencil for the purpose. John Harrell and Rene Thornton discover that a line of James Keegan’s includes embedded stage directions for them, specifying where they should look. Thornton amuses the audience by taking some time to figure out that he is speaking to Chris Johnston on one line. The actors discuss the differences between this workshop and the rehearsal process, explaining that they would ordinarily have done a read-through beforehand, and one actor would have cut the play for performance, so that he would have greater knowledge of it. The actors discuss the textual aspects of their process, responding to a question about when they do and do not use cue scripts. John Harrell describes his process for cutting Philaster, saying that he was not able to make cue scripts because he could not obtain a good electronic edition of the play. The actors discuss the experience of their improvised blocking in this workshop and the questions they need to answer to make things move more smoothly next time. They chat with the audience about how they make their different conceptions of the blocking fit together, and what actors do while other actors are speaking. Harrell describes how his cutting process involves a lot of envisioning how to make the play work for the company on a practical level. He tells the audience about how important it is for OCS actors to be good readers and to think carefully about genre. Phelps discusses the importance of understanding the whole story when acting any given scene, “to play honestly to everything that happens, and not throw it away.” An audience member asks about the creative potential of keeping mistakes that actors make in rehearsal, and Harrell confirms that this type of choice happens frequently in the Actors’ Renaissance Season. An audience member asks about how much the Renaissance Season has revolved. Donald describes initial struggling over who was going to act like a director, making decisions about the play as a whole, but that this approach did not work, and that as they have started to make decisions about individual scenes instead of the whole play, the process has become much more effective. The actors reminisce about the amusing aspects of everybody’s trying to be director in the first Renaissance Season. An audience member asks about whether Ralph Cohen or Jim Warren (the co-founders of the American Shakespeare Center, who often direct the plays when it is not the Renaissance Season) are involved in this process at all. The actors explain that Warren takes care of casting, and is able to pass a very occasional veto on a choice the actors have made, but other than that, the actors have total autonomy. The audience and actors chat about the experience of learning to do things this way. Chris Johnston describes his learning process, and how Phelps helped him work with the difference between “your problem,” an actor’s individual difficulty, and problems that affect the company as a whole. He describes how the actor playing the largest role typically ends up organizing rehearsals for practical reasons.

Moderator Terry Southerington encourages questions for both presenters.

Question for Harrell and Phelps (playing lords who could not see the Ghost) about the Banquo scene: What changed for you having him visible and not visible? Harrell says he finds it more helpful to have someone there so that he knows where not to look. An audience member comments that having a ghost gives the audience more things to track, and different ways of reading the lords’ not knowing what is happening. Phelps discusses the value of the lords’ being inconspicuous, and how having Banquo present draws the audience’s gaze to the lords, making it more difficult for them to ignore what is happening.

Question for the actors: For how long have they been doing Renaissance-style runthroughs of shows that they will later work on with a director? Dr. Cohen answers that the OCS has been doing so since at least 1995, and that when they were first starting to do the Actors’ Renaissance Season, their experience with the Renaissance runthroughs made them confident that the actors would be able to do well without a director.

Question for the actors: When do you start using props, doing fights, etc.? Donald answers that they start using props as soon as possible, but fighting requires more preparation. In response to another audience question, the actors explain how they find their own props and then make them fit together, and how they differ in their approaches to finding costumes.

Question for John Harrell: How did the Spring 2011 Actors’ Renaissance production of Look About You come together? Harrell discusses the importance of costumes for plays involving disguise, and how for that play, they used costumes quite early in the rehearsal process.

Question about fights: How does the choreography work? Phelps mentions the actors’ varying levels of experience and how they affect the process.

Question for Ricciardi: How does the phenomenon of doubling with a character who dies early on affect the reaction to ghosts, since in either case we see an actor who “died” returning? She describes the importance of timing and the choices that are made about how to portray the Ghost. Thornton mentions how Falstaff haunts Henry V, and an audience member talks about the role of Will Kemp’s departure in determining Falstaff’s absence and how it is handled in the play.

Terry Southerington of Mary Baldwin College moderates this session.

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Plenary Session VII

This is Cass Morris, back yet again, this time for Plenary Session VII, moderated by Janna Segal, newest addition to the teaching team at Mary Baldwin College’s MLitt/MFA graduate program. I’ll be blogging from 1:00pm to 2:15pm.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a session involving technology, held in a re-construction of a sixteenth century theatre, the session starts a bit late due to technical difficulties.

Denise A Walen, Vassar College: “The Performance History of Rhetorical Strategies in 3.4 Much Ado about Nothing

Walen prefaces Much Ado as an unusual play, in that it features two scenes comprised entirely of female characters. In one of those, 3.4, the women prepare for Hero’s marriage. Walen notes that this scene is often reduced or cut entirely from production. As early as 1674, “revised” prints of the play excised nearly half of the scene. Walen argues that “a sense of prudish propriety” led to the elimination of the bawdy jokes in the scene. Walen shares visuals of the scene not only as printed, but as manually adjusted for performance by actors or in promptbooks, with much of the scene crossed out. Towards the end of the production history, Walen notes that Kenneth Brannaugh shot the scene for his 1993 movie, but ultimately left it on the cutting room floor, dismissing it as “too frustrating”.

Walen argues that both the length and the placement of the scene indicate its importance. The scene of innocence, where Hero is ignorant of the forces working against her, augments the tragedy of Claudio’s rejection. The scene also shows Hero exhibiting some interesting characteristics, contradictory to her public persona of meek, dutiful daughter. The scene also helps recuperate Margaret’s character, demonstrating that she has no malice and that her part in the plot is, as Leonato later notes, unintentional. Walen suggests that the scene is most revelatory about Beatrice, showing a more vulnerable side of her character — engaging the audience on her behalf just before the key turning point with Benedick in the church.

Walen walks briefly through the pathos, ethos, and logos of the scene, linking its importance to its rhetorical function. “Shakespeare makes its rhetorical construct essential to the female characters.”

Nathan Jerkins, Penfold Theatre Company / Hidden Room Theatre: “Frame Characters: An Actor’s Approach to the Original Practices Movement”

Jerkins wonders aloud “What am I doing here?” — specifying that he asks that, not for lack of enjoyment, but in astonishment at himself for presenting at an academic conference. He thanks the OCS and the conference attendees for being willing to let an actor take part in the conversation.

He points out that modern actors cannot approach original practices entirely devoid of modern techniques and training, and wonders how we can take those necessarily modern actors and apply them to early modern plays and methods. He thinks the answer may lie in the “frame character”, as in the Induction of The Taming of the Shrew. He thinks, rather than trying to ingrain our modern actors with anachronistic sensibilities, that we should take advantage of actors’ extant strengths. He suggests the idea of a creating a “frame” character who can guide an actor through discovering a role. He thinks this would also circumvent the stresses involved in needing a “dramaturgical referee” to pull directors and actors back when they have “gone too far astray”.

Andrew Phillips-Blasenak, Ohio State University: “The Materiality of Shakespeare’s Companies”

Phillips-Blasenak examines some of the successes of early-modern-style acting companies, including the ensemble and repertory setups. He suggests that, while this style may be enjoyable for an actor, it also presents problems for an actor’s career, as the prolonged nature of repertory and ensemble work. It encourages innovation in company structure and performance space, but . He will look at how Michael Boyd of the Royal Shakespeare Company attempted to navigate these problems, both in building the actor-audience relationship and in creating a sensible ensemble in the company, especially in regard to the reinvention of the material and physical space.

Phillips-Blasenak looks at the structure of the RSC as a company, where the personnel of the company did not change when the space did. The actors who come in, then, though working with directors who were new to them, were thus working with directors who did not necessarily use the new space in a way that augmented the actor-audience relationship. Phillips-Blasenak gives examples from two past performances which he believes were alienating, rather than engaging. Boyd has also instituted a policy of hiring actors for 2.5 year contracts, with the aim of building a consistent ensemble. Phillips-Blasenak particularly examines this practice in the recent history cycle completion project. “The company was able to adapt and work as an ensemble as they adapted to a variety of roles.” The following year, hiring the directors first and then the actors led to an experience that appeared to be confusing and frustrating for the actors, as the directors could ask wildly different things of the actors. The ensemble nature also broke down, with certain actors getting nearly all lead roles and others only supporting roles — for, Phillips-Blasenak stresses again, two and a half years.

Phillips-Blasenak then runs through an overview of the OCS’s style of ensemble-building, audience engagement, and rotating repertory. This structure “provides many of the material challenges that fulfill the goals of Michael Boyd’s intentions.” Phillips-Blasenak suggests that this is more satisfying for the actors, and may be the reason why OCS actors are more willing to return to this company rather than take their skills elsewhere.

Megan Lloyd, King’s College, and Beth Brown, University of Rio Grande: “‘Is this a dagger which I see before me?’: Choreographing Props on the Early Modern Stage”

Lloyd begins by interrogating the tangibility and necessity of props in early modern plays. She uses examples first from ‘Pyramus and Thisbe” to show that Quince is concerned with the material issues behind stage performance. Lloyd suggests that today we, like Quince, are concerned with stage authenticity — and she gives examples from particularly spectacular Shakespearean performances. The early modern stage, on the other hand, relied on the imagination, not just for sets, but for props as well. Lloyd wonders if, today, we use props that the early modern audience did not see or expect to see, suggesting that our modern concern with realism may lead us to consider some props essential. James Keegan and Miriam Donald Burrows present two scenes from The Tempest to illustrate the questionable necessity of Prospero’s iconic staff. On the second run, the actors perform without the staff. While it may help the actor conjure magic, illustrate age, or otherwise demonstrate character, Lloyd argues that the text does not require it; the text does not even mention it until the very end of the play. Lloyd believes that “a staff gets in the way” of Prospero’s emotions.

Brown considers the necessary props for Hamlet, giving the example of the trail of actors who must handle the cup that ultimately poisons Gertrude. She highlights the necessity of thinking about who must handle any prop that appears on-stage. Ben Curns and Miriam demonstrate “what happens when Ophelia has too much to handle”. Miriam attempts to negotiate letters, books, and a small box, which she has to half-juggle. The second run shows “an unencumbered Ophelia”.

Sid Ray, Pace University: “Sticky Shakespeare: Testing Action as Eloquence”

Ray examines “stage business: the unscripted activities of an actor for effect”. She positions the popularity of the term and action in the 20th century, derived from improvisational theatre. She gives an example of Patrick Stewart’s Macbeth assembling a sandwich while giving instructions to the murderers — illustrating the difference between the character’s humanity and his growing monstrosity. She also mentions Ian McKellen’s Richard III performing all activities one-handed, drawn from clues in historical references and in the text. Both examples, Ray argues, convey more information to the audience about the character. Ray draws a line between stage business and “schtick”, which she categorizes as distracting, unnecessary, and without character revelation or illumination.

She suggests that Shakespeare’s plays indicate need for stage business, even though the term was not popularized until much later. One of the best examples is Lady Macbeth’s hand-rubbing, which has no stage direction, but is implicit in the gentlewoman’s dialogue. During the Restoration, actors may have developed “schtick” which then got passed down to the next actor inheriting the role. Ray believes that stage business has become risky business, particularly with determining whether or not an action is justified, as well as determining “how much is too much”.

Ben Curns and James Keegan perform an expository scene from The Winter’s Tale twice, once in a reserved style, second with more stage business spectacle. In the first, they simply sit at the edge of the stage to talk. In the second, they unpack a breakfast of Golden Grahams (complete with milk) and proceed to eat it while they talk. While it does give Camillo a physical reason for “Beseech you” — asking for the milk — it also slows the actors down and somewhat distracts from the words. Ray notes that she left the choice of stage business to Ben and James; they rejected wrestling, rolling cigarettes, or playing cards. Ray asks, whether or not we enjoyed the first or second version better, that teachers consider using stage business in classrooms as a way of interrogating the needs of a scene.

Jeremy Lopez, University of Toronto: “All the Fletcher Plays”

Lopez suggests that it’s difficult to see the Fletcher canon, especially in conjunction with his many collaborators, “as a jungle, rather than as so many terrifying trees”. He breaks them down by titles: those titled for women (such as The Island Princess), those titled for men (such as The Noble Gentleman), those titled with proper names (such as Sir John van Olden Barnavelt), possessively titled plays (such as The Maid’s Tragedy), idiomatically titled plays (such as A King and No King), plays titled for places (such as The Laws of Candy), with specific examples of plot from each category.

Lopez categorizes the plays as at once familiar and strange, with a combined sense of recollection and insubstance. He looks at several of the plays which may help determine “what is not a Fletcher play, and what is”. He finishes with a claim that the Fletcher plays “preserve traces of what they might otherwise have been, or what they might otherwise have liked to be.”

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Scott Kaiser Keynote

Hello, all! Cass here again to live-blog the Scott Kaiser Keynote Address from 10:30 to 11:15am on Friday, October 28.

Ralph introduces Kaiser by discussing his delight in discovering Kaiser’s book, Shakespeare’s Wordcraft. He says, though, that by removing the classical Greek and Roman terms for rhetorical devices in an attempt to make the topic more accessible, “you have underestimated the appeal to word-nerds”. He half-jokingly suggests, along with his grad students, that he consider reinstating those terms in the second addition. Ralph thanks Kaiser for joining us on behalf of “all the other word-nerds here”.

Acting Shakespeare’s Wordcraft
Scott Kaiser, Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Kaiser prefaces his speech by introducing his assistant actors, Dan Kennedy and Doreen Bechtol. He’ll be talking today about “how to act Shakespeare’s figures of rhetoric” by demonstrating how he works with them in rehearsal. Kaiser defends his choice by stating that the classical terms are almost always an impediment for actors — that his book “is primarily not a scholarly book, but a book for actors and actors-in-training.”

Of vital concern to the actor working with rhetoric is “to illuminate the figure to the audience through voice and body.” He begins with the “speech measure”, using a quote from Stanislavski to explain his meaning: to break down a speech by thought patterns in order to get to the meaning and to make the speech more graceful in form and content. A speech measure, then, is a moment for a choice, “a unit of sense that contains one inhalation, one operative word, one focal point, one image, one action, one moment of human behavior.” He then invites Dan and Doreen up to work through some examples.

Dan: “Cassius from bondage will deliver Cassius.” Kaiser calls this one parcel of text, bookended with ‘Cassius’. Doreen: “I see you what you are; you are too proud.” Kaiser calls this two speech measures, pointing out Doreen’s inhalation between the two phrases. Dan: “Seems, madam? Nay, it is. I know not seems.” Kaiser delineates this as three speech measures, connected by the “seems” on either end, with “is” as a fulcrum in the middle. Doreen: “Come weep with me, past hope, past cure, past help.” This Kaiser identifies as four speech measures, but notes that this is not necessarily the only choice — but that it may “illuminate ‘past’ in a different way.” Dan: “Oh Helen! Goddess, nymph, perfect, divine!” Kaiser points out that this line mostly comes out as one exhalation, and asks Dan to try it again as five speech measures. Kaiser points out that this then differentiates each speech measure, automatically conferring greater emotional variety to the line.

Kaiser then moves on to finding the “operative word” — the one word in the measure that is key. It can be created through pitch, volume, or duration. Dan: “What lusty trumpet thus doth summon us?” Kaiser asks Dan to pick one word to make the operative; he chooses “trumpet”, using volume and pitch to key it. Kaiser has him try again, this time with “summon” — he helps Dan out by giving him the incipient action, having him imagine the actual trumpet before delivering the line. Kasier points out that he “stacked the deck” against Dan by giving him a line full of schwas — and that holding that vowel “would make it Transylvanian”.

Dan: “One woman is fair; yet I am well; another is wise; yet I am well; another virtuous; yet I am well.” Kaiser identifies this as three measures, and says he heard three operative words from Dan’s first reading: one, wise, and virtuous. He redirects Dan to make the new word in each phrase the operative: fair, wise, and virtuous. You then hear the operative word “build in a staircase”. Kaiser points out where Dan held his breath during the line, rather than inhaling as he could have to break it into 6 measures.

Doreen: “I’ll tell you who time ambles withal, who time trots withal, who time gallops withal, who he stands still withal.” Four measures, and Kaiser points out the different operative verbs. Doreen used what Kaiser calls “a Ted Wright ladder”, with a build of three and then a drop in pitch for the fourth. He has her do it again, this time bringing the “tell” down so that it doesn’t overwhelm the “amble”.

Kaiser then examines “focal points” — a visual target, “at which you can inhale, towards which you can OCSend your energies”. Doreen: “Husband, I cannot pray that thou mayest win. Uncle, I needs must pray that thou mayest lose. Father, I may not wish the fortunes thine. Granddam, I will not wish thy wishes thrive.” Kaiser asks Doreen to try it again without breaking into new measures at the commas. The result is “greater drive; it could not bear all those breaks.”

Dan: “Put out the light, and then put out the light.” The focal point changes between the candle and the sleeping Desdemona. Kaiser states, “It’s the movement of the focal point that makes the figure work.”

Doreen: “Thy deed, inhuman and unnatural, provokes this deluge, most unnatural.” Kaiser says she’s working with two focal points, which he calls “panning and scanning” mid-measure. He suggests that each measure should have a single focal point for greatest clarity on the stage. He wants the first part to focus on Richard, the second to focus on the body. “The reason I coach this way is because, if your eyes are darting back and forth,” the meaning can be lost, especially for audience members farther form the stage.

Dan: “Boldness be my friend! Arm me, audacity, from head to foot!” Kaiser says that Dan’s focal points slipped around. Kaiser points out the figure of personification, that Dan is literally talking to Boldness and Audacity, not to himself — he asks Dan to choose a focal point for each. Finding a specific point for each brings the emotion forward more clearly and makes the point easier to arrive at for the audience; Kaiser points out, “I didn’t tell him what to imagine. I just asked him to structure it in a way that would be clear to the audience.”

Kaiser then moves to the “image” — a complete mental creation, which invokes the imaginative aspect of all five senses. Doreen (as Constance in King John): “

Grief fills the room up of my absent child, / Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me, / Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words, / Remembers me of all his gracious parts, / Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form; / Then, have I reason to be fond of grief?” Kaiser thinks it communicates more clearly the depth of her despair when she doesn’t shift her focal point; he asks her to try it again with one single focal point, letting the pressure build up there. Kaiser explains this as finding a single focal point and adding a new layer to it with each measure. “The inesntiy of that single focal point… is so strongly communicated by a single focal point that you understand what all the men are talking about when they call her crazy.”

Next: actions — played in pursuit of objectives against obstacles. Each measure should have one and only one. Dan: “Fool, of thyself speak well. Fool, do not flatter.” Kaiser asks Dan to encourage himself in the first measure, then admonish himself in the second. He further examines the shift, particularly with regard to where the inhalation is positioned and where it comes from — “from his imagination” rather than from the text.

Doreen: “Sweet, sweet, sweet Nurse, tell me, what says my love?” Kaiser says that Doreen has made this three measures, and suggests that the second measure tends to have the same emotion as the first. He asks her to find three wildly different things to play in the three measures (and comments that this tactic is typical of thirteen-year-old girls).

Kaiser then adds the idea of subtext to the lines, which he calls “the realization.” Dan: “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.” Kaiser has Dan break that into two measures, asking Dan to realize in the middle, at the comma, that he’s now going to die without having accomplished his goals. “The figure is illuminated by the realization at the comma in the middle of the line,” by the reversal of emotions that the active silence causes — “a moment of human behavior that is atextual.”

Doreen: “Seeming, seeming! I will proclaim thee, Angelo; look for’t.” Kaiser suggests that Doreen realize the depth of Angelo’s corruption at the comma between the two “seeming”s. Kaiser points out that the repetition requires a variation in delivery, discussing the reasons why people repeat themselves.

Finally, Kaiser comes to decisions, a different type of subtext. Dan: “She sees not Hermia. Hermia, sleep thou there, and never mayest thou come Lysander near.” Kaiser suggests the first focal point be on the audience, and that he then make the decision “to leave Hermia there, by herself, unguarded, in the dark.” Dan’s callous deliberation makes the decision hysterically funny, and Kaiser suggests that seeing the choice happen is what makes that humorous for the audience.

Doreen: “What if this potion do not work at all? Shall I be married then tomorrow morning? No, no, this shall forbid it.” Kaiser points out that Doreen has several focal points operating, talking to herself but also indicating the dagger that she will use to kill herself. He asks her to make a decision between the two “No”s. Kaiser notes that this speech complicates delivery, because it layers the decision on top of multiple actions, moving from measure to measure.

Kaiser wraps up by saying that effective theatre lives in these decisions, “not in when the giant neon apple flies down out of the ceiling.”

Blackfriars Conference 2011- Plenary Session VI

Hi, Deb Streusand here. This morning I’ll be liveblogging Plenary Session VI from 9 am to 10:15 am.

“Some by Stenography Drew the Plot”: An Experiment
William Proctor Williams, University of Akron

Williams begins by having A.J. Sclafani, Brian Falbo, Kim Maurice, and Michael Wagoner read two passages from Thomas Heywood’s If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody. This play was performed before August 1605, probably by Queen Anne’s Men. It was thereafter published in 5 editions in 8 years. Heywood’s later prologue, in the Eighth Quarto, recounts the play’s popularity and how some recorded it in by stenography, so that he now wishes to put it forth in correct form himself. The Eighth Quarto can therefore serve as a control text for comparison to the earlier Quartos, which reflect stenographic recording of performance. The actors read the corrected version of the same scenes they read earlier. Williams asks us to imagine that people are recording the two versions of the scene right now, to be published later.

[Edit: Apparently I misheard what Williams said about people recording the scene as it was performed during his presentation. In fact, two students from the Mary Baldwin MLitt/MFA program did record the scene at his request, and later in the day, Williams provided a handout with the original text, the transcription, and a collation of the differences.]

Did Hamlet Mean Country Matters?

Zachary Lesser, University of Pennsylvania

Lesser recounts several editors’ glosses on Hamlet’s joke about “country matters.” He asks whether, when Early Modern audiences heard these words, they actually perceived the pun we now hear in it. No major editor noted an obscene pun at this exact point in the text until Malone in 1790; previous editors had glossed the statement as a reference to the idea of country folk as crudely sexual. The exchange was cut from productions in the 18th and 19th century, but primarily because of the later punning on “nothing.” The Restoration Smock Alley Promptbook cut “nothing,” but not “country matters.” In the First Quarto, Hamlet says “contrary” rather than “country matters.” Lesser argues that scholars have wrenched their arguments to include the pun, but this distortion falsifies the history of the text and the experience of this moment. Looking at the texts in order of probable composition, Lesser argues that the Folio text expands this moment to clarify it, with Hamlet explaining the innocence of his question–“I mean, my head upon your lap.” In the First Quarto, Hamlet says “my head in your lap,” instead heightening the suggestion by specifying the body part. If there had been a sexual pun in “country matters,” such a process of clarification would not have been necessary. There is no indication of Shakespeare’s audience understanding those words to imply such a pun, and we should, therefore, “forget what our glosses have been assuring us.”

Speaking the Speeches: Speech Order and the Early Modern Performances of Hamlet
Matthew Vadnais, Ohio State University

Vadnais describes the division among scholars about whether
the longer texts of Hamlet could have been staged at full length. He draws attention to the question of whether the Second Quarto and Folio text would have been too hard to play at full length, particularly because of the use of cue scripts and the necessary speed of performance. He demonstrates that many lines end in the same or almost the same cues. He proposes, however, that like their First Quarto counterpart, the other texts were created to make performance easy. A.J. Sclafani, Brian Falbo, and Michael Wagoner perform the Second Quarto version of the conversation between Hamlet, Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern about Gertrude using cue scripts without actual cues, demonstrating that the speech order that gave clues to when the actors should speak. Another way of making things easier is to create two-player scenes or scenes with only two speakers. Vadnais uses the metaphor of a “speech stem” for situations in which several characters respond to a primary character, who knows that every speech will contain his next cue. Shakespeare’s plays provided the company with assistance in knowing when to speak. All three texts of Hamlet equally anticipate how they would have been performed on the Early Modern stage.

“Nor wink, nor nod, nor kneel, nor make a sign…”
Lezlie Cross, University of Washington

Cross describes her conversations with Howie Seago, a deaf Shakespearean actor. She wants to reframe the term “Original Practices” to refer to a new practice, that is, Seago’s translation of Shakespeare’s plays into movements, a kinetic language. She cites Artaud referring to a language of movement that transcends the speech on stage. When playing the ghost in 2010 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Seago could obscure his statements to his son even from the audience, so that they heard was what Hamlet chose to share. Seago’s script notes where he will voice the lines, as in “I am thy father’s spirit,” using his own “imperfect” voice to show the ghost’s difficulty in being present in this world. The audience saw Hamlet take possession of the knowledge and of his revenge. Seago transformed “list, list, o list” into signs meaning “look at me, look at me, look at me.” Both Shakespeare’s language and Seago’s sign language have similar metaphorical underpinnings, in opposition to common language. For “the serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears his crown,” Seago transformed his sign language into a kinetic signification of the image. His method begins with a “translated” English text and finds ways to communicate the ideas through signs, making modifications according to factors such as the length of time that it takes to sign a line. “Seago’s work in translating Shakespeare’s text goes beyond mere translation,” transforming the text from one medium to another. Cross refers to this phenomenon as “kinetic textuality,” a term typically applied to digital artistic creations. Seago’s translations are still more kinetic, being no longer simply textual, but having instead become “meaning in motion.”

Jonson’s Breaches and the Typography of Action
Claire Bourne, University of Pennsylvania

Bourne argues that theatrical innovation prompted a textual innovation that allowed printed plays to develop into their own dramatic experience. Textual evidence suggests that these texts attempted to use punctuation in a way that allowed the reader to experience the dramatic in the printed text. Jonson described such punctuation, as used in his humor plays, as “breaches,” that is, markers of gaps in the dialogue. Bourne proposes that Jonson’s breaches not only allowed replication of the action, but made it possible to read the printed text in a way that makes dramatic sense on the page. In order to put the different theatrical and textual signs into the same visual field for her audience, Bourne has Wagoner, Sclafani, Maurice, and Falbo perform a portion from Cynthia’s Revels that is especially characterized by experimentation with punctuation, with dashes signaling non-verbal interruptions. They next perform a scene from Every Man Out of His Humour that uses dashes to signify self-interruptions, in this case by puffing on a pipe. The breaches signal moments that are vital to personation. Jonson’s Folio collection of his plays retains these experiments in using typography to convey non-verbal elements of the scene. Maurice and Sclafani perform a scene from Epicoene, or the Silent Woman, in which a character replies to conversation in non-verbal signs because of another character’s requirement that he do so, performing marginal text that states that the breaches refer to signs that responded to the dialogue. Bourne suggests that the breaches did not replace the action of performance, but preserved it for the page. The punctuation grew to symbolize all kinds of action, functioning as a recognizable invitation to notice non-verbal elements of the play.

Keeping Shakespeare Real by Using iPhones: or, Original Practices Shakespeare (There’s an app for that)
Joseph F. Stephenson, Amy Simpson Grubbs, and Adam Hester, Abilene Christian University

Stephenson states that they will discuss the 2010 Abilene Shakespeare Festival’s production of Othello, which was not actually intended to be Original Practices, but grew into some original practices as it formed. Hester, as director, wanted to find a way to engage with Bard-shy audience members, and decided to use technology to reach “beyond the proscenium,” by creating a blog that they updated throughout the show, including scene synopses, definitions, or comments about the action on stage. Audience members were able to post and read comments themselves, and the blog was flooded with them. Performers were also able to receive audience’s responses, and were heard walking offstage saying “what does the blog say?” By creating this intimacy, they argue that they were able to approach the closeness to the audience that is crucial to original practice, as well as a sense of play, and lighting (that of mobile devices) that made the audience visible. Stephenson quotes two piece of evidence about early modern performance and discusses their ambiguities and the complicated audience responses. He then cites some quotes from audience members responding to their production, including discussion of the play’s ambiguities. The blog also provides a permanent archive of audience responses, which would be useful for future research into audience response to Othello.

Question Time:

A questioner asks Cross about how American Sign Language deals with puns such as “country matters.” She talks about how Seago would probably try various movements to see how they landed with the audience.

Another questioner suggests that Cross do some work with Tommaso Salvini, who spoke only Italian but performed with an English-speaking company. Cross replies that she has not yet worked on Salvini, but she is working on Helena Madjeska, a 19th-century Polish actress who worked with American actors, including Edwin Booth, speaking Polish in response to their English on stage.

Another questioner asks about when “cunt” appears in the OED in the form we know it. Lesser cites a 13th century reference. The questioner asks if there is a possibility that this meaning of the word was active in the scene. Lesser says that what interests him is our absolute assurance that that meaning is in play at the moment he discusses.

Another questioner comments about Vadnais’ presentation, talking about cultural cues and discussing scribal adjustments to a text and to cues specifically.

Another questioner asks Cross about the difference between ASL and the sign language used in Britain, and what impact that would have on kinetic representation. Cross clarifies that Seago does not really use ASL, but mostly discovers movements that work to communicate, creating a new language for each production, which is very much keyed into the character that he is creating.

Another questioner asks Stephenson and Hester about how they dealt with the possibility of distraction from the technology. Hester describes the placement of technology users behind those who were watching without using technology. A different questioner wonders about what might have been lost with the technology users during the show. Hester describes the audience eagerness to see the next blog, and actors walking back to check the blog, which he did not always find useful. Stephenson argues that visual focus on the technology actually brought back the Early Modern tradition of “hearing” a play.

Another questioner asks Stephenson and Hester about the possibility of acquiring greater connection to young students through the use of technology. Hester describes the demographics of technology use, stating that the blog users were mostly under 30. He discusses how the technological elements gained greater acceptance from all age groups over the course of the run.

Kate O’Connell of Mary Baldwin College moderates this session.

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Paper Session V

Hi! I’m Julia, I’ll be liveblogging Paper Session V from 4:00 p.m. to 5:15 p.m.

Moderator: Miriam Gilbert, University of Iowa

Roman Actors:
Meta-Theatre as Moral Compass in Phillip Massinger’s The Roman Actor and Lope de Vega’s lo findigo verdadero

Iam Borden, Carson School of Theatre and Film, University of Nebraska

According to Borden, several English plays have counterparts in Lope de Vega’s canon. In some of these, the plot, devices, characters, settings, and even performance spaces are all but indistinguishable one from the other. In his comparison of Massinger’s play to de Vega’s, Borden showed that the breaking of the fourth wall served not only to elicit laughter by reminding the audience and actors that they share the same space, but it also served to demonstrate different approaches to the moral argument of each play. John Basiulis played Paris, Patrick Midgley played Caesar, Natasha Solomon played Inez, and they were joined by Daniel Burrows in playing actors commenting on theater and on each other.

Renaissance Clowns and Early Colonialism
Bob Hornback, Oglethorpe University

Hornback discussed a 1534 play by John Redford (the Play of Wit and Science) in which an character, Ignorance, appears in blackface and speaks in an Africanized pidgin English. Hornback demonstrated a scene in which Idleness, the vice character played by Natasha Solomon, taught Ignorance, played by Daniel Burrows, to speak his own name syllable by syllable. Hornback’s purpose was to show that comedic representations of the African character as “other” were already present on the English stage, as they had been in Spanish drama for at least a century before.

The Implications of the Failed Performance of Dekker’s The Whore of Babylon
Peter Hyland, Huron University College, University of Western Ontario

Hyland discussed The Whore of Babylon and what Dekker’s actions surrounding its failure show about Dekker himself. He pointed out that Dekker apologized for the play in several ways: the prologue that presumably pre-dated the printed version because it discussed the dumb show, the epistle at the beginning of the printed version, and a later protest that the play was actually intended as a dramatic poem. Indeed, Hyland agrees, the play seems to benefit from the format of print in that what is good about it can be perused by a reader rather than missed by an audience.

“A Cynic and a Hater of Humanity”:
Distinguishing Modes of Satire through Performance

Rusty Jones, Murray State University

Jones discussed different kinds of cynicism as evinced by characters such as Timon and Apemantus in Timon of Athens. He showed that Juvenalian satire is most like characters such as Apemantus, who hates no man but man’s impiety, and exposes vice rather than attacking individuals. Timon, on the other hand, does not truly seek to right society, but only rejects others when he himself is rejected. Brett Sullivan Santry performed as Jaques and Timon, and Bonnie Morrison played Duke Senior and Apomanthis.

Moral Agency in Hamlet
Lars Engle, University of Tulsa

Engle opened with Michael Bristol’s work on the evaluation of characters as people. He says that an emotional response to fiction can show the audience’s deeply held beliefs about right and wrong. Engle goes on to say that in moral accounts of themselves, people stress their own agency. He discussed such agency and Hamlet, who in dying leaves Denmark with Fortinbras, but his own story with Horatio. Throughout the play, Hamlet is trapped in an unsatisfactory existence, merely reacting to stimuli, but in Act 5 he develops greater agency compelled by his conception of nobleness in himself.

Bell Ringing in Shakespeare
George Walton Williams, Duke University

Williams, currently serving as one of four councilmen this year on the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers pointed out that Shakespeare was almost silent on bell ringers, which is surprising because he would have heard bells both at Stratford and London. Shakespeare’s only bell ringer is Bullcalf in Henry 4 part 2, who begs off when Falstaff tries to press him into service. He also mentions Ophelia’s description of Hamlet’s madness “Like sweet bells jangled, out of time and harsh,” and he uses that quote and one from Fletcher’s The Pilgrim to educate a modern American (and non-bell-ringing) audience in some of the things that English bell ringers have known for centuries and would easily recognize in Early Modern plays.

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Staging Session II

Deb Streusand is back! This afternoon I’ll be liveblogging Staging Session II from 2:30 pm to 3:45 pm. This session is taking place in the King Theatre at Stuart Hall School.

Instant!_Shakespeare: Make Students’ First Readings Staged Readings
Becki Jones, Thomas Dale High School

Jones conjures the picture of a student struggling through a dreary, solitary reading of his or her first Shakespeare play, and contrasts this with her own recommendation for a first class on a given play: a lively staged reading of one scene, plastic swords and all. She cites several experiences, including work at the Globe and seeing Patrick Tucker’s Original Shakespeare Company perform without rehearsal, that gave her faith in the ability of a staged reading to create engagement with the play regardless of the degree of preparation. She demonstrates preparing the students by telling them the story of the play up to the scene they will be reading. The students from Stuart Hall School do their reading of the final scene of Hamlet, working out the blocking as they go; the sword fight is the only portion that they have prepared, for safety reasons. Jones gives them limited instructions as the scene goes on, but only where it is necessary for the scene to operate properly. Making sure that Hamlet and Laertes do change foils, for example, aids students’ understanding of the scene without disrupting the flow. Jones describes the advantages she has perceived from doing staged readings before students begin reading on their own. She gives the audience practical advice on how to prepare for this type of staged reading, and provides a handout for this purpose. Sally Southall, a fellow teacher at Jones’ school, provides an account of how this process has worked for her. She reports that she has found it quite successful in engaging even students who have studied Shakespeare before and have not particularly liked it. Jones concludes, “Instant Shakespeare! Just add students! Try it today!”

Touring and Original Practices: The Grassroots Shakespeare Company
Alex Ungerman and Mark Oram, Utah Valley University

Ungerman and Oram describe their experience founding the Grassroots Shakespeare company. Oram discusses his visit to the OCS in 2008, and the powerful effect that elements such as universal lighting, minimal sets, and doubling had on his experience. He saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Revenger’s Tragedy in the Actors’ Renaissance Season; he praises the “beautiful chaos” of this experience. Inspired by the OCS, he returned home and started an Original Practices company. The principles of Grassroots Shakespeare include role doubling, cue scripts, not having a director or any designers, and using limited rehearsal time. Oram and Ungerman describe their learning process as they worked on creating and using cue scripts, having actors design their own costumes, and coordinating rehearsals as a group.

Oram describes the challenges of using original practices without having a resident company, and explains the casting process that they have devised to make this possible. In the initial audition, they bring in groups and have the members of the group give each other notes on their monologues, allowing them to assess the actors’ potential as ensemble members. Ungerman describes a callback exercise wherein groups create jigs to popular songs and perform them. After further monologues and feedback, the company selects itself by popular vote, so that the actors know they have been chosen by their peers, setting up an immediate sense of collaboration. The company casts the show itself in the same way, working with sides and feedback, and the process again culminates in a popular vote and, if necessary, discussion until consensus is reached.

The presenters next discuss how their rehearsal process works. Their primary principle is that all actors must come to the first rehearsal prepared with a “first draft” performance, with their lines memorized. (There are about two weeks between casting and the first rehearsal.) They must also be prepared to receive and implement peer feedback. All actors are required to watch their fellow actors and give them feedback, emphasizing positive reinforcement and language of collaboration. They find that this atmosphere creates a better show and a more positive experience for the actors. In rehearsal, actors first perform a scene once through uninterrupted. The entire company then works with that scene collaboratively, trying to establish an approach to the scene that feels good onstage and looks good from offstage. Once the scene is put together, they perform it again to commit it to memory.

The presenters describe their two basic rules for their actors. 1)You must try any suggestion once, even if it is totally absurd. 2)Actors have final authority over their own performance. They note that once the company comes together, it creates a synergy and trust that makes actors responsive to each other and determined to make things work.

They next discuss the logistics of company work. Since there are no designers, the actors choose their own costumes, bringing a first draft in and then getting feedback on it. Without a stage manager, actors rotate through being “captain” for each rehearsal and performance. Actors are also responsible for marketing and publicity. Oram reports that in a group of 15-20 actors, he finds that there is an expert on just about anything. By making collaboration a part of the design, they achieve great results.

The presenters tell us how created their own stage to bring with them on tour. They describe several influences on their staging practice for tours, including Shakespeare’s Globe on Tour and other modern companies, as well as Elizabethan images of touring stages. They created a design inspired by these influences, with primary elements including wooden planking, curtains for a discovery space, ladders to provide levels, stairs up to the stage, trestles as a base for the stage, and, the innovation of which they are proudest, placing their stage on top of barrels to create the feel of early modern performance at an alehouse or inn. Their practical considerations include negotiation of the relationship between an early modern aesthetic and modern construction materials, creating universal lighting even at night with 360-degree lamps, and easy assembly and disassembly of the stage.

Oram and Ungerman share some of their company’s successes with us. They describe productions of Much Ado about Nothing, Romeo and Juliet, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, illustrating the evolution of their staging practices. They share some of the ways they encourage audience engagement, and provide data about the growth of their audience. Oram tells us about Grassroots companies he started in Exeter and London, which are going strong without him due to the collaborative nature of this approach.

They conclude with the principles that are most important in their approach: autonomy for the actor, enlisting everyone in the collaborative process, and synergistic collaboration. They again acknowledge their debt of inspiration to the OCS.

We have some time for questions. A questioner asks Ungerman and Oram if there is anything they would have done differently. Ungerman describes starting over from scratch with each new company, and starting troupes in different locations, so that in effect, they get to revise their approach each time. Another questioner asks about the financial elements of the work. Oram describes their beginning as a sharers’ company, and how this approach did not work so well, which led them to become an unpaid company, with a Pay What You Will policy for most shows. Another questioner asks about how they build their audience. Oram explains their use of social media and email databases, and the enthusiasm their audience engagement creates, which encourages audience members to bring their friends next time. The final questioner asks about their growth plan. Ungerman reports that they will be doing workshops with Tiffany Stern in the spring and touring in the summer. Oram tells us that they are thinking about starting Grassroots companies in San Francisco and Salt Lake City.

Brett Sullivan Santry of Stuart Hall School and Mary Baldwin College moderates this session.

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Staging Session I

Cass Morris back again, and I’ll be covering the first of our Staging Sessions. In these sessions, scholars and practitioners get to bring specific staging issues to our actors and work through them. We have two running concurrently today, one in the Blackfriars Playhouse, and one at the King Theatre at Stuart Hall School, just a few blocks down the road. From 2:30pm to 3:45pm, I’ll be covering the session at the Playhouse, moderated by Matt Davies of Mary Baldwin College.

Matt opens by remarking that he presented at one of these staging sessions back in 2009, and he jokes that while Sarah Enloe assured him that he knew what to do to introduce one, he thinks the best thing to do is just get to the staging as quickly as possible. He points out that both companies ran Kickstarter campaigns in order to reach the Blackfriars Conference this year. Both staging sessions will run in succession, and then Davies will moderate a group discussion. The presenters in this session are assisted by Greg Phelps, Daniel Burrows, and Dan Kennedy.

Lee Benjamin Huttner, New York University: “Mirrors in Richard II

Huttner is a graduate student in both literature and drama at NYU and Tisch. He will be examining the “mirror-breaking” scene and the famous deposition scene, 4.1, of Richard II, and he believes that this scene may never have been performed on the early modern stage, due to censorship issues. He looks at mirrors as an organizing principle for Richard II, not just literally, but as “the fundamental disjuncture that occurs at an encounter of the self”.

Huttner begins the scene at Richard’s entrance. Greg as Richard II encourages the audience to respond when he calls out “God save the king!”, which he then immediately denies being, prefacing the tug-of-war that will occur over the crown with Henry Bolingbroke (Dan Kennedy) later in the scene.

“There are a number of choices to be made during the scene,” some of which Huttner admits he did not anticipate, “which is why we’re here.” He brings in the idea of role segregation — the idea of the self being separate from one’s role. Richard in this scene exists between the two roles of subject and king. Huttner argues that he is not distanced from both, but rather has to try to fulfill both simultaneously. Huttner explores some ideas of metatheatricality, looking at ways in which human life can be construed in terms of performance, scripting, and “backstage” actions. Nothing, he argues, distinguishes the ritual performativity of the stage from the ritual performativity of life. This concept brings the idea of mirrors back into play (via a short detour to Hamlet’s ideas of holding a mirror up to nature); Richard sees himself in the glass as others see him, seeing the self that he presents to others.

Huttner relates this disjuncture of self with the disjuncture of the crown (and thus of the role and assumed self) that we just saw in the deposition. He describes Richard and Henry as “a living chiasmus … simultaneously linked and thrust apart by the crown, by the ‘I’.” He interrogates the idea that Richard and Henry might have to both hold on to the crown for an extended length of time during the scene. The chiastic structure comes back into play with Richard’s response to Henry’s question, “Are you content to resign the crown”: “Aye, no; no, aye” (or possibly “I know no I”, bringing the signification of self back to the forefront). Taken out of his roles, Huttner argues, Richard “considers himself erased.” Huttner then discusses how Richard pre-emptively “ghosts” himself — and will, in fact, become a ghost that haunts the rest of the tetralogy, his legacy weighing heavily on Bolingbroke’s son Henry V.

The actors confer for a moment and stage the scene again, incorporating ideas from Huttner’s presentation. This time, Richard requests less of the audience initially, and his approach to Bolingbroke is somewhat softer (though also quite bitter). Both men cling tight to the crown throughout the verbal negotiation over it. Richard re-crowns himself (acting, as Huttner earlier pointed out, as both bishop and king in an instant) and then holds the crown out to Bolingbroke, though does not relinquish it throughout his long speech. Dan Kennedy’s Bolingbroke seems impatient, even exasperated, with Richard’s indulgence.

Beth Burns, Hidden Room Theatre: “Original Practices at Hidden Room”

Beth Burns introduces her support team from Hidden Room, noting that she met her dramaturg for The Taming of the Shrew at a previous conference. She positions herself clearly on the side of practitioners as opposed to strict academics, but states that she tries to make her practice as well-grounded in scholarship as she can. She thanks the scholarly crowd for “letting me steal your work, as I do do and will do today.”

Burns discusses her experiences with Original Practices and notes that, while different companies and scholars have different views on what that means, they all come down to: “let’s not fight the text; let’s go with it.” She’s curious about the idea of “male playing female, and what that does to the text,” particularly what it does to jokes — which she doesn’t like to cut just because the reference isn’t relevant. She wondered if the idea of men playing women would balance out the gender issues in Shrew. “What I found instead was, actually, a love story. A really sexy love story.” It also produced a theme of identity.

She noted two challenges: 1) to get the audience to believe the man playing a woman as a female character, and 2) to make the audience perceive the relationship displayed as a heterosexual one, not a homosexual one. Her actors from Hidden Room then present the introduction between Kate and Petruchio (2.1), in (as in her production), late-sixteenth-century costumes and (lead-free) makeup. The scene is fast-paced and full of action, with a Kate visibly enjoying the challenge of sparring with Petruchio, and a Petruchio utterly unwilling to part company with her. Kate also seems moved (though somewhat uncomfortable) by a Petruchio speaking to her sexually — as, this staging seems to suggest, no other man has ever done.

Burns notes that the scene is “a veritable cornucopia” of the techniques they use. She notes that, to make the steaminess palpable, they don’t just go for the obvious sexual jokes, but also those words that “sound sexual” by virtue of their sonic qualities or the face-shapes the sounds cause. They also explored “non-standard touch”, to break the expectation of the usual courtship interactions. She moves to the next scene, which she hopes will cause us to look at gender role and power.

In the “sun and moon” scene, 4.5, Kate’s concession to Petruchio’s declarations comes with more than a light touch of sarcasm — but she laughs when Petruchio address Vincentio (an impromptu substitution of Matt Davies) as a fair mistress. When Kate gets the joke and flirts with Vincentio, Petruchio intervenes a bit hastily, to cut off a kiss — which represents, as Burns points out, that she’s now playing on an even field with him. They move to the final scene: 5.1, on the street — the “kiss me, Kate” moment. Their frenetic energy slows to tender regard, but loses none of its passion.

Burns brings her actors out and first asks Ryan (Kate) about building the character. He talks about placing her “center” low, to ground her and also give her grace. Burns and Judd (Petruchio) talk about building the “uber-macho” Petruchio, who Judd describes as “the archetypal alpha male” who goes beyond the typical plateau of gentlemanly behavior.

Matt Davies opens up to questions from the audience for either presenter.

Q: Has Hidden Room yet done this with tragedies, and if so, how was it the same or different?
A: Short answer is no. Will be doing “Rose Rage” in July.

Q for Beth: How early in the process did you get into costume?
A: Ryan responds that the skirt and the shoes were really important — He gave himself permission to go there early on, not just for himself but also because he felt it helped his castmates see him as Kate, not as Ryan. Judd adds that it changes the way you carry yourself. Beth clarifies that they got Ryan into a skirt on Day One, and that their Bianca had to shave an enormous beard before they could start her love scenes. Matt comments that competing beards could create “a Velcro situation”.

Q for Beth: Would you consider casting a prepubescent boy whose voice has not yet cracked?
A: Beth says was not willing to go “that far down the rabbit hole”. Afraid that less-experienced actor might not get the quality needed, also that a prepubescent boy might get them in trouble with all the steamy bits. Matt adds his wondering if, looking at plays like Antony and Cleopatra, if the boys got given better female roles as they got older, and thus were no longer prepubescent or even pubescent.

Q for Greg: Struck by first version, when he came out to the audience, with the scene moving to such a solipsistic moment — interesting counterbalance to the mirrored exchange. Wondering if that was scripted as part of rehearsal?
A: All respond that: There was no rehearsal.
Q: Matt adds, does the direct address come into contrast with those introspective moments, asks Lee how he would deal with that in rehearsal.
A: In early modern environment, there’s no huge distinction between stage and audience. Richard speaks of notions of embarrassment and of deference — thinks deference particularly important, especially with regard to reflection of how audience defers to actors on stage. Thinks the interplay of ideas only works in an environment like this.

Q: Wonders what he thinks about how the direct address would have functioned with the Essex performance?
A: “Well, there’s a lot to say about that.” Discusses the possible explanations regarding the censorship.

Matt suggests that discussion of the Essex Rebellion continue at the bar.